62 Ways to Beat Summer Boredom on a Budget

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SUMMER FUN

Summer brings warm weather, extra hours of sunlight, and free time to fill. Take advantage with these cheap or free ideas to keep everyone busy this summer: parents eager to occupy their children; couples keen to spend time together; and singletons with the freedom to pursue whatever tickles their fancy.

Charyn Pfeuffer contributed to this report.

Related:18 Standout State Fairs With Free Attractions

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TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE MUSEUM DAYS

Escape the summer heat by heading to a local museum on days when admission is free. Bank of America cardholders enjoy free entry on certain weekend days at more than 150 museums across the country, and some museums are always free.
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SHOOT A HOLE-IN-ONE

Putt-putt or miniature golf is often regarded as a kids' activity, but it's fun for all ages. Prices are generally reasonable, and the elusive hole-in-one on the 18th hole is often rewarded with a voucher for a free game.
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GET A PROPER TAN


Tanning safely can be tricky and requires a little more effort than simply lying in the sun. Start by exfoliating before going outside, protect eyes with a hat or sunglasses, and don't skip the sunscreen. Dermatologists recommend reapplying every two hours.

Related:11 DIY Solutions for Summer Skin Care on the Cheap
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START A SANDCASTLE COMPETITION

A beach day isn't complete without building a sandcastle. Buckets that double as plastic molds are cheap enough at dollar stores, but a free alternative is to use items from around the house, such as plastic food storage containers or empty yogurt containers.
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CONCOCT A NEW DRINK

Summertime cocktails come in all shapes and sizes. Try playing mixologist and work through the never-ending list of possibilities. Sangria, Bellinis, Pimm's cups, micheladas, mojitos, and mint juleps are just the start.
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TOUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS

Tourists travel hundreds of miles to tour the U.S. Capitol Building, but a local city hall, courthouse, or state capitol building can also be worth exploring. Reservations may be required, but tours are often free.
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VISIT A NATIONAL PARK


National parks are usually inexpensive -- fees range from free to $30 a vehicle for a seven-day pass -- but the National Park Service also offers fee-free days during the year. This summer plan a visit for Aug. 25 to 28, the Park Service's birthday weekend.

Related:Explore One of the Best National Parks in Every State
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VOLUNTEER


With the kids off school, summer is an ideal time to sign everyone up for volunteer opportunities. Teach children the importance of giving back to the community and caring for others.

Related:11 Ways to Get in Shape While Doing Good
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PLAY SIDEWALK GAMES

An empty driveway or sidewalk and a box of brightly colored chalk can inspire children to channel their inner Picasso. Draw self-portraits or shade in the shadows of nearby objects. Throw a small rock into the mix for a classic game of hopscotch or tic-tac-throw.
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PICK PRODUCE

Drive out to a local farm and pick fresh berries, peaches, tomatoes, peppers, and more. Depending where you live, a stroll through a local park can lead to edible treasures, as well.
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CRUISE INTO A DRIVE-IN MOVIE


Drive-in movies combine summer blockbusters with fresh air, engendering nostalgia for some and a new and exciting experience for others. Tickets often cost the same as or less than admission to an indoor theater.

Related:16 Summer Date Ideas That Won't Crimp Your Budget
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READ A CLASSIC

Head to a local used bookstore and pick up one of the classics that's been on your reading list for years. Dedicate a set time each day -- say, 30 minutes in the morning or evening -- and discover why it's part of the canon.
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START A BOOK CLUB

Many people say they want to read more but don't find the time. Add some accountability with a monthly meeting to discuss a book chosen by a group. Focusing on a particular niche, such as women authors, biographies, or business books, can help attract members and make choosing the next book easier.
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LEARN TO PLAY AN INSTRUMENT

Lazy summer days can be filled with music, or at least attempts at playing music. Pick up an instrument (rent one or buy used) and follow along with the many free lessons available on YouTube. Campfire sing-alongs are just a few chords away.
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ORGANIZE A SWAP MEET

Gather friends and family to recycle, rather than retire, items that aren't needed any longer. Swap meets can have a focus, such as clothing or toys, or be open to anything and everything.
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HOST A YARD SALE


Earn money while getting rid of clutter with a yard sale. To draw a bigger crowd of shoppers, combine forces (and sale items) with neighbors or friends.

