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Mendo Lake Family Life

25 Ideas for Cheap Summer Fun

By Christina Katz 

Thanks to these tips, creating special summer memories doesn’t have to break the bank or leave you stranded at home all summer.

1. Leave your car behind as much as possible. Add baskets and racks to bikes and be sure to give them a seasonal tune-up. If you go long distances, bring along a tire repair kit. 

2. Before you go anywhere, visit websites to check for discount coupons. 

3. Grow your own cutting garden. Fill an entire bed with varieties such as daisies, lilies, gladiolas, sunflowers, and zinnias. 

4. Make sun tea. Buy bulk quantities of black tea bags, remove the tags from 10–12 bags, and leave the jar in the sun until water turns amber. Add mint and lemon to a glass of ice or create your own tasty variations. 

5. Teach kids that the best things in life are not always new. Shop garage sales, flea markets, and local thrift shops for summer clothes and shoes. 

6. Build a raised garden bed to keep out weeds and pests, and plant a whole summer’s worth of salad plants. Pace plants to harvest on an ongoing basis. 

7. Check Family Life’s Calendar of Events for free music performances and festivals. 

8. Visit the library each week for a steady supply of reading materials and educational media. Remember, the library is often cool on extremely hot days. 

9. Have a full-family yard sale. Let kids sort, price, and sell for a couple of days in exchange for a percentage of the profits. Or spend earnings at the Redwood Empire Fair in Ukiah. 

10. Check out beaches within an hour’s driving distance. Leave early and stay all day to maximize the fun without adding the hotel stay. Doran Regional Park in Bodega Bay is an excellent option, as is the boardwalk walk and beach at MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg.

11. When the big summer movie that you all want to see comes out, eat lunch at home first and then go to the matinee. Also, check the Family Life Calendar of Events (page 28) for free movie nights.

12. Tree swings cost a lot less than swing sets, and create lifelong memories. 

13. Make note on your calendar of free days at museums and nature centers. 

14. Attend a parade. Bring a picnic and homemade lemonade. 

15. Go to bed early, wake up with the larks, and go for a long day hike. See, and as well as for hiking options as well as free or low-cost kids’ nature activities. 

16. Can’t afford camp? Create your own. Choose a theme for the day or the week. Let older kids be the counselors to younger children in the neighborhood. 

17. Take siestas during the hottest time of the day. It’s a great way to give siblings a break from each other. 

18. Share music as a family. Instead of buying whole albums, let each child download five or six songs to make their own summer mix. Pick up inexpensive, used CDs to download. 

19. Call it potions practice. Everything from your grill will taste fresh and tangy when you teach your kids to make BBQ marinades from scratch. 

20. Have a movie night with popcorn popped the old-fashioned way at pennies per serving. With a Sonoma County library card, you can rent six movies for free ever month via Kanopy. 

21. Visit community pools and the YMCA. Don’t forget to check for free swim times. 

22. Give each child five bucks to spend at the farmers’ market. Eat breakfast at home before you go. Then enjoy free samples at the market. 

23. Camp in the backyard. Use whatever camping gear you have on hand or borrow anything else you need from friends and neighbors. 

24. Invest in a few inexpensive sprinkler heads. During the hottest weeks of summer, turn on the sprinkler at set times every afternoon. Encourage kids to invite their friends over for a quick dash about, squirt fight, and bubble-blowing contest. 

25. Let children paint favorite words on wooden boards and rocks with smooth surfaces. Set these around the yard for inspiration. 

Author, journalist, and writing coach Christina Katz never needed much money to create summer memories as a kid. But she’s also noticed that everything costs a lot more when you are a parent.