5 Priceless Summer Memories to Make on a Single Dad Budget

“What are your plans for the summer?” I asked my friend, a single mom, thinking she might mention a quick weekend getaway with her daughter. “I don’t know, but it bums me out to think about it,” she replied, adding, “I want it to be special, but ‘special’ typically comes with a high price tag.” I agreed that memorable but inexpensive summer activities are hard to come by.

Then I said, “Want help coming up with some ideas?” She took me up on the offer, and we started by having her name her hopes for the summer. She said relaxation, adventure, and connection. If those things matter to you, too, and you’re working with a meager budget, here are 5 priceless summer memories you can make.

1. Share a sunset.

Last summer, I promised my sons a trip to the beach. A family emergency pushed back the day’s schedule, and we didn’t get to the beach until after four. At first, we all felt like we’d been cheated out of a day of fun, but watching my kids splash in the waves at sunset and feeling the warm breeze on my face made for a perfect evening.

There’s something about the sunset that takes a normal activity and transforms it into something meaningful. It’s like you’re living in a piece of artwork. So pick up some dessert after dinner and sit on a park bench with your kids. Or pack a bag and head to the closest lake or beach and toss a frisbee to close out the day.

2. Let loose with a No Rules Day or Night.

If adventure is on your list, I promise your kids will always remember the day Dad said, “There are no rules for the next 24 hours!” My friend did a No Rules Day, and his kids made banana splits for breakfast. As far as inexpensive summer activities go, you can’t get much cheaper than this because a No Rules Day is free.

As long as you’re respectful of each another and other people’s property, the sky’s the limit. Which reminds me, my friend’s kids also got on the roof and star gazed in the middle of the night.

3. Zoolander.

Summer is a time to act silly, make a mess, and use your imagination. A fashion show checks all those boxes. Pick some themes: the seasons, wacky and weird, or formal wear. Give everyone time to plan their outfits, and then put on some music with a fun beat. After one person finishes strutting, the next can go throw on her ensemble. And you have to participate. The best way to make priceless memories with your kids is to join the fun.

Get smart and use a fashion show to clean out your kids’ closets. The theme could be “too small,” and the kids have to find clothes they’ve outgrown. Challenge your models not to laugh as they waddle the runway in tiny pajamas. That’s an inexpensive summer activity that’s entertaining and functional.

4. Learn a DIY skill.

Most home supply stores like Home Depot or Lowes have free DIY classes for kids over the summer. They’ll learn how to use tools, measure, and cut, and you’ll probably pick up a few useful skills while you supervise. The best part is that while it appears as though they’re just building a birdhouse, your kids are actually building confidence by gaining knowledge and a new skill set. 

5. Have a “Best in Town” contest.

What food do your kids love? Tacos? Spaghetti? Fries? Make a scoring sheet with whatever criteria you want: taste, presentation, value, wow factor… Each week, visit a different restaurant that offers that food, and at the end of the summer, crown the winner. You could even let the kids create an award certificate and present it to the restaurant manager. And try emailing corporate with the news. You might get a freebie or two.

Sound off: What other inexpensive summer activities make priceless memories?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What are some things you’d like to do this summer?”