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. Oh, and student loan debt. There’s always student loan debt.
It was a pretty precarious time for us financially. There wasn’t a lot in our bank account and I was pulling like one-quarter of an income (or maybe an eighth) with my fledgling freelancing career. It was a little scary, to be honest. But it wasn’t totally out of the norm for military families… so many operate on just one income with additional financial burdens, too. And maybe you’ve been there too. (I hope you didn’t lose both of your cars in one week. That’s pretty awful.)
Two dead cars in a week aside, 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. Don’t believe it? There are even national parks that are on military bases. (Ever heard of Ft. Story?) If you’re not sure where your closest national park is, do a quick Google search. You’re sure to come up with something interesting nearby.
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 (that means, the person who is in the military that you’re connected to, if it isn’t you), but they are affordable options for military families on vacation. Just make sure that you make reservations ahead of time and be aware of any big events (professional or otherwise) happening on base so you’re not up a creek without a paddle… or at a base without a room.
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. There’s no limit to your kiddo’s imagination… and there’s no price tag that goes with it either. If your child isn’t a reader, consider all of the other resources at the library too that can be an in-road to an interest in reading. Audiobooks and graphic novels are a wonderful way to intrigue even the most reluctant reader.
Not close to a DoD library? Your kids can still participate in a summer reading program (complete with prizes). And of course, libraries aren’t just limited to the DoD. There are plenty of fantastic local, civilian libraries with their own programs, resources, and stores and stores of books.
And who says you have to choose? Your family can have the best of both worlds– participate in all of the libraries!
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.
- How We Saved $150+ on Vacation with Just a Military ID
- 13 Ways to Protect Your Finances While Traveling
- Best Staycation Ever: Military Family Edition