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Summer is here! Raise your hand if you’re excited! While I’m not a fan of the heat and humidity, I still love summer. The bar-b-ques, the beach, pool time, vacations….I can get through the heat to enjoy all of that.
Another nice thing about summer is that it is so easy to have fun without spending a lot of money. Whether you’re home with the kids all summer or just looking for fun activities to fill your weekends, I’ve compiled this list of frugal summer fun for you to enjoy with your family.
Before we get to that though, let’s review the difference between frugal and cheap.
Frugal vs. Cheap
I’ve talked about the difference between frugal and cheap before. Cheap means low quality. Because of that, it’s likely to break and will need to be replaced. My experience has been that you end up paying more for cheap goods because they need to be replaced over and over again.
On the other hand, when something is frugal, you get a lot of value out of it. It’s not the price you focus on, but rather the durability and how much use you get.
For example, I spend a lot of money on my scuba gear. When I’m diving, I want to be sure I have top quality gear. I don’t want to buy something cheap and have it fail when I’m underwater!
I know most of you probably aren’t divers, so think about kids toys. The cheap party favors they get, or the toys from the dollar store: they break within a few uses. However, if you buy quality wooden toys or toys that they can use in a variety of ways, they’ll get a lot of use out of them, and thus you’ll get a lot of value.
With that intro, let’s get to the frugal summer fun!
Frugal Water Fun
Summer means time to play in the water, and for a small investment in some basic water toys, your kids will have fun and keep cool all summer long. Just don’t forget the sunscreen!
Water Table: The kids got a water table when we moved into our house and it has been a consistent favorite. It’s great for the late spring and early fall when it’s warm, but not hot enough to play in the pool or sprinkler. Water is a wonderful sensory experience for kids, and mine can spend hours scooping, pouring, and splashing.
If your kids get bored with their water table (doubtful!), try these activities to liven things up:
- Add bubbles, ice cubes, or food coloring
- Remove the water and fill it with sand instead
- Play a game of sink or float (get a variety of objects and have kids guess if it will sink or float before plopping them in)
- Get toy cars or dolls (whatever you have on hand) and change the water table to a car wash or day spa
- Give your kids kitchen utensils like metal or plastic mixing bowls, turkey basters, egg beaters, or whisks and have them play restaurant
- Channel your child’s inner Monet by adding shaving cream and paint instead of water. Let them swirl and mix beautiful color creations
- Add dirt and let your kids make mud pies. Hose them and the table down when they’re done!
A water table is a toy you can get a lot of value out of. Not only does it provide hours of entertainment in the warm months, you don’t even need to pack up it up in the winter. Fill it with snow for a ton of winter fun!
Kiddie pool: It does not matter how tired or cranky my kids are. If I offer to bring out the pool, they immediately go running for their swim suits.
I far prefer a snapset model like this, rather than a hard plastic or blow up model. I find them much easier to store and set up. And time is of the essence when I offer to set up the pool!
After our first year with a pool, I learned to fold it up and store it in our basement once the season was over. This prevented the plastic from becoming brittle and cracked, which means I can get at least another season out of it!
Water slide: This is another favorite of my kids, and it’s also a nice option when it’s not quite hot enough for a pool. I like a dual slide option so both of my kids can slide at the same time. You can get options with inflatable elements too, but I find a pretty basic version suits our needs just fine.
And don’t forget there’s always water balloons!
Free water fun
If water toys aren’t in the budget this summer, no problem. You probably already have things at home that will provide the kids with hours of entertainment!
Sprinkler: No need to get a special kids’ play sprinkler. My kids have gotten a few different kinds for their birthdays and I’ve been underwhelmed by them. The flow can be a bit unpredictable and wild, which scares my skittish little boy. Whatever you use for your yard is fine.
Hose play: My youngest is obsessed with playing with the hose. He likes to play with the nozzle and see the different kinds of streams that comes out. He fills the water table and buckets and pours the water back out again. And he helps me water the plants, and the benches, and his toys…and anything else that’s outside!
Sometimes I think we forget some of the simplest ways to keep kids entertained. Often, they don’t need anything special at all – a hose and a bucket can provide hours of entertainment!
