Summer ends Sept. 22, and although it seems like the season flies by, there's still time for summery activities. Take advantage of free and low-cost offerings in your area, and get some practical stuff done. Here are 25 things to do before the weather turns and the school year starts.
25 Things to Do Before the End of Summer
Parks all over the country show movies and concerts during the summer. You can sit on the lawn, have a picnic, and enjoy the entertainment, surrounded by fellow locals. (Cheapism.com assembled a guide to free concerts in 15 U.S. cities.) It's always worth checking your community's website, social media pages, and parks department for showings and performances. The free Bandsintown app (for iOS and Android) enables easy searches for concerts in and beyond urban areas.
If you're still feeling withdrawal from the Peabody-winning podcast "Serial," which wrapped last winter, you're not alone (and don't worry -- NPR has confirmed that a second and third season are coming). But there are tons of podcasts out there to obsess over this summer, so find a new fandom to join. Popular titles include "Freakonomics Radio," "On Being," "Radiolab," "Stuff You Should Know," and "Undisclosed," which examines the same case as "Serial."
Ocean waters are at their highest temperatures in August, usually reaching somewhere in the comfortable 75- to 85-degree range depending on the region. This goes for lakes as well, although the far north waters run slightly cooler. What are you waiting for? Find a stylish, affordable swimsuit and a swimming hole near you and take the plunge. For the kids, head to dollar stores for cheap beach toys including water noodles, rafts, buckets and shovels, sand toys, and beach balls. Don't forget the sunscreen.
Making popsicles is a fun summer activity for the whole family, and searching for recipes on Pinterest yields seemingly endless variety. Pick up a set of reusable popsicle molds, which sell at Amazon, Walmart, and Target for as little as $10, and you'll be ready to go. Try making smoothie popsicles out of cheap summer fruits that will be harder to find fresh next season, such as watermelon, cherries, and berries.
June, July, and August are storm season compared with the rest of the year. Take some time to enjoy a thunderstorm safely by lighting a few candles, sitting on the porch, or simply watching from the window. Interesting fact: A 2013 study of 58,000 Facebook users suggested that "liking" thunderstorms (as well as "The Colbert Report" and curly fries, apparently) is a strong predictor of high intelligence.
Visiting and exploring a new-to-you neighborhood, town, or city near your own can be a fun, cheap activity on an idle summer day. Look at a map and go, or use the AroundMe app and website to identify places of interest and get directions. Summer is a good time for trying new activities, as well, so check out nearby libraries for free or inexpensive summer reading programs, free workshops, classes, arts and crafts, movie screenings, and more. Also, look into activities at community recreation centers for free or low-cost end-of-summer memories.
Summer months are buzzing with street festivals and parades. Popular festival themes include food and beverage, holidays, heritage, history, music, art, and more, so there's something for everyone. Admission is usually free, under $10, or by donation. Most cities post comprehensive festival guides online. Check out community centers for smaller town events. Festivals.com is also an excellent resource.
Summer is berry season, and blueberry and strawberry farms often invite guests to pick their own. The top states in blueberry production are Michigan, Oregon, Washington, Georgia, and New Jersey. Pick-your-own strawberries are most abundant in California, Florida, Oregon, North Carolina, and Washington. Not to worry, though: There are berry farms throughout the country. Berry picking is a family-friendly summer activity that yields a tasty souvenir to bring home. Pay by the pound and don't be afraid to load up: Freeze the fruit and use it in pastries and smoothies through the winter. In addition, tomatoes, watermelons, and summer squash are at their peak in August. Check out the map at Epicurious for seasonal ingredients in your state, then visit PickYourOwn.org to learn where to harvest the freshest fruits and vegetables.
Invite family and friends over for a barbecue -- one that won't cost a fortune. The cheapest meats include pork shoulder and chops, beef brisket and burgers, lamb breast, chicken, and chuck eye steak. Inexpensive veggies to grill during the summer are corn, red and Vidalia onions, eggplant, potatoes, zucchini, asparagus, bell peppers, and green beans. If you're grill-less, Cheapism has a guide to quality, low-price options.
