Summer of Fun: Big Memories on a Small Budget

By May 3, 2010Summer Planning

(Bandana on ponytail? Check. Sleeves rolled up? Check. Glow in the dark shirt TUCKED IN? Check. Clearly, I was a fashion icon.)

The summer I turned 7 my family surprised me and took me to an Amy Grant concert. As is embarrassingly evident in this picture (taken when I was 12), I was a huge Amy Grant fan.

My family was so excited to surprise me with that concert and I freaked out when we drove up and I saw the sign.

You’d think, looking back, that would be the highlight of my year.

But it wasn’t.

My absolute favorite memory of that year was sitting in the chaise lounge with my 60 year old grandmother as she read The Chronicles of Narnia to me.

My Point: We Are Bigger Than Rock Stars

As we plan for this summer, let’s remember that, to our children, we’re bigger than rock stars. We don’t need to break the bank and take them to Disney World. We don’t need to buy them the latest toys, pools or waterslides. We don’t need to send them to the coolest camps.

Our kids best memories will be the ones they made with us. Simple traditions. One on one time. A chance to see Mommy at her goofiest. Late night games. Cuddly storytimes.

Children have significantly lower memory making standards than we do. Too often, we do what WE think is fun. We spend a bajillion dollars and then get frustrated with our kids because they didn’t appreciate all the effort and expense. When, really, all they need (and want) is a little time, a little creativity and a lot of love and attention from you.

Memory Making “Themes”

There are lots of ways to make special memories without spending a lot of money. I’ll share more specific ideas later, but here are some “themes” that you can use to generate lots of memory making plans.

  • Surprise them – Have a spontaneous family fun night or movie night.
  • Single them out – Go on a date with just one of your children.
  • Break the rules – Stay up late, eat ice cream for breakfast, etc.
  • Be consistent – Read to them each afternoon while they eat a popsicle or drink lemonade.
  • Do something normal in a new way. Eat dinner at the park. Have bedtime stories and hot chocolate at a bookstore. Read to them in a cushion fort.
  • Do something new in a normal spot. Instead of going to the park and just watching your kids play, slide down the slide with them. Ride the merry-go-round. Have a scavenger hunt at the grocery store.
  • Be creative. Paint a picture together – frame it and hang it on the wall. Make a movie together. Write a song together and put it on a cd. Write a story together complete with illustrations.

A memorable summer doesn’t require a lot of money, it just takes a little creativity and a little bit of you.

Community Project

(You’re going to start seeing Community Projects incorporated into some of my blog series. If we work as a team we can really help one another and save time by not reinventing the wheel over and over. I have some fun projects planned, so stay tuned.)

Share your fun, low cost ideas in the comments and I’ll compile them all into a massive, printable list that you can keep handy all summer long.

I’ll also compile the list into a post, so if you have a blog you want me to link to next to your summer fun idea, leave that in the comment as well.

Ready? Share your favorite summer ideas here.

(…and if you want to disassociate yourselves because of the picture at the top. I completely understand. I tried to disassociate myself from myself, but it didn’t really work…)

This post is part of WFMW. Click here for more great tips.

Leave a Comment



  • Elaine says:

    Sadness, the picture doesn’t seem to be loading on my computer. My first tape was Amy Grant’s Heart in Motion.

    In the summer, my grandparents took us to the Frio River for camping and Guadalupe River for day trips. It was a great way to cool off and disconnect us from the tv.

    After my parents got divorced, my dad didn’t have much in his house. We ordered pizza and put the same puzzle together every weekend. I still tear up when I see the puzzle box in my hope chest.

    • Kat says:

      I changed the way the picture is loading. It might show up for you now. Prepare yourself…

    • Kat says:

      Oh, and Jimmy and I have been thinking about visiting the Frio river. Do you have any recommended spots or places to stay?

  • Denise says:

    too funny – I went to an Amy Grant concert at about the age of 12 as well. My older sister took me. I love all these ideas.

  • Karen G says:

    This isn’t just for summer, but we try to have a Kid of Honor at dinner. If one of our children accomplished something…physically, mentally, spiritually or morally, we will declare them Kid of Honor. We light a candle by their dinner plate. They love blowing out the candle and I have a book I write down what they did. Simple but they seem to love it.

  • natalie says:

    Love it!! thanks

  • Sara M. says:

    I too liked Amy Grant. My first album (yes a record … wow!) was Amy Grant in Concert. The next one I got, can’t remember the name but it was in 5th grade. Kat may remember … we’re close to the same age (I’m 34 also). Then I got Lead Me On. Anyway, I remember the same styles, and I’m equally embarrassed when I look at those old pictures of over-sized tees and high-waist pants (ugh!) on me.