Creative Summer Frugal Fun
Sandbox: I think my littlest would live in the sandbox if we let him. The sticker price seems a bit steep but I still include it on my list of frugal toys based on the amount of time the kids have played with it.
I strongly suggest getting a sandbox with a cover. Not only does it help keep the rain and leaves out, it keeps feral cats and other wild animals from using it as a litter box!
Go to the dollar store and get some sand toys and your child will get hours of entertainment.
Sidewalk chalk: Sidewalk chalk is a wonderful way to bring out your child’s creative side! Over the years, we have amassed quite a collection, include glitter and jumbo sidewalk chalk. We’ve also tried spray sidewalk chalk, but I wasn’t too impressed with that. The spray bottles weren’t very good quality and the sprays got clogged, leading to frustrated kids.
Free creative fun
- Take a favorite book of your child’s and have them act it out.
- Make puppets out of old socks and paper bags and have your kids make a puppet show
- Make paper bag kites and try them out in the backyard
Active Frugal Fun
Bicycles are another item that may have a high sticker price, but once you consider the years of fun a kid can get out of a bicycle, the price doesn’t seem so bad. Just be sure to instill good safety habits by always ensuring your child wears a helmet.
Pogo sticks: I went through a pogo stick phase as a child. I must have spent hours one summer practicing. At first I could barely get a jump or two in before falling off. Before long, I was jumping for one, two, five…ten minutes at a time! If your kids are small, a great economical (and safer!) pogo stick is the Kidoozie foam pogo.
We got them for our boys this past Christmas and they’ve been a lot of fun. Because they can handle up to 250 pounds, I’ve even used them for time to time. They make for a surprisingly good workout!
To encourage outdoor activity, head over to the dollar store for hoola hoops, kick balls, kites, jump ropes, and more! Build up your stock pile of cheap activities and keep rotating through to make sure kids stay active this summer! I know I knocked dollar store toys before, but they can be helpful in rounding out your activities for the summer.
Free Outdoor Fun
I gave a lot of suggestions for free fun in my post on how to prepare for a no-spend challenge when you have kids. I’ve repeated some of those ideas below, but definitely check out that post too for even more ideas.
- Go on a hike
- Neighborhood scavenger hunt
- Play at a park: sometimes all kids need is a change of scenery!
- Wash the car: My kids became obsessed with washing my car. It was a fun way to cool off and they felt like they were contributing, which is always a bonus. My car not have ended up the cleanest, but we all had fun!
- Star gaze and learn about constellations
- Find shapes in the clouds
- Picnic in your backyard or a park
- Outdoor dance party
- Hide and seek
- Stomp through the puddles during a rain storm (just as long as it’s not a thunderstorm!)
- Swim at a local lake or creek
- Beach day
- Garden: Pull weeds, plant flowers or berries
- Summer Olympics: long jump, races, obstacle courses, or any silly game or activity you can think of. Join with neighborhood kids or host a play date for even more fun
- Build elf houses with rocks, weeds, sticks, and anything else you can find in your backyard
- Outdoor games like Mother, May I?; Red Light, Green Light; and tag
Out and About Frugal Summer Fun
If cabin fever strikes, a change of scenery can do wonders to calm the crazies. Just because you’re going out, doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money. Fortunately, there are a lot of options for frugal summer fun:
- Fruit picking at a local orchard
- Story time at the library
- Check local museums for free/reduced admission days
- Take the kids to a matinee and see a movie for a fraction of the cost!
- See if there’s a sprinkler park near you. We just discovered one that’s a ten minute drive from our house. No admission fee and hours of fun!
- Go out for ice cream
- Visit a petting zoo or farm
- Take advantage of discounted bowling days
- Go to a minor league baseball game
- Check out your town’s offerings: carnivals, street fairs, concerts in the park
Looking for More Summer Frugal Fun?
There is so much to do in the summer to have fun and build wonderful family memories. I’ve given you lots of ideas but there are tons more! I am ALWAYS looking for frugal or no cost activities to do with my kids and I’ve created quite a collection of boards on Pinterest. Check them out!
- Cheap/Free Kids Activities
- Rainy Day Activities
- Kids Crafts
- Quiet Time Activities
- STEM/STEAM/Kitchen Science
- Energy Busting Toddler Activities
What are your favorite frugal summer fun activities? Leave a comment below, and happy summer!