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?