Do you have kids at home this summer and want to give them a fun summer without breaking the bank? Me, too. Being a cheapskate, I tend to steer toward free or cheap activities for my kids in the summers, and I have some suggestions that might help you.
First and foremost, take a lunch. You can save lots of money wherever you take the kids by bringing your own food. Invest in a soft-sided collapsible cooler and keep a picnic blanket in the back of the van. I have gone to places and been the only one with my cooler in tow, and every time I get comments like, “I wish we’d done that.”
Start with freebies. Your local library is a great one. Most libraries run summer reading programs with special activities each week. I also like to take my kids to the big library in the city (Nashville Downtown Library) for a change of environment. They love the feel of being downtown! There is always the park. Don’t take your kids to the same park you always go to; drive across town to visit one you’ve never been to. Get another mom and her kids to ride with, and split the gas money! Consider doing easy nature hikes at a local state park. Many parks have paved trails for families with little ones/strollers as well as unpaved trails for your older kids. Also check for free “Movies in the Park” or “Movies on the Lawn” in your area.
Skip the expensive water parks and hit the community pool. My city pool charges $4 per person (much cheaper than our nearest waterpark, which is $25 for kids and $30 for adults!). The community pool will be less crowded so you can keep an eye on your children better, and typically the kids have just as much fun. Plus, they usually let you bring your own food, while waterparks don’t. Alternately, buy a cheap plastic pool and make your own waterpark in your backyard with a pool, sprinkler, and slip-n-slide! Invite some friends and have your kids make “tickets” for them!
Go cheap. We like to visit The Frist Museum, which is free for kids. I pay around $10 for me, and after a quick tour of the artwork, we head to the hands-on kids section to do crafts. Monkey Joe’s, a popular indoor inflatable zone, is half-price on Wednesdays. Take your kids to a farmer’s market. They will enjoy seeing the hustle and bustle and the colorful produce. Let them pick out some fruit or veggies to buy. Visit a pick-your-own apple orchard or strawberry farm and enjoy cooking what you picked with the kids. If the kids want to go to the movies, take them to a $1 summer movie at a Regal theater (and bring your own candy in your oversized purse – boxes of movie theater candy are $1.00 at WalMart).
Nix the expensive vacation – Instead of the beach, book a cabin or lodge room at a state park (or bring a tent. Personally, I prefer something with a bathroom). Government workers (translation: teachers!) usually get a percentage off at state parks. Rent a canoe and spend a day out on the lake, go fishing, or hit some nature trails. Another thing we’ve done is take a two-or-three-day vacation at an in-state location rather than spend the money for a week somewhere far away. Find a city less than 4 hours from you (because we all know that we can only handle the kids asking us “Are we there yet?” for exactly 3 hours and 45 minutes.) and spend two days there. If you can book a room with a fridge, you can eat a couple of meals a day in the room (cereal for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch). I know, the husband won’t go for that, but if you point out how much money it costs for all of you to eat out three times a day, and then remind him that he wanted to visit that nice golf course, you might sway him!
Lastly, break out the video games. I can’t believe I’m saying this because I don’t really play true video games, but I do play some Wii games. Our Wii has been a lifesaver on days when it’s rainy, extremely hot, or when the kids are just plain bored. Whatever system you have, make sure to have two to three kid-friendly games that your family can enjoy together. (Translation for the men: War Hawk is too violent and you need to go buy Super Mario Galaxy 2 or Just Dance Kids. And yes, you will have to dance.)