FREE Summer Activities for the Kids
FREE Summer Activities for the Kids sounds too good to be true but I promise…it’s all true! Save money, make your wallet happy and keep your kids from saying that horrible mantra “Mooooom….I’m Boooooooored!” all summer long by keeping their schedules full of fun and FREE activities EVERY WEEK!
Be sure to check out the rest of the post for the money saving tips and tricks I share to save money when we travel for vacation and for more entertainment throughout the year! We can afford to do so much with our big family of five because of the money saving tips I use for our family!
Fun FREE Activities for your Kids for the Summer Break!!
Entertaining your kids is so much more fun when the events are free or nearly free! You would be amazed at how many free events are going on all around you all year long. You can sign your kids up for :
- FREE bowling
- FREE roller skating (roller blading)
- FREE weekend workshops at Lowe’s and Home Depot
- (Almost Free) $1 weekly movies at participating theaters
- Some theaters are offering free admission to the summer program movies but you will need to check the website for the participating locations
Check out your local events too
Check on social media for free events like movies in the park and free summer concerts. Check out weekly activities at your local library and community centers by visiting your Chamber of Commerce. Most cities and towns print a yearly publication listing all of the events so be sure and grab one and don’t forget to look in your local newspapers.
Libraries and Community Centers
Our local library has a publication that lists all kinds of activities for families like cooking classes, craft events and they also have a club for kids who enjoy Pokemon, Beyblade and Yugioh trading cards and games. There are so many more events but check around to see what you may be interested in doing with your family.
These free or almost free activities are great ways to pass the summer and some programs run all year long instead of just during the summer like the free skating and weekend workshops as well as the local community events.
Fascinate your kids with the local Farmer’s Market
My kids love to visit the Farmer’s Markets every Saturday during the summer since they get to sample homemade goodies and we usually purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Sweet Berry Farm in Marble Falls, Texas has a petting zoo and pick your own fruit or veggies for a fee. They have free parking and live music or entertainment for the kids and this is a fun event that is inexpensive to enjoy with your family.
You can also check out www.pickyourown.org for other farms to visit in your local area. Kids are always amazed when they see where their food really comes from!
Local parks and picnic
We have several parks in my local area that have water sprayers or splash pads (Belton) for the kids in the summer. It gets to be over 100° in the summertime here in Texas. Visiting one of these free parks is a great way to cool off without wasting water consumption at home and the kids feel as though they’ve gone on outing.
We pack up our cooler with food and drinks and picnic in the park when it’s lunch time or snack time. The park also has monkey bars, slides and swings so the kids can run around and play and get completely dry before we drive home. The kids are always completely worn out after this activity and take a long nap so I get some quiet down time when we get home!
Sign for each program using the links below
- Free Bowling – www.Kidsbowlfree.com (check into the family packages too)
- Free Skating – www.kidsskatefree.com (check into the family packages too)
- Lowe’s Build & Grow Program – www.lowesbuildandgrow.com
- FREE Kids Workshop at Home Depot – www.workshops.homedepot.com
- Toys R Us In-Store Events – www.toysrus.com
- Barnes & Noble Store Events – www.barnesandnoble.com
- Dollar Movies at Regal Cinemas – www.regmovies.com
- Cinemark Summer Movie Clubhouse – www.cinemark.com
Need more ideas for fun on a dime? Read on as I share my tips and tricks to make outings budget friendly and family-centered!
Water parks offer half-day discounts
If you have water babies like I do then take full advantage of water park half-day discount specials. We actually have several awesome water parks in our local area but Summer Fun Water Park is by far the family favorite. They offer a 58% discount on their admission prices when you come for the half-day special. All five of us can enjoy the park for the admission price of $33! That’s the price of just one full day for two adults at the park!
We never stay for more than two hours each time we visit and the special is from 3 – 6 pm, which is the hottest time of day and perfect for cooling off at the water park! The best part is they allow you to bring in outside food and drinks and coolers are kosher but alcoholic beverages and glass containers are prohibited. I have even witnessed Domino’s and Pizza Hut deliver pizzas for birthday parties in the past few years!
