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By Jennifer Spears
Looking for ways to have summer fun on a budget? Here is our ultimate list of free or nearly free summer activities that will help you make the most of your summer…without straining your budget.
Kids (and adults) love parades. Check out local parades close to you, or, if your budget allows, drive to a larger town or city to check out a bigger parade. TIP: take your own food, toys and drinks. There are usually vendors selling at parades, and it’s easier to say no if you already have everything you need.
Local Fireworks Displays
Many towns or villages have free fireworks displays around the Fourth of July. TIP: Take you own snacks to have while you wait. Also, consider dollar store glow sticks or bracelets. They are a fun way to entertain your kids while they wait. Don’t forget to pack insect repellent, light jackets and extra diaper bag items.
Have A Campfire
There is something special about human beings and fire. Sitting around a campfire, telling stories or just hanging out, is a great memory to create with your kids. If you live in the country, you can build an awesome, and safe, fire ring with large rocks, bricks or cinderblocks. If you live in town, there are affordable, self-contained fire pits available that are most likely allowed in your township. You may want to check local laws though, just to be safe. TIP: Grab a bag of marshmallows or hot dogs to roast over the fire. You can make roasting sticks from branches you find in the woods, or purchase marshmallow roasting sticks.
Camp Out In The Backyard
If your yard allows, sleeping under the stars is an incredible experience that you can have with your kids…and it basically costs nothing! Small, 2 person tents are affordable and easy to set up, but if you want to just sleep in sleeping bags on the soft grass, that is okay too! Plan around the weather, have a flashlight and insect repellent…and create a memory! TIP: If your children are littler, being outside all night might be a little too much for them. Make it fun by watching for lightning bugs, pointing out constellations and identifying nocturnal animal sounds. However, if they get frightened, finish your campout in the living room…you don’t want your summer fun on a budget to be ruined with a bad memory.
Get out in your community and donate some of your time. You and your children could clean up a park, plant flowers, or help with a food or clothing drive. Churches are a great place to get hooked up with community events that allow the entire family to participate. TIP: While volunteering a few times over the summer is a great experience, be careful not to overcommit yourself. Unfortunately, volunteers are hard to come by, so once your name gets on the list…you’ll get asked to participate a lot. Politely say no when your schedule is too full. The organizers will understand.
Have you ever heard of geocaching? It is a world-wide scavenger hunt that you complete with a handheld GPS or your smart phone. Everyone can participate, and it can lead to many amazing family adventures. I wrote an entire post about how to start geocaching, check it out to get all of the details. It is our favorite family hobby and probably the most summer fun on a budget we’ve ever had. TIP: Geocaching can be enjoyed in rural or urban settings, and we’ve even planned entire trips around it. Start out with the easier caches, and work your way up to the harder ones.
Enjoy Free Community Events
Many towns have summer events that are free for community members. Music in the Park, Community Days or other festivals put on by your town are all fun ways to get out and meet your neighbors and enjoy free entertainment. TIP: Schedules for local events are usually posted in the local newspaper, local Chamber of Commerce websites, or posted on bulletin boards around your community. Another easy way to find free local events is to talk to your neighbors.
Visit A Different Playground Every Week
We did this last summer, and had a blast! Kids love playgrounds, so why not make them an expert playground critic! Map out all of the playgrounds in your area, and visit them all over the summer. It will be a great experience, and your kids will love telling their friends about the best…and the worst…playgrounds in the area. TIP: Snap a few good pictures at each playground, so you can add them to your End Of Summer Memory Board.
Hiking is a great way to get out and get some fresh air and exercise. Plus…it’s almost always free. You can pack snacks and drinks to have along the way to save even more money. Take your time, bring a camera and have an adventure! TIP: Be sure to check the weather forecast before you go and bring extra water. Also, stay on the trails and be realistic about the length of the hike you plan. Little legs get tired fast, and unless your planned hike is a loop, you’ll have to turn around a walk back to where you started. Don’t wait until your kids are completely worn out before you turn around.
Watch The Perseid Meteor Shower In August
Every August, just like clockwork, the Perseid Meteor Shower puts on an amazing display! Shooting stars are fascinating to watch, especially for children. Find a dark piece of sky to watch, lay back and enjoy the view. Summer fun on a budget may not get any better than this! TIP: The Perseid Meteor Shower lasts for a few days, so pick the night with fewest clouds to increase your chances of seeing a great show. You can find the exact dates for this years Perseid Meteor Shower by doing a simple Google search.
