Dreams of carefree summer fun are finally becoming a reality for many children this month. While kids rush off to trade in their backpacks for swimsuits, parents scramble to find ways to keep them entertained all season long. This doesn't come cheap, as it turns out: a report from American Express Spending & Savings Tracker found that U.S. families dish out big bucks on activities for kids, with the per-child cost of summer fun ranging from $600 to over $1,000.
To save your sanity and avoid going broke this summer, consider these budget-friendly ways to entertain your kids for less.
Buy an Entertainment Book
The easiest way to access two-for-one and 50% off deals is to buy an entertainment book for your city. You can also pick one up in the city you're visiting to save on food and activity expenses during your vacation. For instance, you can get a free child admission with one adult ticket for the Santa Barbara Zoo, or get one free bowling session when a second one is purchased at AMF Bowling Centers in Orlando.
Review Debit and Credit Card Perks
Some debit and credit cards offer money-saving perks for activities. For example, Bank of America's Museums on Us program provides complimentary access to participating zoos, museums and other educational institutions during specific days over the summer. Similarly, a debit card issued by 1st National Bank (locations in Colorado and Nebraska) offers complimentary tickets to community events like the Taste of Fort Collins when users show their debit cards at ticket booths.
Head to the Library
Not only can you access books, audio books and DVDs for free, but your local library offers many community events and activities for families from reading groups to arts and crafts. Storytime is a popular event with libraries offering different readings based on age group. What's more, your library may also be a resource for discount passes to museums and national parks.
Having an arsenal of crafts at the ready helps you better respond to unexpected "I'm bored!" outbursts. To save on puzzles, painting kits, scrapbook activities and more, use coupons to offset your purchases to popular craft stores. For example, the Coupon Sherpa mobile app gives you instant access to deals like 30% off one item from JoAnn Fabrics, or 40% off one regular-priced item from either Michaels or Hobby Lobby. You can also find craft kits at department stores like Kohl's, where savings of 15% off are available through the app.
Find Discount Admissions
Many recreation centers, museums, zoos and botanical gardens offer discount and sometimes free admission on certain days of the week. The Art Institute of Chicago offers free admission to Illinois residents every Thursday night, while the Denver Museum of Nature and Science offers a free day every month of the year. Review the organization's website for applicable days and times to keep your costs low while providing an enriching activity for your kids.
Look for Freebies
Bowling centers give back to their communities and offer a safe and fun environment for kids through the Kids Bowl Free Program. Enjoy two free games every day at participating bowling centers by registering at KidsBowlFree.com. In addition to activities, you can find free meals for your kids at MyKidsEatFree.com when you enter your state of residence (or the one you're traveling to!).
Catch a Flick for Less
Head to the movies on Monday or Tuesday nights, as many movie theaters offer discount passes and savings on concessions during off-peak times. Otherwise, catch a matinee for less or find a local drive-in theater for cheaper tickets and a fun experience for the kids. Use the Regal Cinemas app to access mobile coupons for popcorn, hot dogs and drinks, and take advantage of your local theater's loyalty program to earn points towards freebies and future discounts.
Providing your children with a fulfilling activity doesn't have to cost you money. A great way to keep your kids busy with a rewarding experience is to give back to the community. Review volunteer opportunities at VolunteerMatch.org for age-appropriate volunteer activities. Older kids may enjoy contributing to a Habitat for Humanity build, while younger kids can brighten the moods of seniors living in a local nursing home.
Review Daily Deals
Groupon, LivingSocial and other daily-deal providers are rife with discounts to family-friendly attractions. From discounts to local sporting events, introductory classes to unique activities like fencing and cheerleading, and even reduced-price admission to the local museum, these vouchers can save you money while introducing your child to something new. Make sure to read the fine print so you know exactly what you're getting with your money, and remember you can use the voucher for the purchase price if it expires before you can spend it.