Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thrifty Thursday---Summer Fun

A few thoughts today on keeping the kiddos busy without breaking the bank.

First topic on my mind is the pool. The thing I sometimes catch myself doing is thinking the membership is the obvious thing to do. But early in the spring I decided to be really weird and calculate the a la carte price vs the membership. At $300 for my family, the boys and I would have to go at least 12 times to make it worthwhile. I had to really ask myself: do I want us to spend the summer poolside? Sure it sounds great at first, but believe me, somewhere in July they get really bored with the pool. Plus they will have swimming at scout camp and two other camping trips we have left. We agreed that we would go maybe once a week or so, on the hottest days, maybe five or six times total. At $26 per visit, I find this reasonable---it is a giant pool complex with water slides, a lap pool, a splash park and a lazy river. Plus we pack our own food, and I let them stay as long as they want. (And yes, it's weird---I explained all this to a clutch of Gucci wearing SAHMs yesterday and they looked at me like I was from the moon...)

Now is the part where I backtrack on what I just got done saying and tell you about two things we do have memberships to: bowling and the zoo. AMF is doing a national promo this summer where kids can get 2 free games a day all summer, and you can purchase a pass for $29.95 to get two games a day for up to 4 adults. I thought this was a great deal! (and no I'm not being compensated to say that!) It doesn't include shoe rental, so we all bought shoes, which Ken and I will keep, and the boys' shoes I can later sell when they have outgrown them. The shoes were a total of $117, so I figure that bowling 5 times will "pay for" the pass and shoes. Also my boys are like German Shepherds in that they require a lot of physical activity, so you'll find us at the bowling alley on all rainy days! Plus we can invite friends on our pass.

We have always kept a zoo membership and find it worthwhile. Our zoo is so huge that you really can't adequately see everything in one visit. Plus it has always been important to us to allow the boys to explore and take as much time as they want seeing the animals. A family membership is about $100 a year, so the by the third trip it "pays for itself." And we use it throughout the year---it is a great place to walk during the winter months. Sadly I can see that in the coming years this one will need to be reevaluated, since we seem to be getting busier all the time.

Our only other major expense was art supplies. I do try to watch sales throughout the year but still lose my head when school ends. I bought clay, markers, window markers, dry erase markers, oil and acrylic paints, sketchbooks, tee shirts and fabric markers, pastels, and a fresh box of crayons. These things are coming to good use, but I know I spent too much.

I did us a huge favor and radically limited camps this year---scout camp (free for Zack, $70 for Nate, $10 for me) and VBS ($10 a kid.)

We are also seeing two minor league baseball games with organizations that get us reduced tickets at $14 for the family, and $5 parking. The trick at the ballpark is to feed them dinner before we go---drinks and dogs are as much as a sit down restaurant!

Everything else we like to do is basically free. We went to the arts fest, we hike at our local metro parks, we visit the library for books and movies, summer programming for older kids, and the summer reading program, we have friends over, we ride bikes on the trail, we hopefully will take in some free outdoor music, and honestly if we need more entertainment than that we are doing something wrong!

My summer budget advice:

:: Calculate the cost of all memberships and be realistic about your use.
:: Beware the phrase "it pays for itself." Everything costs something and you have to evaluate whether the expense is worth it to you.
:: Pack your lunch or eat before you go. Get your kids in this habit early.
:: Recognize that the whippersnappers don't need every precious minute of summer to be filled.
:: Paying for activities a la carte gives you a lot more freedom: that expensive membership to wherever can end up being very burdensome by midsummer.
:: Make supplies available for creativity. This can be their own toys, art supplies, or even items you might normally toss . My boys will content themselves from time to time by building something out of things I've stowed under the sink, like metal frozen juice lids , coffee cans, shoe boxes, yarn, fabric scraps and lots of duct tape.

Any tips to add? What do you do with your kids all summer?


  1. Good advice! My husband for years kept a golf membership because it was cheaper than paying every time. As soon as his interested waned we cut that membership out. Sounds like you have a super fun summer ahead of you.

  2. When Sam was small we once bought a summer membership to Wyandot Lake (now Zoombezi Bay.) We thought it would "pay for itself," too, but it became a burden trying to get over there. We regretted that purchase. And yeah, we came to the same conclusion you did on pool memberships. Sounds like you will be having a lot of fun!

  3. I'm a nanny of three so always looking for cheap/free things to do around the city! We'll do the zoo, the pool a bit, splash pads (the kids love the Bunny Fountains @ Ballantrae), lots of parks, candy tour @ Anthony Thomas, sprinkler in the backyard, arts & crafts days...

    Also, I'm not sure where you are in the city and if it would apply to you but you can get a Parks & Rec card for $1 to use at 6 or 7 local pools. Cheap!! :)

  4. I totally agree with you on figuring out the cost and deciding on whether it is worth it or not. We did that with the zoo in the past and this year we did get a pool membership because we figure we will use it. We have already been 6 of the 12 times it will take to have it paid for, so I don't think we will have an issue getting our money's worth. We chose to forgo the zoo, though, and we will reevaluate in the fall. It is just usually way too hot to do the zoo in the summer! I did learn that the new Columbus Commons has a cool kids' day on Fridays and family days on Sundays. They have free carousel rides, plus cool activities for the kids. You only pay for parking. I think we may also plan a trip to the Graeter's factory tour, too.