All parents want their children to enjoy long summer days full of fun and adventure. It can be a tall task to budget both the time and money to make that happen, however.
Luckily though, there are plenty of cheap summer activities that can keep the kiddos entertained without taking a big bite out of your wallet.
From fun ideas that require minimal supervision to inexpensive options for parents who work, we’ve compiled a diverse list of ways to make summer fun.
Ready to turn the next few months into a budget-friendly break to remember? Here are 28 ideas so you can start planning today!
Fun Summer Activities for Kids
Smart budgeting and a creative mindset can make low-cost and free summer activities a blast for kids. Not only are the fun ideas outlined below perfect for a long lunch break, but they’re also ideal for parents who can't provide constant supervision because of work.
Most importantly, this list of kid- and budget-friendly activities takes into account physical and mental health.
After all, while we want children to have fun all summer, we also want to keep their brains sharp during the multi-month break from school.
- Design a treasure hunt: Who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt? Make use of whatever outdoor space you have, hide a few prizes, and watch with anticipation as the kids try to find every last one.
- Set up an obstacle course: When it comes to outdoor summer activities, they don’t get much more fun than a traditional obstacle course. In addition to giving you some creative freedom, it gives children a chance to learn how to move their bodies and use their minds to conquer challenges. Don't have access to a safe outdoor space? Couch cushions are a great building block.
- Water balloon battle: While we wouldn’t recommend this for young children, no list of fun summer activities would be complete without a water balloon fight. Simply pick up a bag of balloons at a nearby dollar store, turn on the hose, and have some towels on hand for the aftermath.
- Make homemade popsicles: Teach your kids how to make a satisfying summertime snack right at home. Making popsicles is a cheap, refreshing way to spend some quality time, and the delicious final product will be appreciated by both your taste buds and your budget. Don't have molds? ice cube trays serve in a pinch.
- Lunch-time frisbee: Looking for a cheap summer activity that’ll get everyone’s hearts and lungs pumping? Pick up a frisbee, get out in the sun and toss the frisbee around with the whole family on your lunch break.
- Host a hula hoop contest: It may start out slow, but watch the competitive juices flow as the participants’ mastery of the hula hoop starts to grow. It doesn’t cost much to purchase a few hula hoops, and this fun summer activity also promotes movement and focus.
- Printable brain teaser games: While physical exercise is certainly important, kids should also use summertime to engage their minds. Save money by downloading and printing out brain teaser games, puzzles, and free learning materials from educational websites and other online resources.
- Water gun showdown: Transform your own backyard into a friendly battleground for a summertime staple: a water gun battle. Like water balloons, you can also purchase cheap water guns at a local dollar store, turn on the hose and let the kids go wild.
- Word search contests: Keeping the mind sharp is critical over the summer. Word search puzzles are fun already, but if they’d rather play outside, use prizes and rewards keep them engaged. You can find free word search puzzles online or customize your own with words that are appealing and relevant.
- Sidewalk chalk art: Let the kids flex their creative muscles while you keep a watchful eye from your at-home office. Plus, you can take pictures of their unique artwork to share with family and friends.
- Kid-safe science experiments: Looking for another fun idea to engage your child’s brain? Go online and look for kid-friendly science experiments they can easily conduct at home that don’t require expensive materials.
- DIY playdough: Have young ones at home? All you need is flour, water, salt, cream of tartar, vegetable oil, and food coloring to create a DIY playdough kit that’ll keep kids entertained for quite some time.
- Run through the sprinkler: A quick way to cool down during an extended lunch break, running through the sprinkler is a time-honored, kid-friendly activity that mom and dad may just choose to participate in, too! No yard? Check to see if your town has a free splash park.
- Learn a new skill or hobby: From picking up a new sport to learning a few cooking basics, there are endless ways children can enhance their knowledge over the summer. Just make sure the task or skill is age-appropriate, and reward their efforts with positive reinforcement.
- Participate in a rewards-based summer reading program: Companies like Barnes & Noble as well as local libraries offer incentives to participate in summer reading programs. This can be an easy method to motivate kids to open a book and keep reading.
Up to $500 for gas, groceries, or fun while you build credit.
