Summer Activities On A Budget

Friends, I have a confession. If you follow me on social media, this won’t be new news to you because I’m pretty forthright with it. Those of you new here who saw the title of this blog and thought “oh! An expert, I need this information.”

I hate summer. Until Elsa will give me my own personal flurry, Texas in the summer is just gross. And those of you who enjoy and think it feels good to get in a car that is 209 degrees because it’s 109 degrees outside, there’s just something not right with you. I don’t know why you want to be burned when you get into the car, but I do have an oil both for your physically burned hands and legs, and something that will help correct whatever has been negatively wired together in that brain of yours. Bless.

Here’s the deal: I have always complained about summer. And especially since we brought Kai home because I have felt so stuck on what to do. The days in the summer are  even longer because he goes to bed so much later (thanks a lot daylight savings time), but  still wakes up early (before 7 am y’all). That’s a long day of entertaining, and at least half that day it’s too hot to go outside, and all our typical indoor places we love we don’t touch in the summer because they’re too crowded.

But…

This year, I was determined to change my attitude, and redeem summer. It’s not going to ever be my favorite season, but that doesn’t mean we have suffer through it. I have learned being a stay at home, work from home mama in my business that despite circumstances, I can learn to work within the season that we’re in. Now I know this applies to physical seasons too. With every passing year, I see more and more how fast time goes and how limited my seasons are with our son. I’m determined now more than ever to enjoy each sweet season with him. So this year, we are going to have a great summer. I created a new rhythm and routine (a blog specific to that will follow), and I love it. If you read my last post though, you know we are also on the journey of going debt-free, so I’m determined to have fun, but on a budget.

We are blessed to live in an area that has so much to do for kids and young families. Seriously, we aren’t hurting on activities. However, those activities cost money, and it can add up quickly. $10 here, $15 there, $12 for this, $8 for that. That’s on the low end of entrance fees for one of us, not to mention the cost of gas to get there, plus children are bottomless pits for food, and some places require you to pay to park. If you’ve got multiple kiddos, you can easily spend $50 for one activity for just a few hours, and I think I’m being generous here. This area is awesome, but it comes with a price tag, and when you’re trying to be frugal, it can be overwhelming. So I’ll let you in on my plan on how to do these things on a budget, and hope it helps you, be it this year or the next.

Make A Summer Bucket List

First things first, before you do anything, make a plan together as a family (or at least mom and the kids, or whoever is staying home majority of the time). We did this at Christmas time and it was SO helpful. We were able to say yes to the things that we really wanted to do, table things that weren’t as important for another year, have a ton of fun and make sweet memories, and not spend a gazillion dollars. At the end of the season there was no disappointment that we ran out of time to do xyz, because we made a list, stuck to it, and were able to cross everything off. If other things came up, we either said no to them or if there was wiggle room we could say yes. It was my favorite because no regrets, no fights, just sweet times together. Plans are powerful, lists are good. Find your own way to do this in your own personality, but if you don’t have a plan, then it’s like going to the grocery store hungry. You’re going to walk out spending way more and getting a bunch of stuff you don’t even need. This can be a really fun thing to do together, you just need a piece of paper and a marker. Stick it on your fridge and your kids will enjoy checking things off as you go along. If you are parenting children from hard places, it serves as a tangible visual to remind them what has happened and what is to come, lessening anxiety.

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Free Activities

Splash Pads: Seriously, these are the best things ever invented. They are free, there is water and running around. What more could a kid want? Go out early in the morning to beat the heat, pack a picnic lunch, go home and have some quiet rest time because everyone will be hot and tired. Our area is littered with splash pads which is nice, so we no lie just travel around to different splash pads throughout the weeks to give change of scenery and something different.

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Swimming: This can cost money depending, but if you’ve got a community/neighborhood pool, or your friends have pools, hang with them. We love going swimming with friends and happily have them join us or vice versa. It’s a nearly daily occurrence for us, and nice for mama who can cool off in the pool too vs. melting at the splash pad.

Be Active & Outside (if possible): Now, if you’re like me and you live in Texas, you pretty much have to do this at 7 am or stick to the first 2 options. But if you live somewhere where it is not 1,000 degrees, go for a family bike ride, walk, run, nature scavenger hunt, the possibilities are endless. Just get moving and get outdoors. The great thing is kids do this so naturally, and I’m going to challenge you mamas especially to be involved and not let your kids do all the action. They will love it so much more if you let loose and join them in kicking the ball around, playing catch, whatever it is. If you do have to stick more indoors, you can still find ways to be active and get kids off the couch and away from screens. Check out this post, and you probably have everything you need already.

Malls: “Um, Christa. How is this free?” It’s free if you make it clear to your kids you won’t be buying anything. This is a great lesson for them. Y’all, we have a weekly date with Kai where we go to our local mall and have ice cream, lunch, and go to the Disney and Lego stores. They literally know us by name. But he does not get something every time we go. We tell him ahead of time we are just there to play/look, no toys this week. And, usually stores like these have free activities throughout the week in the summertime, knowing families come in to beat the heat and need something to do, so look before you go. We can easily kill 2-3 hours just by taking advantage of this kind of stuff. Again, if you want it to be completely free, skip treats and bring them yourself. There’s no shame in it, tables are everywhere.

