Cheap ways to enjoy the sunshine (or hide from it) this summer

“You + me + swimming date at the springs.”

That was the text message I sent to my friend Kacey last week. “Are you flirting with me?” she replied. “Let's make this official.”

See, every summer I solemnly swear that I'm going to spend the next several months in the water, yet I never do. (I say several months because I live in Texas, where it's summer for most of spring and fall.)

This year, however, I was serious. Since I've moved from the country and bought a house in the city, things-to-do are much closer to me. Driving time and gas expense are no longer an excuse.

But here's the thing: I want to keep my spending in check. Now that we live in the city, we save money on gas but spend more money on entertainment and eating out. For instance, when we lived in the country, we had zero interest in making a one-hour round trip to the nearest restaurant for dinner. We always preferred to cook at home because of the driving time. But now, we go out to eat every now and then. Being able to do that is part of the reason we moved.

So, I want to get out of the house more this summer, but I want to be careful about how much I'm spending. Which brings me to this list of free or nearly-free things for me/you to do this summer. I've categorized these activities by whether you're trying to enjoy the sunshine or escape the blazing heat, because sometimes a summer day outside can feel like this.

Want to soak up the vitamin D?

If you're looking to get outside, here are eight activities that'll help you accomplish that.

  1. Swimming. Community pools, lakes, springs — most of these places are free or charge a very small fee.

  2. Kayaking, canoeing, etc. Typically, you can rent equipment for about $10 to $15 per hour. Last month I rented a tandem kayak with my niece and took her to a spring where you can see turtles swimming under the boat. (We also might have been attacked by a swan — we're still not sure. Either way, priceless memories, people.)

  3. Festivals. My problem with festivals is that I don't ever know about them until everyone's posting photos, hashtagging #suckstonotbehere. Anyway, the simple solution is to Google “[city] summer festivals.” I did just that and found an events calendar with stuff like a 5K run in July (you're drunk, runners!) and an ice cream festival in August (yes, thank you!)

  4. Concerts. Before I moved to the country, I used to go to free concerts in the park presented by our local symphony. You can bring snacks, lay in the grass, and listen to the woodwinds — all for free. There are a lot of free or cheap outdoor concerts in the summer, though; so if classical isn't your thing, search city guides and local papers to find your scene.

  5. Picnic. Pack a lunch and a blanket and head to your nearest park for a gorgeous afternoon.

  6. Hiking. Head out to your nearest trail or take a day trip to a new park — then, take a hike. I mean that in a nice way. 🙂

  7. Outdoor gardens. In my city, we have a botanical garden, a wildflower center, and a sculpture garden. All charge a pretty low admission fee, and they're a great way to spend time in nature (and learn a lot, too).

  8. Farmers markets. Most markets don't just sell produce and meat; they also bring out bands, food vendors, and activities for kids. For instance, my local market has a balloon-animal-making clown. He smiles at me and I and see this, but the kids seem to like him. Anyway, you can make a morning of a farmers market.

Need to escape the 1,000-degree weather?

A few summers ago, we had a summer of 60+ days of 100-degrees or higher. That's not the norm, thank goodness — but still, August can be brutal. Here are some ways to get out of the house, but stay in the AC.

  1. Movies. Okay, this one is obvious, but I'm thinking beyond the regular movie theaters here. For instance, there's a historic theater that plays classic movies all summer long, so you can see Citizen Kane or The Godfather on the big screen. There's another theater that runs a “kids camp” with free movies for parents and kids. My hunch is that local, historic, or more off-beat theaters are more likely to offer these kinds of screenings.

  2. Improv show. My friend Kacey is an improv actor, so I've been to a few shows. “Tickets are usually $10,” she says, making them a fairly inexpensive way to have a ton of fun. For instance, did you know that there's such a thing as musical improv? The actors make up entire songs and sing in unison right on the spot. Crazy!

