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Summer Fun Without Breaking the Bank

Aahhh, it’s summertime and the livin’ is easy, right? With the longer days, kids out of school, family vacations, and poolside fun, summer is the best season of all for many people. After all, what’s not to love about beach balls and lemonade stands? But the truth is that the livin’ isn’t always so easy during the summer when the budget is tight and family activities at resorts and theme parks are too expensive. Fortunately, with a little advanced planning and some creative thinking, summer fun that doesn’t break the bank is a real possibility.

  1. Think Like a Traveler. The recession of 2008 popularized a term that shouldn’t be reserved for use only during difficult financial times – the “staycation.” For many people, their own hometown can provide countless budget-friendly options for fun. The trick to finding them is to think like a tourist. Visit the websites that you’d consult if you were actually vacationing out of town: TripAdvisor, Expedia, Kayak, Travelocity, Priceline, and Yelp all enumerate the top 5/10/25/50 things to do in lots of cities across the country. They can often provide such lists for very specific interests, like things to do outdoors, things to do with kids or pets, or things to do with free admission. Also, consider visiting the website of your town’s visitors’ bureau or chamber of commerce which can highlight attractions and activities you might not think about otherwise. Additional online sources include travel websites like CNN Travel and the Vacation Idea Online Magazine. By just putting in some time for research, you can find more to do than you’d ever be able to accomplish in one summer.

  2. Visit State Parks. You don’t have to stay at an expensive beach resort or take the kids to Disney World to have a good time and make incredible memories. Some of the most affordable fun – both for families with children and adults on their own – can be found at state parks. Few other places provide such a wide selection of activities: hiking, biking, boating, golf, swimming, camping, bird watching, and horseback riding. Many state parks charge no admission fee for the day, and individual activities that do have fees are usually very affordable. For instance, greens fee at a state park golf course are usually a fraction of what you’d pay at a private course. Camping overnight or staying in a lodge or cabin does cost money, but these fees are usually a far cry from what you’d pay for a night in a hotel or a week renting a chalet.

  3. Consider Your Own Back Yard. Visiting state parks isn’t the only way to experience the outdoors on a budget. How about pitching a tent right outside your home? At the low, low price of totally free, this option is a true winner. Aside from the financial benefit, it also neutralizes the “uh oh, I forgot” phenomenon. It is the rare person who has camped away from home with no reason to say, “uh oh, I forgot” . . . the matches/blanket/medicine/bug spray. When this happens at home, no big deal – just go inside and get what you need! Some worry that camping at home might be boring, but with a little imagination, it’s just the opposite. Consider using binoculars to bird watch in your own neighborhood. Enjoy star-gazing and identifying constellations. If you have a telescope, even better. Read, write, draw, listen to music, dance, sing, dream. Just make sure you have ample lighting for any activities at night and access to electricity if needed. Camping at home can be anything you want it to be.

  4. Make a Splash. Nothing goes better with the hot summer sun than clean, cool water – and lots of it. If your neighborhood doesn’t have a pool, then find public pools near you at But you don’t have to be in the pool to enjoy a cool splash. If you have a Slip ‘N Slide, your house will be the spot where every kid wants to play. Or you could simply set up a sprinkler or just pull out the garden hose and let the frolicking begin. When it comes to water, a little creativity goes a long way. Water gun or water balloon fights can become legendary tales kids will take back to school. Everyong – from 4 to 94 - loves to splash in water, no mater what form it takes.

  5. Make It a Meal. There’s nothing more satisfying on summer evenings than a cook-out or pot luck dinner. Fire up the grill, invite anyone you want, and ask your guests to bring a dish to share the expense. An ideal time to have friends over and share a meal is when the sun goes down. That way, you can be outside when it’s cooler than during the day, which provides an opportunity to play bocce ball, croquet, badminton, corn hole, or other lawn games. It’s also fun to count fire flies, and both kids and adults love to roast marsh mellows and make s’mores. Evenings are prime time during the summer.

With a little ingenuity and some planning in advance, summer fun is available by the truck load and doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, great activities might be at their best when they are experienced on the cheap. There’s nothing better than summer fun that allows the wallet to breathe easy.

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