So, you’re looking for something to do this summer that your entire family will love, but you checked your wallet and there’s not much in there but your driver’s license and some dust. Not to worry, there are lots of things that you can do that are really fun and don’t cost very much.
Of course, your idea of fun depends upon what activities you normally enjoy. That’s why we have divided these terrific low-budget ideas into several different categories depending upon whether your family loves the outdoors, loves learning about history, science or other topics, or families that simply want to do something that will stretch the limits of their imagination. There are even activities for families who love to make food the centerpiece of their summer.
Within each category are some activities that your family can do on a small budget. We used $50 as a budget for a family of 6 or more, $25 for a family of 4-5 and $15 for a family with three children or less, including couples.
Generally, this will cover the cost of the actual activity itself, not food, transportation or lodging to go to a location where the activity is, and some may require certain equipment beforehand.
Activities for Outdoorsy Families
If you love the outdoors, you are in luck. There are lots of things that you can do outside that don’t cost much at all. Nature is like the largest museum that you have ever been in, with the most thrilling and exotic exhibits, and best of all, it is almost always free to wander through that massive museum – you can even touch the exhibits! Let’s check out some outdoors activities.
1. Camping: Camping is probably pretty obvious to most of you outdoorsy types, but you don’t have to make camping into a huge production. Sometimes, just changing location for the night will make for a fun camping trip. Collaborate with another parent and make a camping night swap-off so that your kids can sleep somewhere else. You can usually get by with some heavy blankets and an air mattress in good weather or you can use sleeping bags and a tent. COST: $0 (minus air mattresses or sleeping bags).
2. Do a Biking Cross-County Tour: If everyone in the family can ride a bike well and you have some that are dependable and ready to go, then consider finding some cool places in your county to visit and doing a cross-county bike tour, or even across the state if you want to extend your trip. You can pack camping gear and find places to camp along the way for nothing in most areas (make sure you get permission) and you can pull everything behind you in bike trailers. Cost: $0 to $50 depending upon campground fees, bike repair, etc.
3. Go Roller-Skating: Although there aren’t a whole bunch of roller-skating places left in the United States, there are a few and roller-skating is so much fun and really cheap – especially compared to movies, laser tag and other activities. The best thing about roller skating is that you’re definitely going to get a workout! Cost $5 to $10 per person.
Activities for Families that Love Learning
If your family loves to learn, whether it is about history, science, technology or any of the other thousands of cool topics out there, here are some ideas that you can take advantage of that usually cost nothing – or close to it.
4. Visit a Specialized Museum: You may have a museum in your city or town and if your family loves stretching those brains you’ve probably even been to it. But have you been to the Barbershop Museum in Chaffee, Alabama, where Elvis got his first military haircut? What about the Banana Museum in California? Surely you’ve been to the Superman Museum in Metropolis, Illinois? These are all great places to take your family and they are almost always super-cheap. COST: $5 to $10 per person
5. Set up a Scavenger Hunt: Scavenger hunts are so much fun, especially when they are done with teams, pitting one against the other. But instead of the usual scavenger hunt items, come up with some age-appropriate puzzles that teach concepts in biology, chemistry or another subject. Some ideas include: collect all of the periodic elements (representations), collect all of the parts of speech or grammar terms or something to do with animals. COST: $0 to $20
6. Go to the Planetarium: If you don’t have a place dedicated to the exploration of space and all of the stuff that’s up there in the universe then try to find one nearby because not only are these places super inexpensive, they are also immeasurably beneficial in terms of learning. You can go on the tours, check out exhibits, watch shows that are meant to introduce kids to the great big universe and they often even have stunning projection shows that display the universe in the best way possible – in full high-def 3D. COST: $10 to $14 per person
Activities for Families That Need to Move
Maybe your family doesn’t like wandering through museums or sitting in a restaurant eating a delicious meal. Maybe you and your kids are looking for stuff that you can do where you can actually get some exercise. In that case, here are some really cool, but really inexpensive activities that you can do that will get your heart rate up.
7. The Zombies Are Chasing You: There is an app that is free to use for the first few “episodes” called Zombies, Run! It is an audio app that syncs with your fast walking or running and sends you out to accomplish tasks, like making pickups for your survivor group, and when the zombies get close you have to flat-out run for a short time. If you want a more realistic experience or for some reason you can’t or don’t want to use the app, set up your own checkpoints, pickup items (with friends and neighbors) and get someone to chase you once in a while in zombie makeup. COST: Probably $10 for some zombie makeup.
