Summertime – warm weather, longer days, and the familiar cries of “Mom, Dad! We’re bored!!”
With that battle cry, parents everywhere shake their heads in disbelief that their kids can’t find anything to do with their 832 million toys. But, let’s face it — the kids can only run through the sprinkler so many times before boredom sets in. Even we adults grow tired of being home.
So, we head out on adventures and explore the area around us. But that often comes at a price. Let’s face it: admissions alone to various attractions can get expensive. Add what you can spend once you get past the gates, and a day out with your family can get downright expensive.
I love to look for deals. I’d almost go as far to say it’s my hobby! Yes, searching for the right deal can take time. But, I get excited for the thrill of hunting for savings. In the end, our wallets repeatedly thank me.
The following list contains suggestions for helping stretch your budget this summer. Some might seem a little obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve talked to who have said, “I had no idea about that!” So, you just might find an idea in here you never thought of!
Sign up and Follow!
Believe it or not, your affinity for social media can pay off! If you know of particular attractions/parks that you may want to visit, sign up for their email list. Give them a follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well. Many attractions routinely email special promotions or post them to their social media accounts.
It’s also worth noting that many attractions, like Edaville Railroad, will promote buy one, get one free ticket offers if purchased in advance (often in the off-season) on their Facebook page. While it’s hard to think about warm weather when you just finished your Thanksgiving turkey, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are often popular times for attractions to post their deals.
Be sure to check social media sites shortly before your planned visit. Unfortunately, timing for these deals can be hard to pinpoint. Bottom line: it’s always worth checking ahead of time. We once serendipitously scored a free admission ticket when I saw an Instagram promotion for an attraction we planned to visit that very day.
Which segues to…..
Take Advantage of “Special” Days
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are often big promotional days for local parks, zoos, and other attractions. You can usually check websites for possible promotions for Moms and Dads getting in free. There are often promotions around Grandparents’ Day and Memorial Day as well.
Some destinations offer reduced or free admission on certain days as well. For example, Roger Williams Park Zoo offers free admission for Providence residents (with a valid ID) every first Saturday of the month. Providence Children’s Museum offers a monthly Friday “Free at Five” event with free admission after 5pm one designated Friday per month.
Check your Local Library
Most local libraries offer one day passes for reduced admission to places such as Biomes and Mystic Aquarium. You can even reserve these passes up to two weeks in advance of your visit via your local library’s website.
Don’t have a valid library card? No worries! It takes about 5 minutes to sign up at your local branch.
When all else fails, Google! About 2 years ago I found the local branch through some Google searching in advance of a New Hampshire vacation. The passbook contains coupons focused on various attractions throughout New England. Most of the discounts are a free children’s admission with the purchase of an adult admission. While the coupon book does come at a fee, we broke even our first use. Bottom line, it certainly never hurts to use your favorite search engine to check on any potential savings or coupons.
Also, be sure to crowdsource. Ask your friends, family, and co-workers! Ask on Facebook and Twitter. A few years ago, I discovered that RI state beaches stop charging for admission at 5pm most nights though Facebook. We’ve made several dinnertime trips to the beach. It’s frankly an awesome time to go! The beach is quiet, the sun isn’t blistering, and the kids have a blast (note that there are no lifeguards at this time though, so be vigilant). While we haven’t sworn off visiting the beach earlier in the day, it’s nice to know we can make a visit and not have to pay for parking if we go later in the day.
Pack Lunches, Set Budgets
Okay, so you’ve gotten into your attraction of choice (at a discount!), but now everything inside the gates has you seeing dollar signs. There are a lot of easy ways you can soften the blow to your wallet.
First of all, we pack lunches nearly everywhere we go. Most parks and attractions are fine with this (but if you are unsure, check before you go).
Another option is to visit early or late in the day. My kids are still young, so after 3 hours at an aquarium, they’ve had their fill. Therefore, we sometimes aim to get to our destination around opening, with just some snacks and drinks packed. Then, come lunch time, we leave the park and we will go get something to eat offsite. Yes, we’re still spending money, but it’s usually much less than what we would spend inside the attraction.
I don’t often let my kids loose in a gift shop. But if it’s our first visit or somewhere extra special, I’ll allow them to pick one small item. Or, now that my older son is grasping the concept of money, we’ll give him a small amount and help him stay in “budget.” While these may seem obvious steps, setting parameters ahead of time can curb the “but I want that!!!” cries.
Search out “free” (or, close to free) attractions/events
One of my favorite things about Rhode Island is that though it may be small, there are so many things to do in our tiny state! If you are looking for a free destination besides your local playground, you might need to dig around a bit. But, I think some of our best family adventures have been those one-off events I’ve found with a little research. Some ideas include:
- Visit a farmers market. Yes, you may end up buying food there. But at least you will likely have something to show for it! We frequent the Hope Street Farmers Market. It has a wide variety of vendors and the benefit of a cute playground as well. It’s a great way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday morning.
- Touch-a-Truck Events are great as most do not charge admission fees. There are usually several held in the area over the summer months.
- Many local petting zoos do not charge a fee, or charge only a nominal fee for entry (and usually for animal food). We love Festival Farm in Hope Valley.
- Visit RI State Parks. They have no admission fees and are a great way to explore our state with your family. Pack a lunch, a picnic blanket, and a kite or two, and visit Brenton Point Park. Go for a hike at Lincoln Woods. Or, pack a bathing suit and take a dip at Goddard State Park.
While summer vacation can get pricy, a little time and research can usually help to stretch your dollars. This list certainly isn’t all-inclusive, but it’s a start. If you have a great money-saving tip below, please share it with us!