Forget the Pool: 7 Ways to Enjoy the Water for Less

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Joining the neighborhood pool is a cool idea but probably comes at a hefty price. At little or no cost to you, however, there are many ways to take a refreshing dip during the dog days of summer. (Be sure to remember the sunscreen.)

Beach.

If you live near the shore, head to the beach and bask for free. With just a few beach essentials, you and the family can cool off without blowing the budget. The gear can be used over and over, and your investment will quickly pay for itself. Bring along your own chairs and umbrellas so you won't be tempted to rent the equipment once you get there. You can buy these items for the price of one or two rentals.

Rivers and lakes.

The first rule for dipping into a river or lake: Make sure the water is clean and safe for swimming. Many rivers and lakes have designated areas that are monitored by lifeguards and completely free to enter. Pay attention to any algae warnings that can indicate a potential health risk. The Red Cross posts a safety checklist for these natural bodies of water. Residents of the Great Lakes region will find a number of safe, regulated beaches that don't cost a dime to enjoy.

Swimming holes.

Talk about hidden treasures. Swimming holes are natural wonders that provide some of the purest and most peaceful water you'll find anywhere. And because they don't attract the crowds of beaches (only the locals know they're there), you get refreshed and relaxed at zero cost.

Splash pads and fountains.

At outdoor malls and parks across the country you'll come across splash pads and fountains. Some may be designated to keep you cool and others that were intended for beauty now serve a more practical purpose. Designated splash pads with dumping buckets and water guns are showing up in parks all over, letting you and the kids dip for free all summer long.

Backyard pools.

Nothing beats the flexibility and the affordability of your own backyard pool. While built-in pools are pricey to install and maintain, there are cheap above-ground swimming pools that will keep you cool season after season. If you compare the cost of purchasing a temporary pool to the cost of joining the community pool, the decision is a no-brainer.

Neighborhood pools.

Save your cool-down moments for the evening hours. Many community pools are open until 8pm or 9pm and post reduced rates for the hours after 5pm. Another advantage to going late in the day: Most pools have cleared out by then, giving you more space and quiet for a summertime dip.

Fire hydrants.

This isn't a cooling option you can count on, but if you live in New York City and are over the age of 18 you can ask the local fire station to install a "spray cap" (free of charge) on a hydrant that releases the right amount of water for cooling off. The alternative -- taking matters into your own hands -- is dangerous in many ways, and also prevents the fire department from doing its job.