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6 Free or Cheap Summer Fun Ideas

Today’s post is from writer and commenter here on BFS, Kate (Mrs. COD).  She is passionate about helping people make smarter decisions with money in order to be able to spend money on what really matters to them. Thanks to slaying her debt demons, she’s now able to stay at home raising her two rambunctious little boys. Kate blogs about lifelong habit changes and “finangelism” at Changing Our Default, which she started early in 2016.

As soon as the weather starts to turn warmer and the allergies start acting up, we know summer is just around the corner! Whether you work full-time in summer or have some time off, as I always have as a teacher, summer promises oodles of extra fun.

Making memories with family and friends doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Summer is ripe with opportunities for free and cheap entertainment. Let’s dive into a few of them!

Picnics and Barbecues

What summer is complete without a few cookouts with friends? You have to eat anyway, so invite a few pals over and fire up the grill. Set this up however you prefer–either you can provide everything, or you can take care of the food while everyone BYOBs, or you can make it a full-on potluck. Ask each friend to bring a certain item–salad, chips, drinks, dessert, whatever you like. That way you can all enjoy a super-cheap and mellow day together.


Why not take a trip to the zoo? Many cities boast a free zoo, which is a terrific place to spend a fun summer day. We love our free zoo and drive a little further from home to go there rather than paying $15-30 a person for entrance to the bigger zoo. *Note: we usually give a small donation anyway, since of course it isn’t free to care for all the animals.

We can spend a couple of hours there, strolling around and visiting the animals, and we don’t feel stressed about trying to get our money’s worth. (I always feel I have to stay longer than I want when I’ve paid a hefty admission fee.) Free zoos also may allow outside food and beverages, which is another awesome opportunity to save some bucks.

If it’s not free, check the zoo’s website to stay informed of any special free or discounted days! Museums also typically will offer a few select days each year with free or deeply discounted admission.

Festivals and Fairs

This can be a tricky one. There are a hundred ways to spend your money at summer festivals, given the variety of junk food, carnival rides, concert tickets, and other forms of merriment. However, I’m still including this option because they’re still a great way to get out and about, and as long as you stick to a frugal plan, you’ll be fine.

For example, our town hosts Corn Fest each year. We don’t ride merry-go-rounds or buy greasy vendor food, but we have fun simply walking around and people-watching. There’s an excitement in the air and an energy to the whole event. Fresh air + friends = fun! Ours also has a car show that’s free to wander. If we do want to buy something to eat, we try to keep the cost minimal by eating beforehand. This helps us feel healthier anyway; fair food is hardly known for its health benefits!

Concerts / Movies in the Park

What better way to fill a lazy summer evening than kicking back on a lawn chair, listening to favorite tunes? Tons of cities offer concerts in the park. Many also have a movie night on a big screen. Usually sponsored by the park district, these are one of our top activities once June hits! Just imagine breathing in fresh outdoor air, spreading a picnic blanket on the ground, popping open a cheap bottle of wine (if alcohol is permitted in your park), and enjoying familiar and new musical performances. What a wonderful way to unwind without spending anything. Don’t forget to pack the bug spray, though!


Camping out in a nearby campground (or even your own backyard) offers a change from the ordinary. You still have the comforts of home available at any time, but you also can challenge yourself to do all the meal prep, tent prep, and sleeping outdoors. It can be a bonding experience with family members. (Okay, here’s my confession: I’m personally not big on camping. But I firmly believe it CAN be a fun time!)

Hiking and Biking

This is my number one free summer pastime. Hiking wooded trails gets you out of the house and onto your feet! If you’re not up for extremely rocky, hilly, or cumbersome terrain, there are plenty of flatter hikes to try. All you need are sturdy shoes or boots, bottled water, and a desire to be closer to nature. While some state and national parks charge entrance fees, many incredibly beautiful forest preserves, lakes, and other outdoor areas are free for everyone’s enjoyment.

On a motorcycle ride two years ago, my husband stumbled upon a little-known gem of a forest preserve only 15 minutes’ drive from us. Speaking of motorcycles I recently had to find some cheaper motorcycle insurance near me through a local agent since that was costing us too much. So there’s a way to cut costs this summer too.

Although we’d lived in this area for over a decade, this place was completely new to us, and it’s become our go-to getaway close to home. Its abundant hiking trails, ponds, wooded spaces, and picnic areas make it perfect for reconnecting with nature.

Do a little research on your town and surrounding area. Maybe you’ve been missing out on a gorgeous park like we were..

The weather is warming and summer is on its way! I hope you’ll get the chance to try out many of these fun and frugal activities this summer.

1 thought on “6 Free or Cheap Summer Fun Ideas”

  1. Adriana @MoneyJourney

    I love free fun (who doesn’t)!

    We don’t have any free Zoo’s around, although if we did, I think my other half would move in with the animals 🙂 Unfortunately, the nearest Zoo is miles away and it costs about $30 to get in.

    But that’s ok, we have plenty of other frugal stuff to do!

    We live near a lake (it’s only an 1 hour drive away) so each year we ‘hang out’ on the beach as often as possible. It’s actually a lot like camping, since we have our own beach chairs, cool box &other beach gear 😀

    Picnics and fairs are also on our to-do list every year. Actually, there are many going on over here. “Fair season” starts in Sping and lasts ’till early winter. It’s only a matter of which one to pick (going to all would not be a frugal thing to do..).

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