Keeping children entertained during the long, hot summer months can be a challenge. The boob tube only satisfies for so long, and that's if you can stand watching their little brains turn to mush before your eyes. But the alternatives—movies, arcades, the water park—are expensive. So what's a frugal parent to do?
The good news is that you have options beyond just counting down the days until school is back in session. Consider the following ways to keep the summer doldrums at bay without spending a fortune:
1. Afternoon Matinee
An affordable way to beat the heat is to take the kids to a movie matinee. Movie tickets cost less than in the evening, and theaters are often less crowded. Be sure to eat a good lunch before you go, so you can avoid temptation and high prices at the concessions counter.
2. Local Parks
Bring a frisbee or a football and a picnic basket to make a day of it. Or plan to have a barbecue if the local park has grills. Also, pick an age-appropriate park. For example, one with a large play area will work best for the toddler set, while older kids might appreciate trails or open spaces for a good ball game. Frequenting local parks is a great, free way to spend quality time with your family and get your kids to exercise outdoors as well.
3. Public Swimming Pools
Admission to public swimming pools is usually free or cheap, and what kid doesn't enjoy splashing around? Just don't forget the sunblock, and pack snacks if the local pool allows them. Many pools even have half-price rates if you go later in the day.
4. Backyard Game Day
If your kids are younger, introduce them to games you played as a child. Red Rover, foursquare, and kick the can are all classics that your kids probably have never heard of. If you have older kids, try a few rounds of capture the flag. Invite the neighborhood kids over for a truly retro game day.
5. Indoor Fun
If it's simply too hot to leave the air-conditioned comfort of your living room, set up a game of ring toss indoors or have a balloon volleyball tournament with a few balloons and a line of string. For older kids, break out a deck of cards and teach them spades or hearts, or show them how to play chess.
There are two things to keep in mind when it comes to entertaining your kids: Younger children just want to spend time with you, while older kids want something new and different. Any idea you come up with for toddlers is great as long as you actively participate in it. And if your kids are teenagers, check out a daily deal website, such as LivingSocial.com, for discounts on fun things to do in your area that you otherwise might not know about.
What other inexpensive ways can you think of to entertain your kids this summer?
David Bakke currently lives in Atlanta with his young son. He writes about frugality, money saving tactics, and budgeting on the personal finance blog, Money Crashers.