Need something to keep yourself occupied? Here are twenty summertime activities that don’t cost that much, but will keep you and your family relaxed and enjoying life. (P.S. Most are kid-friendly, as well.)
1. Movies under the stars. Many communities offer free or minimum donation movies outside at dusk; all you need is a lawn chair and some popcorn. Denver, CO, for example, has a wide variety, ranging from adult and indie favorites at Red Rocks Amphitheater, to free kids’ movies at Skyline Park downtown. Several restaurants are getting in on the act, too; they only require a table reservation to enjoy the movie they’re showing later on that evening. Here’s Denver’s list; check your local community for what’s available.
2. Have your own movie night. Set up picnic snacks, then your own movie viewing. (A laptop can easily be brought outside, then carted back in the house in case of rain.)
3. Edible culture. Have you ever tasted foods from Ethiopia…or Russia…or Tibet? Borrow a cookbook from the library, check online, or scope out local restaurants. You may just find a new favorite. (Tip: Vietnamese cuisine focuses on fresh produce options now available, thanks to the season. Many ethnic restaurants also offer a reasonably-priced lunch buffet.)
4. Softball or baseball. What are local teams up to? You can often go to kids’ or adult intramural events free. Watch a home run ball rise into the balmy night, and cheer.
5. Play in the water, three ways.
#1 — Grab your hose.(And water some plants, while you’re at it. Follow your neighborhood’s restrictions, if water is rationed.) Spray high, and talk to your favorite little person about water’s elasticity and other properties. Mention rainbows.
#2 — Go to your local pool’s ‘open swimming’ session; bring a book, sunscreen and snacks. Do several laps for exercise, then enjoy the warm sun. Snooze a bit.
#3 — Go down to the local creek or pond. Look for tadpoles; talk about their transformation into frogs. Point out minnows, crawdads and other parts of a healthy riverlet. Wade in the water. Look for unusual stuff, like:
6. Panning for gold. Does your area have a mining history? Then the local river may be a source for gold. At $1300 an ounce (as of this writing) and counting, it doesn’t take much of this precious metal to translate into big bucks. Alternatives: look for semiprecious stones. Find out what your area is known for.
7. Put in a bird feeder. Watch as the bird types change, as the months move on, from summer into fall. When do the chickadees and other wintering birds come back? (Focus on larger seeds, like sunflower, if you want to make the local population especially happy.)
Don’t forget hummingbirds. Sugar water is easy to make, and the hummers love it. In fact, they take guarding their home property very seriously. We’ve seen many hummingbird wars between the jingly males and quieter females, with every variation in between. Who needs worrying about Iraq, if you’ve got hummingbird wars on your own balcony or deck?
8. Cook a meal once – serve it twice. Make double the amount of your favorite meal – stash the second batch in the freezer, and you’ve automatically given yourself a ‘free’ supper…plus time better spent doing something else.
9. Take a weekend vacation — or at least plan for one. Weekends are far more affordable than a week or two. (Go to the Frugal Traveler’s ‘$100 Weekend’ series for a starting point, including jaunts in Istanbul, Melbourne, Austin and New York City.)
Can’t afford even a weekend right now? Just planning a vacation can be remarkably refreshing. Try Youtube online or your local library for videos to your favorite spot. (Check out the travel section of books, as well.) While you’re at it, start a special account. Stash a set amount of money each week or month.
10. Go shopping…but don’t take your credit cards, debit card or checkbook. Go somewhere you really enjoy. (I’d head for the nearest antique mall.) Take along a fiver in cash for coffee and a snack.
11. Watch the skies. The moon has looked especially large these past few weeks because it’s much closer to the earth. (Missed it? Try this ‘Supermoon’ photo gallery.) The Perseid meteor shower, famed for its showers of falling stars, always happens in August — the 11th and 12th this year. (You’ll find it, and other meteor shower events, on this link.)
12. Go somewhere historical — inside. Your area is bound to have at least one museum or historical society to visit. If you’re not sure, Museumlink has an excellent list of museums around the U.S. They’re candid about not being all-inclusive…and looking at the Colorado list, I noticed a few of our favorites weren’t on there. (Case in point: the outstanding Clive Cussler Auto Museum, open only May – September. Well worth a trip.)
One of the very best in the country is the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI. More than 25 million artifacts are crammed into a 200-acre area, including buildings, furniture, carriages…and even the chair that President Lincoln was sitting in when shot. (Yes, it still shows the bloodstains where his head rested.) This amazing place actually deserves more than one day spent there.
Will your museum have lots of things to look at? Yes. Will it be air-conditioned? The odds are good. You’ll probably learn something, too. (Note: Many museums list their admission prices — but look closer. It may be a suggested admission price, not a required one. If that’s the case, give what you can afford. Museums may also have sponsored free days.)
13. Go somewhere historical –outside. Some museums are actually working ranches or farms, with petting zoos and areas to watch volunteers spinning, blacksmithing and other old-timey chores. (You can often find spots who offer tours, as well. Glass-blowing, anyone?)
Don’t forget Washington, D.C., either, with its many outdoor buildings, walks and memorials. Give yourself time to look and take it all in. Without that moment to pause, for example, we would have never noticed the small owl who obviously lived on the stone shelf in the back of the Lincoln Memorial…or the many small remembrances at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (P.S. The museums are free, too.)
Or research to find the oldest building in your town. Knock on the door, and express your appreciation for the architecture; the owners may well be able to tell you something about the house’s history. (They might even throw in a tour!)
14. Become unavailable for a week. Let the answering machine take your calls. (Return the important ones — the others can wait.) Make no commitments; you’re on break. (You can even add an automatic response on your e-mail, or a quick message on Facebook.)
Go to work, sure. But your time before and after those hours is yours. Do what you want. (Plan it with the people you love, of course.)
15. Do something kind…secretly. Send a gift card in the mail, drop off a fresh-baked loaf or bouquet of flowers, and tie it to the person’s doorknob. The positive rush from doing this is invigorating. And a good example to kids. Hopefully they’ll be inspired to practice kindness secretly some day on their own.
16. Learn a foreign language, especially useful phrases: “How are you?” “Where is the bathroom?” “You are very helpful.” (“Thank you” and “hello” are invaluable in any language.) Practice a few when visiting an ethnic restaurant. (See suggestion #3…or combine this with #9.)
17. Swap childcare every week or so. Talk to another friend or two with kids; each person takes all of the kids for a morning or afternoon, at a set time every week. (This can also be applied to pets – dogs love ‘playdates.’) When it’s your turn, buy popsicles and set up a wading pool in the backyard. (Or a sandbox – your kids will love it on summer days.)
Use your ‘free’ day to do something for yourself: a book, travel, a movie, shopping. (See #10.) Do notwaste your opportunity doing errands.
18. Go to something free outdoors — your area is sure to have a free or inexpensive talk, summer concert or play somewhere. (We saw a performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Mikado” one year, and heard a John Philips Sousa patriotic Fourth concert another.) Write it on the calendar now, then plan to add a picnic supper to extend the experience.
19. Tour a garden or park. Bring along a thermos of iced coffee, and make use of a bench to enjoy the flowers and/or parade of oddities. (People, that is.)
A cousin living in Portland, OR has had more than her share of rainy days. She coped with them by taking her kids to the park in the rain, complete with umbrellas and boots to stomp in every puddle. Baths, pajamas, a book or two read aloud, and hot supper followed when they got home. Her kids still treasure the memory of these “rainy walks.”
20. Travel without using your car. Ride your bike, or walk. You’ll save money on gas, get some exercise, and see your neighborhood in a different light.