Free or cheap summer fun for frugalists

This post is from staff writer Suba Iyer.

For the past few years we have spent our summers traveling. This year is different; we moved to a new city, bought our first home and we are also expecting our first child this fall. Lot of exciting life changes but they didn’t leave much room for major vacations. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun right? I decided to take complete advantage of everything our new city has to offer. Surprisingly, it was incredibly easy to find free or really cheap fun things to do. I checked out a few other cities and they all seem to offer a plethora of fun activities to keep a frugal family happy. Here are a few ways you can fill your calendar with fun.

1. Check out your city’s website

I never realized the city offered so many entertainment activities for the residents until I accidentally stumbled upon a “Movies at the Park” poster a couple of summers ago. Due to scheduling conflicts I have not been able to take full advantage of these, but this year, I plan to take advantage. Here are some of the activities we have planned:

  • Outdoor concert series: Weekly concerts featuring local musicians; every week offers a different genre of music.
  • Movies at the park: Weekly family movies; bring a blanket and watch movies under the stars.
  • Sunrise yoga or other community exercise groups: Our city is organizing sunrise yoga sessions every Sunday morning. There are also several swimming sessions throughout the summer.
  • Community center activities: The local community center has scheduled several craft, cooking and dancing classes.

Check out your City’s Parks and Recreation department site for upcoming events in your area.

2. $1 and $5 movies

This will work mostly for families with kids as the movie timings are usually during weekday mornings. If you can make those times work, this can be an excellent way to watch family friendly movies for super cheap and get some free air conditioning.

3. Library offers more than books

I love my local library. Many people don’t realize that libraries hold more than well-stocked bookshelves. My library offers free passes to local museums and fee-parks. There are several classes for all age groups: summer gardening classes, craft classes, estate planning and personal finance classes for adults, ice cream social, summer reading programs, movie nights and computer classes for kids. I could write an entire post on the treasures offered by public libraries. Even if you are not interested in anything else, I suggest you check out what your library has to offer.

4. See how they make it

We thoroughly enjoyed the factory tours we have been on so far. It has not only been educational and fun, but who can say “no” to free samples? Check out if there is a factory (any factory – chocolate, beer, wool mill) in your town that offers a free tour. You can start here.

5. Bowl for free

For another activity the kids will love, check out if your local bowling alley participates in the Kids Bowl Free program. Kids get two free games every single day for the whole summer! Adults can join in the fun for cheap too, for under $25 for the entire summer.

6. Learn a skill with a free workshop

As new homeowners, home improvement stores have been our latest money sink. I picked up a flyer last time that had ton of free workshops for both adults and kids (kids have a lot more workshops than adults). Check out what the local stores are offering in your area.

7. Free days at the local museums and zoos

Most museums and zoos usually offer a free day each month (or season). Ask what that date is at your local museum. There are other programs like Bank of America’s “Museums on Us” or Target’s Arts and Culture program that also offer free admission to certain museums or events on a certain day of the month.

8. Go back to school (for entertainment)

Is there a major university in your city? You might be surprised by the number of educational and entertainment activities they offer to the public. Our local university offers free admissions to sporting events (when the local team is playing), music and theater performances and special invited lectures on very interesting topics to name a few.

9. Free summer day camps

From what I hear, summer camps are expensive; why not take advantage of the free ones that are offered? Every summer Bass Pro shops host free weekend camps for kids and free family workshops on certain weekdays (archery, fishing, shooting, etc.). If the outdoors aren’t your thing and you prefer learning technology instead, both Microsoft and Apple offer summer camps in their local stores.

10. Check out our natural treasures

I put this one last, but this is my favorite way to spend summer — exploring and enjoying the best offerings of Mother Nature. There are 401 national parks in the U.S. and 268 of them never charge an admission fee. Even the ones that do charge have fee-free days few times a year. Even if you miss those dates, the admission fee is very cheap for what it offers. On top of that, there are state and local parks. These are mostly free (at least, in my experience. I have not checked out every park, of course). Pack a picnic and go for a day hike or plan a weekend camping trip.

What are your favorite summer freebies in your area? How are you planning to spend your summer?

2 Responses to “Free or cheap summer fun for frugalists”

  1. Anonymous

    These are all great cheap summer activities for the whole family. People often spend way too much money on activities for their children simply because they don’t take the time to look around for deals and find creative things to do. Great list!

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