When John and I were first married, we didn’t have a lot of money for extras. Even now, we watch our spending, but back then, we watched every penny. You see, a month after we married, both of our old cars decided to fall apart… within a week of each other. We had to purchase a new car on one income, since I had left my stable teaching career in order to move to where John was stationed. It was a pretty precarious time for us financially. And maybe you’ve been there too. (I hope you didn’t lose both of your cars in one week. That’s pretty awful.) But maybe you’ve had your own financial struggles. Or maybe you’re just frugal and like to stretch a dollar. No matter what, summer is a time where there are a lot of opportunities available, especially for military families to enjoy, at discounted or free rates. So let’s talk turkey… or, rather, let’s talk adventure.
1. Amusement parks
What says “summer” more than eating a bunch of junk food, spinning around in a circle, riding a roller coaster, or enjoying a lazy river? There are so many amusement parks–both local ones and national chains–that offer free admission (thank you, Busch Gardens!) or discounts (including Disney World!). You can do a quick Google search to find out where and when these offers are valid close to you. If you live in Pennsylvania, Virginia, or Florida, I’ve already done the work for you.
Need an inexpensive way to get the kids out of the house for a bit? Check out Blue Star Museums, a program run by Blue Star Families in partnership with the NEA. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, thousands of museums around the country allow active duty military, National Guard, Reservists, and their families free admission. Many of these museums are kid-friendly like expERIEnce Children’s Museum in Erie, PA, the New Children’s Museum in San Diego, CA, and The Hermitage Museum and Gardens in Norfolk, VA. Because admission is free, you can stay as long as you’re able and see the things that interest your family without feeling guilty. Here’s how my husband and I saved $150 in one summer just by using Blue Star Museums.
3. National Parks
The America the Beautiful pass is free to active duty service members and their families and will get you into the over 2,000 federally maintained parks (including Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon). Seem like they’re far away? The Department of the Interior estimates that every American lives within two hours of at least one federally maintained recreational area, whether that’s a national seashore, a national park, national wildlife refuge, or national forest. Get outside and get exploring… for free!
4. Get away on a dime
Hotels, lodges, and campgrounds on military bases are a fun and surprising perk of being part of the military community. Rates are adjusted for your sponsor’s rank, but they are affordable options for military families on vacation. Just make sure that you make reservations ahead of time so you’re not up a creek without a paddle.
5. Use the library
Most libraries–on- or off-base– have summer programs that are meant to service the entire family. From book clubs and reading programs (some even come with prizes) to makers circles and children’s story hour, the library is a wealth of knowledge and free activities for your family. Not close to a DoD library? Your kids can still participate in a summer reading program (complete with prizes).
6. Last-minute vacation ideas
Want to jet off somewhere this summer but don’t have a lot of time to plan? Check out Navy Federal Credit Union’s suggestions for last-minute, budget-friendly vacation options.