Plant A Garden
Gardening is not only a useful skill to have, it is fun…plus you get to eat the fruits of your labor! You can make it as elaborate or as simple as you choose. If you have the space, you can plant a larger garden in your yard. If you don’t, many plants can grow and produce quite well in containers. TIP: If you aren’t good at starting seeds, or if you didn’t start them soon enough, you can buy seedlings at many greenhouses or garden stores. My recommendations for easy garden plants for kids are cucumbers, tomatoes and summer squash.
Visit The Library
Your local library is still open, even in the summer…and they would love you to stop by! Not only can you check out all of your favorite books for leisure reading, you can also check out movies, use free WiFi and participate in a lot of fun, FREE, “summer fun on a budget” programs. TIP: Summers can get busy and hectic, so be sure to mark the due dates for anything that you check out on your calendar, so you don’t end up with overdue fees.
Go To A Drive-In Movie Theater
Remember going to the drive-in when you were a kid? Drive-in movie theaters are making a comeback in many locations. While admission to some may be a little pricey, you can save money by taking your own food. Plus, it’s a fun, nostalgic experience to share with a new generation. TIP: Search online for drive-in theaters in your area.
Check Museums For FREE Or Discount Days
Museums often offer discounts, or even free days, during the summer. While these days are often pretty packed, you can still see some amazing displays. Get there early so you can enjoy the museum before it gets too busy. TIP: Sometimes, free museum days are not as fun as you thought they would be, so have a Plan B…like geocaching or hiking, that you can do instead. This is especially important if you have driven a bit to get there. It would be a shame to turn around and drive home without having had any fun.
Visit State Parks
Admission to state parks is usually charged per vehicle, so visiting them is a great way to have summer fun on a budget, especially for large families. Plan your trip using the parks website. You can spend your day hiking, geocaching, swimming, playing on playgrounds and enjoying the other special attractions that state parks offer. TIP: Many states offer yearly passes to all of their state parks. This can be an amazing value, especially if you live really close to an amazing park, or if you plan to visit several.
Go To The Beach
Find out where the nearest, best “real” beach is from your home. If you are close enough to the ocean…plan a road trip. If you are not (like us) plan a trip to the nearest large lake that offers quality swimming and maybe even sand to play and build in all day. For us, we are closest to Lake Ontario, so we plan a “Beach Day” each year to Fair Haven Beach State Park. TIP: Remember to pack extra sunscreen and reapply throughout the day. You don’t want your fun day at the beach to be ruined by getting burned.
Play With Inexpensive Water Toys
Squirt guns and water balloons can usually be purchased at the dollar store. Having fun at home is a great way to have summer fun on a budget, and playing with water on hot summer days is always a blast! TIP: Stock up on these items early in the season, they can be hard to find during the middle of the summer.
Have An Ice Cream Sundae Buffet
Hear me out. Summer comes and goes so fast, indulge a little and treat yourself and your kids to this one unhealthy…but good for the soul…experience. Kids enjoy coming up with their own “recipes” and will definitely remember a sundae buffet as a highlight of their summer. TIP: Save money by purchasing vanilla and chocolate ice cream, then adding all kinds of fun and delicious toppings. Let your kids make some suggestions…they may come up with some unique toppings that you haven’t thought of.
Visit A Local Fair Or Carnival
Kids love carnival rides, and it wouldn’t be summer without having at least one day getting to experience them. The best days to visit are “family” or “wrist band” days, where your kids can ride all day for one price. TIP: Take your own food and drinks. Also, it might be helpful to plan the trip around relatives or friends, so your kids have friends to ride the rides with.
Preserve Your Memories
During the summer, make sure that you take a lot of pictures, or collect small souvenirs. At the end of the summer, you and your kids can create a scrap book or memory board. Or, if you have collected small souvenirs, you can decorate a memory box to keep them all in. Display your memory boards for all to see, and remember to look back at your scrap books and memory boxes every so often. TIP: Inexpensive poster frames can preserve a memory board. You don’t want such precious memories to get ruined over time.
Summer is short, and when we think about how few summers we actually get with our kids, it makes it so much more important to make the most of them.
We only get 18…that’s it. And as they get older, they might not want to spend as much time with you as they did when they were younger, so make memories now.
Summer fun on a budget is certainly possible! Go out, explore, make memories…and look forward to sharing stories about your adventures for years to come.
Have more ideas for summer fun on a budget? Leave me a comment so I can add it to our list…and don’t forget to join our mailing list before you go!