Frugal Summers: 101 Ways to Entertain Yourself and Your Family

Summer vacation lasts about two to three months, or 60 to 90 days. The following list contains 101 ways to entertain yourself and your family, so now you have more ideas than there are days in your summer vacation. Additionally, these tips are free or inexpensive, so they won’t put a strain on your wallet, either. If you create memories through any of these activities, this may be your best summer ever.

The Library

Whether you’re an adult, a teen, or a child, the library can offer some great free summer programs. Check out your local library to see what they have planned for the summer. If you’re traveling, you can attend summer events at your destination library as well. This latter trick will not only save some money, but an indoor activity can rescue you and your family from the summer heat with library air conditioning. Here are some examples of what you can experience:

  1. The New York State Library is offering a state-wide summer reading program. Most libraries offer this opportunity, but if your library is behind the times you can challenge your kids to read a certain number of books in a weekend or over a week. Get their friends involved in this competition if you face a roadblock.
  2. Whether you’re traveling or staying at home, you might enjoy a lecture series offered by various institutions. For instance, The Friends of the University Libraries, a support organization for the libraries at Utah State University, sponsors a summer lecture series that is open to audiences of all ages.
  3. Look for special library events to spice up your summer. The Boulder, Coloradolibrary is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and they’re commemorating this event with concerts, films, storytellers, and special displays.
  4. Even toddlers can take advantage of local library programs with crafts and story times geared specifically to this age group. If your local library doesn’t sponsor such a program, volunteer to start one and pull other mothers into a rotating schedule.
  5. Clean out your bookshelves and offer the books to your local library. Better yet, find out when the local library holds their annual book sale and offer your books for that event. If they don’t hold one, organize a book sale to benefit your library. Yes, kids can get involved as well!
  6. You don’t need to hang out at the library. You can check out books and movies that will help enhance some of the other activities listed below.
  7. Pick one author and read every single one of his or her books. If the author has a biography, read that as well. Learn as much as you can about this author, and you’ll become a mini-literary expert by summer’s end.

Virtual or Free Trips

Virtual trips ignore travel budgets and you can also fit free trips (excluding gas or public transportation) into a skinny budget. The best list of virtual trips is located atOOPS, but the following list will get you started:

  1. Take a walk around the neighborhood to learn about various topographical features. Use Google Maps as a tool for interactivity, as you may discover new trails or other features that were previously hidden from view. Geography4Kidsis just one of many sites that can introduce this subject to your family in a friendly and easy-to-understand manner.
  2. Head to the library to gather books about a specific place and use the Internet to learn more about your “destination.” Virtual Field Trips is your guide for this activity, but other sites like VolcanoWorld can take you and your family to specific locations.
  3. The nice thing about virtual trips is that you don’t need to stay on earth. A visit to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Web site is free, fun, and educational. NASAQuest challenges kids to learn, along with a page onhow to participate.
  4. Teens, small children, and interested adults can take a trip to the farm to learn more about agriculture. Or, if animals seem more fun, take a trip to the San Diego Zoo to visit the inhabitants online.
  5. A historical trip doesn’t require a time machine. Send the youngsters to dig™, an online archeology magazine, while teens and adults can head on over toArcheology Magazine. Both venues offer interactive projects that can keep the entire family busy for days.
  6. Whether you plan a real or virtual trip overseas, learn more about how to travel beyond U.S. borders. This activity incorporates ideas that can foster discussions about safety and money.
  7. Most towns have local historical districts. Visit your Chamber of Commerce to learn about them, and ask if they have a walking tour. Usually you can take these tours at your leisure with a map, so pack a picnic and take a free lunch break.

Learn a Skill

Your body might feel like a lazy summer, but your brain can sizzle with the activities listed below:

  1. What better way to gain a solid math background than to earn money? You can spark a budding entrepreneur’s excitement with a little help from Money Instructor. Supervise younger kids with something simple like a lemonade stand. Older kids can benefit from more complicated tasks that involve crafts or business plans.
  2. Do you own a guitar that gathers dust or a flute that’s hidden in the closet? Clean up those instruments and expand on your musical skills with lessons provided by Berklee Shares, an open source project that tackles everything from bass to winds.
  3. Poetry may seem easy to write, but each type of poem has its own set of rules. Kids can learn more about this writing form at The Poetry Zone and play with the Poetry Engine at the Scholastic Poetry site. Teens and adults can go toPoetry Magic. Make it a goal to write some silly poetry (a haiku, perhaps?) and share those poems for a good laugh.
  4. Combine those musical instruments with poetry and write a song together.
  5. If you want to learn a new language, this list of free online language lessons will help you toward that goal. Practice with a language exchange that will help you to hone your newfound skills (use parental guidance for kids).
  6. Teens and adults can take advantage of many new open source projects supplied by top-notch colleges. Visit this Open Source Success Stories article to learn about your options. Use the suggested reading lists provided by these courses for your next library trip.
  7. If you own a GPS, learn how to map your neighborhood when you take those walks.

