62 Ways to Beat Summer Boredom on a Budget
Summer brings warm weather, extra hours of sunlight, and free time to fill. Take advantage with these cheap or free ideas to keep everyone busy this summer: parents eager to occupy their children; couples keen to spend time together; and singletons with the freedom to pursue whatever tickles their fancy.
Charyn Pfeuffer contributed to this report.
Tanning safely can be tricky and requires a little more effort than simply lying in the sun. Start by exfoliating before going outside, protect eyes with a hat or sunglasses, and don't skip the sunscreen. Dermatologists recommend reapplying every two hours.
Related: 11 DIY Solutions for Summer Skin Care on the Cheap
A beach day isn't complete without building a sandcastle. Buckets that double as plastic molds are cheap enough at dollar stores, but a free alternative is to use items from around the house, such as plastic food storage containers or empty yogurt containers.
Tourists travel hundreds of miles to tour the U.S. Capitol Building, but a local city hall, courthouse, or state capitol building can also be worth exploring. Reservations may be required, but tours are often free.
National parks are usually inexpensive -- fees range from free to $30 a vehicle for a seven-day pass -- but the National Park Service also offers fee-free days during the year. This summer plan a visit for Aug. 25 to 28, the Park Service's birthday weekend.
Related: Explore One of the Best National Parks in Every State
An empty driveway or sidewalk and a box of brightly colored chalk can inspire children to channel their inner Picasso. Draw self-portraits or shade in the shadows of nearby objects. Throw a small rock into the mix for a classic game of hopscotch or tic-tac-throw.
Drive out to a local farm and pick fresh berries, peaches, tomatoes, peppers, and more. Depending where you live, a stroll through a local park can lead to edible treasures, as well.
Head to a local used bookstore and pick up one of the classics that's been on your reading list for years. Dedicate a set time each day -- say, 30 minutes in the morning or evening -- and discover why it's part of the canon.
Many people say they want to read more but don't find the time. Add some accountability with a monthly meeting to discuss a book chosen by a group. Focusing on a particular niche, such as women authors, biographies, or business books, can help attract members and make choosing the next book easier.
Lazy summer days can be filled with music, or at least attempts at playing music. Pick up an instrument (rent one or buy used) and follow along with the many free lessons available on YouTube. Campfire sing-alongs are just a few chords away.
Gather friends and family to recycle, rather than retire, items that aren't needed any longer. Swap meets can have a focus, such as clothing or toys, or be open to anything and everything.
Floating downstream while relaxing in an inner tube sure sounds refreshing. Many tubing destinations offer tube rentals and a shuttle service back to the starting point. For people who will use a tube several times in a summer, buying one for $30 to $40 may be a money saver.
Who says you have to have a pool to throw a pool party? Turn on the sprinklers in the backyard and set up a DIY version of Slip 'N Slide by staking a roll of plastic sheeting into the lawn and letting water spray onto it from a hose.
Related: 11 DIY Activities to Keep Kids Occupied All Summer
Kids probably don't like the idea of summer school, so call it summer camp and watch their attitudes change. Adults can take advantage of the extra daylight hours by signing up for outdoor evening fitness classes, or a class held indoors that lets out before dark.
Unwind on the water with a secluded fishing trip. Return to the family's annual go-to spot, or change things up by trying someplace new.
Across the country, free dance performances, plays, and concerts are mounted in city parks and amphitheaters all summer long. Check local newspapers and event calendars and prepare a picnic; the best seating often goes to the early birds.
Look through local event calendars to find a food festival that offers a focus or a variety of cuisines in one setting. From an egg festival in Maine to the Taste of Chicago, the largest food festival in the world, there are plenty to go around. Food truck gatherings are now common, as well.
Fireworks are traditional on the Fourth of July, but prices are usually lower after the holiday. The best deals often come when buying in bulk online, although shipping restrictions make this impossible for residents of some states -- and some states ban all fireworks.
Related: 12 Dangerous Mistakes People Make Around Fire and Fireworks
Many towns and cities organize annual parades in the summer; perhaps this is the year to join the procession. Find a local group or organization whose interests you share and sign on to participate in the parade.