    I remember going on a few camping trips. My family didn’t do many vacations because we didn’t have much money. My dad took us to Brewers games (I’m a cheesehead … that’s right!) and we used to go out to the local hunting grounds and run our dogs and go fishing. My parents also took us on day trips to a few favorite state parks to go swimming for an afternoon and have ice cream. I loved that stuff. Those are some of my greatest memories.

    • Kat says:

      Fifth grade…maybe Unguarded? Or Straight Ahead?

      I loved Lead Me on…

    • Sara M. says:

      Unguarded – that was it. Thanks! I just didn’t want to go look in my box of tapes. =)

  • Kyle Suzanne says:

    In regards to your picture I live with great fear that one day a picture of me in the 8th grade with a “Jerry Curl” will appear on Facebook.

    Thanks for the reminder as we’ve had more kids some of the really fun stuff we did when we had just one or two had slipped away from me. We haven’t had lunch in the park in years! Of course now we live in the country so I really should just set up a bonfire and have lunch in the backyard, haven’t done that either!

    Well, at least now I have something to do at the detal appointment I’ll be picking out the books to read this summer to the kiddos during the super hot Texas afternoons! The parks to visit, crazy things to eat in the morning etc…..

    My ideas:
    Call a friend that lives in the country (like me!) we often have nature trails, fishing, swimming pools and farm animals. Bring a pic-nic lunch and have fun in the country one afternoon or see if they are up fo a bon-fire and S’mores one evening. Offer to bring the S’mores and I bet they offer to make hot chocolate!

    Get a zoo pass to a local zoo. (Sometimes it’s better to get a zoo pass to a little bitty zoo that belongs to a big association. Like we are members at the Waco zoo but we can get into the Houston Zoo with our Zoo pass) and plan as in actually write on your calendar when you are going to the Zoo and go several times this summer! You could do this with Museum passes too and the same rule applies as far as checking the associations in which the Museums belong.

    Finally, find out which Museums have free / reduced days and go to the museum on those days. The kids can take their crayons, chalks, paints (for the more adventerous) and papers and copy the pictures they are seeing on the walls. Then they will have a great reminder of their visit!

    Kat, I’m really glad I found this website!

    • Kat says:

      Wow. That’s a really smart idea about zoo/museum passes. Incidentally, we go to the Cameron Park Zoo all the time. We love it.

      Looks like I need to make a country friend. That sounds fun!

  • Brianna says:

    I also grew up loving Amy Grant (actually, I grew up wanting to BE Amy Grant). But have no pictures of the concert I got to go to with my friend and her family when I was twelve. Love your picture, though. Too funny. 🙂

    Every summer, my girls and I go to this local fruit farm and pick strawberries at the very beginning of summer vacation. Then we go back and pick blueberries when they’re ready to be picked. It is so fun! The challenge is to find the perfect blueberry (which of course never makes it home because the perfect blueberry must be eaten immediately upon being picked). 🙂

    My blog is

    p.s. For some reason, I’m having issues posting this comment. So I hope it’s not been duplicated. If so, I apologize.
    .-= Brianna´s last blog ..Vigilant Wife =-.

    • Kat says:

      Picking berries…I remember doing that as a child. So fun.

      Sorry you had trouble commenting. If it happens again let me know and I’ll take a look.

  • Amy P says:

    Great ideas!

    Can I use a portion of this for our MOPS newsletter?

  • Great ideas Kat. As my little man gets older, I’m always on the lookout for inexpensive things we can do together. It is true that some of my best memories with my parents are the simple things we did together. With my dad (who has passed away) it is playing softball, helping him set up his drum kit, driving in his truck with him (didn’t matter where we were going), and camping and fishing.
    .-= Kim @ Staying Home´s last blog ..Free Diapers and Cost and Quality Analysis =-.

  • Andrea says:

    I love this post!! I feel the same way about spending time with my kids and I always get so sad when my friends tell me they are going to put their kids in summer school so they don’t have to “deal” with them all summer long. It breaks my heart!!!

    Read a chapter book with your kids (like James and the giant peach, Charlie and the chocolate factory) and when you get done, have a movie night and watch the movie of the book you just read. My cousin does this with her kids and I am going to start as well.

    Take kids on a mystery trip. Have some fun locations picked out ahead of time and then have each kid pack a little bag with a favorite toy, water and snack. Then go to the different stops you had planned out, but don’t tell the kids where you are going next. Kids LOVE this one!!!

