We are a family of six: mommy, daddy, and two sets of children—an almost 11-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy, a 2-year-old girl and a 1-year-old boy. The age gap between the pairs has proven to have its fair share of advantages and challenges in many areas, especially family entertainment. Family entertainment is a challenge that I didn’t consider when we only had two children, but four can prove a bit challenging during the summer.
Bills increase when the children are out of school because they’re at home more. (Our grocery bill nearly doubles.) With all of the adulting we are required to do by law, it’s sometimes difficult to budget in the fun things. For the past few summers, I’ve used my creativity to be frugal in planning entertainment for our large family.
Here are a few of my tried and true summer fun hacks broken down into categories of importance, of course.
Remember I mentioned that doubled grocery bill? If your school-aged children are anything like mine, they leave their school appetites at school and morph into tiny food disposals. My 8-year-old son wants a snack after his snack, so the struggle to maintain appetites is real at my house. What do I do?
Hit up Dollar Tree. Yes, the things are off brand, but they are also one whole dollar. I buy popsicles, cookies, juice boxes, snack cakes and flavored crackers. “Have at these off-brand, no flavor snacks, kids! Have at it!” The way this Mississippi heat is set up, my eagerness to prepare home cooked meals every day slowly dwindles as the temperatures rise. Check local restaurants for specials. Most restaurants that are “family friendly” have “kids eat free” nights. For example, we hardly ever miss Mazzio’s Pizza Kids Night (which for our area is Tuesday nights). IHOP (if that’s even their real name), Applebee’s and Picadilly are all great places to check, too, for discounted kids meal specials.
Unfortunately, we aren’t able to spend thousands of dollars on summer vacations at the beach and amusement parks. Most working class families aren’t. That does not mean our children won’t have fun, memorable summers, though. But we do have to put extra time and effort into planning the fun stuff.
If you don’t already have an account, you need Groupon! Their attraction specials are the business. My children like trampoline parks. I use my GROUPON app to purchase passes for more than 60 percent off the regular ticket prices for an hour of jump time. (Remember to pack some of those $1 snacks; there are no coupons for concessions). You can also use this app to find discounts for nearby hotels. Hotels have pools. You’re welcome.
I will take my children to a different city park every day (OK, not literally, but we definitely don’t go to the same one back to back). City parks are free. Most of them are safe and clean. We go to different ones in our own city and nearby towns, just to get out of the house and make new friends.. Some parks now have splash pads that the kids love for a small fee. While it’s not the pool, it is still a fun way to just cool off on a scorching summer day for a small price. It’s a win-win situation.
Museums usually have extended hours during the summer and most art museums will host fun events for families of all sizes and ages. Check your city’s website and visitor tab to find free concert series, movie nights, and art shows that are cheap or free. Local movie theatres usually have discounted matinées on one day of the week. In our area, the tickets are $1, and they show a throwback PG film. (You didn’t read this here, but those $1 snacks will really come in handy in this situation as well). There is nothing more fun than summer camps for kids. There is also probably nothing more expensive. For the past few summers, I have registered my children for Vacation Bible School at every single church where the people didn’t seem crazy.
Churches with larger congregations have the resources to host VBS weeks that are full-blown, almost-Broadway-style productions. The children not only enjoy the half-day activities, but they learn and sing cool songs. There may be a small registration fee, but let my budget say amen! Family reunions are all that. Attend yours and your best friends. Your children are most likely all friends anyway, so this makes for a great, inexpensive way to get them all together and having fun. Remember to ask your friends early next year, because you don’t want to be the friend that shows up with a family of six and no T-shirts because you didn’t pay the fee. At least ask to go on family picnic day because that is where the fun happens.
Any mother (or cheapskate) knows free is always better. I tell my children often if we don’t have to pay for it, we can do it as often as they wish. This encourages them to be mindful of the activities they request, while also being more conscious of our pocketbooks.
If you are a library cardholder (we should all be), check there for free activities during the summer. Storytime, movie day and even some outside activities may be offered. We love game night. I strategically gift the children some sort of family game throughout the year, so we can have something free and fun to do as a family during the summer. Uno and Monopoly may cause early bedtimes for all parties involved so play at your own risk.
Water play in the yard during the summer is another go-to activity. It usually starts with washing the car and my husband spraying one of us. It becomes a full out water war. We find whatever we can to fill with water and chase one another around the yard and up and down the street until we are all exhausted and soaked. Additionally, a large black garbage bag and some dish soap makes a quick and easy slip and slide.
While this list could go on and on (e.g., lay out in the grass before a summer rain and watch the clouds roll in, play freeze tag, hide and seek, read books aloud together, go for a summer drive with the windows rolled down and the kids’ favorite songs blasting …), I have found the best family entertainment is time spent together. Children are going to remember it, and they are going to cherish those memories for the rest of their lives. I plan to save this summer by continuing to love on my children as much as I can and never letting them win at game night.