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Keep costs down on getaways

Are you going away for Labor Day?

Have fun, but remember that even little weekend adventures can get expensive fast. Here are some tips to help you cut everything loose except for the purse strings:

*If your hotel parking lot is empty, try to negotiate a better rate or upgrade: a higher floor, a better view, a suite with a hot tub. Hotel staff are usually happy to do something nice for you when they can, and they have more leeway when occupancy is low. Just be your usual sweet, chatty self. What's the worst they can do -- say no?

*B.Y.O.B. If you like to wind down at night with a glass of Scotch, bring a bottle from home. It will be much cheaper than the $10 per glass you'll pay at the hotel bar. Same goes for wine. Pick up a bottle of Naked Grape at the liquor store.

*Watch Groupon.com, LivingSocial.com and SweetFind.com for deals in your destination city.

If you're driving, get the car in tip-top shape before you head out. Inflate the tires properly, change the air filter, get a tune-up. All this will help you get better gas mileage.

More importantly, mind the way you drive to conserve gas. Don't speed, don't tailgate, don't accelerate uphill. Coast to a stop, coast downhill. Avoid jackrabbit starts and idling.

*Avoid the tourist traps. Instead, hit churches and cemeteries. They're usually old, beautiful, full of history and have free admission.

Libraries are great, too. Check the bulletin boards for free, local goings-on and ask the librarian for tips. Librarians know how to party.

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Eat cheap (or free!)

*Go to KidsMealDeals.com, search the area you'll be visiting and find out where your kids can eat for free. If you're headed out on a road trip, make a note of the national chains offering free meals for kids. They're often (but not always!) consistent from location to location. Mainstays such as Denny's and IHOP are usually good for some free grub during certain times and days.

*Stock up on road snacks. Pack a cooler with sandwiches and drinks and bring all your favorite snacks and munchies. Food is much cheaper bought at the grocery store than at rest stops.

*Book a hotel with a kitchenette, microwave or, at the very least, a refrigerator to minimize expensive take-out.

*You will probably dine out at least once. Search Restaurant.com by city, state or ZIP code. You'll be able to buy $25 gift certificates for $10 to any of 18,000 restaurants nationwide.

*Stay in a hotel that offers free breakfast. The Hampton Inn usually has a nice spread, along with free beverages available around the clock. They even have brown-bagged, to-go breakfasts packed and ready for those on the run.

e-mail: schristmann@buffnews.com or call MoneySmart at 849-4612. Follow the Diva at www.Facebook.com/DiscountDiva

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