Doing things as a family becomes harder as the size of your family increases. Even dinner and a movie for a modestly sized family can put a hole in your budget if money is tight. This can become more of a dilemma in the summer when kids have excess time on their hands. For the summer, we will look at family activities that are enjoyable and affordable.

SEE: Budgeting 101

Summer Camp

As parents, you don't always have the luxury of staying home with the kids all summer, so summer camps are an easy way to make sure kids are in a safe environment while keep doing what you need to do. All kinds of summer camps are offered,– finance camps, computer camps, music camps, geology camps. In general, however, summer camps are a costly option. Camps require buildings, staff, insurance and various overhead expenses that lead to substantial fees.

How to save money on camp:

  • The duration of the camp dictates most of the cost. Instead of sending your child to a camp for five or more consecutive days, it is usually cheaper to mix shorter two- or three-day camps throughout the summer.
  • Opt for day camps that bus the children. This will cut down on the cost of food, lodging and paying full-time staff – which means those fees won't be transferred to you.
  • Many camps offer scholarships and payment plans to families that qualify; it's worth asking.
  • You can often get discounts for signing up early, particularly if your child wants to go to the same camp every year. If your child's enjoying this year's camp, consider renewing.
  • If the camp offers gift certificates, they might be an ideal birthday or holiday present idea for a relative looking for a gift for your child.


Museums have become much more child-friendly in the recent decades. Rockets, dinosaurs and interactive displays have jump-started the imaginations of many children while also giving their parents a chance to rest their feet and watch them. If your child has a particular interest, consider becoming a member of the institution to save money on admission. Also, membership publications will give you information on new attractions and any summer programs put on by the museum.

How to save money on museum visits:

  • Consider purchasing a family membership to save on repeated admission costs.
  • Search online for coupons.
  • Avoid costly trips to the gift shop. Make it clear before the trip begins that the gift shop is off limits – even just to "look."
  • Go on free-to-the-public days. These events will generally occur once or twice a season when the exhibits try to encourage a higher attendance by offering discounted, two-for-one or even free admission.


Organized and recreation leagues are everywhere in the summer. Organized sports come with fees, time commitments and other related costs, but recreation leagues are sometimes run by community centers and public schools, and are reasonably priced. Better yet, you might find another parent willing to trade with you by taking your child to events, which can save you time and money. The listings at your community center or local library should be able to point you in the right direction.

How to save money on summer sports:

  • Opt for community leagues and drop-in sports.
  • Pick a sport with low equipment costs, such as soccer or baseball, instead of football or roller hockey.
  • Buy quality used equipment instead of new. Remember, Wayne Gretzky and many other icons got their start with used equipment.
  • Avoid expensive brand names.
  • Carpool to save gas. Swap babysitting services to help other parents out. If they are feeding and taking your child to soccer today, offer to return the favor another time for their kids.
  • Visit "feeder" sports camps. These are competitions held by a sports team to "feed" its next year's team. Tryouts are free to join and children may be picked up for a team they might not have otherwise tried out for. Even if they don't make the team, they still get training and practice in their sport of choice for a few days.

Summer Lessons and Courses

With the lack of structured learning during the summer, your child can become bored. This is why many parents opt for enrolling their children in lessons of all types – swimming, painting, violin, math and so on. Summer lessons are offered through tutoring companies, gyms, community centers, etc.

However, the cost can be a barrier to many families, especially those with multiple children. One solution is to search for an almost-professional teacher among local college students. You could work out a deal in which the teacher provides an hour or so of structured activity, not necessarily a lesson, for a set rate. Best of all, you can have the lessons come to you rather than working drop-off and pick-up schedules into your day.

How to save on summer lessons and courses:

  • Hire a college student instead of a costly professional.
  • Contact a local teachers association for a list of teaching freelancers, who have their summers off.
  • Check your local library and community center for low-cost lessons.
  • Get together with other children and families, and inquire about group deals.
  • Many churches, business associations and community leagues offer free courses for members.
  • Welcome centers often offer free language and personal finance courses for immigrants that could be appealing to older kids. Many of these courses are open to anyone to encourage community involvement.

Day Trips

One of the cheapest ways to enjoy the summer is to take your child on a small trip. Your state (and maybe even your town) likely offers both printed and online guides listing many points of interest in the state. Another source of information is your library. If a battle has been fought, a fossil discovered, or there is anything else worth seeing in the area, your librarian will likely know about it. If there is a shoreline or a campsite within a few hours' drive of where you live, it would be a waste not to use it.

How to save money on day trips:

  • Pack your own lunch.
  • Carpool with another parent to save to travel costs – or, better yet, take turns.
  • Ask a librarian to help locate areas of interest not found in the tourism guides.
  • Wildlife and nature parks have tours that you can attend for free or for a small fee.
  • A trip to the beach is cheaper and just as much fun as a trip to the water slides or an amusement park.

SEE: Travel Tips For Keeping You And Your Money Safe.

The Bottom Line

Although it is important to make sure your child isn't passing his or her life in front of the computer or TV, you don't have to pack an activity into every minute of every day. Children need time to just sit around or occupy themselves. You might find that your extravagant summer schedule takes second place to the backyard and a magnifying glass or some other simple activity. With a little imagination and an eye on the events calendar, you'll be able to make sure your child has a great summer without emptying your wallet. For more, see 10 Things Your Family Can Do This Summer for Under $100 and Summer: Time for Teaching Your Kids About Money.

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