The kids are out of school, the weather is beautiful and you want to have some summer adventures with your family. But with vacations, meals out and special activities, sticking to a budget during the summer months can be tough. It isn’t impossible, though!
Our family loves to spend time outdoors, and there are plenty of options for having fun in the sun without spending a fortune. Our toddler’s current favorite place to hang out is the zoo, and while admission can be expensive for a family of four, we asked the grandparents to buy us a membership for Christmas so we can go whenever we want without paying a dime!
While we prefer to be outside, if it’s rainy or too hot for outdoor fun, we take advantage of discounts for places like local museums and science centers. That way we can still get out of the house, but our budget doesn’t suffer.
Here are 10 ways you can have summer fun with the kids without breaking the bank.
1. Frequent Local Parks
Take advantage of nearby parks and have a picnic, fly a kite, throw a frisbee or kick a soccer ball. If it’s too hot for fitness fun, spread out a blanket in the shade of a big tree and play board games, read books or just chat with one another.
2. Visit Public Beaches
You may have to pay a small fee to enter the beach area, but if you pack a lunch, water and plenty of snacks, you can have a full day of fun in the water for very little money. Just make sure to bring the sunscreen!
3. Head to a Community Pool
If there isn’t a beach nearby or your family prefers the pool, find a community pool in your area. They’re usually free or have a minimal fee to get in, and you can spend the whole day splashing around and cooling down.
Make sure to ask about food and drink policies before you go, though. If there’s no food allowed by the pool, leave a cooler in your vehicle and have a lunchtime parking-lot tailgate rather than a poolside picnic.
4. Watch Outdoor Concerts and Movies
Most neighborhoods have some type of outdoor concert or movie series during the summer. If you’re lucky enough to live in or near a larger city, you can probably find a number of options to choose from. And if not, you can always set up your own outdoor movie theater in your backyard.
It may not seem like your typical family fun activity, but there are plenty of outdoor volunteer options that you can enjoy together.
Join in on a community clean up, help start a community garden or even get involved in a Habitat for Humanity build. Whatever you choose, you’re getting outside, having some fun and teaching your children a valuable lesson in giving.
6. Explore the Night Sky
Who says all the fun has to happen when the sun is up? On those really hot days when you can’t bring yourself to be anywhere but in the air conditioning, you can take advantage of cooler nights.
A blanket, a telescope (if you have one) and a star chart can provide plenty of excitement. Add some snacks and you’ve got a stargazing party!
7. Plan a Scavenger Hunt
Scope out a local park or tourist area (or even your own backyard) and come up with a list of things the family can search for. On hunt day, give each family member (or team if you have little ones) a list and set them loose.
Need some ideas for your hunt? Parents.com has some suggestions for you. Make sure to set a meeting time and place, and then celebrate the winner with an ice cream cone or Italian ice when everyone is back.
8. Go Geocaching
Don’t feel like creating your own scavenger hunt but want a little adventure? Try geocaching, a fun family activity that doesn’t cost a thing.
Grab your smartphone or GPS, load the family in the van (or set out on foot if there’s a geocache close enough to you) and find some treasure!
9. Look for Ideas on Deal Sites
Groupon and LivingSocial frequently offer up discounts for local family-friendly activities. Make sure you sign up and regularly check out their deals on admission to museums, zoos, amusement parks, festivals and special events.
Certifikid, a kid-specific deal site, offers discounts on activities and events, camps, classes and even parties, so don’t forget to sign up for their deal emails, too.
10. Check Attraction Websites for Specials
Your local aquarium, zoo and children’s museums may offer specials on admissions. Some have half-price days, theme months where admission is discounted, or significantly reduced admissions if you arrive later in the day.
If you plan to visit a location frequently, you might also want to look into memberships, which may be costly up front, but generally save you money over the course of the year if you visit more than a couple of times with your family. While they’re not necessarily outdoor activities, these can be great options for rainy and hot days!
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a blast as a family. Get outside, get moving and enjoy what your town or city has to offer. You may not even need to spend a dime!
Your Turn: What’s your favorite low-cost way to have fun with your family in the summer?
Ami Spencer Youngs is a freelance writer and yoga teacher, raising her career alongside two boys under three. Learn more about her life and her writing at writingherlife.com or on Twitter at @writingherlife.