    Give each kid a bunch of pennies. Then set up a “movie theater” in your house. Have a consession stand with different snacks and drinks. Then make signs that tell how many pennies each thing will cost the kids. For instance, getting into the movie theater could be 3 pennies. Popcorn could be 2 pennies, juice could be 1 pennie and so forth. My mom did this for my birthday one year and I LOVED it!!!

    I would LOVE to have a link to all of the ideas put on this post, on a blog I have that is “ALL ABOUT KIDS.”
    Thank you!!

  • Leslie says:

    Thanks for the inspiration again! I read the post about the morning routine, and I have to admit to still having trouble with this one! My 1 1/2 yr old still nurses, so I usually wait till he gets up to nurse then I bring him back to bed with me, then I am afraid to get up for fear he will fall out, and if I move him he will wake up. Not sure how to make this work. I would love to get up before him too, and get my morning stuff done and breakfast made before both kids get up. Any suggestions?

    For summer activities my kids love the park, and playing ball in our yard together as a family in the evening. I don’t know who has the most fun, us or the kids!

  • Natalie says:

    As I read your list of themes, I thought a backwards day would be fun- from clothing to meals to physical activities.

    One of my favorite memories from childhood was backyard wiffle ball games with all the cousins. We all lived within blocks of one another geographically-not so anymore. It will take a little more planning now but I would love to do this a few times with all the cousins.

    My 9 year old wants to organize a family olympics- has it all written out- so I guess we’ll be doing that, too.

    We are members of our local zoo so I was thinking of making that a weekly visit. If I equip each of the kids with a notebook and zoo keepers hat, maybe we could do a zookeeper log.

  • Melody says:

    WOW! I remember that shirt! Good times! 🙂

  • Clover says:

    Kat, the absolute best place to go on the Frio is Garner State Park. It’s a great place with a lot of history, and the cabins and camp sites are fantastic.

    I have loved Amy Grant for as long as I can remember. My husband surprised me with tickets to her Lead Me On reunion tour at the Fellowship of the Woodlands last year. It was amazing.

    We are moving into a new house in two weeks, so I am looking forward to long morning and evening walks, exploring the new activity center/weekly activities, and getting to know our new area.

    My grandmother was admitted to a nursing home yesterday, and she is having trouble adjusting. One of the things I want to do is have the kids make artwork and put together small scrapbooks for my grandmother to keep with her.

    One really cool idea that my sister-in-law is doing with her daughters and their friends: A book club for kids. They are reading a kids’ book series through the summer, and doing crafts and activities to go along with the theme of the books.

  • Shannon says:

    This will be my first summer off with my kids and I can not wait. Losing my income means doing more cost effective outings, but I live in a great area for that. We will be going down to a one vehicle household which means finding things with in walking distance for the most part. There is a theater that offers free children’s movies one day a week all summer, I have a free public swimming pool, 2 library’s, which you can rent a museum pass to get into our local museum for free. Low cost we have a train museum and ride, my kids love walking to the bakery for a cookie, trolley museum which runs a trolley to our local baseball field for home games for a fee. As one of your readers also mentioned I have a summer reading list of books that can be followed up with the movie. I figure the movies would be good rainy day activities. I also plan on researching The Great Depression with my kids and then preparing a meal from (Cooking with Clara meals from the Great Depression)
    Our big vacation will be camping for a week at a camp ground that runs themed family weekend. We go with several families so it is always a good time.

  • Could not agree more! One of my earliest memories is of our family going on bike rides on cool summer mornings in OR, i was so small i remember riding on the back of my moms bike in a toddler seat!!
    Time + Love = unforgettable memories! mamaoftwo
    .-= sarah mamaoftwo´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesdays… =-.

  • I found your blog via Impress Your Kids–I subscribed after laughing out loud after reading about your fashion icon year. Can’t wait to read more. Glad I found your blog!

  • I was drawn in my the pic of you with the Amy Grant cutout…she was one of my favorites, too, and I have wonderful memories of going to her concert, opened by the late Rich Mullins, in about 1986.

    And I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of your post and the exhortations for making activities with our children count. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Denise says:

    I’ve started blogs for my 10 yr old & 12 yr old and they are also signed up for all the different free reading programs. Barnes & Nobles and Borders offer free books as their prizes but, our local library gives out a coupon book with free admission to the zoo, free ice cream, etc. I also found a program that offers free admission to our local Minor League baseball teams home games.

    I find that my kids favorite family memories tend to be centered around simple activities we’ve done together.
    .-= Denise´s last blog ..Where in the World Wednesday? =-.