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The beach has always been a popular choice among vacationers, and will continue to be a source of excitement and/or relaxation for generations to come. Beach resort areas may provide the bare essentials for a day on the shore, or may be action-filled amusement parks geared towards young adults on break from college. Whatever the size and scope of the community surrounding the beach, there can be no doubt that tourism and tourist dollars are part of the local economy. Specialty restaurants may dot the countryside to and from the beach, and the shoreline itself may be packed with numerous hotels and condominiums. There are usually plenty of choices for the vacationer, but depending on the time of year and other considerations, a typical week-long vacation can break anyone's budget. There are ways to economize on your next beach vacation, without sacrificing the sun, surf or sand.

1. Not all condominiums are created equal. Condo rentals are popular alternatives for families looking to escape the 'cookie cutter' atmosphere of a large and expensive hotel, but you may not be saving as much money as you might expect. While it's true that condos offer more privacy and a more home-like environment than most hotel rooms, you also have a few more obligations. Without regular cleaning, a condo may soon become a sand-covered mess. Some condo owners hire professional cleaners to restore their property to its original condition, but often pass this expense on to renters. You can save quite a bit of money by offering to clean the condo yourself, subject to the owner's inspection. If you do choose this arrangement, bring your own cleaning supplies from home and spend a little time each day on floor maintenance and light cleaning. It may add an hour or two to your last day, but the savings may be worth the effort. You also may want to find owners who rent condos themselves, not through a collective management company. These owners often spend more time on maintaining their property, and can offer more reasonable rates directly to you, since they are not obligated to certain fees charged by management companies.

2. The locals know everything about everything. Find out where the locals buy their groceries, and plan several dine-in meals. Many of the restaurants around a popular beach area are notoriously expensive. If you really just want to relax on the beach, avoid overindulging in these tourist-oriented diversions. Plan a less expensive barbecue or picnic on the beach. If you do get a craving to try the local cuisine, consult the locals. Find out where they eat, and you shouldn't be disappointed. A major chain restaurant on the beach may charge twice as much for the exact same dish prepared at a small family-owned cafe two miles away. Another money-saving tip is to try other types of food beside the local favorites. A lot of beach communities feature seafood, naturally, but you may be surprised at the value and quality of the Mexican or Greek restaurant in town. Since they are often forced to compete for business with the entrenched and popular tourist restaurants, alternative food places offer great discounts.

3. Entertainment is what entertains you. Many of the more popular beach resorts offer a real amusement park atmosphere, with water parks and midways filled with often unusual diversions. In moderation, these attractions can help fill the downtime of a cloudy afternoon or extra day of vacation. But they can also be very expensive, especially when travelling with impressionable children who want to try anything new. If you are on a tight budget, it may be best to avoid these areas entirely in order to remove temptation. This is your vacation, not merely a change of location.

Do what you personally feel is entertaining, not necessarily what others recommend you do while visiting that beach town. If you enjoy watching movies, rent a few videos from the local rental store and spend the afternoon watching a movie you've been dying to see. If you enjoy live music, scan the local paper for times and locations of bands playing in the area. You don't have to buy expensive concert tickets for a headliner at the main hall. You may have a better time at a smaller venue that features your favorite type of music. The point is, you can determine what constitutes entertainment for you, and choose less expensive ways to enjoy your time.

4. It's not always 'Summer or Bust'. The high season of any beach town is their bread and butter time, but you may discover you prefer a less crowded scene on your next vacation. Rental costs come down considerably during what is called the 'shoulder' season. In general, this is the time after Labor Day and before the cold air of late November and December. The bulk of the tourists have already gone home, along with most of the tourist-fed attractions. What remains are uncluttered beaches and available hotel rooms. The weather can be a little more variable in the shoulder season, but is usually fine for tanning and swimming. While the more summer-oriented diversions may close for the winter, most restaurants are still open, and grateful for customers. If you really want to save the most money on a beach vacation without sacrificing quality, choose the shoulder season. While the winter rates in some seasonal beach towns are even better than the shoulder rates, the weather may prove to be less than favorable. Do some comparative phone calling on housing rates, and you may get some very impressive numbers during the shoulder season.