Ahhh summer. The endless days of sun and fun, drinks by the pool, and fantastic vacations. Or is it actually kids that are screaming “I’m bored” two weeks after school gets out and suddenly realizing how grateful you are that the school managed to actually feed your children lunch every day? I love the summer. I love not having to get everyone up super early, sign this reading log, fill out this form, send money for this activity. And I also love the break in scheduled activities. But that also means I have to find ways to fill up these endless days without spending their college tuition. I’ve got a great list of cheap summer bucket list ideas to save you from the “I’m bored’s” and the “why aren’t we at Disney World like the neighbors”.
Activities are fun and I love family outings. What I don’t love is that price tag that often comes along with all these fun activities. Because sometimes you just can’t. And that’s ok. I grew up poor – we didn’t go on vacations and I didn’t spend all summer at camp. And depending on who you ask, I turned out just fine. You can do it parents! Saying no because you just can’t spend the dough even when everyone else is doing it is perfectly fine. One day your kids will see that you needed some cheap escapes for them out of necessity, not because you wanted to punish them.
Cheap Summer Bucket List Ideas
Affiliate links provided – see the full disclosure here
Water Balloon Games
If you want to get the kids laughing hysterically, bust out the water balloons. There’s something about it that just brings out the smiles. Get regular balloons and a cooler. Fill them up and let them have at it. If you want to make it super easy on yourself, get the kind that have multiple balloons that you simply attach a garden hose to the end and fill them in about 60 seconds. These are brilliant!
You can get a pack of 265 self-sealing water balloons for $22! That’s a lot of balloons. Fill a bucket with water, attach the hose to the balloons and they fill in seconds!
Your kids will think you’re a water balloon genius. Think about it – we are always yelling at the kids to “stop hitting your sister” or “don’t splash so much water”. This time you’ll be handing them both of those normally off-limits behaviors on a silver platter! You’ll have a mess to clean up afterward, but it’s so worth it.
Picnic and the Park
Chances are wherever you live, there’s a park within a reasonable driving distance. Get the kids to help you pack a simple lunch and head out. Mine love this. Don’t forget a blanket to sit on or a few towels, bug spray, and sunscreen. Easy lunch ideas could include apples and peanut butter, PB&J sandwiches, crackers, and some carrot sticks. Nothing fancy or anything that requires utensils. Pack some water, eat your lunch outside with nature and then let them play. Total cost = Zero Dollars. You were going to have to feed them anyway, right?
Now I’ll be completely transparent. I hate camping. I’ve done it with the kiddos because it’s kind of like taking one for the team. They love it and we’ve always had a great time. But it’s a lot of work to get it all set up and then someone pees in the tent (true story) and there’s nothing you can do about it until morning. Add that to a mom that doesn’t love camping (an irrational fear of bears over here) and it can be quite the adventure. Buying the food, paying for a spot, wood, and traveling can add up quickly.
So the cheap alternative is backyard camping! Pitch a tent under the stars in the privacy of your own back yard. Grill some hot dogs, roast some marshmallows over the coals, and leave all the electronics inside for the night. Then whoever wants to sleep outside can do so (and this mom can go sleep in a bed!). And there’s no rush in the morning to get it all down and packed away.
Build the Fort of all Forts
If you want to find a fun inside activity for a rainy day, add building forts to your summer bucket list. Kids love forts! Often when my kids need a TV break or need to use their imaginations, fort building is on the top of the list. They love it. Round up all the blankets and pillows you can find and start building. You can help with securing the blankets. Use dresser drawers or doors (just be careful they don’t pull something over onto them). Get flashlights and some books and spend some time hanging out in their master fort creation.
Visit a Local Farmers Market
Hopefully, you have access to a farmers market relatively close by. Take the family on an outing to get the weekly veggies and fruits. Let your kids design a menu out of their favorites and go searching for the ingredients. If the kids are old enough and the farmers have time, introduce them and let them ask a few questions. Kids are often fascinated with how things work – teach them how the growing process works. It’s a great learning experience for them to see how to support local growers, as well as how much better the fruits and veggies taste when they didn’t travel far to get to their plates. Encourage everyone to pick one new thing to try.
