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Parents: Don’t Let Budget Beat Summer Fun

OK, so your budget for summer camps and family trips looks a little worn down this year due to the economy - but that's no excuse to cut fun out of the budget altogether. There are still many ways to enjoy the summer without going overboard with your finances.

- Take a bike ride with the family. From touring the neighborhood or cycling to the nearest park, make a day of it. Have a family planning day to plot out a route or destination. Pack a lunch or some hearty snacks, fill a reusable water bottle and strap on your helmets. Don't own bikes? Call a local bike shop or sports shop to inquire about rentals or ask friends if you may borrow their bikes for a few hours.

- Take a hike with a purpose. Instead of hiking in the woods, hike around the perimeter of your neighborhood. Bring some paper (graph paper if you have it) so you can etch out a map of your community. Don't know how to start making a simple map? Talk to your children's librarian about borrowing a book on map making.

- Speaking of the library, make sure you check out summer reading and other activity programs. Generally libraries have programs for all ages - from infants to teens - and these programs get amped up over the summertime. For instance, our local library shows PG movies for little ones and gives older ones a chance to try their hand at a foreign language. No library nearby? Check for a book mobile schedule.

- Get to a national park on one of the "Fee Free Weekends" this summer: dates start with this weekend, June 20-21 and include July 18-19 as well as Aug. 15 and 16. Got to: www.nps.gov/pub(UNDERSCORE)aff/parks2009/index.htm to check for a list of family fun events at each park. According to the Interior Department, most Americans live less than a day's drive from a national park.

- Plant an herb garden either in ground, in containers or window boxes. Read about different herbs before you plant to decide which go best with what your family likes to eat. Collect and try various recipes that use the herbs you've planted.

- Organize a community water olympics. Gather a group of neighbors, family and friends and head to the backyard or park. Get the older kids to help the younger ones with organized activities. Here is one game to get you started: Get four buckets or containers. Fill two with water and leave two empty. Put the two filled buckets in a line near each other; in the opposite direction, a few yards away, put the two empty ones next to each other in a direct line with the filled buckets. Arrange two teams for relay near the filled buckets. Each team gets a sponge; the first runner fills the sponge with water, races to the empty bucket to squeeze the sponge into it and pass it on to the next runner. The team with the most water in the bucket at the end wins. During your prep for the big day, have the children make medals for each participant by cutting circles from cardboard, writing "Winner" on each and attaching to ribbons.

Tip from the parenting trenches

Save, and collect from neighbors, recyclable soda cans, plastic containers and glass bottles to turn in for cash at a recycling center (often located near supermarkets). The pocket change collected as a result of this project will add up so that you may treat yourselves to a Summer Sundae Fest or night at the movies.

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