So far, summer 2019 has arrived fast and furious, and hasn’t felt like summer at all. But today, for the first time in 2 weeks, we don’t have friends or family visiting, Mr. ThreeYear and I are back from his work conference, and it looks like we can finally *start* our summer.
I’ve updated this post from a couple of years ago to reflect what we’ve kept the same and what we’ve changed to keep summer running smoothly, without spending a fortune. Hope it helps you to enjoy your summer and family a little more!
Summer looks and feels a little different for most of us, but for those of us with kids, there are some big logistical challenges to overcome. My friend who has works full time starts planning her kids’ camp schedule in February. Another friend who works part time has her husband work remotely on days she goes into the office. I’m home with my kids all summer since I’m a teacher, but I definitely need a plan for fun and sanity.
Read on for how I’ve finally figured out, after many summers, how to include both, without spending a fortune.
In 2015, after seven and a half years as a stay-at-home mom, then two years as a part-time marketing manager, I did an abrupt career change and became a part-time ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher at my kids’ elementary school. It’s been such a wonderful way to make a difference, earn money, and see my kids every day. Since we’ve moved to North Carolina, I’ve become a full-time Spanish teacher.
The best part of being a teacher, full- or part-time, is that when summer finally arrives, the boys and I are off! We are free to enjoy the summer, go to the beach, and have playdates.
Even though we look forward to summer all year, I’ve learned over the years that ten weeks of expansive free time makes mama and boys less-than-happy. Turns out, we need a routine in the summer just as much as we need it during the school year. But we need to keep things as frugal as possible, since our family is currently working towards doubling our net worth by the end of the year (okay, unlikely to happen by December, but we’re still trying).
Our experiment is going well–we’ve achieved our goal of location independent and have now settled in our dream town of Davidson, North Carolina. But, we still work to keep costs low in the summer, because summer seems to have so many added expenses: camps, cookouts, friends visiting, more outings and entertainment.
So here is what we do to make the summer as fun as possible, while spending as little as possible. I hope some of our ideas inspire you during your summer!
We Take Advantage of Local Deals
When we lived in New Hampshire, we had several lakes within a few minutes’ drive. The next town over offered swimming lessons during the summer by Red Cross certified instructors. The lessons were half-hour lessons that ran Monday-Friday for two weeks, and cost $50 per child. Two weeks of swim lessons for $50? Yes.
Not only did my boys learn how to swim, which is a life skill, we also took advantage of a free parking pass that allowed us to stay at the lake and swim and play on the play structure from 8am until 1pm every day of the two week period.
So, during the two weeks of swim lessons, we woke up, packed a picnic lunch, got on our bathing suits, and drove to the “beach.” For $25 per child per week, we got all-day lake entertainment and tons of friends to play with, plus swim lessons. A frugal friend turned me on to this deal, and I took advantage while I could.
Now that we’ve moved to North Carolina, we take advantage of our neighborhood swim team. It costs $180 per child for six weeks of swim lessons, so it’s a wee bit more expensive at $30 per week instead of $25, BUT the kids get so much more than they got at the lake. They have an hour practice every day, M-F, they get a swim suit and swim cap included in that cost, and they have four swim meets they get to participate in. Plus our swim coach is a national USAA swim coach and has been coaching for 22 years. She’s amazing.
We Make a Schedule
Because everyone in our family does better when we follow some sort of loose schedule, I adopted a suggestion I found somewhere on the internet. I made a list of all the things the boys need to accomplish before they’re allowed to have electronics. This is the fourth summer I’ve used the list, and it works really well.
The boys know that they need to:
- Get dressed, make their beds and clean their rooms.
- Do one chore that helps Mom (cleaning a bathroom, sweeping the floor, emptying the dishwasher, washing the windows).
- Spend time outside (this is easy since they have swim lessons every morning).
- Spend time reading (this year, we’re reading a basic Spanish reader together).
- Spend time doing something creative (like drawing, writing a book, making a fort).
These rules are relaxed on the weekends, but on the weekdays, the kids follow them very well.
There are tons of things that could go on the list, but this combo seems to work well for us. I limit electronics after they “earn” them but this schedule helps us start the day with a plan.
We Take a Big Trip
I realize that this suggestion won’t work for everyone, but I thought I’d include it, because I didn’t think it was possible myself before I did it. In 2016, we decided that since we had the entire summer off, we’d take a road trip to visit my family in the Carolinas. The boys were 8 and 5 years old, and while it was daunting to imagine making the fourteen-hour trip by myself, I thought that with enough preparation, it would be possible. Never did I imagine that we would all enjoy it!! But we did.
Here’s how we did it: first, we figured out the best route to drive from New Hampshire to Charlotte, which was our first stop in the road trip (we stayed at my sister’s house). Then, we found an inexpensive hotel at the halfway point, which was Hershey, Pennsylvania. It had an indoor pool which was key. We loaded up the car with our DVD player, got lots of movies and books on tape from the library, and headed out.
We drove for about 7 hours the first day, alternating one movie with a book on tape, then checked into our hotel. For the rest of the evening, we swam, had a special sushi dinner at the restaurant next door, and enjoyed some quality mom/son time. Then we woke up the next morning and drove another 7 hours to finish the trip.
Once we got to my family’s house, it was such a wonderful way to spend the summer. We hung out with family, spent quality time with the aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins, and had a wonderful month in the South. We Skyped with Mr. ThreeYear every night since he stayed in New Hampshire. The most expensive part of the trip was the hotel room–about $220 for both nights (the trip there and back). It only cost about $60 in gas to drive the approximately 800 miles to North Carolina! We have a Prius, so it was very gas efficient. And we ended up spending less money than normal on groceries while we were there, since my family was so generous in feeding us delicious meals.
While this idea may not work for all of you, I would recommend considering the possibility. If you have extended family that lives far away, what a great opportunity to spend quality time with them! Driving fourteen hours over two days wasn’t easy, by any means, but it was doable, and it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be!
Now that we live in North Carolina, we take trips to our family beach house four hours away. We may also take road trips to visit family who lives in Atlanta and Anderson, South Carolina. Now that we’re lucky enough to live close to lots of my extended family, I’ve tried to plan trips so the boys can hang out with their cousins (second, twice removed, etc.) who are similar ages and reconnect with their great aunts and uncles. For us, having a change of venue is the best part of the trip, and it rarely costs much more than staying at home since we’re sleeping with family members.
We Plan Day Trips
During August, we plan at least one day a week when we have an adventure. Our library in New Hampshire provided passes to local attractions for free or at a reduced price (maximum $10/person), so we went wherever the library passes take us. We went to museums in Boston (just under two hours away), a local nature center, a dairy farm, an aquarium, and also to local cities we’d never seen (like Burlington, Vermont).
Now that we live in the Charlotte area, these day trips are going to be even easier and cheaper. There are tons of local attractions, and many museums host free days that we plan to take advantage of in August. I’m going to take the boys on our yearly hike up Crowder Mountain, which is just a few hours’ drive. When my sisters-in-law are here from Chile, we’ll take a day trip to Asheville to see Biltmore (NOT cheap, but a fun splurge since they’re visiting for the first time in 15 years).
I hope these ideas might inspire you during your own summer with your kids. For our family, we relish our kids being able to rest, relax, and even to be bored, because that’s part of the delight of summer. But we also have learned that by mixing in some frugal and fun activities, everyone, including me, has a better summer!
What are your favorite ways to enjoy the summer while still maintaining some structure to your days?