Our Fun Packed Summer on a Budget

When I homeschooled my kids we took advantage of down times, when everyone was in school, in order to go on trips. Going places that are packed on buses that are packed with other people on holiday makes it really stressful to go places, so in general I avoided them once my kids were in school. But this past year my kids worked hard, and had a very stressful year in lots of ways, and my kids asked me to please make sure that they had a fun summer filled with activities and trips so they didn't feel like their only time to have fun passed by without having done fun things.

I understood what my kids were saying, and told them that I would guarantee that their summer would be a fun one, not a boring one where we just stay at home playing on the computer. But of course it would have to be on a budget.

Before the summer started I told the kids that I could do three main outings- one camping trip, one water park trip, and one amusement park trip. Not only because of costs, but also because I deal with chronic fatigue and pain and after each trip I end up literally unable to move for a day or two, completely nonfunctional. They were cool with that and understood.

Last time I took the kids to an amusement park I decided to divide up the kids- only my oldest, Lee, really loves amusement parks, so I didn't want to take all my kids to the largest local amusement park, because it cost the most, and would be tough to handle with only one adult and different types of rides the kids would want. So I took just him to the large amusement park (this was one of the more expensive parts of the summer- $35 each for me and my son). There's a local credit card that gives a buy one get one free deal for this amusement park and others but I didn't qualify for it because I have bad credit because of some stuff that happened in 2018 when I was first separated, but I was told that by 2023 it should be removed from my credit and maybe then I'll get approved, which would make summer vacations that much cheaper. But I digress.

For the younger kids, I offered to take them to an amusement park geared more towards younger kids, but my younger son, Ike, told me he'd rather do something else, so we ended up going to Dialogue in the Dark, a Blind Museum, just him and me, and we got discounted tickets ($15 each instead of $20) because he is registered as disabled and I get a discount as his chaperone. 

My girls told me they preferred going to a pottery painting place, that they had been begging me to take them to for a long time (it's a long trip from here) ever since my daughter won a free voucher for there at an event for families of single parents. So I only ended up paying for what Anneleise and I painted, Rose's was free. And I encouraged my kids to get useful things that were on the cheaper end of what was offered so it would also be things helpful in the house and not just a knicknack. Rose made a container that she'll be using as a piggy bank, Anneleise made a mug, and I made salt and pepper shakers. 

Lee has been part of a cyber/coding intense program for high schoolers that is partially subsidized by the government, and as part of that, there was a required 3 day coding/cyber sleep away camp that was included in the price of the program (about $700 for the year if I'm not mistaken). So in my perspective, this was free.

I had told Rose that I'd take her on a trip, just me and her, and she chose to go to the movie theater, and I took advantage of the disability and chaperone discount, making it significantly cheaper.

Anneliese also wanted to do something special with me, so we purchased some items from the pharmacy and had an at home spa day.

My kids really wanted to go to a waterpark like we did last summer but I didn't find tickets for a good waterpark on Groupon like I did last year. I tried to look up all the waterparks in our region and most of them were dinky and didn't seem worth the money, and the few that looked good were really, really expensive. The one we went to last year cost $37 per person and $30 for people with disability, and that adds up to a lot when you're talking about 5 people. Then I looked at the benefits my credit card offered (there aren't so many worthwhile ones there) and they had tickets to this amazing waterpark for $25, when the cheapest water park I could find anywhere that looked remotely decent cost $30 per person on sale, so it was wonderful. We had a terrific time at the water park!

My kids and I went camping in the desert during the Perseids meteor shower so we could see the shooting stars without light pollution. In the area of the desert there are camping and glamping sites for pay, but we chose to go to a place that was totally in the desert, no facilities whatsoever, that was entirely free. We went together with my friend and her family and her fiance's family. We brought everything from home including water and toilet paper to be able to relieve ourselves in the wild, and split the cost of the food. Simple food, really- hot dogs, chicken wings, marshmallows, veggies, and fruit. Cereal and shelf stable milk and coffee for breakfast. Plus snacks. My friend purchased a wonderful 8 person pop up tent for me for only $85 at the dollar store, and while I was going to pay her back for that, she gifted it to me because of a favor I did for her. We used this in addition to two of the tents we already had, to make it as comfortable as possible. I rented a car for this and bargained down the cost of the car that was jacked up because it was peak season. On the way to the camping site we stopped at a park that had a splash pad to cool off.

(Of course, this was a very expensive trip in the end because I had a car accident on the way back and totaled the car and needed to pay a hefty amount because of that... But I digress. We are all safe and sound and that is what mattered.)

We also spent a decent amount of time building the loft bedroom for my son. Who needs a woodworking workshop when you've got this?

The kids told me how much they missed going for a week every summer as a family to their Grandmother who lives in a resort town, that they haven't done since we separated, so I suggested they ask their dad if he could take them this year, and he did and they had a wonderful time going to the beach and splash pad multiple times.

Their other grandmother took them on two trips, one a day trip to a national park with hot water springs, and the other a camping trip on a lake along with kayaking and a water hike.

And next week it's my best friend's wedding!

Don't get me wrong, this wasn't the cheapest summer. But I am proud that I found a way to do all these things more cheaply, and that I hunted around for bargains and discounts as much as possible.

It was also incredibly exhausting for me. I did rent a car quite a few of these times because I knew that if I didn't, I'd be out of commission for even longer than I would have been otherwise, and I needed to be able to work and I wouldn't if I needed to bus everywhere. But even so, after most of these trips I ended up lying in bed unable to move for an entire day or two, completely non functional. And many of these trips required me to go to a physical therapist afterwards since my joints subluxed and caused me excruciating pain. But it was still worth it.

My son said it was the best summer ever. And I'm really glad I was able to make that possible!

Do you do fun trips during the summer? What do you do to keep down the costs?

Penniless Parenting

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


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  1. Glad your family had so much fun and applause for you for enabling them to have it and indeed suffering to give them the best possible Summer.

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