By Jeff Yeager, Contributor
July: Climatologists agree that July 24 is the hottest day of the year in the U.S., but the tenth of every month during the summer feels the hottest to me ... that's the day our electric bill arrives in the mail.
1. Free Family Fun
No need to break out the wallet this summer to keep the kids entertained. Bass Pro shops are offering free summertime activities for families. With a free shooting arcade, BB shooting range, casting challenge, arts and crafts, and archery and bird watching workshops, kids and their parents can expect to have a lot of fun this summer at Bass Pro shops through July 26.
Apple is offering free in-store camps to teach kids about filmmaking, and Microsoft stores are providing free programs all about gaming.
2. Skip the Ice Cream Shop
Notice I said, "Skip the ice cream shop," and not "Skip the ice cream." After all, it wouldn't be summer without ice cream.
July is National Ice Cream Month, so you'll find some real deals on your favorite flavors at the grocery store. Do the math, and you'll realize that ice cream shops typically mark up the cost of a scoop by 500 percent or more compared with the cost of dipping it for yourself at home! With that kind of savings, make mine a double dip and don't skimp on the jimmies.
3. Install a Rain Barrel
Summer thunderstorms might help to cool things off, but much of the rainwater that comes along with them ends up as runoff instead of having time to soak into the soil. Install a simple, inexpensive rain barrel (about $100 for a 50-gallon unit at home improvement centers) to catch excess water from your roof/eaves, and use it to water your lawn and garden to save money on your water bill.
Also, take a minute to contact the environmental division of your county or municipal government to see if they offer any type of "storm water rebates" or similar program to encourage homeowners to reduce storm water runoff. The program in our county actually paid for the rain barrels I installed at our house and also offers cash rebates for planting trees and other runoff abatement projects undertaken by homeowners.
4. Get Naked
July 14 is National Nude Day, a day dedicated to staying cool by stripping bare -- although, around our house, all summer long there's a rule that we don't touch the thermostat unless we're already down to our undies. It's as fun as playing strip poker, and when you consider that you can save 3 percent on your energy bill for each degree higher you keep the thermostat set during the summer, it pays to be a "skinflint" in more ways than one.
5. Fire Up the BBQ and Save
July is also National Hot Dog Month. You'll find some of the lowest prices of the year not only on frankfurters, but also hamburgers, other meats for the grill and all the fixin's. Grilling outdoors also helps to keep your kitchen and house cooler, saving on AC. Check out these cheapskate grilling tips to save even more.
6. Free Water Guns
Nothing refreshes on a hot day like a good old fashioned squirt gun fight. Skip the store-bought water pistols and repurpose empty plastic squeeze bottles from dish soap and shampoo instead (thoroughly cleaned out, of course) -- they work even better. Or for more sophisticated -- and powerful -- homemade water toys, get free DIY instructions.
7. Can It
July will likely see the lowest prices of the year on many fresh fruits and vegetables, from apricots and arugula to watermelon and zucchini. That means a busy month in the kitchen for the cheapskate chef, as we cook, freeze, dehydrate (Google it) and can Mother Nature's bounty while it's at its freshest and cheapest.
If you're not conversant in canning and other old-school-but-once-again-so-cool food preservation methods, check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation for free tutorials -- they'll save you a bushel full of cashola.
8. Take a Free Boating Safety Courses
Summertime is boating time, but be sure to learn how to stay safe and know your state's boating laws before you leave the dock. The nonprofit BoatUS Foundation offers free online boating safety courses based on the specific laws of all 50 states, and testing your nautical knowledge with one their courses is actually kind of fun. Try one of their courses.
9. Free WiFi for Summer Travelers
Getting online for free while you're traveling this summer is easier than ever. Most of America's 18,000-plus public libraries offer free computer and WiFi access, although you might need to get a temporary pass or library card if you're just passing through. Also, some apps allow you to find free WiFi service at hot spots, including restaurants, stores, hotels and more.
10. Cut the Grass
Americans spend about $40 billion every year on their lawns. Lawns are not only hard on our wallets, but hard on the environment with all of the water, fertilizer and pesticides they require.
Save money, time and the environment by mulching over all or part of your lawn, or planting a low maintenance ground cover or vegetable garden instead of grass. And if you have a lawn, this short video will show you how to keep it green without spending so much green.
July: Having never owned a cell phone, I won't be celebrating National Cell Phone Courtesy Month, although I'd encourage all cell phone users to give up their phones during July and experience the joy -- and cost savings -- of living cell phone free.