Your favorite restaurants have reopened, celebrities are posting vacation selfies from Italy, concerts are back, and everyone is making out everywhere. Summer 2021 is here.
After more than a year spent hunkered down, like many you may be itching to get back into the world. There are parties to go to, trips to be taken, and (vaccinated) people to hug! And as much as you might have the urge to Do All the Things, it’s sometimes easy to forget that All the Things … can cost money.
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The good news: There is no shortage of ways to enjoy this summer, spend time with your loved ones, and try new things that won’t have you broke by September. From restaurant crawls to participating in an epic Friendlympics (not to be confused with the actual Olympics), we’ve rounded up 10 creative ways to have fun on a budget.
1. Go thrifting
Treat yourself to a little retail therapy with a day of thrifting because you deserve it (and also because buying secondhand clothing isn’t only cheaper, it’s more sustainable!). Grab a friend and make a day of hitting up your local thrift stores and vintage shops in search of hidden gems (bonus points for discounted designer items) from decades past. Take it a step further by incorporating a little competition: Make it a rule that you can only spend $20 or less.
2. Volunteer at an animal shelter
Helping out at an animal shelter is a win-win situation: The animals get some extra TLC, and you’ll get to snuggle some adorable furry friends in the process. Contact your local shelter to see how you can lend a hand, and if you aren’t able to volunteer but still want a dose of puppy serotonin, many doggy day cares take volunteers to help with playtime (the best time!). You can also ask a friend if you can give them a break and borrow their pup for an afternoon. Bring them to the park, play fetch, and take a snooze on the couch with your new BFF before returning them home.
3. The return of the house party
There’s nary a gathering that rivals a good ol’ fashioned house party. You know the kind we’re talking about: great music, drinks in every hand, friends, friends of friends, and even friends of those friends all milling about, filling a room (or backyard!) with good company, good conversation, and plenty of laughs. Hosting a lot of people at one’s house might seem daunting, both mentally and financially, but a great house party doesn’t take much: a few well-placed bowls of snacks and small bites, some well thought out seating arrangements, and a good house cocktail. Simply ask guests to bring a bottle of their choosing, and let the festivities roll on all night.
4. Take a (discounted) trip to the museum
A museum visit is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon immersed in culture — as well as air-conditioning. Though tickets can get pricey, especially in cities, it pays to do a little research ahead of time. Many museums, galleries, and exhibits will offer “pay as you wish” rates and discounts on certain days. You can also take advantage of student discounts and late museum hours, which can sometimes mean free admission.
5. Visit a botanical garden
If you’d prefer to be outside on a summer day, wandering around a botanical garden is a peaceful way to escape the busyness of everyday life and reconnect with nature. Most major cities are home to a botanical garden, where you can find yourself in an oasis filled with thousands of plants, intricate sculptures, and fountain displays. Before you go and (literally) smell the roses, check ahead of time for discounted tickets and free-admission days.
6. Be a tourist in your own city or town
With the world reopening, plane tickets and hotel prices are skyrocketing as people race to book trips. But if being a tourist in a new city or country just isn’t in the cards for you this summer, you can still be a tourist in your town. A stroll on the boardwalk or beach and checking out pizza places and parks you’ve never visited before are great ways to gain a newfound appreciation for people, places, and things you may normally take for granted. So, bring a friend along and make a “pick your own adventure” day of visiting hometown spots that are both new and “old” to you, be it your childhood playground or your town’s best diner for waffles. Hint: Fully embrace being a tourist by taking a Polaroid camera with you to capture the day’s moments.
7. Do a restaurant crawl
Why dine at one restaurant in one evening when you can dine at four for the price of one? A restaurant crawl is a great way to experience new cuisines without overspending. Begin your crawl at happy hour with drinks at one location, swing by a second restaurant for some light bites or appetizers, move to a third for your entrée, and then hit up an ice cream shop for dessert for the grand finale. Your stomach and wallet will be equally satisfied.
8. Have your own Friendlympics
Channel your inner kid for the day by participating in a little friendly competition — with your own Friendlympics. When you aren’t watching the Tokyo Games this summer, grab anywhere from 10 to 30 (or more!) friends and square off in a string of outdoor games meant to inspire some healthy competitive spirit and a few laughs. Water-balloon tosses, tug of war, relay races, or one I just learned from a friend: Poop the Potato, where a player has to put a potato between their thighs, waddle across a field, and drop it into a bucket. If you’ve got a few extra dollars to spare, buy each team some fancy bandanas to establish team colors. Unlike the real Olympics, medals are optional.
9. Set up an adult inflatable pool
While no doubt fun, a trip to the beach can be expensive during the summer: gas for the car ride, the parking fees, the overpriced hot dogs, etc. But what if there was a way to cool off every day during the summer for roughly $100 total? While it’s not the same as the ocean, an adult-size inflatable pool comes pretty close. Lightweight and easy to assemble, an aboveground pool set is perfect for splashing around in your backyard during the hottest days of the year. Plus, you don’t ever have to worry about the sand or seaweed.
10. Indulge with an ice cream maker
Did you know that during the summer you have permission to consume ice cream every day without consequence? Of course, your accountant may disagree, but there’s a way to work around this. Our solution: Invest in an ice cream maker. When you’re making your own ice cream at home, the flavor possibilities are endless. You can host an ice cream social with friends! You can even make a few bucks by setting up an ice cream stand in your neighborhood if you’re feeling entrepreneurial. But really it’s just an excuse for you to (cheaply) indulge in some deliciousness each day.
Taylor Trudon is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York. You can find her on Twitter.
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