Live It Up this Summer without Going Broke


family lying on the grass face up and smiling for a phone camera

June 8, 2018

If summertime is such a carefree time, then why aren’t the most-popular summer activities free or low cost?

After a winter and spring of notable but often budget-busting activities ­– Christmas gifts, Easter feasts, spring break, graduations and weddings – many people feel like their spending needs time to chill out, too.

Yet the urge to do and see everything this summer is strong and ingrained in our culture. After all, it’s the season for amusement park adventures, country fair kicks, family vacations, beachcombing, camps for kids, entertaining family and friends at BBQs and… the list of fun-in-the-sun experiences is nearly endless.

Without giving these up entirely, how can you and your family create a lifetime of fond memories this summer without derailing your personal finances?

Here’s a roundup of ideas from personal financial experts as well as families who’ve tackled this question before.

Reframe Expectations

Sure, your neighbors may be setting out for a European holiday. That doesn’t mean you have to keep up with the Joneses to experience the wonder of summer. Instead, view summer as a clean slate. You don’t have to recreate another families’ experiences. Instead, choose activities that fit your family and budget.

NerdWallet staff writer Tony Armstrong recommends planning a stay-at-home vacation. You’ll want to treat this time as any other vacation: scope out the sights to see, stick to a daily budget, check out new restaurants in your community, and look for discount tickets to events and attractions from member organizations, such as motor advocacy group AAA.

If the urge to tackle home repairs or sneak a peek at work email will be too great for you on a staycation, what about planning an ol’ fashioned road trip? Armstrong says families will gain a change of scenery without paying much more than they would at home.

We’ve also provided some ideas on budgeting for summer vacations. (It may not be too late!)

Choose What’s Important

If you’re working within a budget (and everyone should be, no matter your net worth), you might decide to splurge on summer activities by foregoing other less-important expenses. For many individuals and families, this is an easy trade off; Peter Anderson of Bible Money Matters suggests a few ways:

  • Reconsider subscriptions: If you’re planning an activity-rich summer, you may not be spending that much time at home. Evaluate whether you need magazine subscriptions, cable or streaming services, gym memberships and more.
  • Slash communication costs: Is your home phone being used as a paperweight because your smartphone is your main communication device? It may be time to ditch your home phone and its expenses. And if you’ve given your kids mobile phones to use for emergencies, a pre-paid plan could make budgeting easier.
  • Create a comfortable home environment: Air conditioning is a modern marvel – and a costly one. Challenge yourself and your family to reduce energy costs this summer. If you’re on the go, you may not need to turn on the A/C at all. When you’re home, dress for warmer weather, use energy-efficient fans to cool your home or invest in a programmable thermostat. The savings will add up.


Boost Your Income

You might wonder what creating another revenue stream has to do with paying for summer activities, but if your idea of rest and relaxation involves a hobby or even organization skills, you could earn some extra cash to invest in an emergency fund or retirement savings while pursing your passion.

In his Bible Money Matters column, Anderson outlines some easy ways to get started:

  • Have a garage sale
  • Sell items on online auction sites or consignment stores
  • Set up an Etsy online store
  • Help others organize their homes, offices or data


Teach Kids to Love the “Free” in Free Time

One American Express study estimated the average American family spends an estimated $600 per child on summer activities. Families with annual incomes of at least $100,000 dole out even more, almost $1,100 per child.

However, you don’t have to fork over large sums of your savings to prevent the “I’m bored,” routine.

For kiddos home for summer vacation, it’s a great time to focus on faith and values by hosting a vacation Bible school for a few friends and neighbors. We know some families who come together to share the duty, and the kids love it. With this idea, families rotate every week – or a day of the week – taking turns to host the VBS “camp.” This gives youngsters a new way to learn Scripture while developing friendships.   

And during or after a day of camp, you might want to offer them some educational-but-fun activities. These tips are courtesy of GetRich Slowly’s Lisa Aberle.

  • Make at-home finger paint with cornstarch or flour
  • Create collages out of images from magazines or newspapers in your home already
  • Teach them that science is fun by making instant volcanoes or tinted flowers
  • Invite them to help you in the kitchen – and boost their math skills – by measuring ingredients

Creative ideas like these will help children learn to play autonomously, develop critical-thinking skills and channel creativity.

Plus, these types of activities provide opportunities to talk with your kids about money. By showing your children they don’t have to spend a lot of cash to have fun, you’re demonstrating ways they can be good financial stewards – maybe even setting up their own piggy banks.

Wishing you a fun ­– and frugal – summer!

Category: Common Cents