Related:15 Steps to a Successful Garage Sale
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MAKE ICE CREAM

If you're unlikely to use an ice cream machine more than a few times a year, take a DIY approach featured on Instructables. Gather several plastic bags, milk, sugar, vanilla, ice, and rock salt to make ice cream in less than 20 minutes.
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HOST A THEMED DINNER PARTY

Dinner parties are fun year-round but hold extra enchantment in the summer, when dining al fresco is the thing. Keep costs low by asking others to contribute sides, drinks, and desserts.
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FLOAT IN A LAKE

Buy a cheap inflatable float and spend an afternoon in a lake or swimming hole, staying cool and relaxed in the open air. Seek out a peaceful spot with trees or mountains in the distance.
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GO TUBING DOWN A RIVER

Floating downstream while relaxing in an inner tube sure sounds refreshing. Many tubing destinations offer tube rentals and a shuttle service back to the starting point. For people who will use a tube several times in a summer, buying one for $30 to $40 may be a money saver.
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PLAY A PICKUP GAME

It may be too late to join organized teams, but finding a pickup game at a local park is probably an option. Check Meetup and local event calendars to see if there are organized pickup games, as well.
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BREAK OUT A NEW BOARD GAME

Classic board games are fun, but playing a new game has its own delights. The website Board Game Geek ranks games and provides lists of hot and new ones. An unfamiliar game can draw in family members and provide an extra reason to invite friends over.
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MAKE POPSICLES


Homemade popsicles are healthier than ice cream but just as refreshing. Blend fruit and yogurt into a smoothie and pour into an ice-pop mold (available from many big-box retailers for about $10).

Related:19 Ice Pop Recipes Just for Grown-Ups
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CREATE A WATER PARK


Who says you have to have a pool to throw a pool party? Turn on the sprinklers in the backyard and set up a DIY version of Slip 'N Slide by staking a roll of plastic sheeting into the lawn and letting water spray onto it from a hose.

Related:11 DIY Activities to Keep Kids Occupied All Summer
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MAKE A KITE

Before heading to the park or beach, make a kite. This is inexpensive and fairly easy to do; you can find instructions for different types of kites online.
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LEARN SOMETHING NEW

Kids probably don't like the idea of summer school, so call it summer camp and watch their attitudes change. Adults can take advantage of the extra daylight hours by signing up for outdoor evening fitness classes, or a class held indoors that lets out before dark.
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EXPLORE A BOTANICAL GARDEN

Many cities have a botanical garden that grows and displays plants from around the world. Common exhibits include succulent and cactus greenhouses, herb gardens, exotic plant collections, and special areas dedicated to native plants or flora from a particular region.
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GO FISHING

Unwind on the water with a secluded fishing trip. Return to the family's annual go-to spot, or change things up by trying someplace new.
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ATTEND A PERFORMANCE

Across the country, free dance performances, plays, and concerts are mounted in city parks and amphitheaters all summer long. Check local newspapers and event calendars and prepare a picnic; the best seating often goes to the early birds.
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EAT AT A FOOD FESTIVAL

Look through local event calendars to find a food festival that offers a focus or a variety of cuisines in one setting. From an egg festival in Maine to the Taste of Chicago, the largest food festival in the world, there are plenty to go around. Food truck gatherings are now common, as well.
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BLOW SOMETHING UP


Fireworks are traditional on the Fourth of July, but prices are usually lower after the holiday. The best deals often come when buying in bulk online, although shipping restrictions make this impossible for residents of some states -- and some states ban all fireworks.

Related:12 Dangerous Mistakes People Make Around Fire and Fireworks
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JOIN A LOCAL PARADE

Many towns and cities organize annual parades in the summer; perhaps this is the year to join the procession. Find a local group or organization whose interests you share and sign on to participate in the parade.
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GAWK AT CLASSIC CARS

Blue skies give the okay to take the covers off fancy cars and hit the open road. Look for hot-rod shows, car club gatherings, and special events such as Auburn, Indiana's Summer Cruise-In.
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PACK A PICNIC


A summer picnic at a local park can gather friends and family together. Don't forget bug repellent, sunscreen, a blanket or sheet, and a cooler. Keep things cheap: Use washable cutlery and make inexpensive foods such as a green salad and deviled eggs, complemented with some fresh fruit.

Related:10 Tips for Packing a Budget-Friendly Picnic
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GO MOUNTAIN BIKING

Many ski resorts keep their lifts open after the snow has melted and invite mountain bikers to fly down the slopes. It can be expensive to buy a mountain bike if you don't already have one, but many resorts rent them for about $50 a day.
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BINGE WATCH

Everyone has a TV show or movie they haven't had a chance to watch -- and friends and family who keep reminding them what they're missing. When it's too hot outside, curl up on the couch, turn on the fan, and binge.
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FIND A FUN AIRBNB


Airbnb rentals come in all shapes and sizes, so take a weekend this summer to explore a different kind of lodging. Book a stay in a yurt, an off-the-grid cabin, a treehouse, a houseboat, or even a school-bus-turned-apartment.

