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Frugal Summer Fun for the Whole Family

Summer can be expensive — with vacations and trips to theme parks and more — but it doesn’t have to be! Here are some fun & frugal summertime ideas for the whole family:

Kids Activities

  • Sensory Play. Fill a tub with noodles, sand, beans or rice. Add a couple scoops, spoons and shapes. Voila! Instant fun. My 3.5-year-old particularly loves the red sand that Sean and I collected at Sand Hollow when we lived in St. George, Utah, and it keeps both her and the toddler busy for 30-45 minutes at a time whenever we pull it out. Add small bowls or pitchers for a Montessori experience as they practice pouring and scooping.
  • Water Play. Even better than sensory tubs, water is a favorite of little ones of all ages. Keep mess to a minimum inside by using  a water proof liner with an absorbent towel on top. Or fill up a bowl or tub and let them go at it outside! (Hopefully it goes without saying that you should always keep an eye on little ones when they have water because even a small amount can be a drowning hazard.)
  • Outdoor Art. To beat the midday heat, my girls head outside right after breakfast most mornings. They love nothing more than when I follow them out with a bucket of craft supplies — playdough, paint and an easel (or not — they also love to paint rocks) or even just coloring books and crayons.
  • Nature Scavenger Hunt. You may be noticing a theme here…in the summer we try to offer our kids as many opportunities to be outside as we can. Most days they’ll happily play for hours on end without any prompting from us, but we like to keep a few ideas for the days when it’s more of a struggle. Whether you have a tiny yard or several acres of property, a nature scavenger hunt can be a fun way to discover all that nature has to offer. Create a cheat sheet of items for them to find or turn them loose with a magnifying glass, journal and pencil with a challenge to see how many bugs or flowers they can discover!

Fun Food

  • Frozen Fruit Pops. These fruit pops are a favorite in our home. They’re naturally sweet, and anything on a stick qualifies as fun!
  • Frozen Fruit. Or, save time and just stick the fruit in the freezer by itself for a cold & delicious treat. Grapes, blueberries and raspberries can be frozen whole with no extra work on your part but lots of fun-mom bonus points!
  • Picnics. Whether you head to the local park, your backyard or simply spread out a blanket on the family room, there’s something about eating someplace other than the dinner table that just makes meals more fun and memorable.
  • Eat from the Garden. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we’ve really discovered the joy of eating from the land with our first ripe tomatoes and an abundance of dewberries on our property. Not only is it a frugal way to eat, but I also love to watch my girls excitement over picking their own food. Who knew veggies could be so fun?

Family Activities

  • Movie Night. Mondays have unofficially become movie night in our house, and we all look forward to the weekly ritual. We have a Netflix membership, but Redbox and Blockbuster Express are great options as well, especially if you can pick up a movie with a free code and return it within 24 hours! Hint: For inexpensive and easy popcorn, add 1/3 cup popcorn kernels to a paper lunch bag. Fold and crease the top 2-3 times and microwave like you do store-bought microwave popcorn or until the pops slow down. Add butter and salt, parmesan cheese, M&Ms — or whatever your heart desires — for a fun movie night snack.
  • Game Night. I’ll admit we don’t do this one too often because the almost two-year-old makes it hard to really concentrate on the game at hand as she mixes up cards, knocks over pieces and steals the dice. But I hope there will be many family game nights in our future. Use the games you have on hand or make your own!
  • Water Bombs. At the beginning of the summer, Sean and the girls and I spent an hour filling water balloons for a family water balloon fight. And then — within minutes — they were all gone. Later, we stocked up on sponges and made water bombs for a summer get-together with some friends, and they’re the perfect solution — easy, frugal and reusable.
  • Family Walks. We love to take walks through our neighborhood as a family. Sometimes the girls run up ahead or lag behind so that Sean and I can hold hands and talk, and sometimes they swing between us as we go. But an early morning or evening walk is a great way to enjoy time together without the distraction of chores and to-do lists or  computers and other devices. Chat with neighbors, look for flowers and just have fun together!
  • Backyard Camping. Last year we took our four girls (between 9 months and 5 years old at the time) camping, and it went a lot better than we expected, despite the sweltering heat. But if you’re not up for loading up the car and heading into the wilderness (ahem, or the closest campground), backyard camping is a fun way to get the best of both worlds. Enjoy campfires and sleeping under the stars without sacrificing a hot shower or coffee pot!

Free Activities

  • Free Bowling. Visit and to find a participating bowling alley near you and then head into the air-condition for some bowling fun!
  • Storytime at the Library. Call your local library to find out if they have a weekly storytime. Listen to stories (read by someone other than you!), browse the books and check out a few new finds each week.

There’s no shortage of options for frugal family fun, so don’t let a tight budget or frugal lifestyle keep you from enjoying all that summer has to offer!

What is your favorite frugal summertime activity for the family?