It may feel like winter has just ended. Or, depending on where you live, it may feel like winter is still continuing.
But believe it or not, we're on the verge of summer. Schools and colleges are heading toward their final lesson plans for the semester. And across the nation, millions of families are starting to wonder how they'll pay for their summer vacation.
If your budget is tight, perhaps this is the year to save money by planning a "staycation" instead.
Remember how the word staycation came into vogue during the recession? Staycation is a slang term for taking a frugal vacation without leaving your hometown.
Although the economy and markets have improved recently, the idea of a staycation still is viable today.
If you take a staycation, follow these four pointers:
1. Unplug. Don't check email, plan phone meetings or handle any type of work-related tasks aside from emergencies. Just because you're at home doesn't mean you should experience any less of a vacation.
2. Plan activities. If your family took a trip to Florida or California, you'd plan vacation activities throughout the day. So why not do that within your hometown?
Create a "vacation itinerary" to visit local art exhibits, museums, lakes, bike trails or other attractions. Pretend to be a tourist within your town, and ask yourself what a visitor might do.
3. Try new activities at home. Break your normal routines at home. Try new recipes. Plant a garden. Read books.
Don't fall into your usual habits of whipping together a quick meal and watching TV. Sure, you might do this during the regular workweek when you're tired after a long day at the office. But during your staycation, break those old habits. Start fresh.
4. Check into another home. If you have space in your budget, book a hotel room (or a vacation rental home) close to your hometown.
For example, if your city is located near a forest or lake, rent a lakefront cabin for a few days. You'll get the mental and emotional benefits of a change in scenery, without the added expense of a long car trip or flight.
If you don't have the money to book a vacation rental, ask your friends if they'd be willing to do a "house-swap" for a few days. You'll both enjoy fresh scenery without the high prices.
Paula Pant helps people ditch the cubicle and live on their own terms. She's traveled to 30 countries, owns six rental property units and hasn't had an employer since 2008. Her blog, "Afford Anything," is the gathering point for a tribe that refuses to say "I can't afford it." Follow Paula on Twitter: @AffordAnything.