Putting off learning a language? Want to know about something you missed in school, such as ancient Rome, game theory, or how currency works? There are thousands of free online courses from renowned universities. Most are audio and/or video courses, and many are interactive, so it's almost like being a real student, except that you're at home and learning on your own schedule. Check out the list of more than 1,000 options at Open Culture and the website Coursera.
Prep and plant your garden in late summer, and you should have abundant crops to harvest when fall arrives. For gardening in July, August, and September, Urban Farmers suggests planting beans, carrots, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, spinach, radishes, and cover crops, which are various seeds that add nutrients to the soil for the upcoming year. If you reap more than you can use, consider selling some crops at a farmers market to make a bit of side money. Gardening even has mood-lifting and stress-relieving effects.
Find a sunny lounge spot and indulge in a crime thriller, a light piece of chick lit, or a young adult dystopian fantasy. Just don't overpay -- there are lots of sources of free and cheap ebooks. Libraries are perfect for picks you won't want to own or reread, and most offer free ebooks for download to electronic devices. Also check out BookLending.com, a service that lets you borrow and lend ebooks for free. Thrift stores are a good place to score hard copies for super low prices.
This is the cheapest season to buy summer clothes, office supplies, camping gear, and more. Toward the tail end of summer, start looking at holiday travel deals. Keep in mind that some states offer tax-free weekends in August for school supplies and clothing. Finally, Labor Day and the preceding weekend are associated with clearance sales for major purchases such as appliances and cars.
U.S. national parks are a cheap, worthwhile family excursion. Visit one near you and hike one of the many trails. Entrance fees tend to run $10 to $30 a vehicle, though there are ways to save. Take advantage of fee-free days -- the next two are Aug. 26 (the birthday of the National Park Service) and, just a few days after summer's end, Sept. 26 (National Public Lands Day). Another option to explore: national monuments, protected historical and natural landmarks where entrance fees are often lower than those at national parks.
If you missed spring cleaning, the more leisurely summer months are a great time to declutter and purge your stuff. A tip from the best-selling Marie Kondo book everyone is talking about: Ask yourself if an item brings you joy; if not, it goes. Sell or donate unused clothing, shoes, books, and bric-a-brac. The Simple Dollar shows how purging will save you money, even if you don't sell anything.
Most museums feature free days or free afternoon or evening hours. Typically these opportunities are offered during the week, making it a challenge to plan a visit during the school year, so make the most of summer freedom. Other museums are always free or "pay what you will," so search for local options.
Before school starts and it's harder to coordinate family activities, round up the troops to participate in a school-supply drive, serve food at the local soup kitchen, walk shelter dogs, or play bingo at a retirement home. For families with older children, building homes through Habitat for Humanity can be rewarding. For high schoolers, community service is sometimes required or recommended for college applications, and with few demands on students' time, summer is the moment to rack up those volunteer hours.
Whether it's a major league, minor league, or amateur club game, this is a quintessential summer activity not to be missed. Minor league baseball games, especially, are a cheap, child-friendly option; kids often get to meet the players and join in on-field activities. Weekday games are usually the cheapest, and if you wait as late as possible to buy baseball tickets, you can score a sweet deal.
It's a controversial etiquette point, famously opposed by Coco Chanel, but nevertheless, many people quote "no white after Labor Day" as a fashion rule. Obviously white clothes are generally cooler; historians call the rule a status symbol dating to 1920s elites who left dingy cities for warmer climates, then changed their wardrobes when returning after Labor Day. The "Great Gatsby" look can be emulated on a budget at stores such as Old Navy and Target. Then strap on a pair of designer look-alike sandals and enjoy the sunshine.
There's no need for an expensive appliance to make this classic summer treat. There are ways to churn ice cream at home that cost less than the store-bought stuff. One nifty method calls for a resealable plastic bag and salt. We found the results to be pretty tasty but recommend heavy cream instead of milk.
Some say it's a dying art, but a thoughtful letter or postcard can really make someone's day. Blue Mountain has free printable greeting cards, and the website Teaching with TLC provides a fun guide for teaching letter writing to kids. Once they've nailed it, help them seek out a pen pal for the coming year.