Grown-Ups Only Events at the Water Park!
Summer Fun Water Park offers an Adult Night event which are for adults only, 21 yrs and over. They host live entertainment, dancing, swimming, volleyball, and a lazy river to relax and float down. You can BYOB and the concession stand is open for your enjoyment. They do not allow any food to be brought into the park for this event and no glass or styro foam containers are permitted in the park. All coolers and bags are inspected at the gate, prior to admission as well as IDs. You can’t come and get dog-faced drunk or become disorderly and obnoxious but you can come to unwind, relax and have some good old adult fun!
Timing is key to having the most fun
Visit attractions at the beginning of the week on Mondays and Tuesdays instead of Saturdays and Sundays. Hunny Bunny and I learned this early on when we would fight crowds of people and traffic on weekend day trips. Try to avoid major holidays too, most especially Spring Break, Fourth of July and Labor Day. It will take you 3 – 4 times longer to see the exhibits, ride the rides, get from one end of the park or grounds to the other and to find parking when you go on a weekend. Go during the week when everyone is working or in school and you will get to enjoy your time with your family so much more!
We made two trips to the Fort Worth Zoo last year. Our first trip was on a weekday and there weren’t any crowds to fight or traffic on the highways. The second trip was on a Saturday and we vowed to never go anywhere on a weekend ever again.
The zoo has a hands on exhibit where you can touch the horseshoe crabs, starfish and sea urchins. The first time we went we were the only ones in the area and we spent 30 minutes or more enjoying the animals and letting the horseshoe crabs swim over our hands. It was not the same when we went on a Saturday as we waited for over 30 minutes just to get into the building and we spent a mere 30 seconds touching the animals since we had to keep moving along because so many people wanted in to see it too.
You will definitely feel as though you got your money’s worth of fun when you get to actually enjoy the entertainment versus fighting crowds and rushing through. We also had to wade through crowds of people just to get a chance to see the animals in their habitats. We now dedicate weekends to yard and house work and weekdays to travel and fun plans to avoid crowds and traffic!
Vacation on a dime
You can definitely vacation on a dime with a little bit of planning and effort. The key to saving on vacations is to plan and book your reservations early, as in six months or more when possible. Airfare, hotel, cruise and resort rates are ridiculously cheap when you book them six months or more in advance. I have also found calling travel agents for price comparisons is much easier since they have access to more incentives that aren’t announced to the public. Since they are in touch with these companies on a regular basis it makes sense that they might have “insider” knowledge about cheap travel rates before those deals are made available to the public. I saved $2000 on a last minute flight to Korea during peak summer months because I called travel agents and it was great because they do all the work of finding the deals while I sit back and wait to hear back from them!
Deep discounts through CityPASS
My family is going to take our yearly vacation using CityPASS to visit Houston this summer. CityPASS is a booklet of admission tickets to the best attractions in a single city. You’ll save up to 50% compared to combined regular box office prices if you were to purchase each ticket individually. You also save time with easy access at most attractions because once you have your CityPASS booklet you can skip the ticket line and head straight for the entrance of the attraction. The CityPASS booklets are valid for nine consecutive days beginning the day of first use (14 days in Southern California). You also have the freedom to visit the attractions in any order you wish.
CityPASS is offered in 11 major cities to include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California, Tampa Bay and Toronto. I did a comparison price of the five attractions for our family in Houston which includes the NASA Space Center, Downtown Aquarium, Houston Zoo, Houston Museum of Natural Science and The Children’s Museum of Houston and we save 47% using CityPASS. We will spend $188.00 for our passes for all five attractions or just $9.40 per person per admission.
The great thing about it is if your plans fall through and you can’t make it to your destination, you can request a refund of your passes, provided you didn’t use any of the tickets because they don’t offer partial refunds, and they will refund the full amount due. Hubby and I hope to take the kids to NYC one year when they are all older and CityPASS offers the big well known attractions and we can skip the long lines. I have always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty and CityPASS will make it super affordable!
Trivago.com for hotel stays
Hubby told me about Trivago.com when we were thinking about our travel plans to Houston this summer. This website makes it easy to find rates based on location, the number of occupants and customer ratings. I only have one drawback and it is that the rate changes frequently so I don’t recommend browsing until you are ready to book and pay because the price could change at any moment.
