Do you have a budget for your summer vacation? Not your vacation vacation, but those fun summer activities and treats that make summer summer?
OK, my summer fun budget is like $30. But I can make that in one hour posting crap out of my closet on a Facebook garage sale, so my YNAB does not have a line item budget category for “Summer Fun”.
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In our family we are serious about underscheduling. Summer means freedom, so I won’t be spending a dime on swimming lessons, summer camps, day camps, sports teams, dance classes, or tutors.
We’re also serious about our Disneyland addiction, so I will be spending oodles of cash there. That money comes out of our Vacation budget category.
OK, so I have no budget for lessons. I have a big budget for vacation.
But what are we going to do all summer on the days we’re not at Disneyland? How do I make sure my kids have a ton of summer fun without spending a lot of money?
Summer Fun on a Budget: Food $10
I don’t spend money at the 7-11 on 44 oz Slurpees, because No.
I do make homemade Slurpees that are just as sweet and red without High Fructose Corn Syrup or dyes — and have one ingredient.
I don’t spend money to go to the public pool, because I purposefully moved to a town that has a residents-only waterpark, complete with waterslides. We go to the pool almost every day from Memorial Day through Labor Day. That’s a lot of free fun!
I don’t spend money while we’re at the pool. There are four strategically placed vending machines dropping everything from Coke to ice cream bars but I didn’t put in a single quarter last summer, and I don’t plan to this summer.
If my kids want something from the vending machine, they buy it with their own money. My 11-year-old has gotten really good at convincing his 8-year-old sister to wait until they can bike to Walgreens where they can get 2 candy bars for the price of 1 at the pool, then sharing with him. Candy deprivation and small allowances are the best way to teach money management. And the art of persuasion.
I don’t stock up on Popsicles at the grocery store when they are $1 a box, because I can make healthy popsicles at home for less.
We run around town several days a week during the summer, but I don’t spend money on fast food. I bought a small ice chest last year and it paid for itself after the first two times I didn’t have to hit the drive thru because the kids were staaaarving or dyyyying of thirst!
I do occasionally buy my kids ice cream. It is summer, right? I can stretch $10 through 5 trips to McDonald’s or Wendy’s to buy ice cream cones. As long as my husband isn’t with me, because then the $1 cones are swapped for $7 Baskin Robbins shakes and sundaes. My kids are seriously thrilled to get parent-sanctioned cold, creamy sugar either way.
Summer Fun on a Budget: Activities $0
We don’t go to county fairs or carnivals because those cost us more than a day at Disneyland does (no joke.) Besides, I’ve scared my kids out of ever wanting to ride rides that have been torn down and put up who knows how many times by…how does one say “meth head” nicely?…definitely-not-Disney-certified-engineers. Furthermore, I prefer to buy my corn dogs from a place that prominently displays an A rating from the Environmental Health Department.
We homeschool, so we pretty much make a career out of doing amazing things while spending as little money as possible. We’ve already visited the local zoos, museums, and cultural attractions for free or cheap, so they aren’t on our summer To Do list.
We don’t go to the big waterparks, because the local waterpark getting shut down periodically for poo incidents is enough gross for me. If I want big water thrills, I’ll drive the 6 hours to Huntington Beach, where the poo is diluted in the vast Pacific — and mostly comes from sea life.
We do spend a lot of time at the library. We have library cards for 4 library systems, each of which hosts summer reading programs and an outstanding variety of performances and activities.
My kids’ very favorite thing to do in summer is to play with their friends. That’s the reason we decided to be an underscheduled family: A few summers ago they would cry in the car on the way to their paid activities because they “had” to go to baseball practice or dance class instead of hanging around the neighborhood with their friends. Kids are smart.
Summer Fun on a Budget: Gear $20
I do buy something each year that will save me money on summer fun in the long run.
- Two years ago, I bought a rolling ice chest so we could take lots of junk food snacks to enjoy in our hotel room on our Disneyland trips. We also use it to pack a picnic lunch on our day trips.
- Last year, I bought a small ice chest for the car so we could keep water cold and snacks on hand and avoid the dreaded drive thru.
- This year, I bought a popsicle mold and 1,000 popsicle sticks! My kids have had more popsicles this month than they have had their entire lives — while ingesting less sugar altogether than there is in just one box of store bought Popsicles. They think I’ve lost my mind because I tell them that they can have as many popsicles as they want! (All that’s in them is fruit, water, and sometimes a little xylitol!)
Why it wouldn’t matter if my summer fun budget were $3,000 instead of $30:
Summer is for kids. Kids are crazy happy with the simple things: parents who adore them, a clean and healthy home, and the freedom to do whatever they want to do for three glorious months.
Every day of summer should be an adventure! Use your imagination — and a little help from the internet — and challenge yourself to take that adventure for free!
“Ferb, I know what we’re gonna do today!” should be the first sentence out of every kid’s mouth each bright summer morning, and whispered plans for tomorrow’s adventure should trail off into the hard sleep that comes after hard play as you tuck them in on those long summer nights.
Being on a budget doesn’t mean you’re doomed to boredom! No matter what your family likes to do, you can find a list online of 100 ways to do it for free.
How low can you go with your summer fun budget?
#3 Summer Fun on a Budget: Have a Blast for Free! [You are here!]