Family Summer Fun on a Budget

The kids are home from school and they’re looking for fun things to do this summer. But whew! Things can get expensive fast! Never fear. There are plenty of ways for your family to have summer fun on a budget.

We’ve come up with a list of over 50 ideas as well as ideas for you to check out and find even more. Check over this list and start making your plans.

Family Summer Fun on a Budget

50+ Ideas for Family Summer Fun on a Budget

Have dinner somewhere else – around the coffee table while sitting on cushions? Inside a blanket fort?

Have a family board game night (or afternoon). Some libraries (like ours) even have board games that you can check out for free.

Assemble a jigsaw puzzle together. Get a big one so that you can work on it over the course of a few weeks. Set a goal to have it completed before school starts again.

Blow bubbles. Try experimenting with different items as bubble wands – colanders, funnels, a plastic water bottle with the bottom cut off, a slotted spatula, or whatever else you can think of. Dawn and Joy dishwashing liquids work well for making bubbles.

Have a movie night at home. Make some popcorn and hunker down on the couch for the evening.

Shop at the dollar store. Give each person a small budget and let them buy whatever they want.

Our favorite ideas

Read, read, read. Sign up for your local library’s reading program or play reading bingo.

Speaking of the library, seriously, head to the library for some free fun. Of course you can browse for books, but ours offers SO many other things as well: some have Cricut machines that you can use, they offer board games, CDs, DVDs, and even leisure activity kits that you can sign out, story times, craft workshops, puppet shows, magician shows, and so much more. Check yours out to see what they have to offer.

Go on a picnic – even just eating on a blanket in the backyard can be a special treat.

Go on a scavenger hunt. You can set one up yourself or use our free Nature Scavenger Hunt printable.

Go letterboxing or geocaching.

Head to this blog post and grab the free summer activity book. It’s packed with word searches, drawing sheets, dot to dots, coloring pages, I Spy games, and much, much more. Over 50 pages of fun for your kids! Put together into a book for them or just print off the specific sheets you want to use. There are tons of other ideas for free/low-cost summer activities there too.

Go outside

Go to the park. Swing on the swings, go down the slides, hang from the monkey bars, or just run around in all that open space.

Go camping in the backyard. Of course, you’ll need some equipment for this but try borrowing first. If your family really loves it, you can look at purchasing a tent and other equipment from your local thrift shop or wait until the sales happen at the end of the season if that’s within your budget. Our provincial parks even offer a “learn to camp” program so that when you’re ready to head to a campground, they will come to your site and teach you how to set up camp and other important skills.

Spend the day at a nearby beach. There are a ton of ideas here for fun beach activities.

Head out on a family bike ride

Go on a penny walk (or nickel walk if you live in Canada where we no longer have pennies). Take a walk and every time you get to a corner, flip the coin to decide which way to go. This is a fun way to explore new areas. Just be sure you have your phone with you so you can find your way back.

Lie on your back in your yard and watch the clouds. Sketch them or tell stories about them.

Catch fireflies after dark. It’s simply magical.

Get creative

Take free craft classes at Michaels or workshops at Home Depot. Note: some of the classes at Michaels require you to purchase craft supplies so be sure to check that carefully.

Create a family journal or scrapbook. Have each member add to it at least once a week with poems, stories, pictures, or anything else they’d like to add.

Collect rocks and paint them. Leave them around your neighborhood for others to find and claim for themselves. In our area, we even had someone start a snake made out of rocks and others paint rocks to add to it.

Make your own musical instruments and put on your own concert.

On a hot day, try ice painting.

Make some sidewalk chalk art. You could lie down and trace each other and fill those in or just create your own art. Or how about drawing an ice cream stand or toy store and then role playing with those?

Put your sidewalk chalk to more use by playing hopscotch or tic tac toe with it.

Make some craft projects. You can put together an inexpensive craft kit with supplies from the dollar store. Or get really creative and look for things around the house. Challenge the family to see what they can make from what you find.

Pick flowers from your garden and make some homemade perfume with them. Fill a small jar with flower petals. Pour in water until it’s filled with water. Put the lid on and gently shake the jar. Leave it for 3-4 weeks. Add more water if needed but be sure to put the lid back on tightly. Strain the perfume and use or give as a gift.

Simple Ideas for Fun

Pull out a magnet and experiment to see which items will stick to it. After a few items, have everyone start making guesses as to whether the next items will stick or not.

Use the same kind of idea as above but with a bucket or kiddie pool of water and some items for testing whether they sink or float.

Have a yard sale. Let the kids keep whatever money they make from the sale of their own items.

Have a paper airplane day. Make paper airplanes and fly them seeing who can get theirs the farthest.