Other Stores: Do you know how many times in the summer we go and just walk around Target looking at stuff? Also places like Cabella’s that have little tanks of fish and stuffed things that creep me out but my boy likes to look at? We’ll just walk around the store looking, trying out different chairs to sit in, he loves it. And yes, we can walk out buying nothing. It just takes preparation and discipline.

Library & Book Stores: Seriously, look at your local library. It is crazy the amount of free activities our library does throughout the whole summer for all ages. There are different classes, story times, movies, fun things like petting zoos, opportunities for your kids to learn maybe something they are interested in, but you haven’t wanted to quite pay for yet. Look at their local calendar and add things to your week that you know your kids will love. It’s indoors and free, can’t beat it. Not to mention at the library, pick up some actual books while you are there. Making a fun, summer reading list is another thing you can do as a family. If you’re kids go to school, let them have some freedom and bring fun back to books. Get a good chapter book and read it aloud together as a family.

Places like Barnes & Noble always have free story times and other activities throughout the year, but especially in the summer. One activity you can do is to pick a subject or theme or character, and go into B&N or Half-Price Books and find books surrounding that theme, then sit and read them together. Maybe there’s one you really like you can buy as a treat, or simply say that was fun and leave them there.

Memberships & Admission Prices

Memberships: Places like the zoo and other museums/activities obviously have admission prices. If there is a place your family loves that you know you will frequent more often and throughout the year, I simply suggest it’s worth investing in that membership. I promise you it will come back to you ten fold if you’re smart. Hence why we get a zoo membership every year. It can also add up to get multiple memberships, so you can either spread them out throughout the year based on seasons so there’s some overlap, or just choose one and change it up. I know some families choose a membership to one place each year, so maybe one year they choose the zoo and the next year they choose a place like the Perot. Do what’s best for your family and work within your budget, but you’ll save big time doing a membership since parking is included too.  Many times as summer nears, lots of places are doing percent off deals for memberships as an incentive, so you can even get them at a discount. Even if it’s only 10%, cheaper is cheaper. Plus, make sure you know where with one membership you can get discounted admission prices elsewhere. Which leads me to:

Admission Prices: This is where that plan is really going to come into play. At 4 and because we are schooling year round, I chose we’ll do one “bigger” outing a week since we are keeping up our gymnastics and language learning schedule as usual. Knowing your priority list, you can plan to spread those out throughout the summer as you need and plan ahead. If you did get a membership somewhere, be sure and check where you can also get discounted admission prices to other places! Our zoo membership gets us discounted admission price to the aquarium, one of the things on our summer bucket list since we are learning about oceans this summer. A membership to our local nature preserve gets us discounted admission into the hefty price tag of the Perot Museum.

Don’t discount your nearby art museums either! For us, the Dallas Museum of Art now has free admission, you just pay for the $12 parking. It’s also right across from Klyde Warren Park, so we can kill 2 birds with one stone and do the park first thing, then when it gets too hot go cool off at the DMA. They have a great children’s area Kai loves to explore and create. The Nasher Sculpture Center also has free admission certain days of the month, so just do your research before you go. For us, that’s like half our day and worth the $12.

Groupon: Y’all, do not discount groupon (see what I did there). If you made your plan, head to groupon. So many places offer deals on admission prices. Just check the fine print and make sure you know the expiration date and any limitations. As you are searching specifically, you may find some deals to other places and if it fits the budget, be able to add it to your list.

Hit the Box Office

Summer is a major movie time, particularly movies geared towards kids. We love watching movies together. It’s one of our favorite things to do as a family. Now, we are choosy on movies. If you are a foster or adoptive parent, I highly recommend reading Adoption at the Movies synopsis before going to see it so you can make an informed decision about whether or not your child is ready to see something based on potential triggers she lays out.  Know what’s coming out, see them all or see what your family can handle. Maybe you’ve got older kids who can see things the younger kids in the family can’t. Make that a special date night just with them! Again to make this budget friendly, you could pre-pay for some passes (Costco always has these) so it’s not all hitting at once, and obviously the earlier you go the cheaper it is.  Maybe you make some movie experiences “luxurious” with the fancy seats and food, and others you make frugal and see what’s at the local dollar theater. Also, check the summer calendar because some theaters like Cinemark will have dollar movie days. Beat the heat and take advantage of the cheaper price tag.

Aside from ticket prices, the snacks will get you, especially if you have multiple kids. If you haven’t signed up for emails from your favorite theaters, do so. They always send out coupons for snacks.  Ask for some cups and split up a big popcorn among the family. Set up some limits surrounding the snack stand before hand, whatever you believe is fair and your family can do, and stick to it. You will avoid meltdowns if you set the limits and have conversations before you get there. This might be frowned upon, but with our kiddo’s food allergies, we always pop popcorn at home and bring in our own snacks. You do you, but it’s kind of nice we have no other choice.

Have movie nights at home! Rent something from Red Box, on your Apple TV, Amazon Prime, or just pick something from Netflix or your own personal collection. Every Friday, year round, we have a family movie night. It’s something we look forward to every week and plan to do for as long as possible. If you’re feeling like an extra cool mom, you can even plan snacks around the theme of the movie you are watching.

So, those are some ways we are redeeming summer this year. I have other ideas of ways you can make things fun at home, but that’s another post for another day. I hope you found this helpful, and I hope you have a great summer with your kiddos. I’d love to know, what are some of the ways you enjoy summer as a family?

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