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Family’s summer fun doesn’t have to be pricey

Jenny Hoff

Remember when you were a kid and your parents told you to come up with new, creative – and cheap – ways to have fun? As an adult, those skills can come in handy, especially when you have a long summer break with your own children at home, begging to be occupied.

For example, traveling as a family is costly – flights, meals, car rentals, hotels and entertainment  can run into the thousands of dollars. Most summer camps are also on the pricey side, and for many families, the extra expense just isn’t in the budget.

If you’re looking to create a memorable getaway with the family without spending extra money, these tips will help you get started.

1. Barter your skills to create a “homemade” summer camp for kids.
Tap the parents in your neighborhood, your “mommy” group or from your kid’s school to create a camp day or week, where each parent takes over one activity, such as music, arts and crafts, sports, nature hikes, drama, juggling, yoga, dance, etc.

You don’t need to be a pro to create a fun activity and as long as you know your lesson lasts only one hour, you can have fun showing off to a group of youngsters those hidden talents you haven’t used in a while.

Before you say “this seems overwhelming,” know that I’ve done this, and it was a great experience. As long as you plan ahead with the other parents, split up groups into realistic time periods, get some basic supplies and have an outline of what you want to do, you can create a memorable, social and fun camp for your kids while also building relationships with other parents.

2. Visit some of the many attractions in your city.
Remember that the city where you live is another family’s vacation spot. With a guidebook from the library, you can uncover all sorts of fun family things to see and do in your city and within driving distance.

When I did some research on attractions around Austin, Texas, where I live, I found a huge dinosaur park within a 30-minute drive, a farm with old-fashioned log cabins and educational shows, and swimming holes that look like they should be in National Geographic.

Draw up an itinerary with some fun activities (mixing it up so you do a swimming hole one day and museum exploration the next), and plan a weeklong staycation for the family. Put your phone and your work away, and treat your town like the destination hot spot it is.

3. Use your credit card perks to take advantage of free admissions and discounts.
Your credit cards aren’t only about the points, miles or cash back. Some major credit cards come with extra freebies, such as free admission to museums, reduced ticket prices for baseball games, or bonus cash back at theme parks.

For example, Bank of America cardholders can visit museums for free on the first weekend of every month. Citi cardholders can purchase discounted tickets to Mets baseball games. Discover cardholders receive 5 percent bonus cash back at Six Flags, plus have access to a priority check-in line for certain hours of the day.

Check to see if one of your credit cards comes with extra perks to make your family’s summer fun more affordable.

4. Volunteer as a family – it helps others and can help you, too.
Are your kids into animals, or do they love nature hikes? Whatever your passion is as a family, there could be some great volunteer opportunities in town for you to do together.

Just two examples:

  • Create a weeklong adventure in which your family helps out at a local urban farm or walks dogs at the local animal shelter.
  • Take hikes every day in a new area of town and clean up trash on the trails. It’s a great way for you and your children to feel more connected to nature.

It’s no secret that volunteering can make you feel good, but scientific studies show that doing good and helping others also can be healthy for your body and mind.

Volunteering as a family can help you bond or reconnect with your loved ones. If you don’t know where to start, VolunteerMatch can help you find a volunteer opportunity where you live.

These are just four ideas to get you started creating wonderful summer memories that won’t leave you broke once school is back in session. The key is to find out what each of your loved ones likes to do and to create opportunities to incorporate all of your passions. You don’t have to max out your credit cards to have an unforgettable summer as a family.

See related: Summer spending: Plan, set budget for more fun, less debt

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