Summer Fun for the Frugal Family

by Kay Lynn

Children playing

This is a guest post from Penny Saver, a frugal mom who is making the most of modest means, saving a quarter of her income, and blogging about it at The Saved Quarter.  Read my post at her site with tips to survive the teen years.

Summer is here and kids around the country are asking their parents, “What are we doing today?”  Don’t worry! There are plenty of  free or very low cost, family friendly activities for your kids’ free time this summer fun!

Festivals, Parades, and Community Activities

Check out your city’s parks and recreation department for upcoming events. You might be surprised at the variety of free or low-cost activities hosted by your city! Classes at the community center are just the beginning. Our city and neighboring cities offers music, movies, dancing lessons, parades, festivals, and family days with crafts and activities, all for free throughout the summer.

$1 Movies

Cinemark, Regal, and other movie theaters often offer free or very inexpensive second run kids movies on weekday mornings. It’s a great way to get into some air conditioning and enjoy a kid-friendly movie affordably!

Splash Fountain Parks, Swimming Pools, Beaches, and other ways to stay wet!

In some areas, community pools have free days. Ours do not, unfortunately, so we take advantage of splash fountain parks. Is there a lake, river, or ocean near you with swimming access? That is often the most affordable way to stay cool – show up with a picnic and splash to your heart’s content! If you have a yard, pull out the sprinkler and let the kids (and overheated mom and dad) play while the lawn gets it drink. Water balloon fights are another way to stay cool and wet while having fun!

Free Days at local Museums and Zoos

Most museums and zoos offer a free day or weekend each month or season. You can Google your city’s name and “free museum” to find a list of the days that they’re open without fees. If you’re a member of Bank of America, take advantage of their “Museums on Us” program and check out a local museum for free on the first weekend of the month. Similarly, Target Arts and Culture offers free entry to museums around the US free of charge, no membership required.

Factory Tours

My little boy was thrilled to spend an afternoon at the free Jelly Belly tour in Fairfield, CA!  The free “belly flops” (imperfect beans) were an added bonus. Is there a factory in your town that offers a tour?

Get Building!

Home Depot’s Kid’s Workshop
Free how-to workshops for kids 5-12, from 9 am – 12 pm the first Saturday of each month. Contact your local store to see if they offer the Kid’s Workshop.

Lowe’s Build and Grow Clinics
Free wooden projects every Saturday at 10 am for kids in 1st through 5th grade.

Lakeshore Learning Stores
Free craft activities every Saturday from 11 am – 3 pm.

Local Library

Many libraries have Summer Reading Programs, with treats given as incentives to reading. Story time can be fun even for the early elementary set, and some libraries have additional programs throughout the summer such as puppet shows and musicians.

Of course, it’s always fun to read, but you can take it a step further and each pick an age-appropriate book on the same topic, then share what you’re learning on the topic. Perhaps you take on ancient Egypt. You could take it a step further and make each other into toilet paper mummies, built a pyramid out of cardboard, and check out a cookbook with recipes from Egypt to try the food together.

Bowl for Free

Check out Kids Bowl Free to see if your local bowling alley participates. Kids get two free games every day for the whole summer! You can add up to four adult family members for under $25 for the summer.

Get cooking!

Make your ice cream, marshmallows, or popsicles.
Make play dough or slime.
Make silly meals together, like a menu based on Star Wars (Han-burgers, Vader’s taters, and Greedo’s green beans? Or how about

Go Camping

Even if you can’t get away for a few days, set up a tent in the backyard (or even the living room!) and spend the evening telling stories and eating s’mores by flashlight. Check out our National Parks – almost 400 of them have no admission charge!

Learn a new game

Play ball, take on a new sport, break out a board game, or learn what your kids are doing with their favorite video game.

How will you entertain your kids without breaking the bank this summer?

