Planning For A Frugal and Fun Summer by Being Organized

Image Credit- Stuart Miles
If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you'd know that we homeschool our kids. Therefore, you might think that summer is no different than year round for us, in terms of being able to go on trips, etc... and for the most part, that would be true. I do take the kids on trips year round, since we're not limited to the hours after school is out, and I do tend to prefer taking them to places when it is less packed by all the summer/vacation hordes... However, my husband works during the school year and is off for the summer, which means that if we want to do any trips as a family, summer is the best time.
I'm a spontaneous person, often do trips and activities spur of the moment, but have been working on pre-planning a little more, as it's working well for our family in terms of meal planning (even if I've been using that as a general guideline and not exact), and I find that if things aren't scheduled into a calendar, they often get pushed off more and more until I don't end up getting done as many things as I want done. For this summer, I wanted to fill the calendar with trip days, all preplanned, to ensure that these trips happen.

I also have a little pressure to get as many trips in this summer as I can, as next year, I probably will be sending Ike to school (we just had an appointment today to check out a school for kids on the autism spectrum and it went well). That means that any trips as an entire family need to be done this summer, as we won't be able to do them with all the kids once the new year starts in September, and even if I wanted to go on trips with the kids who were home, I'd have to make it back home in time to meet my kid when he gets back from school, so trips won't be so easy.

To plan our summer, therefore, I've tried to compile a list of free or cheap activities in the general area of my home, all bus accessible. I've looked on for suggestions of things to do in the area, as well as other local facebook groups and web pages with lists of frugal activities and places to visit with the family. My goal is to only spend money on transportation there and back, but activities themselves be free or nearly free. I'd like the majority of these trips to be outdoors, in nature, as those are less likely to be packed, and since nature is fun and free and good for us. I want to start hiking a bit more with the family, explore some old archeological sites in the area, visit some of the terrific playgrounds in the area, and go to some of the water based sites for the kids to play as well.
While researching, I found an interactive map of the national parks, with information about each one, and I discovered things that I never knew existed here, right in our own backyard, so that was pretty awesome. Some of these national parks are free, but some cost money...

Which brings me to the next point.

I'm strongly contemplating getting a membership to the national parks for our family for the year, but am having slight mixed feelings about it. It costs $127 per year for a family of our size, which is quite a large sum of money, but if we'd get our money's worth, it would be a good investment. But in part because I am simultaneously spontaneous and laid back, I'm worried that the year will fly by and we won't have actually gone to all these places that we'd want to go before our membership runs out, or we'll feel pressured to go on trips even on days that we might not have otherwise, because we feel like we have to because we already paid for them...
However, in the end Mike and I decided to go on vacation within the country instead of going abroad (more on that in a moment), and at least one of the places we plan on going is a national park, and for the two of us to go there it would cost $23, so that's already 18% of the fee for the family membership... Another trip we had planned on going to this summer costs $26. So between those two alone it already covers approximately 40% of the cost for the year. We still have to decide if it's worth it, but I'm leaning towards getting it, and if we do, that opens up even more options of frugal summer fun, going to these places where we'd otherwise not go because of cost, but this way could be unlimited...

In addition to this, every summer we go away to a relative who lives in a beach/resort town, and while we're there, end up just at the beach and at a splash pad every day, but this time I'm looking around further, seeing what day trips we can go on from that area that are bus accessible, and planning it all in advance.

I took out my calendar (ok, Google Calendar) and blocked off the week we'll be in that resort town, and then blocked off the 5 days Mike and I will be going away on vacation without the kids (in the end, it'll be in July, not September or August like we originally thought!), and now it's time to fill in the calendar with details, also for the big trips, and the smaller trips in between.

