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Save a lovin’ spoonful spending summer in the city

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Practical money matters by Nathaniel Sillin

CITIES ATTRACT people for different reasons, which is partly why they are such popular vacation destinations. Summer is one of the best times to visit, as the long days give you extra hours of sunlight for exploration and many cities host a variety of free seasonal activities.
The busy season can mean rising prices but there are a few city-specific savings tactics that can take some of the strain off your budget.
Look for insiders’ knowledge about the city. Many major cities are covered by bloggers who focus on how to enjoy their hometown on the cheap. You could start your planning by researching online with the keywords “free or cheap” and the city’s name. Some of the well-organized websites will even let you filter events by date, cost and your individual interests.
Also check the city’s local-newspaper sites for lists of free or cheap events. During the summer, many cities have free outdoor concerts and movie screenings, for example; you can pack a picnic dinner and enjoy the warm weather and show.
Move around the city like a local. It might make sense to take an occasional cab but some cities have robust public-transportation systems. Take a few minutes to study the city’s layout before arriving and don’t be afraid to ask locals for advice or directions.
If you’re in town for more than a few days, look into time-based public-transportation passes. For example, you can buy a seven-day unlimited-ride MetroCard for subway and bus rides in New York City for $32, plus a $1 new-card fee if you’re not refilling an existing card. You can even use it on the crosstown buses, which can quickly take you from one side of Central Park to the other.
Explore new cuisine. One of my favorite parts about visiting any city is trying its restaurants. Whether you save up and enjoy one of its finest eateries or find a hole-in-the-wall hidden gem, there’s usually something for everyone as far as eating goes.
Luckily, many cities’ must-try foods are on the inexpensive side. Chicago’s hot dogs, Portland’s doughnuts and Austin’s tacos all often cost less than $5. You can also look for lists of cheap and delicious eats alongside the free-entertainment tips from frugal bloggers and local newspapers.
High-end restaurants will inevitably be pricey but, if it’s on your “must-do” list, there could be ways to save. Some restaurants offer less expensive brunches or early-evening tasting menus, or you might be able to grab a small bite and a drink at the bar rather than a full meal.
Find the deals on offer if you’re going to shop. Some people see shopping as an intrinsic part of a vacation and cities are often home to chains’ flagship stores, boutiques and specialty shops. The wide variety of options could tempt you to overspend but it also means there are plenty of opportunities to save.
If you’re in the luxury market, look for sample sales, where you might be charged less – relatively – for high-end brands products formerly on runways or showroom floors.
Trying to stick to a tight budget? Look for large retailers’ clearance sales, particularly if you’re visiting when stores are clearing seasonal items off their shelves.
Think outside the box when it comes to lodging. Most seasoned travelers know that hotels in the heart of tourist areas are often the most expensive and many turn to home-sharing sites as cheaper alternatives.
Another trick is to look for availability at hotels in the city’s financial district. Holidays and weekends can bring vacancies in commercial areas, which could mean lower rates. Hotels right outside the main township but accessible by public transportation can also cost less.
Bottom line: Cities can be expensive, particularly during the busy summer, but there’s a reason they’re such popular vacation destinations. Whether you’re interested in museums, shows, food, historic sites or all of the above, there are ways to save and make the most of your summer in the city.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s Practical Money Skills For Life financial education programs. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PracticalMoney. His articles are intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. Always consult a tax or financial adviser for information on how the law applies to your individual financial circumstances.

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