This winter seemed to go on forever in the Northeast, with snowstorms in April and a very late spring. Now, summer is coming up soon, and it’s time to find lots of fun things to do in the warmer weather without breaking the bank. Here are some ideas for affordable summer fun that you can do this year.
1. Free local activities.
Most communities have lots of free events during the summer, from festivals to outdoor movie nights and free outdoor concerts. Local newspapers are a good source for information on these events, or just talk to the neighbor who knows everything and they can probably tell you what’s going on and where. Keep in mind that some events might have free admission but be full of temptations to spend money on food, drinks, and souvenirs, so it’s always good to decide ahead of time how much you can spend (and tell the kids beforehand so they know not to ask for everything they see).
2. Free activities for kids.
Stores and organizations often have free activities that can be fun things for kids to do during the summer, such as free make-and-take crafts at local craft stores and free structured games and other activities in local parks staffed by responsible college students. Our local semi-pro soccer team always holds a free clinic for soccer players, and non-profit organizations may have open houses or mini-festivals with kids’ activities to bring attention to their causes.
3. Picnic in the park.
Instead of eating out, you can pack a meal and take the family to the park for an afternoon of playing and a picnic. My town has a number of different parks with different features and equipment, and when my kids were younger we liked to make the rounds to enjoy different outdoor experiences–it might take us all summer to get to all of them.
4. Backyard fun.
My home’s yard is rather small and full of tree roots. My daughter’s favorite activity for many years, however, was to play in Grandma’s larger backyard with her cousins, complete with kiddie pool and slip and slide. She even had a birthday party there once so her friends could play too. It was 60 degrees but they still got wet and had a great time.
Kiddie pools are not too expensive these days, and while the kids splash, you can relax and read a book or throw some burgers on the grill for lunch. Having a relaxing oasis in your own backyard doesn’t have to be expensive and can give you many days of enjoyment for years to come.
5. Free or low-cost movies.
Several movie chains have free or low-cost movie days where they show kids movies that were released previously. Regal’s movies are usually on Tuesday mornings and this year the ticket fee is $1, while AMC has theirs on Wednesday mornings and cost $4 for the movie and a kids snack pack with popcorn, fruit snacks and a drink. Most kids find going to the movies a fun thing to do in the summer, and it is a nice air-conditioned oasis on a very hot day or a good way to occupy kids for a few hours when it rains.
6. Season passes to pool or attractions.
If there’s one activity your family just can’t get enough of, like a water park or a local swimming pool, it might be worthwhile to get a season pass. You can figure out whether it’s worthwhile by dividing the number of times your family will likely attend the attraction into the cost and comparing that amount to the single admission cost.
If the cost of season passes fits into your budget and you are fairly certain you will use them enough to make the passes a bargain, they can give you something to look forward to all summer long.
7. Check Groupon frequently for deals on summer activities.
Coupon clipping has come a long way in recent years. Groupon, for example, is a great way to save up to half of the cost of various activities in your area, and you can also use it when you go on vacation to save money on local activities in that area as well. Be aware that there are sometimes conditions on Groupon offers, and there are also time limits on using them–but they are usually several months.
8. Challenge yourselves.
Summer can be a great time to do something challenging as a family, like hiking a mountain or geocaching–an activity where you look for hidden objects using map coordinates and clues. There are lots of free ways to challenge yourselves, and these experiences often have a way of bringing people closer and helping them bond.
9. Take a camping vacation.
Camping is a fun family activity and is also economical when you don’t really have money to go on vacation. My family camped out at a music festival a few hours’ drive away from our home for more than 10 years after my husband and I were first married because we couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel anywhere and eat out every day while on vacation. While we have stayed in much nicer accommodations over the last 10 years or so, I still have fond memories of all the years we spent camping at the festival together.
10. Plan a “staycation.”
Chances are, your local area has lots of activities to do in the summer, but you may be too busy working to see them. A staycation is when you take time off work but stay in your own house and enjoy the local area. This can be a great way to enjoy a romantic weekend with your spouse or some fun-filled time with your kids. You don’t have to do all the local tourist traps if you don’t want to; you may even know a lot of fun things to do in the summer because of living there and be able to tap into that insider knowledge to make some memories even without leaving home and incurring thousands of dollars in hotel, flight, and car rental costs.
11. Plan a beach day.
If you have a beach within a few hours’ drive, a beach day is always fun and usually inexpensive. You can pack sandwiches or eat hot dogs on the boardwalk if there’s one nearby, just beware of seagulls waiting to grab your food right out of your hand as you eat it on the beach! Some beaches may have a fee but it’s usually only a few dollars, with kids under a certain age free.
12. Alternatives to Amusement Parks.
Your kids may really enjoy amusement parks, but the cost for a family is typically in the hundreds of dollars for one day’s entertainment, even if you use coupons and discounts. A major part of this cost is food and drinks, which usually have to be bought in the park rather than brought from home. One alternative to an amusement park is a fair that has rides.
You can usually buy tickets just for the rides you really want at a fair rather than spending $40-50 on an admission ticket, or there may be wristbands available for as little as $15 to ride as many rides as you want for several hours. If parents don’t plan on riding, the family may be able to enjoy the day for the same price as one admission ticket to an amusement park.
In my area, there is a park within two hours’ drive that doesn’t charge admission, but only for rides, which can also be a savings when one or both parents don’t want to ride. This park also allows food and drinks to be brought in, which makes it a much more frugal alternative to some other amusement and theme parks.
Having fun doesn’t have to be expensive. Whatever helps you enjoy the warm weather and the company of family and friends and fits your budget will help you get the most of the season without sabotaging your financial goals. If you do need a little extra cash for discount movie tickets or beach passes, Trim is an app that scans your linked accounts to look for unused subscriptions you can cancel and discounts on your bills that it automatically negotiates for you.