The prices have been very affordable each time I browse. The reviews are provided by the customers through the Trivago website so if a guest had a bad stay or they thought the room was terrible then the review will reflect it in all it’s true honesty! It’s funny to read some of them because they haven’t been edited or revised and they crack me up!
The best aspect of the website is that they have a rewards program that is easy to use when book your room and you collect and redeem points for each stay. So naturally, the more you travel, the more you save. The hotels that are listed on Trivago.com also have a free cancellation policy so you can get your full refund. There is a cancellation deadline though so be sure and note this prior to booking your stay.
Save on meals and snacks when you travel
I find that pre-planning our menu before traveling always saves us so much money. It can get really expensive to buy drinks and snacks at a convenience store or rest stop. We always pack our large cube cooler full of cans of soda, bottles of water, sports drinks, fresh fruit and sandwiches for lunches. We also pack a small bag of snacks like snack size chips, granola bars, applesauce cups or pouches and portable and easy to eat on the go fresh fruit like cuties oranges, bananas or grapes. We eat breakfast at home before we leave the house early that morning and we eat a picnic lunch of sandwiches once we reach our destination.
I almost always carry snacks in the diaper bag or my purse, at all times. It’s usually a pack of peanut butter crackers, salted nuts or a protein bar for me and dry cereal for my toddler. I am actually hypoglycemic and I get cranky and weak really fast if my blood sugar levels get too low. I would never survive a zombie apocalypse because I wouldn’t be able to go for long without food!
Some places, like zoos and museums post signs that ask us not to bring in outside food or snacks but that’s virtually impossible when you have a toddler, small kids and an adult who needs to snack every three hours. I have even gone so far as to stretch the truth just a tad and claimed to be diabetic…hey, don’t judge! Do what makes you comfortable, as you can see…I am shameless in my frugality and ultra comfortable in my own skin!
Take full advantage of free breakfast and coffee!!
Most hotels offer a free continental breakfast with each night’s stay. Breakfast is usually served early between 6 – 8am so get an early wake-up call and hit the breakfast bar. They typically offer coffee, tea, juice, milk, cold cereals, bagels, toast, english muffins, fresh fruit and donuts. Some posh hotels offer freshly made waffles, crepes, omelets or pancakes as well as cappuccino and expresso.
You are required to eat in the dining room and taking food back to your room is discouraged so bring all of the members of your family or group to eat. If someone should insist that they aren’t hungry then encourage them to grab a banana or apple on the way out and eat it later.
Most hotel rooms have a small fridge in the room and some come with a microwave. If the room doesn’t include a microwave then I call ahead and check to see if they have one available for guests to use in the lobby. We typically bring frozen meals in our cooler and cook them and eat them in our rooms the first evening we travel. We are usually too tired and worn out to sit and eat in a restaurant and we’ve been in the car all day so we’re happy to skip the drive-thru. We just want to eat and go to bed.
We store a pack of lunch meat, fresh fruit and drinks we brought in our cooler in our fridge for our stay. We eat sandwiches for one meal during the day. We also bring a jar of peanut butter and a bunch of bananas to make peanut butter banana sandwiches for the kids.
We LOVE Cheddar’s!
We usually try to dine out for lunch instead of dinner since we don’t want to take any food with us when we leave the restaurant, unless we eat at Cheddar’s. We love Cheddar’s because they are super affordable and they give giant portions. You can order a burger and fries for the same price as a fast food value meal but theirs tastes so much better. If you order the chicken tenders platter be sure and split it with someone because you won’t be able to finish it on your own.
Like I said previously, don’t order drinks, opt for water instead. Notice how the menu doesn’t have a price for drinks? The price is included on EVERYTHING but the drinks because they make their money in the drink prices! I think a sweet tea is almost $3 at Cheddar’s so we all drink high quality H2O and drink our $0.30 can of soda in the car!
One last point about Cheddar’s – it doesn’t make a difference in pricing for lunch and dinner menus so we go with either mealtime but for other restaurants that have different menus like Olive Garden, we always opt for lunch because of the smaller portions and more affordable menu.
