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4 Budget-Friendly Summer Activities for the Family

If you’re like my family, summer is speeding ahead at full force, school is looming on the horizon, and you’ve yet to make any special summer memories. Or maybe you have had the time, but finances are holding you back. Either way, times can get tough, and as kids witness their friends hitting theme parks, traversing states, and seeing National treasures or swimming in their underground home swimming pool, sometimes jealousy can set in.

These days, how do you make fun family memories while being able to afford them?

First and foremost, it’s important to dismiss the idea that there is a competition with other families to have the best of the best vacations. In reality, vacations were intended—or I thought they were—to build family togetherness. Summer activities do not need to be expensive to be memorable, fun, or exciting. They don’t even have to be vacations. They can be simple day-to-day events that bring a smile to everyone’s face and don’t break the bank.

Here’s some to get you started:

1. Slumber Party Under the Stars 

You will need: snacks, blankets, pillows, a stargazing guide, and binoculars. 

Before it gets dark, you will want to scope out the best part of your yard with the clearest view of the sky. Or consider going to a local park or public property where you can see the sky without the potential glow of lots of streetlights. Spread a family bed of blankets on the grass and load it up with pillows. The pillows are essential—they’ll keep everyone comfy and less likely to complain. 

When it’s dark, head out to the blankets and pillows and settle in. Be sure to bring lots of fun snacks that you don’t usually get to eat—think cookies, popcorn, etc., so the kiddos can be as excited about food as they are the setting. Now it’s time to stargaze! But let’s be cautious of inciting boredom. Long dissertations about how stars are formed and the history behind every constellation may not be for everyone. So know your audience. Instead, consider using binoculars for each child to pick out their favorite star. (Odds are you’ll never actually identify which one they’re looking at, but that’s half the fun). Name the stars! Make up your own constellations! Tell stories about the stars and ask the kids what they would build if they could create their own world on a star!

Maybe you’re not into camping, and that’s okay. A slumber party doesn’t mean sleeping, even if the name implies it. With this one, you can be a trooper and go for the whole night or simply hang out until you’re ready to crash in your own bed. Either way, the bulk of the cost will be the food and maybe a park sticker.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/piyaset

2. Slip n’ Slide X’s 100 

You will need: Plastic sheeting or tarp, water hose, dish soap, towels, swimsuits, and a hill.

Who doesn’t want to go to a water park? But let’s face it, taking a family of four can run you over two hundred dollars, and that’s not including the 12” pizza from the food stand for $25. So consider some ingenuity and far less monetary investment.

Find a well-sloped hill. Maybe it’s not in your yard, but maybe Grandma and Grandpa have one, or an aunt or uncle. Either way, set up is pretty straightforward. Take a large plastic sheet or tarp and lay it on the hill. You may want to stake down the corners. If you can find a place to custom cut plastic, then getting a solid 15-20’ foot run of it would be awesome if your hill can support that. Hook up your hose—two, if you have outlets. Start the water and let it jettison its way down the plastic tarp. Add dish soap for extra slippery-ness and slip or slide your way to wet water fun!

3. Library Treasure Hunt 

You will need: a library card

For all you bookish families, this one will keep your creative juices flowing! All family members can play it, and in the end, you will wind up with a big pile of amazing stories just waiting to be discovered in the days that follow. It’s a two-for-one sort of activity that is 100% free! The general rule of thumb for this activity is to take the family to the local library. Each member is allotted approximately 30 minutes (give or take – you decide). Give each member a Library Treasure Hunt checklist. Meaning: hunters must find books that involve the topics/activities/characters/settings/etc. that you have on the list. 

An example treasure hunt list: A book with an elf in it; a mystery that includes a girl detective; a story about a knight; a tale with a country that doesn’t exist (i.e., Narnia); a book that has a horse on the cover

If your kids are voracious readers, you may need to be more obtuse with your clues. If they’re younger, you may need to go simpler. But either way, in the end, each member must arrive at the checkout counter at the allotted time. Make a note of each person’s arrival time in case you need it later for a tiebreaker. Check out the books without verifying their qualifications to the list. When you get home, circle up and do a book check. The team with the most items correctly qualifying books wins! If there’s a tie, the team who arrived at the checkout counter first takes the prize!


Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Christopher Paul High

4. Family Game Night 

You will need: board games, card/dice games, and video games.

The tried-and-true family game night is not a thing of the past. And be careful not to discount the fact that your kids may love those video games! Whatever you choose to play, enjoy your time together. Consider rotating your options over the course of a few nights.

Night one: board games like Monopoly, Life, Ticket to Ride, Sequence, and Clue. Have fun with the classics, introduce a strategy game like Risk, or be willing to enjoy something more basic like Candy Land. Either way, board games create an atmosphere of family interaction that is fun and, hopefully, competitively friendly.

Night two: try card/dice games. Family favorites are Uno or Uno Attack, Farkle, Yahtzee, King’s Corners, Exploding Kittens, Tenzi, or Cat/Taco/Pizza. For those of you who aren’t as much of a fan of board games, this night may be more fun as you flip cards, throw dice, and engage the lively fun that is card/dice games!

Night three: buckle up and try the video games. You may have underestimated how fun a family gathering around the game console can be. Many multi-player video games are available, or do a take-your-turn round-robin and see who gets the highest score in the game of choice. If you don’t have a game console, perhaps you’ll want to download a game app to your phone/tablet. It makes for perfect snuggle-up time on the couch, and you’ll be surprised how much interaction you have during a video game. 

Again, there are options all over for budget-friendly family fun that doesn’t require you to withdraw from your retirement plan. As parents, we can become defeated because of what we can’t offer, but consider what you can offer your children. The gift of time is priceless in comparison to an expensive outing. Enjoy each other as summer winds down!

Photo credit: © Getty Images/monkeybusinessimages

Jaime Jo Wright is the winner of the Carol, Daphne du Maurier, and INSPY Awards. She's also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of three novellas. The Christy Award-Winning author of “The House on Foster Hill”, Jaime Jo Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing suspenseful mysteries stained with history's secrets. Jaime lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com!

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