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How to Barbecue on a Budget and 8 Other Ideas for Affordable Summer Fun

Family playing at beach

As the school year comes to a close, you may be wondering what you can do to get the most out of your free time this summer without breaking your budget. The good news: this time of year is prime for affordable fun.

You don’t have to go on vacation this summer to have a ball. Your backyard or local park is a great place to spend a sunny afternoon without taking out your wallet. This post will provide ideas for having a summer full of days to remember without leaving town.

Take a Dip at the Public Pool (or the Beach!)

As the weather heats up, one of the best ways to cool down is to take a dip in the nearest available water feature. Whether you live near a lake, a public pool, or a beach where the water is temperate, one of the most affordable ways to pass an afternoon is to lounge by the water.

If you plan to frequent the same park or pool this summer, keep an eye out for membership programs. Even two or three dollars a visit will add up over the next few months, and a subscription may be the wiser payment plan.

Head to the Park

Looking for shade or a change of scenery? Check out your local parks. There are three main categories of parks to explore, some of which may not be available based on where you live. Whatever your location, you may have fun researching:

  • National parks. The national park system covers over 52.2 million acres of deserts, mountains, forests, and plains. While their annual pass costs $80 this year, it provides access to over 2,000 sites. If you live near a national park or two, this pass can easily be worth the cost for your family. You may also know someone who recently visited a park who may be willing to lend you their pass for a weekend – all you have to do is ask.
  • State parks. The main benefit of entering a state park is that the entrance price is likely a heck of a lot lower than the annual national parks pass. (For example, the Wisconsin State Parks Pass maxes out a $28 for a vehicle with in-state plates this year.) For a weekend of camping or a day hike, state parks are a low-commitment way to get out and see nature. Depending on your state’s park funding, your visit may even be free.
  • City parks. That hilly park you drive past on the way to work may have a pond you’ve never explored or a vista you have yet to see. Make a point of visiting your local parks and bring a book to spend a relaxing afternoon in the shade.Go on a Picnic

Eating outside under a shady tree or on the closest beach is a fun way to turn lunch into an adventure. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a delicious throwback to elementary school anywhere, but they always taste a little extra special when you’re sitting on the ground.

All you’ll need for equipment is a blanket, a basket (or bag), and some sunscreen. Packing up your food and wares to leave the house may feel like extra work, but it’s where you eat that makes it special.

To add to the fun, invite your friends along and ask them to contribute something, whether it’s a pasta salad or a few ants on a log. Potluck picnics are a great way to clear out extra pasta salad from the fridge and share a meal outside your house without spending money.

Visit the Ballpark

Locate your local minor league baseball team, and go to a game. Minor league games tend to be fast-paced and high-scoring, with friendly mascots that make for a great evening. And the cost of attendance is a fraction of what you’d pay at a major league ballpark.

To save money on your tickets, plan ahead and choose your game wisely. Weeknights and afternoon games typically cost less than weekends games, and small parks often offer promotions for family nights. Keep an eye out for discounted theme nights and deals on concessions. Who doesn’t like a $1 hotdog?

Whatever park you choose, pick your seats carefully. Tickets for the bleachers at some parks go for as low as $5 for a ticket, and because most minor league ballparks are small, it’s hard to find a bad view of the field.

Take a Bike Ride

Get where you want to go without filling up your gas tank and log some exercise time along the way. Biking is a fantastic way to get a new view of your local landscape this summer.

If you’re not sure where it’s safest to ride, do a quick search online for free maps of your own local bikeways. Most cities and states post comprehensive bike maps and bike trail information online these days, often built using information from frequent riders in the area.

Hit the Library

Head to the public library to take advantage of the fun hidden in the stacks this summer. There are few trips affordable as a journey into outer space or down to the bottom of the ocean; all you need is a library card.

As the weather gets hot and muggy, spending an afternoon in the library’s cool halls is a great way to give your home’s air-conditioner a break. Build these trips into your weekly routine and your wallet will feel the difference.

Build Your Own Cabana

Set up a backyard cabana beside your kiddie pool. Even if you don’t have a large yard, that doesn’t mean you can’t set up a shaded outdoor space where you and your family can get out of the sun and cool down (without being cooped up indoors all day).

A couple of umbrellas or a spare set of curtains can make for an effective cabana. And your old kiddie pool can make for a relaxing “tidal pool” if there’s no natural water feature around.

Check Out Local Summer Programming

Summer is the season when many cities come alive. Free, public events are the backbone of most local programming and they’re planned for your enjoyment.

Do a quick search online to find out if there are any live music events or free festivals in your town while the weather is warm. If you’ve never been to a weekly market or local holiday parade, there’s no better season than summer to try something new.

Host a Barbecue

Playing host is a great way to have fun and control the cost of your entertaining. Invite friends to your home or plan your barbeque at a local park where outdoor grilling is allowed.

The key ingredient to hosting a barbeque on a budget is planning. If you’re inviting friends or family to join you, try these tips to trim costs:

  • Make your event BYOB. Ask folks to bring their own beverages to cut costs.
  • Request that guests contribute specific items to make sure you have all the elements that you’ll need. This can include fruit salad, corn, burgers, buns, ketchup, and condiments.
  • If you’re doing the shopping yourself, pick inexpensive cuts of meat and simple desserts.
  • Use what you have in your kitchen rather than buying new or disposable utensils.
  • And of course, borrow what you don’t have.

Like a good potluck picnic, your barbecue is a chance to bring folks together to share a meal. Half the fun in cooking outside is in standing around with friends, chatting while the hotdogs cook. Make your barbecue a participatory event, and don’t be shy about asking folks to lend a hand.

Don’t Forget to Wear Sunscreen

Fun can happen anywhere if you’re ready for it with an open mind. You don’t need cash to walk outside in the evening and look at the fireflies, but you do have to have to have your creative hat on to steer yourself to the open field in the center of the park where you’ll be able to see those lightning bugs most clearly.

Get outside this summer to maximize your fun, and of course, in daylight, wear sunscreen.