Friday, June 24, 2011

Save some money this summer

Summer can be expensive. Very expensive. The more kids you have, the more you're forking out on vacations and such things as water parks, ice cream, sporting events, summer school, lunches on the run and festivals.

I'm always looking for activities that can be done that are free or very inexpensive during the summer months. Here's a few ways to be frugal and make the money go a little farther.

- Join a summer reading club at your local library. Reading is a summer activity that exercises the mind and prizes are offered as more books are read.

- Family bike rides allow you to enjoy the outdoors and get in a little exercise.

- Stretch your treat dollars further by hitting the $1 menu at McDonald's when you have a taste for ice cream. Check with the other places in your area to see if they run specials. One place nearby has a value menu that in the past has been $1. Prices went up a little (I think it's now 2 for $3 or 3 for $5), but it's still a bargain at $1.50 for a 40-ounce or so root beer float.

- Our local theatre does free movies each Wednesday morning. They are older movies that are now available on video, but there are several we haven't seen yet and it's always more fun to see it on the big screen. Another theatre chain in the area (Marcus) is doing $2 movies on Tues, Wed. Thurs. and on Tuesdays popcorn and pop are also $2. At the AMC Theatres I often go to, it's $5 per person during the week and Monday through Thursday there are free refills on all sizes.

- Visit an area nature center for a hike together and a little education on wildlife. Sandridge Nature Center in South Holland has a great education building where kids can see small creatures and play.

- Look at the calendar for your local library or historical society. Lots of free programs are offered for families.

- Check out area bowling alleys to see if they have free or discounted bowling. I recently picked up some coupons while at Funflatables for a free bowling session at Stardust Bowl, so we'll use those for a fun afternoon. (You do have to pay to rent the shoes.) Also, Lynwood Bowl usually runs specials once a week for $1 games (I think it's on Tuesdays) and sometimes they'll add in additional specials during the slow summer months. Great activity for a rainy day!!

- Research the free days at the downtown museums. Almost all of them have some days where admission is free. Some do it on a certain day each week. Some do it a certain day each month. Some have scattered days throughout the season, so you'll have to check the websites or call to find out.

- Minor League sporting events. I'm a huge baseball fan. A great alternative to a major league game is a Windy City Thunderbolts or Gary Railcats game. Tickets and concessions are inexpensive. Check the website for dates with special promotions.

- Ask at your library about getting free and discounted admission tickets to attractions with your library card. Several suburban libraries participate in a program where you can obtain tickets from your library for free zoo admission or other attraction admissions.

- One year, I got a map from the local park district and set out that summer to visit every park. I got in lots of playtime with my son -- free playtime.

- Subscribe to groupon and other sites that offer discounts. Sometimes you find some real bargains. I just got a deal with 2 box seats and $5 in cat coin for a Gary Railcats game. It's a $25 value.

- Hit some garage sales for some cheap toys and reading material. Or give the kids a stipend of a $1 or $2 and stop at the Dollar Store for some bubbles or other entertainment.

- Check out videos at the library. Some area libraries let you check out DVDs for free. Mine charges $1, but still cheaper than purchasing the movie or going to Blockbuster. Make a list for the summer of new movies you'd like to see and when it's too chilly for the pool, pull one out.

- Work on a puzzle. Pull one out of the closet or look for them at garage sales. Our library has a monthly book sales where you can find them for a quarter. The library also has a puzzle exchange where you can bring in one you've done and trade it for a new one. Another good activity to occupy kids on a rainy day.

- Hit the beach. While water parks and pool admissions can be pricey, a visit to the beach is free or you pay a minimal parking fee and can enjoy a full day of fun.

- Fly a kite. The dollar stores have them on the shelves around this time or you can pick one up at for just a couple bucks - or if you're really crafty, you can make your own.

- Play catch. Get out and throw a ball with your kids or encourage them to get the neighborhood kids for a game like kids of past generations used to do.

- Do searches on Google, Facebook and other online places for "free stuff," "free kids attractions," "free kids activities," "free things to do in Chicago" and such phrases and you'll find LOTS more.

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