Avoid The Summer Spending Itch: 8 Ideas for Frugal Family Fun


For our family, discretionary time has proven to be the most temptation-laden for superfluous spending. Perhaps it’s boredom that breeds the itch to eat out, shop, and entertain ourselves in similarly costly ways? Whatever the cause, our frugal fortitude seems to shrivel on the weekends and when find ourselves with excessive free time.

There is undoubtedly a time for splurging, and the fast-approaching days of summer vacation should provide a few opportunities for indulgence, but the three months of freedom that lie ahead can also be perilous times for those of us trying to stick vigilantly to our budgeting/savings goals.

The good news for conservative consumers is that large amounts of surplus cash are not a necessary prerequisite for family fun. There are certain forms of entertainment which, no matter how clever or thrifty you are, will always be pricey — amusement parks, prime time movie tickets, exotic vacations and fine dining come to mind. But for the financially-minded family, summer fun that won’t drain the savings account can be just a few minutes of planning and a homemade costume away.

Here are some budget-friendly ideas for family fun to get you thinking about and planning for affordable summer entertainment:

Choose a foreign holiday to observe (Bastille Day happens to fall during the summer – July 14th,) learn a bit about the historical background of its origins, and celebrate with crepes, French music, and maybe even some Parisian costuming.

Make friends with your local library. Plan themed trips — i.e. select a place, person, natural phenomenon, or historical era, and check out books, music, and movies that will help educate you and your children about the chosen topic. Plan a craft or cooking project that could go along with your theme. For an underwater theme, check out picture books on aquatic life, rent Finding Nemo, check out The Little Mermaid soundtrack and bake and decorate fish-shaped sugar cookies.

Have a mid-week pajama party. Serve breakfast for dinner and invite guests to dine in their favorite pajamas. Continue the festivities with games and movies and finish the evening with a family bed time story.

Shift the focus: instead of worrying about how you’re going to amuse yourselves, spend a day cheering others. Make and deliver cookies and homemade cards. Visit a nursing home or hospital and read or sing to the elderly/infirm. Show up at a needy friend/neighbor’s door with buckets, rags, mops or yard tools and donate an hour or two of family labor.

For younger children, a trip to the local pet store can be as delightful as a trip to the zoo. For parents, it is more convenient and less expensive. Ask the resident reptile expert to tell you about the different species of frogs, lizards and snakes. Admire the colors and textures of the birds and fish. Some pet stores will let you hold the baby bunnies and puppies, ask an employee about store policy. Stop at McDonald’s on the way home for $.88 soft serve cones and you’ve had yourself an afternoon’s worth of fun for less than five dollars.

For a family twist on the traditional movie night, feature old home movies or a digital slideshow as the evening’s entertainment. Provide popcorn and familiar background music (if it’s a digital slideshow), and have fun reminiscing about vacations, sporting events, recitals and holidays past.

Let little ones explore their creative capacities. Visit the dollar store to purchase finger paint, feathers, sequins, and pipe cleaner. Tape a long strip of butcher paper to an exterior wall of your home (or the back fence) and let your children and their friends create a super-sized multi-media masterpiece.

Don’t forget about free public facilities (police/fire stations, and the local animal rescue shelters typically offer complimentary tours,) public pools, parks, sprinklers, picnics, playgroups and other inexpensive recreational venues.

Whether you’re feeling the financial pinch or not, the pressure of costly summer entertainment mounts quickly. With a little creativity and planing, you can create family fun and lasting memories without leaving a financial divot.

Do you and your family have any fun inexpensive summer-fun traditions? If so, share them in the comment thread.