Groupon is your friend
If you are absolutely certain you want to dine out then log in to Groupon first and check out the specials in the city you are visiting. Most hotels have free wifi so check out Facebook for the restaurants and reviews where you want to eat. Asking the hotel staff is always a good idea too since they live in the area.
Most major cities have Groupon discount codes for the most popular and well known restaurants. Be sure and read the fine print for the offer and call ahead to speak with a manager and note their name in case there are discrepancies when you arrive. Austin is the closest city for my local area and they always have fondue restaurant specials. I think it would be fun to do a fondue date night one of these days!
And finally…how to eat out more often without skimping on the taste!
Dining out with coupons
Once upon a time I would have died of embarrassment and humiliation if my date had tried to use a coupon while paying for our meal at a restaurant. Now I find myself frowning and complaining when my husband wants to dine out without a coupon. The only exception is our on yearly Anniversary dinner, then I feel like it’s okay not to use a coupon because we are at a very nice, expensive and fancy restaurant and it’s only once a year. But you had better believe that I always check with Groupon for any specials prior to making our reservations! I figure it can’t hurt since I do see offers from time to time!
My weekly, monthly and yearly budgets don’t include dining out, with the exception of our Anniversary dinner, but the rest of the year we have to find creative ways to fit it into our weekly grocery budget. That means I typically have to cook cheap meals like beans and rice or ramen noodles to afford an outing for our family of five. My husband and I did this to ensure we would eat more at home and eat far less processed foods, which is better for our overall health.
The weekly newspaper coupon inserts always have restaurant coupons in them so be sure and watch out for those. They also send out packets in the mail so be sure and save them when you get them. I have a coupon binder dedicated entirely to dining out that has coupons for Papa Murphy’s Take ‘n Bake Pizzas, Burger King, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Outback Steakhouse. If it’s a restaurant coupon then I place it in this binder and hang on to it because I never know when we might want to use it.
You can also sign up for text and email alerts for specials and coupons for restaurants where you dine. I have one dedicated email account for my coupon offers and I check it several times a day. I get free food offers on my birthday and periodically they send me coupons for free appetizers or desserts with a meal purchase. I also like their business pages on Facebook so I get to see new offers when they are announced in my newsfeed.
Save by dining earlier in the day
The least expensive way to dine out is to go earlier in the day. Breakfast is usually the least expensive meal with the most offerings. Lunch specials have become increasingly popular for the big chain franchise restaurants like Chili’s, Applebees and Olive Garden’s with their express lunch menus and soup and salad specials. Local dine-in establishments usually have a daily lunch special as well so be sure and ask about them if you don’t see them on the menu.
Drinking water has two benefits
I highly recommend only drinking water with your meal to save money. I know that sounds so dull and I do know of some people who refuse to drink water but it is the best choice as your body really does need it! Drinking water with your meal is not only healthy but it saves you money two ways when dining out.
The first way is that you can turn one meal into two. Skip ordering an appetizer and drink at least half of your water before your meal arrives to fill you up and to completely hydrate you. When your meal arrives, ask the wait staff for a carryout container and place half of your meal in it right from the start. If anyone should ask you can explain that you love this place for their generous portions but you can’t eat it all in one sitting so you will take it home and eat the rest for lunch tomorrow. Besides, who wants to go back to work bloated and sleepy from overeating? Don’t be surprised if a few people follow suit from your lead and do the same this time or the next time around!
The second way that water saves you money is that you don’t have that extra few dollars added to your ticket. Drinks are a big business for restaurants, especially when they charge $2 – $3 per drink, refills included. When you really think about it, that glass of Coke or Pepsi, which has way more ice than soda, is the same price as a 12 pack of cans at your local grocery store! Personally, I never finish just one glass of soda when I dine out and I never need a refill so I feel that ordering a soda is a waste of money on my part. I can wait until later in the day to enjoy my soda and I saved quite a bit of money by skipping the appetizer and drinks on my final bill.
