As spring turns into summer, and Covid restrictions ease up, we’re all extra excited to be able to get out the house this year and enjoy some family time outside of the four walls of our homes. Between the holiday preparations—whether you are planning a staycation or a vacation—the kids being home and the hopefully warm weather, expenses add up and we often find ourselves overwhelmed and shocked at how much we are spending.
I am going to share some tips that have helped me in the past to keep the money-flow under control and your bank manager happy.
The first thing is to plan in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute to book a holiday house, caravan or hotel. Last minute equals expensive. If you are going away, choose the dates and location as soon as possible and put a deposit down on the price. This process not only helps your bank account, but it actually helps you too. Now that you know where you are going you can make a rough plan of what you want to do there. Look into free or low-cost activities in the area and see if you can find some deals online. Covid has done one thing positive in that many places now require pre-booking, via phone or internet, which means you can lock in some good pricing and know that you have a day trip preplanned.
If you want to have a staycation, those can be too. Often they are more so than going away because you save on the travel time, packing up, etc., and get to see your city as a tourist. It can also be more budget friendly because you are not spending as much on petrol and rentals.
The next thing you want to do is stock up. We all know that trips equal long car rides, and long car rides equal snacks every two minutes. So start now. Every time you go shopping add a few snacks, cookies, rice cakes, apple sauces and drink cartons to your basket. Buying a little extra every week may not actually be saving you money, but it definitely saves you the huge expense that you would otherwise do in one shot. Spreading out those costs saves you stress and, yes, money in the long term, because it is spread over a couple months—not one day. You can do this with freezable items too, such as barbecue meats, hot dogs and even cold cuts (yes, they freeze really well!).
Finding free or low-priced activities sounds scary, and as a mother, I know that if my kids hear the words ‘free activity’, they immediately associate it with boring. But it really doesn’t have to be. Of course, you know your kids best, so choose wisely. Here are some great ideas that don’t have to cost a lot but can be fun for all ages:
- Parks. Yes, you may get an instant ‘boring’ from many children, but as I said above, it really doesn’t have to be. Many parks have hidden perks, such as playgrounds, fun hills to roll down and even splash pads if the sun is out (just remember to bring the towels). I am not talking about the local Broughton Park playground, but rather drive a little further and see what you can find. Google is really helpful in these cases, or even your neighbors. Ask around to see who has been where.
- Many times I give my children a few pounds to spend in a bargain shop before we head out to a park, and they can choose electric bubble guns, balls, chalk, cars—anything they want within their budget—and take it with. I once spent four hours watching my seven- and ten-year-olds play with several different types of bubble machines in the park. The entire thing cost me about £5, plus a small parking fee.
- Another idea is biking/roller blading. If you have roller blades and bikes for your family, this is a free activity and super fun. Put on those helmets, find a great cycling route (try Google for easy bike routes) and hit the trails. Many bike stores also offer rentals during the summer seasons, which whilst not free, are not too costly either.
- Many cities have public gardens which are really beautiful to visit in the summer. Some may have a small entrance fee, but most are free and often have activity booklets available for children at the entrance, which keeps them busy looking for things and checking items off checklists whilst they go around learning about flowers and nature.
- In the UK there are many free/low-entry-cost museums that may sound boring but are actually fun. Some may offer kids activity books at the entrance, but if you can research a little about what’s there before you go, you can make your own activity book to keep the kids busy, and you can give them small prizes at the end (£1 or a chocolate bar). ‘Spot the elephant drawing on Floor 2’ or ‘find three footprints on the floor’ are the sort of things that keep kids busy, even if they are not interested in the museum itself. This is great for an indoor activity on rainy days, and you can even do it in the local train station or shopping centre.
- The last free/low-cost activity is another outdoor one, but if it is raining, a good old poncho will keep you dry whilst you still have fun. Fairs and festivals. The biggest one in the UK is of course the Edinburgh Festival, which is worth a day-trip from anywhere nearby. There are plenty all across the country, and many in the USA too. Google again is your best friend, or call your national tourist board (yes that actually exists) and find out the dates of the fairs and festivals closest to you. These fairs and festivals have entertainment for every age and stage, from dancing to competitions to cute little game booths.
Planning in advance may sound overwhelming to many, but in reality it is budget friendly and actually easier than doing it all three days before you have to go, when your children are already home and interrupting you with their opinions every 55 seconds. It doesn’t have to be planned to the ‘T’ (we all know life happens), and it doesn’t have to be done in one day. But if you have an hour free one day, head to the library to check out your local activities. Spend one evening with your spouse discussing how much you have available to spend or want to save for your summer. Figure it out now when you are calm and have the time.