  3. Museums. Many museums are either free or they have a specific day of the week when they're free.

  4. Ice skating rink. Before writing this article, I'd never thought about ice skating during the summer. But really, what a great way to cope with an insanely hot day! Especially because I'm terrible at ice skating, so my rear end will be on ice most of the time.

  5. Be a bookworm. There's the library, used bookstores, and local bookstores, which are all free or cheap. These places also host events, so look for an events calendar.

  6. Learn something new. Want to learn how to bake a peach pie or what the heck a downward dog is? “Many institutions and stores offer free classes on the weekends on all sorts of topics,” writes Trent Hamm at The Simple Dollar. “Stop by a local food store and catch a free cooking class, or a hardware store to learn about a home repair topic. Got kids? Try something like the Home Depot Kids Workshop, where they offer free how-to clinics for kids ages five to twelve — these can be a lot of fun.”

Of course, you'll need to Google around a bit to get the specific offerings for your hometown, but most mid-sized cities seem to offer some version of these activities and events.

As for me, I'm making another date to hang out at the springs. A big pool of water is my summertime happy place.

Readers, help me out here and add to this list! What do you do when you want to get out of the house during the summer?

More about...Frugality, Planning

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Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago

Your sentence about 100+ degree days made me laugh. Where I live, the meteorologists aren’t even *allowed* to call that hot! I think it’s supposed to be 111 here today. Then again, it’s humid in other places 😉

Michelle at Making Sense of Cents
Michelle at Making Sense of Cents
6 years ago

We like to ride our bikes in the summer months. It’s a great workout and can be fun since we are always looking for new trails. We even pack our backpack with snacks so that we can stop halfway and relax.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago

Leave the air conditioning? Never! Summer is the *worst*.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

VITAMIN D

9. Go watch the World Cup in an outdoor screen! There have them in large cities.

1000 DEGREES

7. Watch the World Cup at home, the office, or a sports bar!

USA-Belgium in 1 hour!

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

As an adult (grin) I will still work and continue to take classes but if I want to have an illusion of a summer I like to put more time into my hobbies. Day trips in the PDX area is also nice. I will try to find activities that are primarily indoors for the days I can’t spend time outdoors. I’m taking a particular medication where my brown skin literally fries like an egg if its 75 degrees out. I have a 4 minute limit in the sun. Most outdoor activities are done in the morning or late evening for… Read more »

Linda Vergon
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Portland has an absolutely beautiful Japanese Garden and they even teach workshops on how to prune your maple trees. Admission is $9.50 for adults, but it is very enjoyable if it fits the budget! http://japanesegarden.com/

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Linda Vergon

A friend of mine has a membership to the Portland Japanese Garden were he can take a guest for free. The neighboring rose garden is also a great place to spend an afternoon!

Linda Vergon
6 years ago

We’ve been enjoying the free walking tours that the City of San Francisco library system has every week. They do ask for a donation, but it’s totally voluntary. The guides are really great too. It’s a great way to learn about a city if you’re new there.
http://www.sfcityguides.org/

Babs
Babs
6 years ago

Good ideas!

zac
zac
6 years ago

I like to beat the heat by sitting on my back porch with my feet in a big bucket of cold water. It’s surprising how much that cools you off. I’m doing it right now actually.

Jennifer
Jennifer
6 years ago

April, are you in Austin? Your picture looks like Barton Springs.

Pat
Pat
6 years ago

To quote my daughter-in-law (who lived in Houston for 13 years, moved to Colorado, then moved back to Houston,) “What you do in the summer in Houston (and it’s a loooong summer there) “Swim, shop, eat out.” I lived there for 6 years and she’s right on.

Thomas
Thomas
6 years ago

Taking classes is a great idea to beat the heat. I’d love to take a couple of cooking classes this summer. We spent the day yesterday at the local pool. It’s free and fun. The two best things in a summer activity.

A Frugal Family's Journey
A Frugal Family's Journey
6 years ago

We are lucky to have a two local parks within a 5 mile radius that have kids water play area. This has been a hit so far this summer! we definitely plan to continue doing it on those hot summer days.

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