When I wrote the post about Mike and I planning on taking a frugal but long awaited vacation this summer, I mentioned two options we had- one in an overpriced resort town in my country that is a very long drive or expensive flight from our home, or going abroad to a cheaper place. But after much discussion, Mike told me that he really didn't feel comfortable flying overseas and leaving the kids here; he wanted to have the option of returning early if an emergency should arise and not need to depend on airlines. However, after researching how overpriced and trashed the local resort place has become, I didn't want to go there either. Some friends mentioned to me that there are other options to go scuba diving in my country, not in that overpriced resort town, but along other beaches. One place, when I heard there was scuba diving there, immediately piqued my interest, as it is a place I'd heard lots about but never had been there before, and the architecture there was unlike most of the local architecture, as it was built by invaders, so it actually feels like you're leaving the country. And most interestingly, the scuba diving was actually to see an underwater museum, archeological remains under the water from centuries ago, which sounds extremely fascinating! This city is only 30 minutes further from where we go every summer with the family, so the travel time isn't too bad at all. However, there isn't 5 day's worth of things to do in that city, so I decided we'd spend 2 nights and 2 days in that city, and then 3 days and two nights in another city a little further away, that has lots of famous touristy things to do... I found cheap places to stay in both cities via, and booked them already. $243 for 4 nights, averaging out to $60 per night, and both the places have cooking facilities so we don't only have to eat takeout or ready made food, and both are decent looking and bus accessible. Meanwhile, on the other hand, the cheapest hotels in the area tend to be $100 per night or more for small places with no cooking facilities, and in the city where I was looking, to scuba dive, it's a few hundred a night, so this was extra wonderful.
Next steps, once we decided on the city, would be doing my homework.

Research, research, research is the name of the game. Leaving things for last minute means that invariably things will cost us more, so I joined and posted in all sorts of local Facebook groups, because the locals always know where to get cheaper things, instead of the standard tourist traps, and they also know what things are worth doing and what is a waste of time. Lots of people gave me information that isn't easy to find by googling or in guidebooks.
In addition to compiling lists of frugal things to do in my backyard, I've also begun putting together a Google Drive document with things to do both in the place we vacation as a family, as well as the two cities Mike and I plan on traveling to alone. Once I have it all figured out, I'm going to put it in detailed into my calendar, from activities to do each day, cost of each, how to get from one to the other via public transportation, how long that takes and how much each leg of the trip costs, as well as what to eat each day and where. I found out from locals where there are cheap grocery stores, and then made a list of what I can buy anywhere, so I will be putting together a menu plan for easy to make foods that I can buy anywhere (and suit my dietary needs) in addition to scheduling restaurant into the plan (including looking at the menu in advance so we can see what we can expect to pay there). I haven't finished doing this entirely, but I'm well onto my way there.

Once those are finalized, I am going to pick from my list of frugal activities that are more local, and try to schedule one or two of those a week for the rest of the summer. By scheduling those trips in advance, when I go shopping, I can keep that in mind and buy frugal travel friendly foods and snacks to have them ready to go for our trips, instead of last minute buying things on the way, which always ends up costing more money.

In short, I have been making better habits for myself in terms of organization, and I hope that by carrying those better habits of preplanning and organizing over to scheduling our summer, our children and I will be able to have the best summer yet, without it costing too much money either.

What are your plans for the summer? How are you intending to keep the kids entertained and give them an enjoyable time without breaking the bank? Or are you planning on just relaxing this summer and letting your kids entertain themselves?
Do you find preplanning and being organized allows you to have more fun frugally? How successful are you at preplanning your summers and/or vacations?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. This summer we're not taking a vacation, but in October (it's still in the 80'sF) we'll be headed to the beach. This summer is all about saving every penny possible for a down payment for our first home, so it's cheap fun only. I did buy the kids bowling passes ($5 each, includes shoes), which were totally worth it because they can bowl free every day. The air conditioning is soooo nice in the bowling alley!

  2. I would love to see your finished itinerary with pricing as I live in the same country as you and would really benefit.
    Thank you

  3. I hope you folks have a super vacation and I like that you asked locals via FB for suggestions. I would never think to do that. So thanks for the tip.
    My children are grown and on their on adventures so it's just the hubby and I. I don't think we will go anywhere this summer. Turns out we hate travelling together.

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