Frugal Summertime Fun

My kids have nine days of school left this year. I estimate it will be 9.5 days before the “I’m bored” chorus begins. Even though we school at home now, the summer transition is about the same as it was when the kids went to public school. They can’t wait for school to end, and then they can’t wait for summer to be over.

Now, at my house, when kids begin the “I’m bored chorus” it falls under the category of whining, and anyone who has the energy to whine has the energy to wash dishes or clean a bathroom. But in all honestly, if you have kids home during the summer, you want them to have an enjoyable, enriching summer vacation without breaking the bank. And you likely get bored sometimes too.

Do you have a list of cheap boredom busters around your house? You should! Trust me, this will save your pocketbook and your sanity in the summer.

In recent weeks, we’ve taught our oldest daughter a number of fun card games, as well as the addictive word game “bananagrams.” She can run across the street and find the neighbor kid who will play these games for hours on end, on either a rainy or a too-hot day.

What should kids be doing in the summer? At my house, here’s what I ask of my children. They need to make a list at the beginning of summer with some ideas for each category. Then when they come to me with the “I’m bored” song, while I’m preparing dinner, they may either choose something from the list to do, or clean the bathroom.

The master list:

  1. Learn something every day.
  2. Write something every day (even if it’s just your birthday wishlist).
  3. Make some money (that wish-list isn’t gonna buy itself… j/k).
  4. Volunteer or do something good for other people.
  5. Have a project. A ship in a bottle, a game, a giant jigsaw puzzle or the great American novel, have something to work on.
  6. Play. Play a game, play outside, or use your imagination.

Granted, kids have limited power to entertain themselves constantly, and most of us want our kids expanding horizons. My daughters are saving for our mission trip to Africa, and doing yard work and walking dogs to raise money. They also regularly help neighbors “just because.” Hard work is a critical value in our family, so we encourage the kids to always be “doing” something.

Here’s some keys for staying sane during the summer:

  1. Have the kids complete a list of ideas for the six points above. What could they be doing to entertain themselves or enrich themselves?
  2. Join the library summer reading program. Most have prizes and awards. I have my kids check out books each week, and with my oldest daughter, I check out one additional book that she wouldn’t have thought to check out—just to spread her horizons. (Cryptozoology anyone?)
  3. Keep a handy list of things to do on super warm days. Nearby splash public swimming spaces, etc.
  4. Follow the events calendar in the local newspaper. We are regular attendees at the local Shakespeare in the Park events (free first-rate plays!) also watch for movies and concerts, or volunteer activities and cultural festivals. Many are free or very low cost.
  5. VBS—Consider enrolling your child in a free sports camp, or Vacation Bible School with a local church (you usually don’t have to be a member). A church near me offers a free three-day soccer camp every summer for kids ages 5-13.
  6. Consider a membership someplace. My mom gave our family a zoo membership for Christmas last year, and it’s getting a workout. We anticipate many summer days and evenings at the zoo this year. We also have a membership to the YMCA, where we visit several times each week for swimming, or dance classes.
  7. “Check out” the library’s other resources. Your local library has many resources you likely don’t even know about. In Washington State, our Pierce and King County libraries offer free and heavily-discounted museum passes to patrons—just check them out online and print them at home.
  8. Share kids. Sometimes, just adding another kid or two in the mix for the day keeps everyone entertained. Playing in the yard with friends is exponentially more fun than playing in the yard with siblings. Arrange play-dates with your friends to let the kids wear one another out. Besides, they’ll sleep better on those warm, sunny nights.

Final Tip: Buckets of fun:

Each of my kids has a five-gallon bucket with a lid. You can usually get these for free at your local pastry shop. The bucket is triple duty—toybox, lunch-box, beach chair. Sometimes we just want to go have fun, but don’t really have a plan for the day. Those days, we pack sunscreen, a change of clothes and shoes for each kids, beach balls, and picnic lunches in their beach buckets and head to the local park, beach or museum.

But what about camping?

Yes… what about camping. I’m collecting thoughts on camping. Based on my last couple of camping trips, well, let’s just say the jury is still out. I am going to do a post soon on frugal camping tips though for the summer-fun season. Please let me know if you have some frugal camping tips that we can share.


By , on Jun 23, 2011
Jessica Ward Jessica Ward is a full-time writer and adoptive mom to two wonderful children. She writes to support her parenting/adopting habit. For frugal family tips see The PennyWise Family or @jessc098 and my google+ profile.


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  1. This advice isnt just for college students but for working adults also! I follow by most of these ideas listed on a regular basis!

  2. Great ideas! This summer I volunteered to help out at our local performing arts school. In return, my daughter is attending summer dance camp for free. Don’t be afraid to inquire about trading your time for some summer camp fun. The school owner told me she had never been approached before, and was glad I pitched this idea.

    • love it! :) Way to work the barter system!

  3. My kids have a mix of games and reading for summer fun.

  4. When I was a kid vacation bible school was a couple of weeks worth of free babysitting for my mom. It was fun for me too and here I am at 33 with a rug that I made there over 20 years ago. :)

  5. Hey, great article, I was also writing an article about frugal fun in the summer in the next couple weeks, and I stumbled over (mind the pun) this site on Digg, so I popped by! Nice job :)

    PS. Letterboxing is a fun free (after you get a stamp) thing to do, google it!

  6. Fifi:

    Im sure your dog would love to carry your food for a picnic. I bet he would tire out fast. Good luck!

    Fifi @

  7. Briana:

    I love th idea of a zoo membership and keeping an eye on local free/cheap events. I am actually compiling a list of events that might interest my husband, myself, and our 15 month old. That way on the ‘I am bored’ days (from my husband) we can pick an event and go.

  8. Fifi:

    I love the bucket of fun idea! This sounds like something I should consider with my dogs only with their backpacks. Tire them out a little!

    fifi @

  9. Chelle:


    You get 9.5 days before whining starts? I call that a total success!!!

    My kids are in love with their gaming systems. Unfortunately, they eat up a lot of band width and use up our internet allotment by using them too much. I need to find them things to do, so thanks!


  10. Great post! Really enjoyed it. Your list is going on my fridge first thing in the morning! And if the whining song starts in our house we’re implementing the clean the bathroom alternative to the list. Love it!

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