I love summers with my kids. The freedom of wearing pajamas all day, having no homework to worry about, going on adventures, enjoying the beautiful weather, and being outside as much as possible. We love to explore and squeeze in as much fun as we can! With six kids, costs can really add up, and I’m always looking for ways to save. Over the years I’ve discovered how to do summer on a budget–and that you don’t have to go very far from home or spend a lot of money to have the best summer ever!
I’ve gathered our favorite and best ideas, and I’m excited to share them with you!
Do you have a 4th grader? If you do, did you know that your family can get free access to all federal lands and waters for an entire year! It’s true! Plus, no matter where you live, you’re within two hours of an included site. We LOVE exploring the outdoors, and this is a perfect and inexpensive way to do it. Pack a picnic lunch, and enjoy your day!It’s super easy to do, and just takes a few minutes to fill out the information and print the passes. Just head to their “Every Kid in a Park” website, and follow the prompts!
Bowling is one of my kids’ favorite activities, and I have loved it in the summer for several reasons. When we lived in Texas, it was a perfect summer activity because it’s so hot, and being outside (unless you were in the pool) was miserable. Living in the north, it’s a great solution for a rainy day, or just because you want to! However, bowling can be expensive, so when I learned about Kids Bowl Free many years ago, I was so happy! Check out their site online, and you can find the bowling alleys near you that are participants. Once you sign up, your kids can bowl free every single day of the entire summer! Make sure you read all the FAQ for your participating bowling center, because they can vary in some of the specifics, like renting bowling shoes.
“Check out” the library
Whenever we move anywhere new, the library is literally the first place I look at! Our family loves the library, so much so that we have a weekly Library Day through the summer. It can be a great source of entertainment and summer fun! We’ve lived a lot of places, and while all the libraries have been different, they’ve each offered summer programs that have included craft days, story times, reading clubs, and even special evening shows and concerts. Often they’ll have a summer reading program with fun prizes. It’s definitely worth talking to your library about, and looking into what summer programs they offer. Even if it’s going once a week to check out books, it’s a great way to keep your kids reading through the summer, which is really important.
Look into your town’s youth bureau & other activities
Our town has a youth bureau that is utterly fantastic. They plan and sponsor activities all year long, but even more throughout the summer, and all of them are either free, or very low cost. Movie nights, park days, sports camps, princess parties, and more– these activities are definitely a part of our summer. I know, we are so lucky! It’s worth checking into where you live, whether you have a youth bureau or not, or perhaps another town organization that offers summer activities.
Concerts in the park & other free town events
Many cities and towns will offer community events and activities throughout the summer. We live in a small town, but the nearest big city hosts free weekly movies downtown, in addition to festivals, concerts in the park, and more. Some of these are more appropriate for a date night, but many are perfect for families. We’ve been lucky to experience many different places over the last few years, and we found something in each of them.
Explore your area
One of the best purchases I ever made was at our local grocery store, about a month after we moved here. It was a book by a local author, and consisted of sixty different things to do in our town and surrounding area. I LOVE it. It has everything broken down by section, and list things like cost (we look for those that are free or low cost), hours of operation, and other details. It includes all the state and federal parks, large town parks, museums, local places of interest, famous stops, and more. It’s our goal to visit all of them! It’s perfect for our summer adventures, and I use it to map out our weekends when my husband is home, plus some day outings with the kids. Getting to know the area you live is one of the most fun ways to spend a summer! Look online, ask around, and even visit the library to see if there is a similar book for your area.
Free zoo or museum days…or a season pass
Going to the museum or zoo can be pricey, even if, and especially if you go only once. For our size family, a season membership is almost always cheaper alternative than even going twice, so if we really love the zoo or a specific museum, we’ll buy a membership. No matter your family size, it’s worth looking into. It means being able to use it as often as we want throughout the summer (and the whole year)! If that’s not in the budget, then look to see if there is a free day or community day on their calendar, and go!
Website for local family & kids’ activities
If you live in or near a large or metropolitan city, then there is most likely a website dedicated to kids’ activities and family ideas for your area. A quick google search will help you find it if there is, and it can be a huge resource for activities all summer long (and all year too!). I signed up to receive newsletters from ours, and I love being to get information in my inbox about all the different activities and resources near us. It will often cite activities in smaller towns that I wouldn’t otherwise hear about, and some of our favorite traditions have started that way!
