smart spending

10 fun, frugal summer activities

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Highlights
  • While summer vacations can be pricey, staying close to home can still mean fun.
  • Parks, local businesses and community centers offer lots of summer options on the cheap.
  • Getting outside can mean fun for the whole family, from hiking to camping.

It's summertime and the living is easy, as the saying goes, but that may not be the case if you're a parent.

If you're puzzled about how to handle your kids being out of school and can't afford the exorbitant rates for summer camps, theme parks and vacations, don't worry. With a little determination and an open mind, you can find loads of fun, cheap and even free summer activities for your family.

Don't get the summertime blues; check out these 10 tips for inexpensive fun this summer.

1. Bowling for free

A favorite activity, especially on a rainy summer afternoon, is to go bowling. AMF Bowling offers parents two free games of bowling, per child, per day, all summer long. After registering your children online at AMF's website, the company will send you weekly coupons you can use until Labor Day weekend. The only thing not included is shoe rental.

2. Go camping

Frugal summer fun can be as easy as camping. You can keep it simple and just set up a tent in the backyard, but if you plan to go camping beyond your backyard, consider car camping. Car camping is easy because you load everything in your car, drive to a campsite and unload as needed.

Whether you stay close to home or not, barbecuing, making s'mores, stargazing, telling ghost stories and having family time are what make camping an adventure. Check out ReserveAmerica.com for private, local and state campgrounds and information about rates, reservations and activities.

3. Tour a local historical site

Every town or city has a history, and summer is a great time to get out and explore. Visit the National Register of Historical Places online to see what historic sites are listed in your area. Most historic places listed have minimal admission prices or are free.

4. Participate in a free activity from a local business

Many local businesses and big chains offer free workshops, activities and demonstrations in the summer. You just need to do a little research to find one that suits your family's needs.

The Home Depot, Bass Pro Shops and Michaels craft stores offer kids' workshops, from free projects and crafts to other activities. Check with your local store for more information.

5. Get wet!

Many communities have local pools, fountains or splash parks where kids can run around and cool off during summer. If you are lucky enough to live near water, beaches and lakes are also a fun outdoor option. The price is right for these kinds of "water parks," as they're usually free or have minimal admission costs -- just don't forget the sunscreen.

6. Visit a state or county park

An affordable day trip or weekend getaway can be found by visiting a county or state park. These parks offer myriad options for outdoor types, including canoe rentals, bird watching, bicycling and camping. Admission fees are minimal, but check online for hours and costs for activities. Many times, state and national parks will waive fees during special park appreciation days.

7. Check out local festivals

Most communities have a free local newspaper available at libraries, convenience stores or local diners that can be a great resource for local events. Green markets, free outdoor concerts and festivals are abundant in the summer, when more people are outside and have more free time to spend with their children.

8. Here comes the sun

The sun rises and sets every day but rarely do we take time to notice. So why not take a break this summer and make a date to stop and enjoy a sunrise or sunset? Pack a picnic, blanket and cooler and drive or walk to your nearest open area to watch Mother Nature in action.

9. Go to a midlevel professional sporting event

Check out your area for local professional teams to see if they have any promotional family or summer deals. In addition to Major League Baseball, there are the minor leagues, where games cost significantly less. In August, you can also check out NFL teams' training camps.

10. Have a garage sale

Have your family help out and host a yard sale. The money you earn can go toward an activity the family decides on together. At the end of the day, you'll have a clean house, some cash and who knows -- maybe you will have earned enough to spend a day at the theme park!

 

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