Summer fun doesn’t have to be expensive.
While the kids have been counting down to summer break with unbridled glee, you might be approaching summer vacation with mounting stress. During the summer, many parents have to take time off from work to care for kids who are normally in school, and that financial stress is compounded by pressure to keep kids entertained.
All those unoccupied hours can lead to the dreaded cry of “I’m bored,” which many parents will fork out big money to avoid. In fact, in 2012, the average American family planned to spend $600 per child on summer expenses. And it’s likely that number has only increased since then.
Luckily, there are plenty of free and low-cost summer activities that will keep your child entertained and your bank balance where it should be. We spoke to parents about their favorite low- and no-cost activities during the summer. Here’s what they recommend.
Consider the Annual Pass
Many summer attractions — from theme parks to state parks — offer annual passes. Before summer is in full swing, see if your favorite attraction offers one. Make sure to calculate how many times you would have to visit to recoup your money and begin saving.
Tara Carr Witter, a mom of five from Elkton, Va., quickly learned that group passes presented huge savings for her crew.
“We live near Shenandoah National Park, and we spend a lot of time hiking there,” she says. “The annual pass is only $40, which is a steal for a family of seven.”
Look to the Library
Not only are they a treasure trove of stories, libraries can also be your golden ticket to days of free family fun.
“I love to reserve passes at the library for admission to various local attractions,” says Lauren Beaulieu, a Massachusetts mom of two. “This allows us to do things we normally couldn’t really afford to do.”
Museum pass programs will vary depending on your local library, but they generally offer drastically discounted admission. Passes usually need to be reserved in advance, particularly during peak times like the summer.
Brooke Falkner, a Massachusetts mom of two, reminds people to take advantage of their whole library network.
“Check out passes in other towns within your library group. Sometimes you can borrow passes that your library doesn’t offer or that are already reserved,” she says.
Libraries themselves are also full of great summer events like story times, Lego hours, and even movie nights.
Give Groupon a Go
You may think of Groupon and other sale sites more for spa days than family fun, but many parents told us that online coupons are their secret for budget-friendly summer activities.
“I’m all about finding things on Groupon to do,” says Courtney Parizo, a New Hampshire mom of four. Many indoor attractions that are slow during the sunny summer months give great deals, and Parizo has also found bargains on camping, kayaking, and other summer fun.
Check out Parks and Rec
No, we’re not talking about the popular sitcom. Your city’s Department of Parks and Recreation may offer free or low-cost summer activities, ranging from outdoor adventures to organized tours to local movie nights.
Jerin Arifa, who lives in New York, loves taking advantage of New York City’s Parks & Recreation programming.
“We’ve gone canoeing and kayaking in all five boroughs for free,” she says.
Of course, some of the most beloved summer activities are the ones we all think of: swimming at the beach, fishing with the kids, or going for a hike. Just because they’re traditional doesn’t mean these activities have to be boring. For one thing, nature is always changing, so you’re likely to see something new each time you get outside. The great outdoors also offers plenty of opportunity for imaginative and educational play with little ones.
Dawn Zombeck, a New Hampshire mom of two, found a way to make hikes more enticing when her children were small and to make her money work double.
“I used to get a $10 roll of quarters and bring the kids for a hike with a tree identification book. Every tree they got right they got a quarter. Then, they would treat me to ice cream on the way home.”