A summer picnic at a local park can gather friends and family together. Don't forget bug repellent, sunscreen, a blanket or sheet, and a cooler. Keep things cheap: Use washable cutlery and make inexpensive foods such as a green salad and deviled eggs, complemented with some fresh fruit.
Related: 10 Tips for Packing a Budget-Friendly Picnic
Many ski resorts keep their lifts open after the snow has melted and invite mountain bikers to fly down the slopes. It can be expensive to buy a mountain bike if you don't already have one, but many resorts rent them for about $50 a day.
Everyone has a TV show or movie they haven't had a chance to watch -- and friends and family who keep reminding them what they're missing. When it's too hot outside, curl up on the couch, turn on the fan, and binge.
Airbnb rentals come in all shapes and sizes, so take a weekend this summer to explore a different kind of lodging. Book a stay in a yurt, an off-the-grid cabin, a treehouse, a houseboat, or even a school-bus-turned-apartment.
Related: 50 Unique Vacation Rentals for $85 a Night or Less
Family camp lets everyone have fun together. Search online for one nearby that offers room, board, and planned activities. YMCAs sponsor a number of family camps with reasonable fees.
With safety measures in place, build a bonfire and enjoy watching the flames reach into the sky. Music circles, dancing, and s'mores are encouraged. Stick to the standard-issue chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker combo, or try something new and creative.
Plan and set up a scavenger hunt for kids that can keep them busy all day -- or make it the foundation for a special date with a significant other.
Planning an international trip this summer? It's the perfect opportunity to learn a few basic words and phrases in another tongue. Learning a language can be hard, but it doesn't need to be expensive. There are many free online tools and smartphone apps that make learning a language fun.
Building a birdhouse can be child's play or a full-blown DIY carpentry challenge. No matter what the finished product looks like, a well-stocked birdhouse in the yard or outside a window will attract feathered friends. Sit back and observe.
Learn how to sew, knit, or crochet this summer, or take up scrapbooking, pottery, or painting. Research suggests that crafts can serve as a natural anti-depressant, increase cognitive ability, and even improve reasoning skills.
If you don't have a dog, get a four-legged fix by offering to walk neighbors' dogs. Not only will it get you outside, it's a great conversation starter and way to meet people.
If it's too hot and buggy, bring the experience of a night in the great outdoors inside. Set up a small tent, turn off the lights, and tell ghost stories from the coziness of a sleeping bag.
A good, old-fashioned water balloon fight is a quintessential summer activity. Pick up some water balloons, grab a hose, and let the soaking-wet games begin.
For a timeout from the sun, head to a local movie theater for a few hours of air-conditioned entertainment. Matinees are generally the cheapest way to go, although some theaters offer two-for-one ticket deals or deeply discounted prices for older films.
Related: 10 Ways to Save Money at the Movies
It's mesmerizing to lie on the ground looking up at the stars on a warm summer night. Grab a blanket and head to an open space with minimal light pollution. Download an app for a phone or tablet to identify what's overhead.
When summer temperatures get up there, escape to the air-conditioned coolness of the local bowling alley. Many offer free bowling for kids -- check out Kids Bowl Free to see if the program is available nearby. Registered children get two free games daily (shoe rental not included), and there's a $25 family pass that covers adults.
A movie projector and somewhere to shine it -- a wall or dropcloth -- are all it takes to host an open-air movie night. Projectors can often be rented, and some good consumer models sell for less than $100, which can be a good investment for movie lovers who enjoy entertaining. Babble has some ideas for hosting a slightly fancier event.
The art of letter writing is fading, but there's still something satisfying about opening the mailbox to find a piece of handwritten snail mail. Making a friend through the Global Pen Friends system can open up a new culture, as well -- and maybe somewhere to stay on a trip overseas.
While away an afternoon blowing bubbles. Just mix 1 cup of water to 1 tablespoon dish soap, and add 1 tablespoon of sugar for less popping. If you're feeling especially creative, make wands of different shapes by bending old wire hangers.
Skip the radio and create a personalized playlist to accompany summer adventures. Top 40 songs get tiresome in heavy rotation (there's only so much Justin Bieber a person can handle) and don't have as much meaning as a custom soundtrack.
To get together and eat with friends or neighbors without doing all the work, plan a potluck. Holding it in a nearby park frees you from having to host or getting saddled with all the cleanup.