WHILE THE SUN SHINES
Summer ends Sept. 22, and although it seems like the season flies by, there's still time for summery activities. Take advantage of free and low-cost offerings in your area, and get some practical stuff done. Here are 24 things to do before the weather turns and the school year starts.
Related: 62 Ways to Beat Summer Boredom on a Budget
GO TO AN OUTDOOR MOVIE OR CONCERT
Parks all over the country show movies and concerts during the summer. Sit on the lawn, have a picnic, and enjoy the entertainment, surrounded by fellow locals. It's always worth checking community websites (try the parks department) and social media for showings and performances. The free Bandsintown app (for iOS and Android) enables easy searches for concerts in and beyond urban areas.
Oceans and lakes are typically at their most comfortable temperatures in August. What are you waiting for? Find a stylish, affordable swimsuit and a swimming hole near you and take the plunge. For kids, head to the dollar store for cheap beach toys including water noodles, rafts, buckets and shovels, sand toys, and beach balls. Don't forget the sunscreen.
MAKE ICE POPS
Making ice pops is a fun summer activity for the whole family. Pick up a set of reusable molds (starting at about $8 on Amazon) and pour in fruit juice or a smoothie. Try to use cheap summer fruits that will be harder to find fresh next season, such as watermelon, cherries, and berries.
Related: 19 Ice Pop Recipes Just for Grown-Ups
WATCH A THUNDERSTORM
Summer is storm season in many parts of the country, when the hot, humid air rises to form thunderclouds. Take some time to enjoy a thunderstorm safely by lighting a few candles, sitting on the porch, or simply watching from the window. Curl up with a loved one or a good book and listen to the patter of the rain.
BE A TOURIST IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD
Exploring a new-to-you neighborhood, town, or city nearby can be a fun, cheap activity on an idle summer day. Look at a map and go, or search online for places of interest.
Related: Cheap Must-See Attractions in All 50 States
TRY A NEW ACTIVITY
Check out the library for free or inexpensive summer reading programs, free workshops, classes, arts and crafts, movie screenings, and more. Also, look into activities at community recreation centers for free or low-cost end-of-summer memories.
GO TO A FESTIVAL
Summer months are buzzing with festivals and parades. Popular themes include food and beverages, holidays, heritage, history, music, art, and more, so there's something for everyone. Admission is usually free, under $10, or by donation.
PICK YOUR OWN FRUIT
Summer is berry season, and farms often invite guests to pick their own. Berry picking is a family-friendly summer activity that yields tasty souvenirs to bring home. Pay by the pound and don't be afraid to load up: Freeze the fruit and use it in pastries and smoothies through the winter. Tomatoes, watermelons, and summer squash are also at their peak in August. Visit PickYourOwn.org to learn where to harvest the freshest fruits and vegetables in your state.
HOST A BARBECUE
Inviting family and friends over for a barbecue is one of the cheapest ways to entertain. Affordable cuts of meat include pork shoulder and chops, beef brisket and burgers, and chuck eye steak. Inexpensive veggies to grill during the summer are corn, onions, eggplant, potatoes, zucchini, asparagus, bell peppers, and green beans.
Related: Best Grills Under $200
KNOCK OUT MEDICAL APPOINTMENTS
Dental checkups, vision tests, annual physicals -- get them all done over the summer, before the schedule fills up with school and extracurricular activities. (You know you'll regret it if you don't.)
Related: 11 Cheap Ways to Keep Back-to-School Germs at Bay
Putting off learning a language? Want to know about something you missed in school, such as ancient Rome or game theory? There are thousands of free audio and video courses online through companies such as Open Culture and Coursera. Many are interactive, so it's almost like being a student, except that you're at home and learning on your own schedule (and not working toward a degree).
CREATE A BUDGET
PLANT A GARDEN
Prep and plant a garden in late summer, and you should have abundant crops to harvest in the fall. For gardening in August and September, the seed company Urban Farmers suggests planting beans, carrots, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, spinach, radishes, and cover crops, which add nutrients to the soil for the coming year.
PICK UP A SUMMER BEACH READ
Find a sunny lounging spot and indulge in a crime thriller, a light piece of chick lit, or a young adult dystopian fantasy. Just don't overpay -- there are lots of sources of free and cheap ebooks. Libraries are perfect for titles you won't care to own or reread, and most offer free ebooks for download to electronic devices. Also check out BookLending.com, a service that lets users borrow and lend Kindle books for free. Thrift stores are good places to score hard copies for super-low prices.
SHOP CLEARANCE SALES
August is the cheapest season to buy summer clothes, office supplies, camping gear, and more. Toward the end of summer, start looking at holiday travel deals. Keep in mind that some states offer tax holidays in August for school supplies, clothing, and other merchandise. Finally, Labor Day and the preceding weekend are associated with clearance sales for major purchases such as appliances and cars.
VISIT A NATIONAL PARK
All U.S. national parks are free Aug. 25-28 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Regular entrance fees top out at $30 a vehicle, and there are other ways to save. Another option: national monuments, protected historical and natural landmarks where entrance fees are often lower than those at national parks.
Related: Explore One of the Best National Parks in Every State
If you missed spring cleaning, the more leisurely summer months are a great time to declutter and purge your stuff. A tip from the best-selling Marie Kondo book everyone seems to swear by: Ask yourself if an item brings you joy; if not, it goes. Sell or donate unused clothing, shoes, books, and bric-a-brac.
TOUR A MUSEUM
Most museums feature free days or free afternoon or evening hours. These opportunities typically are offered during the week, making it a challenge to plan a visit during the school year, so make the most of summer freedom. Other museums are always free or "pay what you will."
Dreaming of a vacation -- or a big purchase? Start saving now. Even $10 a day can really add up by the end of the year.
Summer's an ideal time to shut off electronic devices and enjoy pets, family, friends, and the freedom that comes from being unplugged. Studies link excessive technology use to stress, sleep disruption, obesity, and antisocial behavior.
Before school starts and it's harder to coordinate family activities, round up the troops to participate in a school-supply drive, serve food at the local soup kitchen, walk shelter dogs, help build a home through Habitat for Humanity, or play bingo at a retirement home. Community service is recommended and sometimes required for college applications and, with fewer demands on students' time, summer is the moment to rack up those volunteer hours.
WATCH A BASEBALL GAME
Whether it's a major league, minor league, or amateur club game, baseball is a quintessential summer activity not to be missed. Minor league baseball, especially, is a cheap, family-friendly option; kids often get to meet the players and join on-field activities. Weekday games are usually the cheapest, and buying baseball tickets late in the season can also save money.
WEAR WHITE CLOTHES
It's a controversial etiquette point, famously opposed by Coco Chanel, but many people quote "no white after Labor Day" as a fashion rule. Obviously white clothes are generally cooler, but they were also a status symbol: Historians date the custom to the 1920s, when elites left dingy cities for warmer climates, then changed their wardrobes when returning after Labor Day.