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Choosing (and Paying for) Summer Activities for the Kids

The following post is from Christina of Northern Cheapskate:

Boys looking at bird nest
photo credit: Christina Brown

As the school year winds down, many parents’ thoughts turn to one question: What will I do with the kids home all summer?

From sports to camps to family vacations, there are plenty of activities available to keep your kids busy.  But how do you decide?  And how do pay for it all?

Deciding How to Spend Summer Vacation

For some families, summer vacation is a respite from the every day shuttling to various activities.  It can be a blessing to avoid scheduling anything during June, July and August. For others, summer vacation without a plan is a curse.  Their kids need to have structured activities to keep the family from going insane.

When it comes to deciding what to do this summer, ask yourself some important questions:

  • What kind of summer do I envision for my family?  Consider how much traveling you want to do over the summer (both to and from activities as well as for vacations, weddings, or other commitments).
  • What projects do I want to complete during the summer months (i.e. painting the house, building a deck, gardening, etc.)?  We find it helpful to sit down with a calendar and create a plan for the summer.
  • What level of activity do my children need?  Some kids need lots of structure. Others are more self-directed.
  • What types of activity do my children need?   Some kids flourish in sports, while others may do better with academic or art-based activities.   Try to pick activities that play to your child’s interests and strengths.
  • What is the experience worth?  Determine the value of the activity your child is interested in.  Will help them learn new skills or build on existing ones?  How is the program structured?  Who teaches it?  Are snacks and lunch provided?
  • What is my budget for the summer?  It is important to factor in the costs associated with enrolling your kids in activities.  Because we live in a rural area, gas prices are a big consideration for us.  And because we’re far from town, we also have to factor in whether or not an activity will affect meal times.

How to Make Summer Activities Affordable

Sports activities and summer camps can really be expensive – especially if you have more than one child interested in participating.  It is possible to enjoy the summer when you’re on a budget.

Consider these tips for saving on summer activities for the kids:

  • Register early.  Many organizations offer discounts for early-bird registration, so signing up sooner than later can save you money.
  • Watch the deal sites.  Sign up for daily deal sites like Groupon or Living Social and you can receive alerts to big savings on camps and kids’ activities.  Just make sure to read the fine print of every offer to ensure you’re really getting the best deal.
  • Apply for scholarships or income-based discounts.  Many camps and activities offer merit-based scholarships or offer reduced rates if you are income-eligible.   Filling out a simple application could help trim the cost of your child’s activities.
  • Ask if you can barter.  Consider what skills you have that may be of interest to the organization your child wants to attend.  An artist friend of mine did set design in exchange for dance lessons for her daughter.  A talented photographer could offer to take photos of a summer camp.  A carpenter could make repairs or help with a building project in exchange for their child’s participation.  Think about things you know how to do – whether it is creating marketing materials or helping out with kids and ask about a possible trade of those skills for a fee waiver or reduction.
  • Visit your local library.  Your local library can be a great source of fun, free activities for your child.  Ask about summer reading programs and special shows and activities. In addition, some libraries offer free passes to local museums and other attractions.
  • Make your own camp.  On a tight budget?  Don’t want to commit to running the kids someplace everyday.  Create your own kids camp.  Come up with fun kids camp activities to do for a couple of hours each day.  Think outdoor fun, messy art projects, making music and more.  Get friends and neighbors involved to make planning easier and to get a break from the kids.  Each family could host the kids camp one day of the week.

Your child’s summer vacation should be an enjoyable for both your child and you.  Focus on picking affordable, quality activities that your child is genuinely interested in, and you’ll have a great summer.

How do you save on summer activities for kids?

Christina Brown is the creator of Northern Cheapskate, a blog dedicated to frugal living through coupons, freebies, and money-saving ideas.  She lives in the rural north woods of Minnesota where she clips coupons, pinches pennies, and chases her three boys (a 6-year-old and twin 4-year olds) as a stay-at-home mom.