Many parents are concerned about keeping their kids entertained this summer without breaking the bank, given the uncertain state of the economy.
Fortunately, there are many cheap fun summer ideas out there for the kids. This includes low-budget summer activities like camping, affordable summer camps, and other cheap kids’ summer programs.
If you’re trying to keep your kids occupied while school’s out, here are some cheap summer activities to check out.
1. Book low-cost kids summer programs
Not all summer programs are expensive. Look into low-cost summer programs run by nonprofits, church groups, libraries, or schools. Your kids will still be entertained — and educated — without the hefty price tag that often comes with private summer camps.
Some affordable programs to look into include:
- Girl Scouts (or Boy Scouts): These both offer fun summer activities, such as overnight trips, day camps, and hikes. There’s a one-time registration fee of $100, followed by a $75 annual fee. Certain activities might have additional fees, but you might qualify for financial assistance.
- Parks and recreation department: Many local parks and recreation departments offer affordable kids summer programs like day camps and field trips.
- Summer camps with nonprofits or churches: Places like The Salvation Army, The YMCA, and local churches sometimes have affordable programs for low-income households. For example, many of these programs can have average weekly costs of $200-500 per child, while high-end private camps can run up to $1,500 per child per week.
- Library programs: Your local library might have local programs, field trips, or day camps geared toward youths. Some of these programs have fees, so be sure to account for that.
- Summer school: Check with your child’s school to see if it offers any cheap or free activities this summer.
2. Take a trip somewhere local
Instead of taking an expensive trip that requires airfare, opt for an affordable summer vacation. Take a weekend or day trip somewhere nearby. For example, you could do an overnight stay in a town by the beach and go swimming or beach combing.
Or you could explore a neighboring city and check out its local landmarks, historical district, free admission museums, parks, and restaurants. You might even be able to teach your kids something while you’re at it, making the trip both fun and educational.
If you want to take a trip somewhere further away, compare flights and hotel costs and book them in advance. Summer travel tends to be more expensive, especially if you’re going to a place like the beach, so account for that.
If possible, use a travel rewards credit card to earn points you can later redeem for discounts on your trip. You can also use cashback apps on things like gas, food, and shopping to cut costs even more. And you can use an app like GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas stations near you.
3. Visit the great outdoors
If you’re trying to save money and plan affordable summer vacations for your family, then it might be time to head outside. When it comes to the great outdoors, there’s a lot of potential, cheap fun summer ideas to choose from, including:
- Kayaking or canoeing: Equipment rental is typically $20-40 per hour.
- Hiking: Free, unless you need to pay for parking or specialized trailheads.
- Camping in the woods or in your backyard: Camping gear like tents, sleeping bags and firewood will run you between $100 - 300, unless you can borrow from friends.
- Picnicking at a local park or barbecuing: Picnic supplies for a family of four will cost about $50. Some parks charge entry fees of between $5 - 20.
- Fishing: A fishing license is required in most states, which is between $15 - 40 per person, paid annually. Fishing gear like rods, reels and bait will run you $50 - 200.
- Biking: If your family doesn't already own bikes, you can find bike rentals for about $10 - 30 per hour.
- Flying kites: You can buy a kite on Amazon for as little as $10.
- Swimming: If you don't have access to a pool or a beach, many municipalities have public pools with entrance fees of $5 - 20 per person.
- Visiting local parks, nature reserves, or walking trails: Visiting most parks is free, but some may have parking fees of $5 - 20 per vehicle.
- Photographing the natural flora and fauna: Completely free, unless you'd like to buy a specialized camera or accessories.
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The great thing about these affordable summer activities is that you can do them as a family. And, if you have friends or neighbors willing to lend you some equipment, you might even be able to do these activities for free.
4. Have family night at home
Do you have kids that prefer the indoors to the outdoors? If so, plan a few stay-at-home activities throughout the summer.
On one day, you could make some cookies or homemade ice cream with your family. Then, settle in for a movie marathon.
Another day, you could do some arts and crafts with your kids. Gather some common household items like duct tape, paper, string, clean popsicle sticks, paint, and markers and get creative.
Other cheap activities you can do at home or in your own yard include jump roping, dancing, charades, and good old-fashioned board games.
5. Set up a scavenger hunt or obstacle course
If your kids enjoy a bit of adventure, set up an obstacle course or scavenger hunt. You can do this either indoors or outdoors, though it might be easier outside if you have limited space in your home.
For the scavenger hunt, make a bunch of clues and hide some toys or other fun objects for your kids to find. Be sure to reward them when they successfully complete it.
