I know for me, as a single parent, money always has to be a consideration. I want to have fun with my kids and make great memories, but I also want to make sure we have the things we need. Summer is often a great time for making memories, since we have more free time and, often, there’s more to do. But sometimes, that “more to do” also means “more money to do.”
So I thought I’d share my top 10 ways to have fun with the kids, without spending a ton of money. All of these are usually very inexpensive, or free.
- Regal Cinemas Summer Movie Express. Regal Cinemas is a nationwide movie chain, and most of their theaters offer the Movie Express each summer. The start date varies, but other than that, it’s the same everywhere: every Tuesday and Wednesday at 10am for 9 weeks, you can see a fairly new movie for just $1 per ticket. There are often some very recent releases, but even the older releases are still within the last few years. The best part? The movies are always G or PG rated, so there’s no doubt that it’s family friendly. It’s a great way to beat the heat, it’s cheap, and the movies give you something to talk about after.
- Swimming. This is a pretty basic, “duh” kind of activity, but it’s well worth mentioning because there are a lot of options. You can hit the beach and check out the ocean waves, you can go to a local lake or spring, or you can get a pool for the backyard. Kiddie pools are super cheap and require no maintenance, as you can simply dump them and refill them daily. You can also get bigger pools – they’re more expensive and require maintenance (including some chemicals you’ll have to purchase), but after the initial investment to get the pool, the cost of maintenance supplies is rather minimal, and you’ll get years of enjoyment out of the pool. Most cities and towns also have public pools which are free or fairly inexpensive, and you can also look for splash pads or water parks. If all else fails, buy a sprinkler or a Slip ‘N Slide and set it up in the back yard (add some suds to a Slip ‘N Slide, and call it a shower – the kids will love that!).
- Make homemade ice cream. There are tons of recipes for making homemade ice cream – with and without a machine. The machine isn’t that expensive, either, so you can easily pick one up if you’d like to use it. Regardless of the method or ingredients you choose to use, this is fun for the whole family – putting it together, waiting for it to be ready, enjoying the rich, creamy yumminess. This is one of those memories that will last a lifetime. And you can make it different flavors and do it more than once, as well as try different methods – that can even make it something of a science experiment, without the kids even realizing it. Gotta work that education in even in the summer, right? 😉
- Go bowling. There are many bowling alleys that offer special deals during the summer. The most common one I know of allows you to sign the kids up for free, and gives them 2 free games of bowling per day, only requiring you to pay shoe rental. That program also allows you to purchase a family pass for $25 which gives the whole family free bowling, 2 games per day with shoe rental. Shoe rental in my area is about $3 a pair. The last time we went bowling, we paid $12 a person for 2 games and shoe rental – so 2 times of bowling 2 games pays for the pass, and after that, I’m saving $9 a person every time we go. Even if you don’t plan to go every day, the family pass can be worth it if you plan to go at least once a week, or even half a dozen times over the summer.
- Go skating. We have a skating rink in our area that offers skating a night or two a week for 2 hours for just $3 a person, and includes skate rental. Check with your local rink and see what kind of deals they offer. Even if they don’t offer any deals, skating can often be a rather inexpensive activity. You can also consider, if you have enough families that would be interested in going with you, asking if they’ll offer any kind of a group discount or maybe create a special event (Homeschool Night with skating for $5 or something like that).
- Check out local museums. Art, science, history, dinosaurs – there’s a huge variety of museum out there, and they all offer something different. Depending on their size, you can make multiple trips to the same museum and see different things each time. A lot offer free or reduced admission for kids under a certain age, and sometimes you can purchase an annual membership that will not only get you free access to that museum, but also to a lot of others. Branch out beyond just the town you live in, as well. Look for museums within an hour or two of where your live and turn it into a day trip. Grab lunch, find a nearby park and/or playground, and play I Spy in the car while you’re driving there and back. Look into little stops you can make along the way to break up the drive for restless kids.
- National or county parks and historic sites. Whatever state you live in, chances are there’s a national or county park, or historic site, somewhere close by. These can be great ways to spend a summer day. You can hike, picnic, swim, camp, canoe, tube and look at wildlife in places like these. Historic sites allow you to check out battlefields from the Civil War or American Revolution, take a peek into life on a working farm from more than a century ago, or see what life was like in a cracker village, among other things. These trips can be both fun and educational without even trying. And admission is usually quite cheap – often charging by the car rather than by the person, so you could (depending on the size of the families) get another family to go with you and split the already inexpensive cost, making it an even better deal.
- Go to the zoo. Find a nearby zoo, and you’ve found an entire day’s worth of fun. This one might be a little more expensive than some of the others, since zoo admission can be higher, and they often require you to purchase food and drinks from within the zoo, rather than allowing you to bring your own. But you’ll get to see exotic animals you can’t see anywhere else (without going on safari to Africa and wandering in India), and they usually offer short programs that give you more information on some of the animals, so the cost of admission is really worth what you get.
- Visit an aquarium. Aquariums are another great place to spend a summer day. They’re an easy way to get out of the heat, you can get up close and personal with a variety of aquatic life, and all the water and (usually) blue colors can be rather soothing and relaxing for a child with ADHD. It’s also a great way to get out of the house on a rainy day, if you don’t mind missing out on any outdoor aquarium shows or activities that might be canceled due to the weather.
- Create an in-home movie theater experience. Rent a movie from Redbox (less than $1.50), pop some popcorn, close the curtains, turn off the lights and snuggle up together on the couch or the floor. Heck, rent 2 movies and make it a double feature! This is a great way to spend a rainy day, or any day that you just don’t feel like going anywhere or doing anything active. Money’s too tight to even do Redbox? If you’re like me, you have a huge collection of movies on DVD – pick a handful, and call it “Classic Movie Day/Night.” You can also swap out the movies and do a TV series you have on DVD – my kids love Mork & Mindy and ALF. Or record a bunch of episodes of I Love Lucy, Tom & Jerry, or whatever other show you love that is on often, and have a “Classic TV Day.” Pick a bunch of books and read together, grab some coloring books and crayons and color together (they even make coloring books for grown ups now!), or bake cookies together. The point of this one is not so much what you do as that you do something together, while shutting out the rest of the world. Lock the doors, turn off the phone, and just be there with the kids, doing something that you might do all the time anyway – but it’ll be special because nothing can interrupt you and you’re all really present in the moment. That’s what counts.
What are your favorite ways to spend quality time with the kids? What are the cheapest things you can think of to do that are still fun?