How to Enjoy Summer on a Budget

friends toasting together for the bbq

With longer days, warmer weather and the season for adventure upon us, the pressure to enjoy the season is on. But summer can get expensive fast: Trips to the water park, nights spent dining out on patios, a week at the beach or lake and other outings can really add up.

If trying to pack the season with as much fun as possible is putting stress on you financially, hit pause on making expensive plans and try these budget-savvy activities. Here are seven ways to enjoy summer, with tips and ideas for both kids and adults.

1. Get Outside

You've likely heard it before: Summer is the perfect time to get outdoors and commune with nature. Heading to the beach or going for a hike are great, but you don't have to grab a beach towel or put on special shoes to get some fresh air. Even a simple walk around your neighborhood or trip to the park can be a no-cash-needed way to enjoy yourself and get the most out of the season. (Just check for park entry fees before you head out.)

2. Host a Potluck

The urge to go out to eat with friends is at its peak in summer. What's more relaxing or luxurious than wining and dining alfresco in a warm evening breeze? But frequenting restaurants all summer long can be a recipe for blowing your budget, so it helps to find cheaper ways to come together around food. A potluck is the perfect alternative.

Hosting a potluck requires a bit of upfront thinking: You'll need to invite guests, coordinate who wants to bring what, provide (or ask a guest to bring) plates and cutlery and set up a buffet for the food. But if you're willing to take on a bit of organizing, it can be a great way to get together with loved ones and come away feeling full, with new memories and with your budget intact.

3. Look for Free Local Events

Many areas host free local events to help the community get outside and have fun in the summer. You may find that your area hosts live shows in the park, craft shows, movie screenings, community sports events or other types of summer festivities, all free to attend.

Apart from keeping your eyes peeled for fliers advertising local events, there are apps for staying in the know about everything going on in your locality. Eventbrite, All Events in the City and Meetup are great places to look.

4. Unleash Your Inner Astronomer

Summer is a great time to get into stargazing, when mild nights mean you can spend the evening outside without donning your winter coat. Here are a couple of celestial events you can look forward to in summer 2023:

  • The Perseid meteor shower, a dazzling display of meteors that shoot across the sky leaving bright trails, is expected to peak around August 12. It's the perfect occasion to lay out on a blanket and stare up at the sky, because it's an opportunity to watch hours of shooting stars.
  • You can also look forward to the biggest full moon of the year at the end of August. Often called a supermoon, the moon will be at its closest point to the Earth on August 30 and 31. On top of that, it will also be what astronomers call a "blue moon": a term for the somewhat rare (every two or three years) event where there are two full moons in one month. So you can mark the first full moon on August 1 on your calendar—then enjoy the blue supermoon on August 30. The best part is, it won't cost you a cent.

5. Have a DIY Movie Night

Going to the movies is a fun treat in the summer, but it can get expensive, especially when you're bringing a group or buying popcorn and drinks. You can recreate the experience for less by staging your own movie night at home.

To make it a real occasion, dim the lights and stream a new movie. Pick up your favorite snacks at the grocery store, and go all out with lots of blankets and pillows. You can take it even further by throwing a themed movie night for kids, complete with pretend tickets, snack caddies, banners and the like.

6. Go to a Farmers Market

Even if you live in a region blessed with year-long good weather or indoor markets, hitting up the farmers market is a quintessentially wholesome summer experience.

Each week, you can grab your reusable bag and venture into a maze of vendors and farm-fresh food. If seasonal produce isn't your jam, there's usually much more—think handmade pickles, goat's milk soaps, wool knits, nursery plants, the list goes on—plus live music, food trucks and a bustling crowd of farmers and neighbors. Even if you don't buy anything, it's fun to wander the stalls and take it all in.

7. Try Volunteering

You can give back and have a blast at the same time. Volunteer gigs span so many activities that whatever you're passionate about, there's probably an opportunity to incorporate into getting involved in your community.

Common volunteer work includes gardening, mentoring, tutoring, reading and hanging out with elders, animal rescue and rehabilitation, working at a soup kitchen, lending a hand at summer camp and so much more. Try looking for local opportunities on your city's website or through a volunteer network. VolunteerMatch is a great place to search for local opportunities, wherever you live.

Splurge on a Budget

To pack the most fun into your summer without hurting your finances, balance those pricier treats with simple pleasures. There's nothing wrong with heading to the movies or even splurging on a trip to the water park when you can afford it.

But balance your pricier plans with smaller treats—time spent in nature, home-cooked food shared with loved ones, the simple pleasure of time spent curled up on the sofa binging on TV or a great book—whatever helps you relax, unwind and celebrate this time of year.