Related:50 Unique Vacation Rentals for $85 a Night or Less
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SIGN UP FOR FAMILY CAMP

Family camp lets everyone have fun together. Search online for one nearby that offers room, board, and planned activities. YMCAs sponsor a number of family camps with reasonable fees.
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BUILD A BONFIRE

With safety measures in place, build a bonfire and enjoy watching the flames reach into the sky. Music circles, dancing, and s'mores are encouraged. Stick to the standard-issue chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker combo, or try something new and creative.
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CREATE A SCAVENGER HUNT

Plan and set up a scavenger hunt for kids that can keep them busy all day -- or make it the foundation for a special date with a significant other.
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LEARN A LANGUAGE

Planning an international trip this summer? It's the perfect opportunity to learn a few basic words and phrases in another tongue. Learning a language can be hard, but it doesn't need to be expensive. There are many free online tools and smartphone apps that make learning a language fun.
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MAKE A BIRDHOUSE

Building a birdhouse can be child's play or a full-blown DIY carpentry challenge. No matter what the finished product looks like, a well-stocked birdhouse in the yard or outside a window will attract feathered friends. Sit back and observe.
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LEARN A NEW CRAFT

Learn how to sew, knit, or crochet this summer, or take up scrapbooking, pottery, or painting. Research suggests that crafts can serve as a natural anti-depressant, increase cognitive ability, and even improve reasoning skills.
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WALK THE NEIGHBOR'S DOG

If you don't have a dog, get a four-legged fix by offering to walk neighbors' dogs. Not only will it get you outside, it's a great conversation starter and way to meet people.
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EXPLORE THE LOCAL LIBRARY


Libraries can be a trove of summertime activity. From book clubs to readings, many host free and kid-friendly events throughout the summer. Check the calendar listings for the local branch.

Related:Amazing Libraries in All 50 States
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GO CAMPING

Camping can actually be quite costly if you're not careful. Search for campsites that cost $20 or less a night. National and state parks often charge some of the lowest fees.
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GO BACKPACKING

Take camping to the next level by going on a weeklong backpacking trip. Be sure to train beforehand with shorter hikes, and research whether trail permits are required before setting off.
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HAVE A CAMPOUT INDOORS

If it's too hot and buggy, bring the experience of a night in the great outdoors inside. Set up a small tent, turn off the lights, and tell ghost stories from the coziness of a sleeping bag.
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HAVE A WATER BALLOON FIGHT

A good, old-fashioned water balloon fight is a quintessential summer activity. Pick up some water balloons, grab a hose, and let the soaking-wet games begin.
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SEE A MOVIE


For a timeout from the sun, head to a local movie theater for a few hours of air-conditioned entertainment. Matinees are generally the cheapest way to go, although some theaters offer two-for-one ticket deals or deeply discounted prices for older films.

Related:10 Ways to Save Money at the Movies
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GO STARGAZING

It's mesmerizing to lie on the ground looking up at the stars on a warm summer night. Grab a blanket and head to an open space with minimal light pollution. Download an app for a phone or tablet to identify what's overhead.
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GO BOWLING

When summer temperatures get up there, escape to the air-conditioned coolness of the local bowling alley. Many offer free bowling for kids -- check out Kids Bowl Free to see if the program is available nearby. Registered children get two free games daily (shoe rental not included), and there's a $25 family pass that covers adults.
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HAVE AN OUTDOOR MOVIE NIGHT

A movie projector and somewhere to shine it -- a wall or dropcloth -- are all it takes to host an open-air movie night. Projectors can often be rented, and some good consumer models sell for less than $100, which can be a good investment for movie lovers who enjoy entertaining. Babble has some ideas for hosting a slightly fancier event.
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TRY GEOCACHING

Tap your inner explorer with this worldwide scavenger hunt powered by a GPS-enabled device. Just sign up for a free Geocaching account and download the app.
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BUILD SOMETHING

Lowe's Build and Grow workshops may be heavily branded (auto racing and superheroes are prominent), but they're free and give children an opportunity to build something out of wood. The store provides everything needed to tackle a project, including kid-size tools and goggles!
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WRITE TO A PEN PAL

The art of letter writing is fading, but there's still something satisfying about opening the mailbox to find a piece of handwritten snail mail. Making a friend through the Global Pen Friends system can open up a new culture, as well -- and maybe somewhere to stay on a trip overseas.
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BLOW BUBBLES

While away an afternoon blowing bubbles. Just mix 1 cup of water to 1 tablespoon dish soap, and add 1 tablespoon of sugar for less popping. If you're feeling especially creative, make wands of different shapes by bending old wire hangers.
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CATCH FIREFLIES

There's nothing quite like catching twinkling fireflies on a warm summer night. Use a net or cupped hands and place the brightly lit beauties into a clear jar with holes punched in the top. (Let them go after a day or two.)
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MAKE LEMONADE FROM SCRATCH

There's nothing like a cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer day. Easy instructions for this classic drink are posted on Allrecipes.
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GO BEACHCOMBING


Stroll along a favorite stretch of beach and search for seashells. For the best shelling, go an hour before or after low tide. Also, keep moon phases in mind -- a full or new moon creates the most extreme tides.

Related:50 of the Best Beaches in America
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MAKE A SUMMER PLAYLIST

Skip the radio and create a personalized playlist to accompany summer adventures. Top 40 songs get tiresome in heavy rotation (there's only so much Justin Bieber a person can handle) and don't have as much meaning as a custom soundtrack.
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ORGANIZE A POTLUCK


To get together and eat with friends or neighbors without doing all the work, plan a potluck. Holding it in a nearby park frees you from having to host or getting saddled with all the cleanup.