Five ways a frugal vacationer can have fun

It's possible to dine handsomely on a budget, economize in accommodations - and even save while you swim.

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The Jersey Shore may be a convenient vacation destination for area locals, and it's certainly easier to reach than flying off somewhere, but with rising gas prices and other expenses, it still isn't cheap. The Automobile Association of America estimates that the average family of four drops more than $320 a day vacationing in New Jersey.

In acknowledgment of this, we consulted a few experts on finding fun for less, while also doing a little digging of our own to provide five ways to save at the Shore.

When in Rome. Finding the best eateries, bars and deals often comes down to learning about your favorite Shore area, and nobody knows it better than locals. So, while you're catching some sun, it might be wise to ask your lifeguard for some pointers. Bars like the Rod & Reel Tavern (1301 E. Beach Ave., 609-266-0343) and the Laguna Grill & Martini Bar (1400 Ocean Ave., 609-266-8367) are popular with the Brigantine crowd and offer good deals. In Atlantic City, you can't go wrong with a cheesesteak from the White House Sub Shop (2301 Arctic Ave., 609-345-1564) or a slice from Tony's Baltimore Grill (2800 Atlantic Ave., 609-345-5766).

Go beach-tag-less. Vacations are expensive enough without having to buy beach tags just to get some surf-and-sand time. Averaging $10-$15 per person for one week, depending on your Shore destination, beach tags can really pile on extra costs, especially for families. You can avoid them by visiting Atlantic City or Wildwood, where the beaches are free. Day-trippers would be wise to take advantage of Ocean City's free beach access Wednesdays, which instantly saves you $5 a head.

Off-peak during the week. Most hotels and B&Bs charge more during the summer, but it's not necessary to brave the breezes of October and May to enjoy special deals. Early June or late September vacations can be cheaper and less crowded, but if that doesn't work, avoid weekends. Many hotels and B&Bs have discounted rates Sunday through Thursday. For example, the Ashling Cottage Bed & Breakfast Inn (106 Sussex Ave., 732-449-3553) in Spring Lake offers weekday visitors discounts of $70-$100 per night.

BYOB. BYOBs are prevalent at the Shore, and bringing your own wine, beer and spirits can save you a lot. Pennsylvanians and Delawareans also can save by buying alcohol as soon as they get into Jersey, instead of waiting until they get down the Shore (don't do it before you come into New Jersey; crossing state lines with alcohol is illegal).

Coupon Clipper. It may seem obvious, but most people don't realize that many Shore towns create coupon books that offer discounts on everything from food to amusement parks. Check with the local chamber of commerce or the tourism office.

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