Turn some old socks into a horseshoe game. For each “horseshoe”, fill the toe of an old sock with dried beans. Tie the sock in a knot to hold the beans in. You can decorate the beanbags with fabric paint, permanent markers, buttons, sequins, and so on. At the very least, each sock needs to look different from the others. You can use a hula hoop as the target or create a circle from yarn, string, or a jump rope. Toss the beanbag into the circle. The one who gets it closest to the center wins.

Send your kids to Vacation Bible School. I haven’t seen any that charge money but be sure to double check that first. Also, in my city, we also have free local neighborhood playground programs. These have been around since I was a child. They have leaders at school playgrounds around the city who plan crafts, outdoor games, and other activities for the kids to take part in free of charge.

Take it old school. Play some of your childhood favorite games. Grab a set of jacks from the dollar store, have a sack race, play a game of pick up sticks, or if there are enough of you, play a game like Red Rover, Kick the Can, or Hide and Seek.

Ideas around town

Attend free movies. Our city offers free family-friendly movies at dusk in various outdoor locations around the city. And I know that there are some cities that do free or very low cost movies at the theater during the summer too. Check out these American theaters offering $2 tickets for kids.

Attend a free concert. Many cities like ours have free outdoor concerts in the summer.

Go stargazing. You can do this in your own backyard (unless there is too much light pollution) or look to see if you have a free or low-cost observatory in your area. Ours runs free public nights every Saturday in the summer.

If you still have one in your area, go to a drive-in movie. Ours has nights where you pay one low price for the entire car full of people. And on holiday weekends, they have a triple feature each night so you can get 3 movies for the price of one.

Go to a play. Some cities have free (or very low cost) outdoor plays during the summer. Check your local library for possible performances and puppet shows to attend. You could also put on your own play!

Attend free festivals. Yes, there are often things that cost money at these festivals: food, goods from artisans, and so on. But you can take your own picnic meal with you and set expectations for the festival with your family before attending. Sometimes, we are able to set aside a little money to use for something special while at the festival. For example, we are taking a picnic meal with us and aren’t buying anything else at the festival EXCEPT for ice cream from the ice cream truck. Or give each person a budgeted amount of money and let them spend as they wish at the festival. This helps build money management skills too.

Get active

Hike local trails. Most trails, at least in our area, are completely free to use and they offer some stunning views and the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife.

Go swimming. Many local pools allow for one-time passes at a reasonable cost. You can also go to a wading pool or splash pad. In our city, those are free.

Play paddle ball. Make paddles by shaping one out of a wire hanger and then stretch a stocking or pair of tights over it. You can secure it with a rubber band. Use this to bat around balloons. You can also often find sets for games like this at the dollar store.

Play tag in the backyard. Turn on a sprinkler or two to make it even more fun.

Set up a disc golf course in your backyard. You don’t even have to set up a formal course or purchase equipment for it (other than a Frisbee). Just decide on a course by designating things in your yard (trees, large rocks, etc) as holes and pick a “par” for each of them. You can find a printable mini golf scorecard here.

Use the above idea but for golf, using a kids’ golf set.

Go golfing at an actual golf course. Take A Kid To The Course offers a FREE round of golf for youth under the age of 16 when accompanied by a paying adult at participating courses across Canada. I’ve heard of similar programs in the US.

Head out for free bowling, available in many areas in Canada and the US.

At over 200 Good Life locations in Canada, kids aged 12 through 17 can workout for free this summer. Similar programs are offered in other gyms across Canada and the United States.

Think outside the box

Have an unbirthday party. Put up a few balloons and streamers (save the leftovers from other parties or pick up a few at the dollar store) and eat cake. You could even draw names and have each person make a picture or something similar for that person as a gift (or give each a few dollars to purchase something at the dollar store). If you want to have a theme for the party, you could throw the party for the kids’ stuffed animals, a favorite author or character (we used to have a birthday party for Big Bird every year), or a faraway relative (or beloved relative who has died).

Head to a local farmers’ market or drive to a farm stand and let the kids help pick out some yummy food to purchase. Take it home and make something together. This can be a great way to encourage them to try something new and to talk about the nutrients that food provides us.

Put together a “build your own” bar of some sort – baked potatoes, tacos, sandwiches, trail mix, salads, etc.

Put together a time capsule and bury it in your backyard.

Learn something new by watching a Youtube video together. Juggling? A dance routine?

Where to find more ideas

Be sure to search the internet for “free things to do” and the name of your city. You will often find articles that let you in on many different activities available in your area that can be done for free or very low cost. Over on Creative Cynchronicity, we have articles on Free Things to Do in Toronto, Free or Low Cost Things to Do in London Ontario, and Free or Low Cost Things to Do in Arkansas. My pal Jamie over at C.R.A.F.T. has many many other cities covered too. Free Things to Do

If you have any great, economical ideas for summer fun with your family, be sure to share them in the comments below.

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