It’s cool and there are plenty of things to do that don’t cost anything. You can read books and magazines, play on the computers, participate in the activities, or just sit on a couch and soak up the cool air.
Cheap Movie Theaters
The regular movie theater isn’t a bargain, but if you live near a discount theater, it can be a good way to see older movies cheaply. Some major theaters do offer summer specials such as kids get into certain movies/showtimes for free and these can be easy on your budget. (The adult usually has to pay full price, but that’s much cheaper than paying for an adult and two or three kids.) Call around and see what’s on offer in your area.
Museums aren’t the boring, stuffy places they used to be. Many now have interactive exhibits, movies, and activities. Most museums are free, supported by your tax dollars. Some activities may cost extra, but the fee is usually nominal. And they’re air-conditioned.
You may not have to pay a membership fee to join a pool or pay to build your own. Some communities have free pools and others charge only by the day, rather than making you pay for an entire season up front. During extreme heat waves, some may temporarily waive the fees altogether. Some gyms and health centers offer free trials of their services, including their pools. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a neighbor with a pool who will let you use it while they’re at work. If you live in an apartment complex or neighborhood with HOA’s and community resources, you may already be paying for a pool. Use it.
Many fast food restaurants have indoor playgrounds for kids. You don’t have to buy a full meal to use them, either. You can simply buy a couple of drinks, or an ice cream cone. The kids can play and the adults can kick back in the restaurant with a good book. If you don’t have kids, you can take your laptop or book to the local coffee shop and hang out there. Many won’t get upset if you don’t buy anything, but you can show your appreciation by buying a soda or cookie.
Water Play Zones
Some larger cities or shopping plazas have areas where the kids can run through fountains. The ground is usually padded for safety and the fountains use sanitary water. Best of all, they’re free.
The Local Swimming Hole
If you live in a rural area, there’s probably a creek, lake, or pond that the locals use in the summer. Just be careful because there can be lots of hazards and there are no lifeguards.
If you are thinking about learning a new hobby or picking up some education credits, summer can be a great time. The classrooms are air-conditioned and classes are usually less crowded in the summer. The fees for community college and extension programs are reasonable and some are even free.
If you live near a university, you may be able to attend some free lectures, especially if a visiting professor is in town. You may also be able to find some free appearances or readings by actors, authors, and other notables happening at bookstores or community centers. Check your city’s website or the local paper for details.
If you have an ice skating rink nearby, check to see if they offer summer specials. Some offer reduced rates in the summer since ice skating is not a popular summer sport. Yet where better to beat the heat?
A Friend’s House
If your friends have AC but you don’t, hang out with them. Don’t be a mooch, though. Offer to bring food, drinks, rented movies, or games to offset your couch surfing.
Some local theaters offer free concerts and plays. Even the big-time symphony or theater group in your area may offer free or reduced price performances, especially for kids during the summer. You can also find other free music performances at local bars or coffee shops on open mic nights, or when an up and coming band is showcasing their work.
If you’ve already got a membership that’s going unused, go spend some time in the gym. It’s air-conditioned and you don’t have to do anything more than take a leisurely stroll on the treadmill or hang out in the refreshment area while you watch TV.
Many chain retailers offer free or very low-cost activities, particularly for kids. Just be sure to attend the activity but skip the impulse buying so you keep it budget friendly.
Not just for Sunday mornings. Many churches offer exercise groups, book clubs, craft groups, or fellowship groups which are free and usually happen in the AC. Some mega-churches even have their own coffee shops and bookstores where you can get in out of the heat.
There are a number of manufacturing companies that give tours of their facilities. If you happen to live in an area that has a large company headquartered there, check to see if they give tours of their plant. it will get you out of the hot sun and you’ll likely learn some things about how something you buy is created. It’s often a great way to entertain the kids as well.
If you really want to find someplace cool when the sun is out, head for the nearest cave. Many caves can be found in national and state parks, and there are private company cave tours as well, although they tend to be a bit more expensive. If you live in an area that has a lot of caves, you might even go exploring on your own. Just be sure to have the proper equipment and emergency supplies if you decide to choose this option for escaping the heat.
Altitude and Shade
If you want to do some hiking even with all the heat, by picking the right trail you can stay relatively cool. The general rule is that the higher altitude you go, the cooler it will be, and you can escape the heat by picking trails that are shaded by trees. Hikes that go through tree covered canyons are always a good bet to be a lot cooler than an open trail.
For this one to work, you need a car that has air conditioning. To make it budget minded, you also would need to have some errands that you needed to get done (as opposed to just driving around with no purpose) that requires a lot of time spent in the car and not much outside. If you have been meaning to visit relatives a few cities away, or pick up something that is a few hours away, a hot day may be the perfect time to schedule this.
The mall is a wonderfully cool place to visit during the summer, but only if you’re extremely disciplined. They offer a number of interesting activities, but if you don’t have the discipline, unplanned purchases can derail your budget. If you can go and just window shop, though, it can be a cool afternoon. Similarly, avoid full-blown water parks, full service playground restaurants like Chuck E Cheese, and full priced movies. These things are fine to do once a summer or so, but if your goal is to save money, they should be used sparingly and not as a regular way to get out of the heat. Fortunately, there are plenty of other places to go to get out of the heat for free or on the cheap.
(Photo courtesy of jim simonson)