Photo: Some rights reserved by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Max June 24, 2011 at 8:14 am

Another idea is to check out the local meet-ups in your area. There are a few websites out there that have free meet-ups for like minded people. You could go on a play date with other parents of your age. There are moms and kids groups and dad with kids. Just check out your area!

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krantcents June 24, 2011 at 8:29 am

In our community, there are free concerts in the park. It is a lot of fun, people bring picnic baskets and chairs and have a nice family time.

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Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter June 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm

We also have free concerts in the park where we live. I love it. It is so great to sit outside on a gorgeous day and take in some entertainment.

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Peter S June 24, 2011 at 9:23 am

Don’t forget to check out State and Local parks as well. There are more of those and a lot of them are closer than the National Parks. Quite a few really interesting activities and if you check their calendars, they often have kid-activities going on. Be sure to check availability if you want to camp, though.

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PlanningFinancially June 24, 2011 at 10:05 am

Those are some great tips on saving money and giving your kids a memorable summer at the same time. I especially like your library advice – that’s a great way to keep kids thinking and learning even while on break. So many parents allow the TV to babysit their children over the summer with the complaint that they don’t have the money to do anything else, and they end up wasting valuable time. It is so easy to budget in family fun for less than $50 a week. Thanks for the great post!

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Mark June 24, 2011 at 10:34 am

I really like the bowl for free idea.

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Khaleef @ KNS Financial June 24, 2011 at 1:21 pm

There are great ideas. It’s good to see families being able to have fun without spending a ton of money. I think it can also be a good teaching opportunity for the kids!

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Marie at Family Money Values June 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm

My boys and I used to love to go to the local creeks and see what we could see. We (actually they) would hunt crawfish and frogs, trhow rocks, look for fish and whatever else we felt like doing.

We used to make play dough, but what is slime and how do you make it?

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Amanda L. Grossman June 25, 2011 at 7:14 am

Lots of great ideas here. I love factory tours myself:). I am from PA, so we always did the Hershey’s tour at Hershey Park, and the Herr’s Potato chip tour. Since moving to Houston we haven’t toured any!

Also, I used to live on a main street in a small town in Maryland. What’s really funny is I woke up on several Saturdays to a parade right off my front porch! Once there were even Clydesdale Horses! So funny–I guess I wasn’t tuned into the community at all and never knew these parades were coming.

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Robert @ The College Investor June 25, 2011 at 8:39 am

For the adults, Regal also offers $5 movies on Tuesdays that includes new releases!

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SB(One Cent At A Time) June 25, 2011 at 9:45 am

This is good article. always we don’t have to spend big bucks for travel. There are always so many nice things around. People forget to enjoy the place they live in for distant dreams.

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Moneycone June 25, 2011 at 10:10 am

Lot’s of awesome ideas here! Factory tours are an excellent idea! I recently took my 2 year old to a local farmers market!! He actually had more fun there than we did!

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Jackie @ freeismylife June 25, 2011 at 11:51 am

These are exactly the kind of activities that I took my son to starting when he was 4 years old. The FREE events at libraries and local businesses were just as good if not better than the paid ones. One Easter weekend, we went to 3 FREE events in one day, all back to back. In these touch economic times, people don’t have to stay at home due to lack of money. There is much to do in our communities – and lots of the activities are FREE.

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Avraham No Cigarrete June 25, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Great post as usual. It is just a question of how much will you invest on your kids. Money or time to leave them in front of the pc the all the time. keep up the good work!

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101 Centavos June 26, 2011 at 1:40 pm

$1 and $5 movies are a great value, as are factory tours. A couple years back, we went on a tour of the Bell’s Ice cream factory – awesome stuff!

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Travis @DebtChronicles June 26, 2011 at 8:16 pm

We have an awesome nature center in our city that has presentations, hiking, a pond for fishing, and animals that is available for FREE. Kids love it!

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Money Beagle June 27, 2011 at 5:56 am

We buy an annual zoo pass and an annual pass for the local beach. Both save us money if we use them a certain number of times (which we do) and the zoo pass is tax deductible to boot!

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