Summer is here and if your family is anything like mine, they want to go everywhere and do everything.  If I said yes to every vacation or entertainment idea we’d be broke in no time.  But, before I get into my tips for saving money on summer fun, I just want to put it into perspective for you.  Yesterday, while driving to the library with my 5-year-old daughter, Hannah, and my 3-year-old son, Jayden, we were rear-ended and slammed into the truck in front of us.  After the initial shock, I was flooded with relief that my kids and I were okay.  Then my son began to mourn the loss of our mini-van and I told him that cars can be replaced, but people can’t be.  Of course, to his little mind, he remained unwilling to love any other vehicle but our beat-up, brown mini-van.

I am profoundly aware of how lucky we are to have our lives and that nobody was hurt.  So, let this perspective be your guide – yes, summer is a time for fun – for going swimming, barbeques, hitting the amusement parks and going on vacation, but ultimately it is the people with us (our families) that matter the most, not the destination.  Time spent with our family and friends is invaluable, so the “where” to me is always less important than the “who.”  That being said, here are 5 tips to keep your summertime fun budget-friendly.

1.  Pick and choose your amusement parks wisely: What kid doesn’t love a good amusement park with its roller-coasters, water rides and all around thrills?  However, nothing can drain your wallet faster than a few trips to the major parks.  Not only are they expensive to get into, but once you’re in the park, you are forced to buy their food for outrageous prices.  So, instead of saying don’t go, I’m saying choose carefully which ones you will visit.  For me, a mom of little ones, I’m constantly on the look out for amusement parks that cater to small children.  I won’t spend a ton of money unless I know that every family member will have the same opportunities to ride and play.  Last year, we attended Knoebles in Pennsylvania, which was geared toward smaller kids and the prices for admission and food weren’t crazy expensive.  Because I didn’t constantly have to say, “No, I’m sorry you’re too little to go on this ride,” we all had a much better time.  Please share your favorite amusement parks for little ones with me, I’m always on the lookout for new ones.

If your family is planning to go to an amusement park more than once, you may want to opt for the season pass.  It usually costs less than paying multiple entrance fees for each member of your family.  Also, talk to friends and family members who hold season passes.  With season passes comes special privileges, such as being able to bring guests with you for free on certain days of the week.  My family and I will be going to Six Flags Great Escape in Lake George this Sunday for free as guests of my brother and sister-in-law.  If you’re going to piggy-back on a friend or family member’s season pass, pay the good deed forward and spring for gas or lunch.

2.  To buy the pool or not to buy the pool: With the prices of easy-to-install above-ground pools coming down, many people are jumping on board and purchasing pools.  My husband was no exception to this trend, but once we started to really talk logistics, it quickly became clear that the ownership costs of a pool came down to more than just the purchase price.  If the ground in your yard is not level (ours is not) you have to pay to have the land excavated to make it level.  You also need to pay for chemicals to keep it clean, plus run your own water or pay for truckloads of water to be delivered to fill it.  Then you have to pay for the extra electricity needed to constantly run the pump to filter the water.  When I factored all these expenses in, it was clear to me that paying $60 for a season pass for a family of 4 to our local town pool was much more economical.  Not only is it cheaper, but the kids and Ialso get to meet and socialize with people in our community.  If you have a town pool this may be a more affordable option for your family.  If you have friends and family with pools, feel free to politely ask if you can come over.  Just be sure to show up with something to grill or goodies for the hosts.

3.  Stick to fairs with fair prices: Who doesn’t love the fair, but who loves the prices?  I try to stick to fairs that have plenty of rides the little ones can go on.  I love the Wayne County Fair with its low admission costs and more rides for my little ones.  They also have a demolition derby (though I may be skipping that this year since we kind of had our own derby yesterday).  Whatever fair you choose, I suggest you stick to the nights that offer pay-one-price bracelets that let you go on whatever rides you want as many times as you want.  Who wants to deal with the high cost of constantly going back to the ticket booth so your children can go on one more ride.  Plus, you always end up with an odd number of tickets at the end of the night, making them useless to go on any rides (unless you purchase more tickets – are you sensing a marketing strategy here, cause I sure am).  As a mom, it’s never fun to have to play the “this one or that one” game with toddlers.  They have such a hard time deciding as it is.  So, if you go on bracelet night, it’s not an issue.  As for eats, I’m a sucker for all that yummy fair food so I go with a plan to spend a certain amount of money on food.  To save some money, I pack drinks for my family in a small, reusable lunch bag with ice packs so that we only pay for food, not drinks.  If you do buy drinks there, opt for the refillable cups and (unless someone has a cold) share with the whole family.

4.  Keep vacations low-key: Who wouldn’t want to fly off to some tropical destination for vacation, but then again, who wants to be paying off their vacation all year?  I sure don’t.  So, this year, we’re visiting family in South Carolina.  By staying with family, we save on hotels, eating out and a rental car since we’re going to take the train down and then use my aunt’s car during our visit.  Like I said earlier, it’s not where you go, but who you bring with you that matters.  Visiting family in other parts of the country can be a great way to save some money on a vacation, while also strengthening those vital family ties.  You can also go for a stay-cation by visiting local attractions.  Explore destinations in the Hudson Valley by going to myfamilytripplanner.com and searching for family-friendly destinations close to home.  You can also take a break from the fast pace of a typical vacation by going camping.  Fishing, grilling out, soaking up nature and hours and hours just to hang out and talk to your family make it an affordable alternative to other vacations.  You can go with a bunch of other families to make it even more fun.  All over the Hudson Valley, especially up here in Sullivan County, there are a ton of great affordable places to camp and who doesn’t love s’mores and campfire stories?

5.  Barbeque instead of eating out: Want to get together with friends and family, but don’t want to foot the bill for pricey restaurant meals?  Summer is the perfect time to fire up the grill.  You can go as fancy as you want or just do hamburgers and hot dogs.  Have each guest bring a side dish and the work and expense is shared, making it fun and affordable for everyone.

I love summer and all the many ways to spend time with my family.  Whether it’s the fast pace fun of an amusement or water park, a local zoo, camping out or barbeques and fireworks I love it all.  However, I try to be selective so that later on I don’t regret my summer fun while I’m stuck inside in the winter, still paying the bills from it.  Your family will have great memories no matter what you do.  It’s the time spent together that you can’t put a price on it, so don’t feel like you have to go everywhere and do everything.  Fill the time between expensive attractions or vacations with free or low-cost activities like taking a hike together, visiting one of the Hudson Valley’s state parks, art museums, zoos or explore local street fairs.  Have your mind on your budget, but your heart on your family and the memories you make together will last a lifetime.

Tell me about your favorite summer attractions and share with fellow Hudson Valley Parent readers how you and your family have fun without busting your budget.

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