I love my usual routine. When my kids are in school, I send them off to the bus and settle down to work. Of course, during the summer it’s a completely different story. Instead, I find myself scrambling to find ways to keep my kids entertained, and more often than not, completely blowing my budget to pay for summer activities. Without a firm plan or routine in place, I find myself overspending on museums, amusement and water parks, movie theater tickets, and whatever else will get my kids out of the house and cooled off during the summer.
This year, I started being smarter about summer activities by creating a list of summer spending traps to avoid, and then devising a second list of cheaper alternatives. The result? A cheaper summer without having to stay at home and listen to my kids squabble.
Saving on Summer Budget Busters
You don’t have to sacrifice all of your summer plans to spend less. In fact, you can spend more on the really important stuff, such as a summer vacation, because you’re not blowing your money on the daily costs of having kids at home. Save now and you might even have a little money for back-to-school shopping.
1. Water Parks
When visiting a water park, in addition to paying the entry fee, you’ll probably end up spending money on stuff like tube rentals, food, lockers, and souvenirs. It’s fine as an occasional treat, but it can seriously add up. I have a yearly pass to a local water park, and while the admittance is paid for, it’s the extras that make all the difference.
Solution: Out of sight, out of mind. Don’t head to the water park unless you’re willing to make it one of your bigger summer activities. Besides, there are a ton of free and cheap water play ideas that your kids can enjoy without the high costs. My kids love splash pads and the slip n’ slide. If your kids are dying to swim, head to the community pool. You may find that it even has a water slide or a lazy river.
Air conditioning, quiet time, entertainment – what’s not to love about a summer movie? Well, the cost for one thing. After paying for the tickets, there’s a good chance you’ll pony up for popcorn and soda. Since production companies know that kids love the movies during the summertime, they release the biggest blockbusters that your kids just have to see.
Solution: Check to see if your local movie theater has a summer kid’s program – many offer free or $1 tickets for second-run movies that may have been released months earlier. While you may still have to pay for the popcorn, you can be smart: Order a large size and share it equally.
Bowling is one of the easiest ways to knock out an afternoon with bored kids. The problem is, you don’t only pay for the lane rental, but the shoe rental as well. Depending on the number of kids you have, this can seriously add up to a pricey afternoon.
Solution: Bowling alleys across the United States offer free bowling for kids. If you want to see if an alley in your area offers the program, check KidsBowlFree.com and enter your zip code. In most cases, alleys are willing to comp the cost of the alley fee and shoe rental to get parents to bring their kids. You still have to pay, but the overall price is much more manageable.
4. Summer Camp
You might have some fond memories of what it was like to attend summer camp as a kid – you might even want that experience for your kids. But summer camps are expensive, and often require the purchase of gear. Day camps are usually more affordable, but you can expect registration and special occasion fees to rack up while your kids make tie-dyed shirts and play volleyball.
Solution: Check into lower cost camps through your community center. If you don’t mind a religious slant, many churches and religious organizations offer camps, which are free or much more affordable than commercial camps. If you struggle to find anything suitable, host a summer “camp” at home: Pick a theme for each week and include a suitable craft, snack, and activity each day.
Summer Entertainment Budgeting Tips
Even if you learn to avoid some of the biggest spending traps this summer, other costs can add up to take a big bite out of your budget. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to lower your summer activity costs and still let your kids make the most of the summer months:
1. Plan Your Week
I’m not great at planning ahead during the summer – often, I choose what we do based on the weather, my workload, and my energy level. But planning a week in advance helps you plan for and avoid big spending traps. For instance, you can give each day a title: Monday is “Play with a Friend Day,” Tuesday is “Water Day,” Wednesday is “Field Trip Day,” and so on. By planning your week, your kids know what to expect and you can plan your budget accordingly.
2. Learn About Season Passes
I have a season pass that allows me to go to the water park, fun centers, skating rinks, and even the trampoline gym – and, by purchasing from a daily deal site, I only paid about $9 per pass, per person. Check to see if there are any season passes for your kids’ favorite destinations, and do the math. A day at the water park with regular admission costs $29 per person, per day, so my family’s passes paid for themselves the first time we visited. Calculate your savings versus how many times you expect to visit the attraction to decide if a pass is really worth the money.
3. Calculate Expenses in Advance
At the beginning of the summer, I add up the total costs going to my family’s favorite summer attractions, including not only admittance fees, but additional items such as food and rentals. Now, when my kids ask if we can go to the pool, I can quickly recall the total cost of a day there: usually about $20, including food. A trip to the arcade usually runs about $25. This makes it easier for me to decide what we can afford based on our budget.
4. Bring Your Own Food
If the place you’re headed allows it, bring your own food whenever possible. By doing so, you don’t have to splurge on low-quality items from pricey vendors. If your destination does not allow you to bring your own food, eat beforehand and then save your money for better snacks – a whole wheat pretzel might be a better bet than an ice cream cone, even if they cost the same.
5. Get Social
Most attractions and establishments have Facebook and Twitter pages, where they often post notices about free events, promotions, and giveaways. By becoming a fan or following them, you become one of the insiders and may be the first to hear about discounted passes, “buy one, get one free” days, and even free admittance, so it’s worth a few clicks.
While the hotter months might not be as cheap as those winter days where you barely leave the house, you don’t have to spend a ton to keep your kids occupied and engaged. A little creativity and some frugal thinking mean your kids have a summer to remember – while you keep the cash in your bank account.
What are your kids’ favorite summer activities? How else do you save money on entertainment?