1. Buy local passes
Rather than pay full price to get into your favorite local water park, movie theater or aquarium, buy a summer or annual pass. This way you don't have to cram as many attractions into one day. With an aquarium pass, you can focus on the shark exhibits one visit and the orca and marine mammal exhibits the next. So how much can an annual pass save you? Well, take this example: it would cost $53.85 for my husband, daughter and me to get into the Seattle Aquarium—and that's just for one visit! For $95 all three of us can get into the aquarium all year long. That means the pass pays for itself in less than two visits! Click here and enter your zip code to find the best deals in your hometown.
2. Start an activity co-op
Open the doors to Camp Mom! Rather than spend money sending your kids to a real camp (which can cost up to $600 a week), arrange a free activity co-op with your neighbors and child's friends. So what exactly is an activity co-op? Each week, a parent hosts an activity for the kids. Whether it is spending an afternoon crafting (try having each kid make masks by decorating a paper grocery bag with paint and markers — then have them chase each other around the yard!), going hiking in the forest, or spending a day at the beach, your kid is sure to have some summer fun.
3. Head to the zoo
Did you know that some zoos offer free admission? Check here to see if there is a free zoo in your area. If there isn't a free zoo close by, check your local zoo for discount hours or coupons. Zoos typically allow you to bring your own food into the park, so you can skip the expensive concessions stand and picnic next to the orangutans! Be aware that not everything is free—you will typically have to pay for parking and specialized exhibits and shows. So be sure to scour the zoo's website ahead of time and decide which exhibits you are willing to pay for.
4. Take a hike
What's better than hiking through the forest on a warm summer day with your family? Not having to pay for said hike! More than 100 national parks offer free admission several weekends a year. Check here for the dates. It costs $20 per car to enter Yosemite National Park, but if my family waits until August 25th, we can get in for free!
5. Go bowling
I think my kids love watching me bowl more than actually bowling themselves. I'm guessing this is because I usually wind up throwing the ball behind me or in the next lane over. But I can endure the laughter as long as our family is having fun—and we are saving some serious money! Click here to get two free kids' bowling games all summer long—that's two games PER DAY! Considering one game costs $5 per child at my local bowling alley, I'd be saving $450 if we bowled every day of the summer! After you register on the page, you will receive an email every Sunday containing the printable weekly bowling vouchers. Each center has its own guidelines in terms of shoe rental costs, age, and start and end-of-program dates. Be sure to check the column on the right side of your bowling center's registration page for all the details. Unfortunately, adults do not get in for free. But you can buy a Family Summer Pass for $24.95 that includes up to two games per day for up to four adults.
6. Check out your museum
Bank of America customers can score free admission to over 150 museums nationwide when they flash their Bank of America debit or credit card. Click here to find a museum near you! This offer is only valid on the first weekend of every month and only applies to cardholders—not their guests. But guess what? Kids five and under (and sometimes 12 and under!) generally get free admission to museums, anyway!
7. Attend a workshop
Many home improvement stores offer free workshops to keep kids busy throughout the summer. For example, Lowe's has a Build and Grow clinic each month where kids get to build wood craft projects like frames and bird houses. Your child will even get safety goggles, a work apron, a certificate, and a project completion patch! The Home Depot also offers a free workshop on the first Saturday of every month at 9:00 a.m. Besides getting to build a cool craft like a pencil holder or herb planter, kids get a free work apron, certificate of achievement, and commemorative pin!