Go to the beach
If you live close to an ocean or lake, going to the beach is a summer must! Since we live near the Great Lakes, we consider ourselves lucky that we’re within 30 minutes of a beach, and 1.5 hours away from our favorite one. It ranks up there with our top three favorite summer activities, and since the beaches we go to are free (even parking), our picnic lunch and the gas to get there is the only cost. There just isn’t anything much better than sitting on the sand listening to the waves, playing with your kids in the water, building sandcastles together, or walking along the beach. It’s one of the best ways to spend a summer day! Stopping to get ice cream on the way home is tradition too!
Summer means being outside!! I absolutely love living in a place with so many outdoor activities, and places to explore. Honestly, our list of places to go is so long, I’m not sure how long it’s going to take to visit them all, but I’m so excited to try! Our weekends usually include some kind of outdoor adventure, and our favorite thing to do is to pack a picnic lunch and be gone for the whole day exploring. Hiking is possible even with littles, and we started young with our kids. You might not be able to go as far or for as long, and you’ll probably need to stop for more breaks, but we’ve discovered that the fresh air and ability to run free does wonders for everyone! We invested in a good backpack to carry the baby, and we can go anywhere.
Camping is definitely a family favorite summer activity. We’re going to have to figure something out this year, because all of our gear is in storage! Investing in camping gear can be pricey, but we’ve slowly purchased ours over the years, and added one or two things each summer. I like to shop the end-of-summer sales, and you can save a ton of money that way! It’s also a perfect way to explore and experience different areas, and is a less expensive way to sleep away from home. If you don’t have enough gear to go anywhere, or if you need to stay close to home, camp in your backyard! It’s a family tradition that we do it at least once, and usually it’s more often than that. We don’t always put up a tent–sometimes it’s a trampoline sleepover. But no matter how we camp out, it’s always a summer highlight, and a great way to spend time together.
Visit all the parks in your area
We are really lucky here, because we have a ton of parks/playgrounds. Our town and the surrounding areas do a fabulous job building and maintaining them, and love to make it a summer goal to visit as many as possible! The kids look forward to all the different playgrounds, and then rating their favorites. Usually Slurpees are involved too!
Picking berries certainly isn’t free, but it can save you money in the long run! Whether it’s strawberries, blueberries, or blackberries, summertime is the time for picking, and then either freezing or making jam. If it’s really hot, we like to go earlier in the morning, or later in the evening hours.
Make a Summer Bucket List
There are so many FUN things you can do in the summer that are free or cheap. Lemonade stands, making popsicles, flying kites, roasting marshmallows, stargazing in the backyard, feeding the ducks, movie nights, going to the farmer’s market…the list goes on and on! Sit down together as a family and write down all of the things you want to do, and then put it where you can see it. When you’re feeling bored, or like there’s nothing to do, take a look, and choose something from the list. I’ll be posting a ton of ideas and a free printable next week, so stay tuned!
RESOURCES for planning a summer on a budget…
Are you wondering what’s even available in your area? Or if you’re missing out on some fun activities and opportunities? Here are a few things you can do to find out about fun & free/inexpensive summer activities:
Word of mouth!
It’s the best way to find out about all the hidden gems in your area. Talk to your friends, neighbors, store cashiers, servers, hairstylists–anyone you meet–about their favorite places and activities. You won’t be disappointed! I still have a running list on the notes on my phone of all the things people have told me about–it’s where I’ve gotten the bulk of our ideas.
Facebook & Social Media
Whether you’re a regular Facebook user or not, it’s a good place to see details and find out more of what’s going on at some of your favorite places. I’ll check for updates on berry picking, openings for parks, changes due to weather, and more. Utilize it get as much info as you can!
Search online to find a website that features ideas for kids and families in your area, and anything else you’re looking for for your summer adventures! Best camping areas, parks & recreation, berry picking times…anything and everything!
Books about your area
Remember that book I was telling you about that I found at my grocery store? Yes, my favorite purchase and discovery! If you can find something similar for where you live, it’s definitely worth a look!
Here’s to the BEST summer EVER!