The kids are HOME! The electric bill has doubled, the grocery bill has tripled, and the noise level is . . . okay, you get the picture. The summer is a wonderful, happy, less-scheduled time of the year. It is healthy for kids to relax, imagine, play and hang out with friends and siblings. But, it is surprising how expensive the summer months can be!
Are they invited to movies and need to buy tickets and popcorn? Do they need money for the public pool and the snack shack there? Is summer camp an option? (If you can get a low interest rate loan!) Church camps aren’t as expensive, but there is still a fee. Do the older kids want money for a day at the mall? And does the entire neighborhood seem to be at your house when lunchtime, snack time, or anytime rolls around?
To top it all off, is your family planning for a couple of weeks of vacation that will cost your arm, your leg, and your firstborn male child? Life is expensive and it doesn’t get cheaper in June, July, and August. But, it can.
Fun can be free or almost free . . . it just takes a little creativity and planning.
- Some of the best vacations are “stay-cations.” Consider spending half of your vacation time at home. Decorate the house, and even the dog each day with a new theme. (I suggest OrientalTradingCo.com for great ideas!) Take day trips with your family to baseball games, parks, lakes or the local bowling alley. Act like you are on vacation, in your own home. Sleep in the den, pitch a tent in the back yard, or give the kids the Master bedroom for the week. Grill out or cook vacation themed meals. Staycations mean there are no hotel bills, no road trip hassles, and the money you save that week might be enough to buy that three-day pass at an expensive theme park!
- Look into the activities that will provide free or almost free entertainment for your kids. Rent a movie once in a while instead of paying for the theatre. Give your kids a cell phone or video camera and let them create and make movies that you will watch that evening.
- Visit the zoo for the day and bring lunch in the cooler. A PBJ cut in the shape of a turtle tastes great and costs almost nothing when eaten on a blanket in the shade. Bring water instead of buying it. That is almost ten dollars in your pocket right there!
- Cool off at the local park that offers the spray fountains. Every child under the age of seven is thoroughly entertained and it will only cost you the price of some sunscreen.
- The arboretum is a perfect morning experience. Some are cheaper than others, but most offer some great activities for kids. The next day, take your kids to the local nursery and give them ten dollars to buy some flowers or buy seeds for almost nothing. Have them pick the spot in your yard where those flowers will grow and hand your kids a shovel. They will enjoy watching those flowers grow all summer.
- Give each child a big planter and the chance to grow a vegetable or fruit inside. Make it a challenge to see who will feed the family most. Growing a garden is a great way to teach kids that living things need care.
- Visit the library instead of the bookstore sometimes. Books are an adventure and kids need to learn the joy of reading. Books are ALWAYS better than the movie. Help your kids to learn that, and you will have given them a great gift!
- Pay your kids to clean, do their laundry, or wash the cars so they will have money of their own to budget and spend.
- Spend some time working at a VBS, a local mission, or volunteering at a camp. Kids need to learn to serve others. Kids will learn to spend “time” instead of money.
The next three months will fly by. This can be a wonderful summer, and it doesn’t have to cost more than it should. Turn the A/C up and let them sweat just a bit. Look for as many free activities as you can find and encourage your kids to do the same. Kids can understand that the family has a budget, and they can learn to make choices that honor that budget. That may be the most important reason to create and have some cheap or free family fun. Chances are, twenty-five years from now, you will smile at your grandkids as they tell you about their “staycation.”