My husband on the other hand, he gets his money’s worth when he orders drinks because he drinks like a camel! If he drinks sweet tea and he is excessively thirsty then he will simply ask the waitstaff to just drop off the pitcher of tea at our table and he will refill it as needed. They are usually more than happy to cooperate after refilling his glass for the 7th time in 15 minutes!
I will be honest and admit that I usually do imbibe a gulp or two from my hubby’s drink but we don’t actually share a drink. We are frugal, not total cheapskates! My fingers somehow always find their way to his plate too. Luckily my husband is generous and doesn’t mind when a few of his french fries jump into my mouth from his plate!
Happy Hour Specials
I love a good margarita on the rocks with chips and salsa and almost every good Tex-Mex Restaurant in town has a happy hour special during the week. You can grab drink specials and cheap appetizers during their specified hours and you will usually find the establishment busy because everyone wants to take advantage of eating and drinking on the cheap. Some places in our local area have live music and concerts in the summer too so check local event groups on social media to get the inside information on when and where so you can participate.
Local fast food restaurants like Sonic Drive-In and Taco Bell also have a happy hour special everyday between 2 – 4pm. You can get half priced drinks from Sonic and dollar slushies and snacks from Taco Bell. My kids love the dollar menus at the drive-thrus so it’s never a problem to convince them to eat on a dime and I remind them that eating for less now means we can repeat it again very soon.
Date Night Specials
It never hurts to ask around or check out the events going on in your local area for date night specials. I am brash enough to ask the staff when dining out and I ask about everything from free family fun events to date night specials and discounts. The worst that can happen is they say no and talk crap about how frugal I am when I leave! They might be laughing behind my back but I am laughing my happy hiney all the way to the bank with my savings!
My local Chili’s restaurant and Regal Cinema Theater in Killeen, Texas is offering a special called The Reel Deal where you can get an appetizer, two meals from the 2 for $20 menu at Chili’s and two adult movie tickets at Regal Cinema for $40. Dinner and a movie on the cheap makes for a great date night in my opinion. One trip to the movies can cost more than $40 when you include popcorn, drinks and a sweet treat for two.
I always prefer to eat a meal and then go see a movie so that I don’t have a full bladder from eating overly salted popcorn. There’s nothing worse than needing to make a run to the ladies room at the climax of the movie. It also gives my full tummy time to digest while resting comfortably in my reclining chair as I snuggle up to my hunny bunny. It’s hard to snuggle when you’re digging in a bucket of greasy popcorn and juggling drinks and napkins!
Timing, coupons and a little planning go a long way
You can absolutely dine out on a budget and save money with timing, planning and coupons. If you decide to allocate any of your budget to dining out then challenge yourself to see how many times you can dine out on your set spending limit. If you used to spend $20 a week to dine out with friends, see if you can find ways to dine out twice for $20. Be sure and share your newfound spending and saving methods with your friends and see if they’ll jump on board with you. My friends love to save money so if we find a new method for saving, we share and make adjustments so we all save and can enjoy more outings together.
If you dine out in large groups with colleagues on a regular basis then call around, get online to email or talk to the management staff in person about group discount rates. I know of several groups in my local area who dine out at the same establishment because they always get 10% off their total bill when groups of 20 or more dine in and order the daily special with a reservation.
It’s not really a reservation as much as it is a head’s up of how many to seat and what time they will show up. The staff sets up an area in the back of the restaurant that’s out of the way to seat the large group. The reservation allows them to be sure they have enough staff on hand to serve everyone in our group and their regular weekly lunch crowd too. The 10% off the total bill usually goes towards the tip anyway but it was always incentive enough for us to continue to return time and time again.
If your office does a group take-out order every so often then ask the restaurant where you regularly order if they will offer a group discount. It never hurts to ask and be sure and send in your orders early so they have time to plan, pack and deliver your orders. If you need extra items like more sauces, crackers or condiments then include the specifics on your order form when you fax it in.
COMING SOON: I am writing up a post on how to keep your kids from driving you crazy all summer long while getting them to do their chores AND stay on top of their math and reading skills. You won’t believe how easy it is and how it de-stresses me because everyone knows what’s expected and when! Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter so you won’t miss it!
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