Looking for Free or Cheap Family Summer Fun? Try These Tips

July 2015

Hot summer weather signals time for family fun—at home, out of the house, or on vacation. Your budget will enjoy these activities that are free or cost only a few dollars. You may have to spend a little time planning, but involve the whole family to get input and help ensure success.

Finding Fun at Home and in the Neighborhood

  • Set Up Your Own Family Board Game Olympics. Pick one night weekly to turn off the TV and digital devices and let the games begin. You might select board games ranging from Chutes and Ladders to Monopoly, Clue and other newer games. Don’t limit "sporting events" to just board games, either. Try dominoes, pickup sticks, jacks and a variety of card games. End the evenings with "awards" for winners and losers alike—make ice cream sundaes, pop a big bowl of popcorn, or enjoy other treats.
  • Screen a Summer Film Festival. Have your family pick a theme (sci-fi, comedy, detective/thriller, cartoon features, or TV series, for example) and identify specific films or shows. Spread the viewing out over several weeks or have a binge weekend. Invite a few neighbors to participate. Make homemade pizza or grill burgers and dogs before hitting the "play" button.
  • Start a Regular Neighborhood Games Night. If your neighborhood has a park or greenspace, organize periodic game nights (or days). Invite neighbors to join in a game (or group of games) and bring a dish for a potluck picnic. Play a different game each outing or the same game(s). Select games that can be fun for almost all ages, such as softball, kickball, flag football, ultimate Frisbee, volleyball, dodge ball, tag, and hide and seek. Introduce the kids to less familiar games such as croquet or badminton.

Free or Cheap Family Summer Fun:

  • Create your own summer film festival
  • Neighborhood Games Night
  • Walk or bike a new trail weekly
  • Map out your own history tour

Exploring Day Trips in Town and Nearby

  • Walk or Bike a New Trail Weekly. City, county or nearby state parks and green spaces, all offer trails. How many have you tried? Search online for sites and trails near your location. Instead of a trail hike, create a self-guided walking or biking tour featuring an interesting topic, such as local architecture or historic sites.
  • Go Geocaching. Geocaching combines hiking with a treasure hunt. You use GPS coordinates to find the hidden cache. All you need is your smart phone and a GPS app. To find geocaches in your area go to Geocaching.com or enter "geocaching" and the name of your city or area in your favorite online search engine.
  • Take Everyone Out to a Ball Game. Summertime means baseball, softball, and tennis. Check out local summer youth and adult leagues. Attending games or matches is usually free.
  • Frolic or Feast at a Festival. Using your favorite search engine, enter "free events and entertainment" and the name of your city (or the location you’d like to visit). The number of events will surprise you. Here are just a few examples: free concerts, food festivals, farmers’ markets, historic tours, and free admission days to museums or other cultural sites.

Vacationing on a Budget While Ramping Up Your Fun

  • Go Camping—in a Cabin. Many state parks offer rental cabins that are very economical for a family vacation. Go to the official state park sites of your state and nearby states to find lots of options. Many state parks also have hotel type accommodations. Pick a park that has activities your family enjoys. From hiking, boating, and swimming to game rooms and programs specific to the park, multiple activities are available free or for a nominal cost. By midsummer, most cabins may be reserved, but start planning for school breaks and next year.
  • Map Out Your Own History Tour. Do you like old forts? How many can you find within 300 or 400 miles? Do a river tour where you check out the history, recreation opportunities and sights of a specific river and its basin. Plot a food tour: sample foods and eateries famous in the route you choose. Let family fingers walk the Web for information and plan a route, identify sights and activities, and reserve affordable lodging.
  • Exchange Homes with a Relative or Friend. Housing is usually the biggest cost for family vacations. For an inexpensive base, swap homes with a friend or relative who lives in an interesting city or locale. There are also online organizations that specialize in home swaps for vacations; just be sure to evaluate any service very carefully for its terms, track record and ratings from previous users.

It’s Not Too Late to Start Now

In five minutes you can arrange a Game Night this week. With a half hour, your family can map out four new trails to walk or interesting nearby places to explore on a weekend. And that’s just a start. Enjoy these free or inexpensive activities and give your wallet a summer vacation.

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