Holiday Perks

When you think about summer holidays, you might think about The Fourth of July. But did you know that July 13 is “Embrace Your Geekness Day,” or that July20 is “Moon Day”? Check it out…

  1. Before you head out for Fourth of July festivities, take time to learn more about upcoming fireworks. Take the kids to How Fireworks Work, and then challenge them to name the various firework patterns they’ll see that night.
  2. Holiday Insights offers information about every famous and obscure international holiday imaginable. Use the site on your virtual trips around the world or as a resource to help keep the kids busy. For instance, August 3 isNational Watermelon Day, so be prepared to gorge on this big fruit at a backyard picnic. See who can spit the seeds the furthest, and you might end up with a free watermelon next year!
  3. Celebrate a holiday out of season, based upon your beliefs. While some families might want to make Christmas projects in July, while other families might want to create a Yule Wreath for Winter Solstice.
  4. Maybe your idea for a holiday isn’t listed at Holiday Insights. In that case, you’ll need to create your own holiday. Use the theme to make decorations and cards, and invite some friends to celebrate.
  5. Holiday Insights probably skipped by your local celebrations. Learn in advance about any centennials, annual events, or other traditions and take part in or visit the activities.
  6. Holidays mean little without family or visitors, so make it a point to include the elderly in your plans. Make holiday-specific cards and take them to the local nursing home. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the inhabitants – they’ll appreciate your efforts.

Get Artistic

If you can’t draw a straight line, then use a ruler! Otherwise, try to stretch your visual creativity with some of the projects below:

  1. If you own a digital camera (traditional is ok, but film processing costs more money), use it to create digital collages. You don’t need expensive software – just print out the photos, cut, and paste. Or you can invest in inexpensive software like PhotoMix or CollageMaker. Visit a collage gallery for ideas, for some guidelines.
  2. Another version on the collage uses old photographs. Supervise the kids so they don’t cut up valuable mementos!
  3. Do you have hundreds of magazines in the attic? Use their headlines and pictures to create cards, collages, posters, and more.
  4. Make a family movie. Movie-Making for Kids provides a great guideline for the younger ones to get started.
  5. Create a movie poster to advertise that home-grown video and send it out to family or friends along with a release date for a showing. Or, simply use this poster as a way to get the family together for a DVD night.
  6. Before you pull out the paints, head to Color Matters to learn all about basic color theory and why color matters in art.
  7. You might want to keep the younger kids away from messy paints. If so, just send them to the Coloring Page for non-splatter activities.
  8. If you don’t mind the mess, you can involve the kids in a household painting project. Learn about interior and exterior paint methods, techniques, and other essentials before you get started. Plus, you can find special interior painting techniques through books at your local library.
  9. Use a pencil instead of paint and draw a portrait.
  10. Write a script and produce a play. Find costumes at a local second-hand shop, and use the movie poster venue in #32 to advertise your production.
  11. Take a clue from the kids at the Newfields Elementary School. Over a month, 28 fourth-graders read biographies, wrote first-person speeches and jotted down facts and quotes. They then dressed up like their characters and created a “wax museum.” This idea is a great neighborhood or group activity for the summer.
  12. Create a blank journal for some of the following activities…


Sometimes it’s fun to collect things. Sometimes it’s fun to get rid of those old collections…

