How to Enjoy Summer Without Breaking the Bank

by Melanie Lockert · 6 comments


Summer is one of my favorite months as I love basking in the sun and enjoying the energy of the city. Where I live in Portland, Oregon, it’s rainy and dreary for nearly nine months of the year.

But thankfully, summertime is right around the corner, and for these three months, the weather is absolutely perfect. The sun is shining, the weather is warm, and the energy of the city is completely different — it feels vibrant and alive.

In years past, I’ve noticed my spending increases significantly in the summer. I want to be out and about and will pay the price for it. Luckily, I’ve found some frugal ways to enjoy summer without breaking the bank.

Here are a few of my favorite tips.

1. Have a Picnic in the Park

One of my favorite activities in summer is simply going outside and having a picnic. I bring some fruit, cheese, crackers, a blanket and a book, and I’m all set. Half of the fun of summer is enjoying the weather and being outside, so having a picnic is a great way to soak up the sun and relax.

If you want to make it a multi-person affair, consider hosting a potluck with friends. This is a great way to bring people together and have the chance to try a variety of food. Bring some music, a frisbee, or some board games. A simple afternoon at the park can be a lot of fun!

2. Get Creative in the Kitchen

In the summer, I love iced coffee, happy hours, and trying new foods. While I think it’s great to enjoy those things within your budget, doing those things several times a week adds up quickly.

To help curb my cravings for going out, I start by getting creative in the kitchen. I make my own iced tea, iced coffee and water infusions. I love adding a bit of lemon and raspberry to water, or strawberry and basil.

If you want something unique and flavorful, consider adding some mint or various herbs to your ice cubes. They can give any drink an extra kick of flavor, giving you that gourmet feeling.

Think of what you tend to spend the most on in summer and find a way to experiment in the kitchen and make it yourself. You can save tons of money and feel accomplished for making something new!

3. Enjoy Free Activities

In nearly every community, there are an array of activities in the summer from free movies and concerts in the park, bike rides, festivals, free museum days and more.

Check out the various activities by looking at your local park’s calendar, a local newspaper, as well as online. Just a little bit of research can result in a ton of free or low-cost activities that are fun for the whole family.

I personally love to go on free community bike rides and check out the concerts in the park. I also make sure I know when the free museum hours are, so I can get my dose of art.

4. Go on a Summer Purge

Most people like to start the new year fresh with a purge, or even have a major spring cleaning. I like to have a huge summer purge and go through all my clothing, paperwork, and items around the house.  If I haven’t used it in six months, I either throw it out, recycle it, donate it, or sell it.

Having a purge in the summer is great, because it’s a wonderful time to have a garage sale and declutter. You can make some extra cash and learn to live with only what you need.

5. Write Letters of Gratitude

Have you ever noticed that nearly all of your mail is either a bill or spam? The only time our mailboxes get any love is during the holidays.

If you aren’t traveling for the summer to see friends or family, write a letter expressing your gratitude. It will be an unexpected surprise for the receiver and also boost your mood!

6. Embrace the Backyard Barbecue

Another common summer activity is the great American backyard pastime – grilling. While the cost of purchasing a grill, fuel, and fresh steaks and burgers adds up quickly, there are plenty of ways to save here. If you need to buy a new grill, then hold off for a while first. The best deals land around the 4th of July, one of the biggest grilling holidays of the summer, and a chance for retailers to push out extra inventory. Otherwise, rumor has it they’re a common item at yard sales. Other ways to save include grilling more fresh garden vegetables and less meat and making your own sauces and marinades.

7. Remember Amusement Parks / Zoos / Beaches?

It could be hard to imagine going to any public and crowded area right now, but many places will be open by summertime. These venues provide wonderful summertime entertainment, and you will probably want to go by July and August. The first way to save is to buy your tickets before you get to the gate, either at supermarkets or bulk store chains like Costco and Sam’s Club, where they’re often priced anywhere from $10-$25 lower. Online deal sites also sell discounted package deals but pay close attention to the guidelines for their usage.

Once you get inside the gate, one of the biggest expenses is food: theme park, zoo, and beach boardwalk food are ridiculously expensive. Save a ton of money and time standing in line for subpar food by bringing along a rolling cooler packed with cold drinks, snacks, and a picnic lunch.

8. Work on Your DIY Projects

Summer is also the prime time for completing home repairs and undergoing more labor-intensive projects and renovations. If you have do-it-yourself projects lined up for the summer, consider purchasing your supplies and equipment in early June. Retailers offer the best deals on tools and such right before Father’s Day (no doubt capitalizing on the panic of those who forgot to get something for dad).

9. Dine Out

You may consider dining out a four-letter word these days, but if not, then remember that you can still save if you must go out. A smart way is to stock up on restaurant gift cards at discount prices. Sites like gather deals on unwanted gift cards being sold for up to 50% less than their value. Other places to score anywhere from 50 to 100% off on dining are deal-of-the-day apps like Groupon, which can be set up to alert you to dining deals in your area.

10. Explore Your Neighborhood

You may think you know your neighborhood inside and out, but I bet there are certain hidden corners and areas that are undiscovered. Be a tourist in your own city. Go for a walk and get lost. Enjoy a bike ride on a different path. Make a wrong turn.

Appreciate the little things and actively look for things you’ve never seen before. Having a new perspective can show you things you may have been missing out in, right in your own backyard.

11. Have a Themed Event

As fun as traveling is, it can definitely be pricey. If you can’t get away this summer to your desired destination, possibly because you are still wary of venturing out too far from home these days, then do the next best thing and host a themed event. If you are dreaming of going to Japan, have a sushi and sake night and watch some Japanese films.

If you are dreaming of the beaches of Mexico, make some fish tacos, put on some music, and print out some photos. Having a themed event can be fun and inspire you to save so you can make your dream trip happen in the future.

Summer is a great time to explore, get together with friends, and enjoy the outdoors. There are ways you can do it on the cheap, so you can have some summer fun, without breaking the bank.

What are your favorite frugal summer activities? How do you enjoy summer without breaking the bank?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Papa Foxtrot says:

    I enjoy state parks. Some have features you would only expect at national parks. For instance Manatee Springs State Park has clear beautiful springs you can see manatees (of course) and gators. You could even kayak near gators (if you dare).

    • David @ says:

      I’ve never wanted to go to national parks but seeing my friend’s Facebook posts of his stay at the Yosemite this week made me quite envy of his trip. I heard you have to book months in advance so maybe we will plan something for next year!

  • Frugal Rachel says:

    It’s hot outside but I’m having trouble imaging the same summer this year. I hear the local pools are opening back up though so that’s the good news.

    Hopefully everything will be open up by the time summer rolls along and we can get on with our lives. I’m sick of staying at home!

    • David @ says:

      Our local pool is going to open back up this Friday, and I’m still wondering if it’ll be deserted or packed next weekend.

      I’m still a little hesitant to go with my kids, but it’s really tempting!

  • Ramona says:

    Many people think that summer does have to come with huge expenses. Well, we’re spending A LOT of time outdoors with our one year old and she’s loving it. A ball, or some sand. Togetherness is really what she’s striving for right now. Of course our expenses with grow over time, but there’s a lot of stuff you can do with less or no money.

    • David @ says:

      Staying outdoors is the perfect plan right now. You get fresh air, vitamin D from the sun, and it’s all free.

      And you are right, any one year old just wants to spend time with her parents!

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