And if you choose to make an outdoor obstacle course, you won’t need much to get started. Gather some socks, branches, garden hoses, cardboard boxes, and similar items and arrange them in a fun course. If you have more than one kid, time them to see who can complete the course first. Or, if the course is big enough, have them do it at the same time. The winner gets a prize.
6. Volunteer as a family
Volunteering is another one of those cheap fun summer ideas. Not only is it free to do, but it’s also a great way of introducing your kids to the idea of helping others in need.
Check out local organizations or charities and see if they have any volunteer opportunities this summer. This could be places like Habitat for Humanity, The Salvation Army, or even a local food bank.
7. Take a low-cost art class
If your kids are interested in arts and crafts and want to learn more about them, consider booking a cheap class. You can either do an online search, or check with your local art store to see if they have any upcoming activities this summer.
There are plenty of art forms to choose from, too. This includes things like scrapbooking, pottery, bead stringing, painting, jewelry-making, and more. Many formal classes charge a fee.
Art classes can cost about $60 per person. However, you might be able to find cheaper options, so do some research and see what works for your family and budget.
8. Play outdoor games
Summer is a great time to get active, so set up some games to play outside. Some fun options include capture the flag, tug of war, pie-eating contests, tossing water balloons, kickball, Twister, and cornhole.
If you want to take it up a notch, set up teams amongst your family members, friends, or neighbors and encourage some friendly competition. You can always give the winning team a prize, but make sure everyone’s having fun.
9. Teach your kids life skills
No matter what age your kid is, it’s never too late to teach them some valuable life skills. For younger kids, this might include things like cleaning their room, setting the table, or swimming. For older ones, it might be things like cooking, baking, shopping, or gardening.
You can always gamify these teaching moments, too. For example, if you have an older teen who’s just learning about finances, create a spending and savings challenge with them. Or if you have a young child, use funny voices while helping them pick up their toys.
10. Check out local festivals
A lot of cities have street festivals, parades, and other fun events in the summer. Many of these events are sponsored by local businesses or nonprofit organizations. Because of this, many of them don’t charge any entry fees.
Check with your local chamber of commerce or town’s official website to see what’s on the calendar this summer. Popular options include food festivals, live music events, games or movies in the park, and more.
Even if there is an entry fee, younger kids may be able to get in at a discounted rate or for free. This makes local events like these great, cheap summer activities for the whole family.
11. Take a tour
When it’s not busy, you might want to consider getting a free tour of a local police station or fire department. These types of places will sometimes also host special, free events like ride-alongs for younger kids.
Another fun and educational option is to tour a factory. There are hundreds of factories throughout the United States, some of which do guided tours. Some tours are free, while others have a nominal fee, making this another one of those unique, low-budget summer activities for your family.
12. Make your own event calendar
Some people in the U.S. use advent calendars for the month around Christmas, but why limit yourself to one month? With your family, put together a 30-day calendar with events, games, activities, and other fun things you can do together. Each day, you’ll pick one thing to do until the calendar is done.
Best strategies to prepare for summer camp
The cost of going to summer camp rose by 35% from 2021 to 2022, but camps remain as popular as ever. If you want to send your kids to summer camp, here are the top strategies you can use to make it more affordable:
- Start planning early and save up throughout the year. The sooner you can start planning, the sooner you can start saving. Try to set aside a small sum every month until summer starts. If, for example, you know camp is going to cost $1,500, save $150 a month for 10 months and you’ll have enough to cover the fee.
- Book a spot early. Many summer camps open registration several months in advance. Oftentimes, they also offer early-bird discounts to families who sign up within a certain time frame.
- See if you qualify for discounts or financial assistance. Some summer camps offer discounts on tuition, especially if you’re sending siblings to the same came. Certain camps have a limited number of scholarships for low-income families. Depending on your finances, you might qualify for these or other forms of government assistance.
- Ask for a payment plan. Summer camps sometimes offer payment plans to help families afford the cost. Ask about your options.
- Get involved in a local camp. See if your local church or municipality offers day camp activities or sleepaway camping programs. Many of them have affordable summer camps for kids from low-income families.
- Use a rewards credit card or personal loan. If you have a rewards credit card with a relatively low interest rate, consider using it when you book the camp to earn points for later redemption. Alternatively, you could use a small low-interest personal loan to bridge any financial gaps.
- Prepare for hidden fees. Summer camps sometimes have additional fees, such as uniform rentals or activity fees, so be sure to account for these.