  1. Keep a journal about summer activities. Collect quotes that fit your thoughts.
  2. A larger journal can become a summer scrapbook.
  3. Learn how to dry flowers for that scrapbook.
  4. Kids of all ages can collect natural materials to create a small “museum” small exhibit. A real or virtual museum trip can help them with ideas for their collections. Free collections like leaves, flowers, rocks, or shells can be gathered during neighborhood or vacation walks.
  5. The previous idea might lead to a hobby like stamp collecting. If so, research that hobby online, as many clubs offer their expertise for free. For example, the budding stamp collector can visit the American Philatelic Society and theNational Postal Museum to learn more.
  6. It’s time to clean out the kitchen! Invite friends to do the same, and pull those food collections together for a variation on a potluck. Instead of bringing a dish, you create the dish out of the ingredients. Visit Recipe Zaar for some zany potluck recipe ideas.
  7. While you’re in the cleaning mood, visit your attic and closets. You might find plenty of “collections” for a yard sale. This is one activity where the kids can learn about money management, sales, and – yes, the value hidden in a cluttered closet.
  8. One more on the household collection theme… make a list of all the household chores that you’ve avoided in the past. Pick one or two days where you can make headway on that list. If you have kids who can help, those tasks will be done in a flash.
  9. Recycle some of those unwanted household items with a family time capsule.
  10. Collect ancestors as you research your family tree. While you might shy away from fee-based, this site does contain some free resources. Your other option – one of the best on the Web – is at Family Search. This activity might lead to the next one…
  11. Visit a cemetery to conduct family research. While this activity might sound morbid, you can volunteer your time to keep grass trimmed around stones while you visit. Plus, many gravestones hold lessons in their carvings, and these sculptures can create a new collection. If your kids are into the Goth lifestyle, you won’t be able to hold them back. Photos are better than rubbings (rubbings can deteriorate a stone), so bring a camera.

Look Up

The sky can offer plenty of activity, mostly at night. Be sure to wear sunglasses during daytime activities.

  1. There’s nothing like cloud watching, especially on a lazy summer day. Younger kids (and adults) can imagine animals in cloud formations. Teens might enjoy learning about hurricanes (it’s that time of year!) at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  2. Track the moon’s phases in real time and through a virtual Moon Phase calculator.
  3. Even if you don’t own a telescope, you can keep track of the stars throughAstronomy News.
  4. If you live near a place where you can view the stars, see if you can identify the constellations in your area.
  5. Make a map of the constellations that you find.
  6. You can’t help but look up when you fly a kite. If you make that kite, this activity can take up a full day.
  7. Go to the dollar store and purchase some soapy bubbles and a blower (or make your own bubble solution). See who can send the bubbles up and out the furthest.

Natural Delights

Take advantage of outdoor activities that can help you and the kids sleep better at night. On hot days, go out in early morning or after dinner and do inside activities (like museums or library) when the sun is high.

  1. Create a campground in the back yard with sheets. Sleep out on a trampoline. Go to a local park and pitch a tent. Use whatever you can to spend the night outside.
  2. Local or faraway National Parks can spice up your summer. Although most National Parks now charge a minimal entrance and/or parking fee, their grounds are superb and many hold historical or natural treasures.
  3. While you’re on your camping trip, record night time sounds. Try to identify those noises at sites like Nocturnal Animal Sounds.
  4. Record sounds while on a walk. Use the sounds to create a background for your poetry recordings.
  5. Learn about your state flower and bird. Try to find both when you’re out on your walks.
  6. Use a bicycle if you don’t feel like walking. Teach the younger kids how to ride, or hold a Bicycle Safety clinic.
  7. Turn a walk into a day-long adventure with backpacks. Plan ahead to avoid frustration, and be sure to carry some bandaids, sunscreen, and wear hats.
  8. If you have access to a local botanical garden, learn about their summer activities. You might discover that many of the events are free, especially for children.
  9. If you live near a beach, a swimming hole, or a pool, then grab that swimsuit and practice your strokes (requires RealPlayer).
  10. Create a terrarium in a jar.
  11. Use your backyard to create a maze or an obstacle course.
  12. You might not like worms, but your kids might love them. Help them to build a worm farm, and the whole family can learn about natural recycling (the worms eat compost and other trashy treasures). If you purchase the “Reds” to start the farm as the article suggests, the worms can be sold or offered for free to local fishermen (and women) and gardeners at summer’s end.
  13. Avoid sodas this summer. Instead, drink water or learn how to make crushed fruit drinks. All you need is a blender, frozen fruit, and some juice to make a concoction that’s cold, sweet, and healthy. You can find a recipe at Mountain States Health Alliance (try it without the honey – it’s just as sweet).

Community Resources

Community centers, businesses, and other organizations don’t take summer vacations. Use the list below for some ideas on how to use these resources…

