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Summer Fun on a Dime

Avoid summer-time blues with these cheap boredom busters!

Summer is here, and it is bound to bring the words every mom dreads: I’m bored!

It’s a fact – kids may complain about school and long for a break, but long stretches of hot days soon use up the appeal of sleeping in and watching cartoon reruns. If, like me, you look for ways to occupy your children without resorting to constant screen time and without breaking the bank, you are in luck! With a little planning, you can offer your children a wide range of summer options.

Side note: while you are planning what to do “on the cheap” with your family, consider using our family’s tried-and-true option when a child utters the “b” word. Any child who says they are “bored” in our house knows he or she will gain an immediate chore as a reward. Works like a charm!

Ideas for at Home

There’s no place like home, and that includes finding boredom busters. You will save money on gas and avoid pricey eating-out costs. Bonus: your kiddos may learn to appreciate what they already have!

  1. Right now, before summer boredom hits, grab some unique playtime items the family already owns. Put these in a bin out of easy reach, and label it the “boredom” box or “rainyday” bin. This can be pulled out at the first hint of summer boredom. A classic game from your childhood, a set of paper dolls, a building set are all good places to start. Make sure to switch out items once they are used and to put the box back out of reach.

  2. While you’re at it, look through the board games on the back of your shelves. Challenge your family to a game-night tournament, complete with brackets and silly prizes. Awards could be purchased at the dollar store or, better yet, come up with coupons for a “chore-free day” or “choose a dessert” to enjoy down the road.

  3. Send the children to the basement and garage to find suitable buckets, bins and containers. Pull on your bathing suits (don’t forget sunscreen!) and head outside for an all-out water war. Make sure to set some ground rules (boundaries for safety, protection for young siblings or pets) and consider inviting neighborhood families to join the fun.

A family water war is a great way to beat the heat and have some fun without spending a dime!

A family-water war is a great way to beat the heat and have some fun without spending a dime!

  1. Spend a night under the stars in your own backyard. If you don’t have a tent or camping gear, ask around for a set to borrow. Include a simple meal to be cooked over a campfire: our family loves roasting things like hot dogs, apples and marshmallows. Find online star charts ( for your location and impress the children with your astronomy skills.

Remember, the best way to ensure the success of home-time fun is to join in. No matter their ages, your kids are sure to enjoy watching mom and dad play with them. And the memories you make – even without spending a dime – will be priceless in the years ahead. The family that plays together stays together!

Ideas for an Outing

I have been known to bribe my summer-weary children with a day outing. In our case, we all (parents and kids) must fulfill our work and chore obligations for a week. The reward is usually a half-day outing to a location within a short drive. We try to cap the cost at $20 (sometimes, it’s just a few bucks for an ice cream cone on the way home). Some of our more successful outings include:

  1. Geocaching. Think of it as a scavenger hunt in nature. Great websites abound, we like If geocaching sounds too complicated, we have also scouted out unique landmarks in our area; you wouldn’t believe how many giant forks we’ve found within a few miles of our driveway! Check out to find some oddities near you.

Yes, thre is a fork in the road! We found this oddity at

Yes, thre is a fork in the road! We found this oddity at

  1. Public library. Get free books, movies and music at your local library. Many also offer a summer reading program with rewards for the kids. We also grab books on tape to listen to on the go.

  2. Local museums. These can get pricey, but we find discounts online. Another good source for free tickets? Your public library.

  3. Pet shelters. A shelter near us has a great program that invites kids to come and read to the cats. My feline-loving daughter requests this outing regularly.

  4. Factories. Many offer free tours! Our favorite so far is the Martin Guitar Factory in Bethlehem. A google search can help you find a good site near you.

  5. Local parks and trails. We grab the dog and go for a walk, or pack up the bikes and go for a ride. In Hamburg, a great choice is the Schuylkill River trails off State Street.

  6. Farmer’s market and gardening. If you have the space, let your kids grow a vegetable of their choice, then challenge them to find ways to cook and/or preserve it. We also like to visit local markets and use a set budget (say, $5 a kid) to find unusual foods to try. It makes for an interesting menu!

Ideas for Funding a Splurge

As the days go on and the dog days of summer hit, you and your family may be ready to do something special for a day or so. While “splurges” include spending some money, you can be creative in both saving up money and spending it wisely.

My dear mother-in-law was onto a saving trick years ago. When my husband and his sister were little, they held a family yard sale. Not only did they clear out some of the unused toys and outgrown clothing at home, but the money they saved was used to help fund a pool pass for the summer. A similar idea could help fund a trip to the pool, a showing at a movie theatre or a trip to an amusement park for your family. One of our favorite outings is to visit one of the community fairs in our areas: we ride a few rides, sample fair food and make sure to check out the animals and craft displays.

We love attending local fairs. Many offer a special night for discount rides. Check out!

We love attending local fairs. Many offer a special night for discount rides. Check out!

Here are a few more ideas to save money along the way:

  1. When eating out, only order (free) water to drink. Keep a tally in a notebook of money saved, and use this money to help fund a family reward down the road. And take advantage of restaurants that offer free meals for kids (see

  2. Encourage your little entrepreneurs. Can they set up a lemonade stand in your neighborhood? Can they responsibly mow a neighbor’s yard or weed a flowerbed? Do they make a sale-worthy craft? Challenge them to think of a way to use their talents, and consider offering a matching grant (for every dollar they earn and save, you match a second dollar).

  3. Consider asking grandparents and relatives to give gift certificates for summer outings instead of toys as presents. A family I know has embraced this idea for Christmas and Easter, and the children love spending their gift cards and tokens at movie theatres, soda shops, bowling alleys and ice-cream joints. You could also ask for (or purchase) a family membership to an attraction you enjoy, be it a zoo, theme park or rec area.

  4. Stay local when you can. You will save on gas and car maintenance. You’ll also have the satisfaction of supporting local businesses, which will help families in your neighborhood.

So there you have it, tried and true ways our family has enjoyed an exciting but budget-friendly summer filled with memories. I would love to hear how your family avoids boredom without breaking the bank!


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