Here we are mid-summer, the height of “fun” season, with so many ways to enjoy this glorious time of year. And the myriad of activities at our disposal can run the gamut from free to ultra-expensive. How are you doing so far? Here’s a tip. The amount of money spent does not equate to the amount of fun had. It’s as simple as that.
Let’s look at some ways you can have a great summer without breaking the piggy bank, and some alternatives to those activities you are currently forking over oodles of your hard-earned money for.
We’ll start with kids who, as anyone who has ever had them in their lives knows, can be a huge drain on your pocketbook. But as the financial savvy among us know, only if you let them. The first thing that comes to mind with kids and summer is camp. This phenomenon alone can empty your piggy bank.
The first question that comes to mind is “Do they really need to go?” At the risk of sounding like the old fart that I am, back in my day, we didn’t all get shuffled off to “enriching” summer camps. We just stayed home and played with our siblings and neighborhood friends all summer. And dare I say, used our imaginations and got plenty of exercise to boot.
If you still have the need (or desire) to send your kid(s) to camp, there are less expensive, and yes, free options. Look into them. Your little Einstein can have just as much fun at a town or church camp, often run free of charge, then at a fancy “science” (or art, music, sports, etc.) designed primarily to relieve you of your money. Give it some thought before you sign on the dotted line.
As for entertaining the little darlings at home (and may I add here that it is not necessarily our job as parents to “entertain” them?), there is no end to the fun things they can do for free or a small layout for materials. There is art (painting, drawing, sculpting, etc.), water play (small backyard pool, water balloons, sprinkler, etc.), backyard games (tag, soccer, hide and seek, red rover, etc.), indoor (board) games for rainy days. Or take them for a bike ride or a hike or a picnic. Get them involved in some gardening. Have them make a little fairy garden. Take them to the library to check out some books and videos or take part in the many free activities offered there. Have a make-your-own sundae party or a campfire and make s’mores. Look around for free family activities in your or neighboring communities. There are often free concerts in the park, street fairs, and other kid-friendly events listed in your local paper. The possibilities for free fun are only limited by your (and your children’s) imagination. Use it!
And many of these activities double as adult entertainment too, even for those of you without children in your lives. Bike rides, hikes, picnics, games, campfires, s’mores, ice cream sundaes, and concerts in the park can all be enjoyed by you too. The library is not only a source of free reading material and videos but often also offers programs geared to adults as well, from book clubs to art classes to writer’s groups. There is something for everyone. Again, keep your eyes and minds open to opportunities in your area.
Let’s look at some of those things that drain your pocketbook in the summer. I’ve already mentioned concerts. You can find many for free. Even the paid events will often have cheaper outdoor lawn seats available. I much prefer these “seats” anyway as it is very pleasant being outdoors under the stars enjoying the music.
Going out to eat can get costly in the summer months (and always). Why not take turns hosting potluck dinners with your friends at each other’s houses, or take it out to a park or beach? If you just can’t stay away from restaurants, try skipping the appetizers, keeping drinks to a minimum (one or none), sharing an entree, and/or a dessert, or having the dessert when you get home. At least this will keep the cost down to a minimum. And save the eating out for a special occasion. If you do it all the time it loses its specialness and joy anyway.
And then, of course, there’s vacation. The cheapest thing to do of course, is not to go on one, or to opt for the ever-popular “staycation”. But if you must go away there are many things you can do to keep the costs down. Staying for a week at a place with a kitchen will cut your meals budget. Going in on a place like this with friends will cut the cost even further. And just as I suggested at home, look for free activities in the area. You can always go on their town’s website in advance to check out the calendar of events. If you don’t want to rent for the week, you can try house-swapping, either with people you know (to check out a new place with in-the-know references as to what is good to do), or through a house swap registry. Some other tactics to save money would be to go on a shorter vacation (do you really need a whole week away?) Try this midweek to save even more. And always be sure to use any discounts you have available, AAA, AARP, Groupon, discount coupon books, etc.)
And as for those money intensive kids on vacation, make sure to give them a budget ahead of time. It might be a good idea to provide them with their own vacation fund (for treats, souvenirs, etc.) ahead of time. When it’s gone it’s gone. It’s up to them how long they make it last. This doubles as a good lesson for them for future budgeting (wink, wink).
Here’s to enjoying the glorious bittersweet last month of summer. Keep the activities simple and on-budget and you can look back on your delightful summer with no regrets and no debt, only fond memories to treasure forever.