  1. Visit your Chamber of Commerce and ask them about this summer’s free town or city events. You can also check the newspaper for activities close to home. If you get online, just type, “free activities ‘your town’” and you might discover a plethora of things to do this summer. Use this same trick if you plan to travel, but replace “your town” with the destination town.
  2. County Fairs are great ways to keep the family occupied – often for days. If you haven’t visited a county fair lately, you might be surprised at the level of sophistication involved with some activities and exhibits. You’ll see animals, yes. But, you’ll also see great photography, artwork, food, and other great exhibits. Speaking of food – often you’ll find very inexpensive meals at these affairs, as well as some concerts worth your attendance.
  3. Sidewalk art sales are great ways to introduce kids to art and entrepreneurship. Many local or traveling artists like to talk about their work, so don’t walk by without saying hi.
  4. Don’t eliminate church activities from your agenda, even if you don’t attend that church (or any church for that matter…). You might discover a concert, a play, or other secular event that uses a church as a venue.
  5. Check local shops for classes. Craft shops, for instance, might hold classes that are age-specific. Some classes may be offered free as a way to lure people into the shop. Other classes might cost. Determine what you can afford, and if you can’t attend then purchase a few supplies and hold a design-it-yourself class.
  6. Don’t miss Grand Openings or anniversaries sponsored by local businesses. You might find food, music, and great deals at these events.
  7. Look for “free days” at your local museums and zoos.
  8. Visit Cinemark, Regal, and AMC to learn whether you have access to their budget-priced G-Rated films. If not, check with your local theater to ask them about their reduced summer rates.
  9. Volunteer your time and/or skills for local needs. You may soon discover that volunteerism means more than helping the poor.

Neighborhood Resources

If you like your neighbors or if you belong to a social group, you can get together for many activities. Just add more folks to the activities above, or try the ones listed below:

  1. If you like scrapbooking, get together with other families to share resources. You can learn more about this activity at Scrapbooking Club Basics.
  2. Leave the neighborhood with your neighbors and visit a local park. Bring dishes for a potluck picnic, and let the kids run (almost) free.
  3. Create a community project, or get involved with a local effort. You could do this on your own, but it’s more fun with friends. Use this guideline [PDF] to get started. Although the guideline comes from a U.K. effort, you can use the same ideas to create your community project.
  4. Create a scavenger hunt, but don’t overdo this effort. Twenty activities or items will keep kids going for a full afternoon if planned carefully. Keep this activity age-specific so it’s not too easy for teens and not too hard for the youngsters.
  5. Get together to learn new games or to play old ones. Learn how to play bridge, or play bingo. Some games aren’t suitable for younger kids, so utilize the teens as babysitters or monitors for kid’s games (a small payment for this job would be appropriate).
  6. Create music with your neighbors and their kids. Use traditional instruments, or get creative and use pans, spoons, or other objects to create rhythms and sounds.
  7. Hold a block party. Although these parties usually celebrate special events (new neighbor, holiday, etc.), you can make up a new reason for the party and make it an annual event.
  8. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, hold a neighborhood DVD day. It only takes two or three families to share two or three movies – enough to fill a long afternoon or evening. Make popcorn, bring drinks, and settle in for a showing!
  9. If your neighborhood is kind of geeky and if your neighbors are willing to ante up for a trip, then you can check out the Inexpensive Getaway list at Free Geekery. While some of the trips listed here might not appeal to the entire group, they can help you to generate some ideas. The bonus? Group travel often is cheaper than traveling alone (be sure to use any airline, hotel, or travel awards cards to gain points to use next summer).
  10. Hold a local tournament. Computer games, darts, horseshoes, or any other game that provides team play will work for this activity. Make the games age-specific for safety and to hold interest.
  11. Coop with your neighbors. If one has a pool and another has a soccer net and you have a trampoline, share resources. Spend one day at the pool, another playing soccer, and then share your trampoline on the third day.

Rainy Day Solutions

  1. Take photos on your walks or trips and post them online on rainy days. Useflickr as a free personal photo gallery to share with family, friends, or classmates.
  2. When you clean out the attic for that yard sale, you might find your old scrapbooks and photo albums. Share these books with your children so they can learn more about your life.
  3. If that rainy weather persists, move the kitchen or dining room table and hold a picnic on the floor.
  4. Relearn how to write letters. If writing long letters proves too painful, make cards and write short notes.
  5. Turn off the lights, get out some flashlights and tell some ghost stories.
  6. Gather the kids and tell them all about how their parents met and fell in love.
  7. Make sure you have a pack of cards and then go to Card Games. Your family can ignore a rainy day easily if you play all the games on this site.
  8. Teach the kids how to make Rice Krispies® Treats. They’re good, they’re fun, and you don’t need to turn on the oven and heat up the house.
  9. If the rain is a simple shower – not a thunderstorm – go outside and play tag. This is a great way to cool down!
  10. Build an eggshell ship to sail in puddles (or in the tub). Even teens think this toy is hilarious.
  11. If you’ve kept a journal or have taken photographs or videos of your summer activities, then you might want to create a family blog. Use a site like Live Journal, where you can insert videos and photographs, and where you also keep the journal private if that’s your wish.

Finally, just have fun. If you can laugh just once every day this summer, you’ll know you’ve met that goal!

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