Family Dinner and a Movie at Home
Make this a weekly or biweekly event. Each person has a turn to pick the movie and the meal. Scour Netflix or Amazon Prime or even hit up the Redbox and plan a simple meal. Maybe swing by the gas station for some movie snacks. Movie nights are amazing because you can put the electronics on hold and get lost in another world for a few hours. Get some pillows and blankets and snuggle on the floor.
Pick a night that you can devote several hours of mega game playing. Depending on the ages of your kids, this might get a bit tricky, but find some games that are age appropriate for the youngest player. Let everyone pick their fave, make some snacks, and let the games begin. Game nights are some of my favorite memories from staying with my aunts in the summer. We got Pepsi to drink, snacks to eat and they played endless hours of Monopoly, Sorry, Chinese Checkers, and Yahtzee with us. Super cheap, but 30+ years later, I still remember those nights.
Shaving Cream Fights
Yep – it’ll get messy and everyone will need to be hosed down afterward, but it’s definitely worth it. We did this recently and my kids declared they want to have “shaving cream Saturday” once a week. Not sure about that, but I’ll consider it. You can get a can of shaving cream for a buck at Wal-Mart and let them have at it. Join in and prepare to get messy. Who knew this would be such a hit? Turn on the sprinklers afterward and let everyone run wild. Or do both at the same time. I never would’ve guessed they would love this so much until we did it. Ten bucks worth of shaving cream will go a long way.
Splash Pad or Sprinklers
Where I live, there’s a local splash pad that you can visit for $1 each. And you can stay as long as you want. Pack a picnic and throw on the bathing suits. It’s less complicated than a day at the pool and there are no large bodies of water for those that can’t swim. And this is one that even the teeny kids can enjoy. If you don’t have a local splash pad, bust out the sprinklers and make your own. Especially on those hot summer days, there’s not much better than running through the sprinklers. And get out there with them! Play tag, get drenched and get ready for the laughs.
Hopefully, most of the family is into reading. Pick a day and head to the library. Tell them they can check out as many as they want and pick some for yourself too! Look for a few books that you can read with the kids also. It’s free, it’s good for the brain, and it’ll keep the kiddos off the electronics for a bit. And you’ll get some reading enjoyment and a break from Facebook!
Nerf Gun Fights
Especially if you have boys – this one will be a hit. My daughter will tinker around, but she and her friends have never organized an actual Nerf Fight. Go to a local mall and ask a department store if you can have some of their large garment boxes. Get boxes of varying sizes and let them set up their “bases”.
And don’t worry about coming up with some elaborate strategy or game. The kids will take care of that on their own. My son did this for his 10th birthday party and I’ve never seen so many boys running around with an actual purpose! It was amazing to me and my husband to sit and watch them. Let them arrange the boxes however they want and have at it. Again – you’ll have a mess of nerf bullets afterward, but give everyone a plastic grocery bag and have them clean up.
Take a trip to the Zoo
I don’t know if this is an option everywhere, but I live in Georgia and anyone can visit a public library, check out a DVD about the Zoo and receive 4 free passes to the Atlanta Zoo! That’s a huge saving! You’ll still be out for gas and lunch, but it saves us about $88 in ticket prices! There are rules about how soon you have to use the passes, but it’s well worth it if you can plan in advance.
We all want to have memorable summers. And memorable doesn’t have to = expensive. If I ask my kids about some of their favorite memories, it’s often something we did together as a family that didn’t involve a fancy vacation or lots of money. They just want to spend time with you.
I know it sometimes sucks when everyone else is on magical cruises or on some exotic getaway and you’re hanging out at the house. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t also create some amazing memories with the fam. There’s plenty of cheap summer bucket list ideas that will make some pretty fantastic memories. And you won’t go broke in the process – win-win!