8. Go Bowling: Guess what one of the cheapest activities for the entire family to do is? That’s right, bowling, and if you want to take your entire family, you can do it really cheap, and you can even make it really fun, even if you aren’t there for the scorekeeping, by going when they have a lights and music show that is especially for kids. Cost: $7 to $10 per person.
9. Have You Heard of LARPing? LARPing or Live-Action Roleplaying is a game that adults usually play with foam weapons, acting out medieval adventures. It’s not for every grownup but your kids will love it. You can either join an existing LARP or set up your own using some things from around the house and some rules that you make up on the spot. It’s great exercise and may not cost a dime. COST: $0 to $50 (depending upon LARP)
Activities for Families That Want to Give Back
What if your family feels particularly blessed and you want to give back? There are lots of ways that you can do this without spending money. Here are some unique takes on charity events that will make you have a good feeling in your heart plus a whole lot of giggling in your stomach.
10. Put on a “Stone Soup” Homeless Dinner: You’ve heard the stone soup story. You probably have read it quite a few times to your kids. Invite your friends and family members to show up with something for the “stone soup” party and allow anyone to come as long as they bring some ingredient for the soup or a stone. Spread the message at homeless shelters. That way, everyone can come regardless of whether or not they can contribute. Note: You may not want to put the stones in the soup and you also may want to make several soups by dividing up ingredients. COST: $10 to $15 – a few big pots (borrowed) some flyers, and some cans of soup.
11. Volunteer at a Children’s Hospital or Senior Care Center: You may want to base this upon whether your kids are old enough to handle the stuff that may happen there, but these are such good places to give back because you see a huge number of people trying to do the right things. Cost: $0
12. Host a Skills Clinic and Donate the Proceeds to Charity: Do you and your family know how to do things? Everyone has some skill that they could teach others. Whether your skills are playing a musical instrument, speaking a foreign language, using a certain computer program (like Photoshop) or many other talents and skills, you can find people who would be interesting in having you teach them for a few minutes. Hold the event at the local park and ask people to donate to charity at the end of each lesson or class session. Cost: $0
Activities for Families That Love to Eat
If your family loves to eat, then you may want to base your activities around food. But you obviously can’t go out to five-star restaurants on a budget, so here are some ideas on how you can do fun stuff with foods and spend almost nothing doing it.
13. Give Ordinary Food Expensive Food Names & Wear Your Finest: Set up a picnic where you wear your finest clothing and use your best manners. You’re going to need them for the caviar, sirloin steak and five-star meals you’re going to be eating. But who can afford all that? Instead, use things like hot dogs and mac-and-cheese and just change the names. You can even make up some names if you want and make it a meal on an alien planet. COST: Probably nothing if you already have the food.
14. Create a Fast-Food Buffet: Next time you want fast food, and everyone is arguing about where you should go, tell everyone to wait, and then go hit around 10-15 fast food restaurants, buying just one or two things from each one. Cut up everything into smaller pieces and then set up a buffet with all of the items you have. Set up a fun “buffet dining room” or added effect. Cost: $25 to $50 depending upon family size.
15. Send Your Kids on a Trading Journey: Tell your kids to imagine that they are traders living in the old west and they need to take supplies to a trading post and try to come up with the best items for dinner possible. Then send them to your friend’s (or theirs) homes (if it’s safe) and give them some items to trade. Have them write down the items that the “trading post” offered and what they decided to trade and what they didn’t. It’s a great lesson in economics too! COST: $0 (as long as you have some groceries you can trade)
Cold-Weather Activities for Families Who Love the Winter
Maybe your family isn’t planning a summer vacation at all. In fact, maybe it doesn’t even get warm where you live except for a couple months out of the year (you know – like Antarctica). Maybe you just love the snow and everything about it. If so, here are some unique ideas for having fun in the snow without having to spend much money.
16. Car-Sledding: You definitely want to make sure you are absolutely safe doing this, but if you can find a really deserted area covered in snow and you have a vehicle that will drive through snow, then consider tying some sleds to your car and taking your kids (and maybe spouse or friends too) on a long sled ride being hauled behind the car at low speeds. You can speed up, slow down, whip the wheel from side to side, and have a whole lot of fun while still being safe. This is great if you don’t like trekking up hills to slide down. COST: $5 in gasoline
17. Completely Rearrange the House or Yard: If you don’t mind giving your kids the creative freedom to decide where things go, try completely rearranging the house any way they want for a week. Do they want the kitchen table on the porch? Do it. What about their bed in the living room? Try it for a week! COST: $0
These are just a few ideas to get your imagination motor started. Make a plan with your partner to do an activity at least once a month with the challenge that you spend absolutely no money on it. You’ll be surprised what you come up with.