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Summer on a Budget

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How to save money but still have fun this summer.

family at the beach

Danielle Hoston: Memorial Day has marked the beginning of summer, and the recession (the so-called "R-word," as I like to put it) hasn't quite passed. With the end of school just around the corner, I spent some time brainstorming great ways to have fun this summer on a reduced budget. Here are my tips for cheap date nights, fun with the family, and summer vacations without spending a lot of money.

Be a Cheap Date
1. Take advantage of coupons and special promotional nights at your favorite restaurants that offer either free food or a free activity (salsa dancing, live music, etc.).
2. Plan day dates. Activities during the day are typically less expensive than nighttime activities. Besides, you can enjoy the weather and get outside! Seek out new places to hike, bike, roller skate, or just explore with your spouse.
3. Hotels need to fill rooms and have cut their prices accordingly. You can often get a romantic night away from home for less than a dinner for two.

Fun with the Family
1. Don't forget parks and beaches ... fun in the sun for free!! Pack a picnic meal and skip the cost of eating out. Think about joining a summer league. Local parks and YMCAs offer plenty of programs to get involved in.
2. Outdoor concerts and festivals are also great ways to have some family fun. Check your local listings and community colleges, etc., for activity calendars.
3. Plan a potluck barbeque. Invite friends or family members over and spread the cost of a great afternoon among everybody. Schedule them monthly and try to switch the location or add a new activity (board games, karaoke, etc.).

1. Skip the stress and cost of a typical vacation and try a "staycation." No work, no traveling, no phone, and no computer. Treat yourself to leisurely mornings, an at-home spa, and/or a marathon of your favorite movies or TV show.
2. Owning timeshares can be expensive. Try renting a local timeshare from an owner who will not be utilizing their vacation this year. They are often offered at prices well below standard rates.
3. You can significantly lower the cost of travel by keeping the distance within a few short hours of home or by taking a train instead of a plane.

Remember that everything is negotiable! Keep your eye out for deals and bargains. Amusement parks and sports stadiums are slashing prices in order to lure in visitors. Join mailing lists of your favorite fun spots and pay attention to the offers in your in-box. Whatever you do, DON'T stay home and mope about your money woes. And DON'T use the R-word as an excuse to not create terrific memories this summer with your loved ones.

Do you have a low-cost plan to have fun this summer? What are some ways you save on date night, family fun, and/or vacations?

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5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Mary June 1, 2009, 5:27 PM

They’re saying that staycations don’t provide the rejuvenation that a vacation does. However, as you said, traveling to someplace near and keeping your travel expenses down is good. And, also another good suggestion you gave, was to rent a timeshare from the owner.
I did it. Saved money on the rental and by only driving 4 hours to get there. My family enjoyed a week in a 2 bedroom luxury suite at the Marriott Timber Lodge in Lake Tahoe. Our rent rate was one fourth the going rate. I found the owners ad at and they handled everything perfectly. They take care of the money exchange and have an attorney who oversees the rental agreements. I would definitely do that again, my family had the best vacation.

FrugBaby for Free Baby Stuff June 1, 2009, 6:18 PM

Summer on a budget brings up a good point. All parents want to show their kids a good time and take them on fun road trips. But not all parents can afford extensive trips, and certainly not when it comes to buying plane tickets for 2, 3, or even 4 kids! A nice solution and a cheap solution to family quality time is to head to the park and just hang on the swings. Or dig in the sand if you have a beach or sandpit around. Remember back before TV and video games? Families used to spend time together. Not only was this a more simple way, a better way, but definitely a cheaper way. If you really want to save money and do something fun for the summer, just relax, go to the pool and chill. You don’t have to spend a lot to really enjoy your summer as a family.

Jasmine W June 2, 2009, 12:32 AM

If you live in California there are many vacation locations you can visit for reasonable prices. Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego-not only fun but family oriented as well. You can also book your flight ahead of time on Southwest Airlines to the Bay Area ($49 each way) if flying from Burbank to Oakland. Napa is just 1.5hr drive. Big Bear has cheaper prices in the summer and you can go hiking as well. Hope this helps! ;)

tanya EVANS June 2, 2009, 8:27 PM

I save big, clients have homes away from home so they always offer them up when we are ready to vacation!!! DATE NIGHT! Good ole Bowling! Most places offer unlimited bowling after 10:00 and we are always up for that!!! Potluck bbq’s with friends and family are the best!!!


Selene June 6, 2009, 2:40 AM

This is exactly what I needed. Thanx Danisha.

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