Saturday, May 19, 2012

Doing Summer... On a Budget

I'm a tightwad.  You've probably already picked up on that if you've read this blog for any period of time.  We make gifts for our loved ones to save money at Christmas.  We pack picnics when we'll be on the road at lunchtime to save money on fast food.  My husband and I run on the streets so that we don't spend money on gym fees, and Teacher Man bikes to work most of the time to save money on car upkeep and gasoline.

When summertime comes, I have just as much desire to board a plane and head south of the border as the next guy.  Probably more.  Some of my dearest friends live in Argentina.  Sign me up for the next flight, will you?  And do me the courtesy of paying for it too, alright?  I'd love to rent a cabin for a week and just chill out in the mountains.  Wouldn't you?

However, right now, I feel like we're in the best time of our life to save and in the worst time ever to travel.  I have two children under the age of four.  A long-distance trip is grueling for them; and, even when we get there, my children will be happiest if we respect their schedule which means HOURS spent waiting for our children to nap in a hotel room.  It could be a long wait too since they love nothing more than to crack each other up when they should be sleeping.

So here are my cheap solutions to making summer memorable and enjoyable without making it stressful, chaotic, and expensive.

1. This idea started last summer.  When the stores put all their summer toys on clearance, go nuts.  Fill up your cart and spend about $10 total.  They have to get rid of their summer inventory, but you're being smart and getting ready for next summer.  Right now, I have a huge box full of surprises for my children: a new pool, a slip 'n slide, a bubble gun, etc.  If I pull one out every week or so, my kids will have a blast in our backyard all summer long.

2. Two words: day trips.  We'll do a day at the children's museum, a day at the zoo, and a Day Out with Thomas; but we'll still be home for naps (or they'll nap in the car).  These have an intimidating up-front cost for those of us (a.k.a. me) who don't like to drop large sums of money at a time, but I remind myself that this is our vacation.  Because of the ages and stages of our guys, we'll probably invest in a family pass to the zoo so we can enjoy it several times this year.  Even three visits more than pays for the cost of the pass.  We also pack lunches which is better for us anyways because we have a picky eater in the family.

3. Our community is full of free programs.  The local Cradle School does a field trip every week to a different place in the community (the recycling center, the park, the library).  All of these trips are free, and if you attend two trips you receive a free pass to the zoo at the end of the summer.  The local library also runs an excellent reading program full of story times, activities, and even prizes that help parents out (free meals at local restaurants).  We're going to read anyways.  Might as well enjoy the bonuses.

4. We'll be at our local park... a lot.  We're blessed to have a park with a great little ones playground as well as a fun petting zoo.  Even if we picnic at the park only once a week, I have happier, more tired children, which makes for a happier mom as they sleep soundly during naps.  Plus, my children have learned a ton about animals, nature, and conflict resolution from just an hour at the park.

5. We're also one of those crazy families that camp in the living room.  On hot nights, we camp out in our family room in the A/C.  We read stories, eat popcorn, and tuck our kids into their beds in a three-man tent.  They sleep with a lantern as a night light, and then they talk about it for weeks.  It costs us nothing but our family room.  Teacher Man and I can then have a movie night in our room and know that our boys are having the time of their lives roughing it in the safety of our home.

6. We also camp in the great outdoors.  Camping sites at state parks are incredibly affordable.  We're blessed to have amazing friends who camp with us.  Between their help and a ton of gear, we have a blast camping with the kids.  They love walking out the door of the tent and investigating nature.  They love eating their Cheerios under centuries-old oak trees.  They love exploring the trails and doing homemade scavenger hunts.  And they love giggling in the tent because they think we can't hear them just because the tent door is zipped shut.

All this said, my family also works in ministry all summer.  We work for our local chapter of Child Evangelism Fellowship, reaching children in our county with Gospel through 5 Day Clubs (week-long backyard Bible clubs); but we still make the most of the fact that Teacher Man is home a lot more, and we intentionally plan these special family times so that we don't just get through our life... we live our life.  All of it.

Maybe when the kids get older we'll more seriously consider big vacation trips, or maybe we'll have discovered that best vacations happen just because we're all together.  I don't know, but we'll find out another summer.  For this summer, we'll be stay-cationing.  Come on over and join us!

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