It's almost summertime and families are concerned about stretching their dollars to have enough for some recreational time together.
Marilyn Sullivan, a family and consumer resource educator with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, said a trait of healthy families is the time they reserve for fun activities together and that it is important to designate the time.
"It allows you to build a family identity, a sense of unity and memories for the future. Furthermore, research tells us that strong families eat, play, work and share outside activities together."
Extended daylight and time off from work or school in the summer can provide family members with bonus hours to find meaningful and sufficient time together to recharge family bonds.
Unfortunately, family recreation expenses are among the first to be cut from stretched budgets.
Sullivan points out that having family fun and doing so within a budget are not mutually exclusive choices.
There are many creative and inexpensive ways for a family to experience a fun and enjoyable summer.
The key is to focus on what the family is trying to accomplish during its free time.
Families paying off credit cards and installment loans, or saving for an important goal will be challenged to balance fun and finances.
Family recreation expenses shouldn't interrupt the financial plan, but be part of the plan according to Sullivan.
If a family is genuinely striving to reach an important goal by funneling money in that direction, then the recreational activities will have to be thrifty.
The best money management tool to help keep costs under control is a summer budget. Families will have to do some planning ahead about what to do, the costs, and arrive at a total estimate that won't be exceeded.
The cost of gas will have to be part of that estimate. Sullivan asserts that after taking a look at the family's fixed expenses and flexible expenses, and analyzing how these can be pared down, there may be more surplus money for family summer fun than previously expected.
A family needs to take a look at its needs as well, since they may change with the seasons.
A decline in winter-related expenses may free up dollars for the summer budget.
Sullivan reminds families that the extra things they spend money on beyond the daily basics, uses up funds that could be used for summer family activities. "Families need to think about how to recapture those disappearing dollars."
When thinking about family needs and wants and re-adjustment of spending, families also need to think about activities that offer the most pleasure, satisfaction, and "wow" for the buck. Families should think of ways to allow them to use their resources where they will do the most good and go the farthest.
Sullivan said families can achieve their summertime goals by finding ways to economize: substituting with less expensive choices, conserving by avoiding waste, utilizing what they already have in new ways, working cooperatively with relatives, friends and neighbors to obtain goods and services, and scanning their community for low-cost opportunities.
Family members should gather together for a brainstorming session of appealing activities.
They should look for commonalities or a theme among the ideas and select those that are appropriate for all family members' ages and stages. Dates should be selected and family times should be marked on the calendar.
Sullivan reminds families that if plans include activities at home, then phone calls should be ignored and errands and housekeeping chores should be set aside for another time. "Even if you are staying at home, you want it to feel like a vacation."
Susan Taylor, an Extension Educator in Consumer and Family Economics, with the University of Illinois Extension suggests the following low-cost, fun activities.
Fun Activities to do at home:
Picnic lunch and games in your backyard.
Go "camping" in your backyard. Set up a tent, cook outside, and build a fire for roasting marshmallows. Sing around the campfire before going to sleep.
Plant vegetable and flower seeds/plants and watch them grow in the ground or in containers.
Have an evening to play board games like Junior Monopoly, Game of Life, Scrabble, checkers or card games like Uno. Have pizza and make it a festive time.
Try some creativity ideas. Create puppets and put on a puppet show. Put together problem-solving puzzles. Share stories. Have a spelling bee. Experiment with bubbles. Play charades.
Play simple outdoor games like jump rope or hop scotch. Fly a kite or rollerblade.
Rent or borrow a video, make your own popcorn, and watch the movie as a family.
Fun Activities to do in the Community:
Visit the local library to see their selection of videos, books and programs. Attend a story hour, craft time or summer lesson.
Borrow museum passes from your local library.
Walk on an established trail; bring a wildlife, bird or tree identification book; start a collection of tree leaves, flowers or rocks.
Enjoy your local park or forest preserve by packing a lunch. Take some games or Frisbee and play in the park.
Eat breakfast out as a family. It is often more reasonable than other meals.
Attend local events in the neighborhood and community like parades, festivals and band concerts.
Try a matinee movie or a movie at a second-run theater as the ticket prices will be less.
Visit an aquarium or planetarium or an art, children's or science museum.
Swim at the local pool or beach.
Whether you stay home, take day trips, or leave town a family should set a goal to create fond memories of their time together and a feeling of satisfaction that the time and money was well spent.