Tips for Having Fun on a Budget This Summer

You don't need to go broke keeping your kids occupied this summer.

Summer school holidays are nearly here. The countdown calendar is slowly ticking down to zero. Cue the panicked and frantic last minute plans as parents everywhere realise they have to figure out what to do with their kids all summer long and the stress of how to pay for it!
Theme parks, activity centres, paid excursions and other common summer activities, while great fun, can be expensive when you add them up over 8 weeks. But you don't need to go broke keeping your kids occupied this summer. There's a ton of free and frugal summer fun to be had. Here are some great ideas for keeping your family and your wallet happy this summer. There’s some tips here for rainy days, outside exploring, what to do as soon as the sun shines and night time fun!
Away Days
Some days you just need to get out of the house…
Go to the Movies
The movies are perfect for a morning or afternoon activity. Lots of cinemas around the country offer kids movies at about €2 during the summer. While they’ll likely not be the latest releases, they’ll while away a few hours. Check out the cinema’s website for what movie is showing each week.
Scour Deal Sites
Look for deals on all kinds of activities on daily deal sites- they offer massive discounts of 50% +. Keep an eye on locations close to home and those you might be visit nationwide.
Family Memberships
Every year we buy a membership to our local theme park. It costs €140 for the year and it gives us unlimited access throughout the year. The gate ticket price for a family of four is €40 so we only need to go three times a year to cover our investment. During the summer we might go once a week, so you can save a lot! Look at what’s available in your area – research a membership to a local museum or attraction and see what you can save.
Seek out local markets and make a day of it. You and the family can sample of food, buy from local farmers and maybe even see a few animals that the kids will love. You can find everything from fresh produce and meats to ice cream and bric-a-brac.
Walk in the footsteps of history
This year is especially great for this as it’s the 100th year anniversary of the 1916 rising. If you live in Dublin, or can get to Dublin, there’s an abundance of sights to see on foot that won’t cost you a penny!
Take the family on a picnic
There is just something fun about having a meal away from home and in the great outdoors.  The food really does taste better under a shady tree! Keep it simple and affordable and pack items you’ll have in the fridge and cupboard over the summer anyway! Think simple sandwiches and bite size finger foods. Add a loaf of crusty bread or crackers and you’re good to go. Don’t forget the flask of tea!
Discover your local library
The Summer Stars reading programme is running in public libraries throughout Ireland this summer. Summer Stars is a free programme, open to all children.  Kids can enjoy the fun of reading lots of exciting books during the summer. Children will receive their own Summer Stars Reading Card to record their progress and fun rewards are provided along the way.
There is also a full range of free events and facilities which are available in your local library, such as story time sessions, children’s activities, access to talking books and games, computers and Internet access!
At Home
Exchange playdates
Within a week of the holidays starting your kids are likely to beg for a playdate! Why not offer to exchange playtime with other families. This is a win-win for everyone since you get the benefit of a break, and playmates for the kids when it’s your turn.
Chalk Drawing
An age old favourite for most ages- whether it’s scribbles or intricate designs created by a crafty tween. My kids love to make “race tracks” for toy cars and their bikes and scooters. Last year the whole cul-de-sac got involved and it lasted until the rain came!
Create photo albums
This too works for any age. You can create some amazing scrapbooks out of photos. It can be a fun way to look back on the past year and talk about things your kids accomplished, and places you’ve been. You could even make one at the end of this summer documenting your cool (frugal) adventures!
Introduce the kids to old school TV
There will be rainy days, and regular TV can unfortunately bore kids quickly. Did you have a love of Fraggle Rock or the Muppets? How about showing your kids your ‘classic’ favourites?  If you have a subscription to Netflix, it is a great source for old school TV fun. They also have a monthly, no contract fee which means you can get great bang for your buck if you just wanted to avail of the service for the summer!
Sale of Work
These are great for older kids and this project can last two or three days with all the planning, setting up and selling! The kids can have a big tidy out of their rooms, so it’s a double benefit! They’ll actually make a few bob and it might pay for an odd away day!
Competition Entry
Look out for competitions that the kids can enter. Children can be surprisingly good at coming up with Limericks and slogans or colouring in, particularly when there’s a great prize at stake.
Exercise together
Whether it’s going for a ride on your bikes, a hike, or simply a walk after lunch-it can be a great thing to get moving as a family and it doesn’t cost a cent!
Make an obstacle course
Build an obstacle course in the garden or even your local park with balls, bats, and other gear you probably have lying around for some fun and exercise.
Kids will love the fun of crawling under sheets, climbing over stuff, skipping rope or twisting with a hula hoop.
Plant a garden.
It’s a great way to teach kids about where food comes from, and if they have a stake in growing their own vegetables, chances are they just might eat them. Seeds are not expensive and you don’t need green fingers to start a veggie garden, just a good patch of sunny land.
Volunteer as a family
Volunteering teaches kids compassion and responsibility - it also keeps them busy. There's plenty little ones can do, like cleaning up at the park for example. Nothing brings a family together like helping others. Pick a place to volunteer for the afternoon! Your kids will learn the valuable lesson of how good it feels to give something back and you'll all have the satisfaction of knowing you made a difference.
Night-time fun
Camping at Home
If you have a tent, you could arrange a camping trip in your garden with the children for one night. It’s such an adventure and perfect too for smaller kids and if they get scared, their bed is just a few meters away! It’s free and it’s different!
Stay up late
There’s nothing more exciting to little people than staying up past their bedtime. Instead of making it a habit this summer, try and stick to a close to normal bedtime most nights, but make some nights special by letting the kids stay up late to play in the garden, watch a movie with popcorn or gaze at the stars with a blanket outside! (Just make sure they sleep in the next day and don’t plan anything too early)
Plan a back garden movie night.
This is a brilliant summer’s night idea. If you can get hold of a projector, hang a drop cloth from some trees, lay out some blankets and pillows on the grass, pop some popcorn in the microwave and your back garden becomes a cinematic magical wonderland. Ask around and see who might be able to access an LCD projector from work!
Family Dinners
Pick some friends and family and start a weekly family dinner night. If you have four families, then each family would cook once a month for the other three families. These are great nights for socialising, entertaining and BBQing. You get a free dinner three days a month, and it’s something fun to do as a family!
Neighbourhood Games Night
Designate one evening a week for some friendly multifamily healthy competition (football / rounder’s nights). Keep things fair and under control by designating a different parent to referee each week. Mix up the teams each time, like dads and daughters versus mams and sons.
Summer fun doesn't have to break the bank.
You can still make amazing memories that will last a lifetime without spending a fortune. With a little creativity and research, your family can have a fun-filled summer and still stay on budget.
This piece originally appeared in the Irish Independent's Mothers and Babies Magazine and was written by Olivia Willis, co founder of

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