Cheap Summer Activities for Everyone
Whether you are a couple on a budget or planning activities for your whole family, there’s no shortage of cheap ways to have fun.
In fact, you may just fall in love with your hometown a little more as you go exploring over the next few months.
- Family movie night: If going to the theater isn’t in your budget, have movie night from the comfort of your own home. Just make sure to have everyone’s favorite snacks on hand. You can also create a nice, warm setup outside with a projector for an al fresco movie night.
- Go on a bike ride: Soak up some vitamin D alongside your family on a calming bike ride. Whether it’s cruising around the neighborhood or going on an adventure at a national park or trails in your area, everyone will benefit from this fun summer activity. If the weather is too warm, a sunset ride is just as nice. (Especially if there's an ice cream parlor on the way!)
- Explore your local library: Pick up some selections from your child’s summer reading program, or look for books that interest you. Either way, an afternoon at your local library is a cheap summer activity worth doing.
- Spend a night stargazing: Appreciate Mother Nature’s beauty by setting up some blankets and pillows for a night of stargazing. Put on a relaxing playlist and search the night sky for different constellations and stars.
- Make (and eat) s’mores: Bring out the marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers for a fun summer activity everyone can enjoy. Making s’mores is a perfect summertime camping activity, and you don’t have to break your budget to satisfy your sweet tooth! Retailers such as Amazon also have tabletop s'mores sets for campfire treats wherever you are.
- Family game night: From classic board games like Monopoly to interactive ones like Twister, there is a wide range of options for family game night. A little friendly competition never hurt anyone, right?
- Take a trip to a local farmers market: Support small businesses and a healthy diet by visiting a nearby farmers market. Purchasing seasonal and locally grown produce is typically cheaper, as well. Even if you don't buy much, the atmosphere at a market is still fun and energizing, all for free.
- Make homemade mason jar ice cream: You don’t need an expensive ice cream maker to enjoy this frozen dessert. Get the kids involved with this easy DIY method that can yield delicious results at a surprisingly low cost.
- Have a picnic at a local park: Instead of eating lunch at home, put in a little prep time in the kitchen, pack up your picnic basket or cooler, and head to a local park for a tasty outdoor meal, good conversation, fresh air and plenty of fun. To make things more exciting, consider heading to a park you’ve never visited before.
- Host a backyard BBQ: Rather stay in? Fire up the grill for a backyard BBQ. Take advantage of BOGO deals to make this cheap summer activity extra budget-friendly. Having friends and family over? A potluck-style BBQ is a great way to keep the gathering affordable and allow everyone to contribute.
Great Summer Activities for Parents That Work
Working parents face a major challenge once school gets out. If you’re looking for options to keep your children engaged and active while you’re at the office, here are some cost-effective options:
26. Day camps at local parks and recreation centers: Lean on local parks and recreation centers for assistance this summer. Many organizations offer day camps that give kids a chance to engage in fun activities for a fraction of the cost of sleepover summer camps. Check with your city’s parks and recreation department to see what day camp options are available, along with pricing and registration information.
27. Budget-friendly summer camps: While summer camps typically aren’t budget-friendly, you may be able to find more reasonable options. Some non-profits offer low-cost camps, while other organizations have sliding scale or scholarship programs for those in need, so do your due diligence and take advantage of local services.
28. Nearby schools for low-cost and free activities: Local universities and public schools can be lifesavers for parents who work. Some student-run organizations host day camps or offer free activities for kids during the summer break.
How to Make Summertime Fun on a Budget
How can you help check items off your child’s summer bucket list without spending a fortune?
First, you should set up a financial plan that accounts for additional expenses. Putting money in a summer savings fund and operating with a set budget in mind should keep you on the right path.
In addition, many cities and local governments provide subsidized meal programs for kids. These types of resources can be a big boost for parents who don’t have much disposable income to spend and rely on reduced lunch programs during the school year.
Finally, don’t be afraid to think outside the box to save money and still have an enjoyable summer. From setting up a small backyard garden to grow your own vegetables to completing DIY projects as a family, you can find many budget-friendly ways to have a fun-filled break.
After all, it's the memories you create that make summers memorable, not how much money you spent.