Managing your money

Keeping kids busy on a budget

Tips for a fun and affordable summer

The summer holidays can often be expensive, even if you're not going away. Holiday clubs, day trips, keeping the fridge stocked - it all adds up. And that's before you've even thought about the cost of getting the kids back to school.

This year, the cost-of-living crisis is making it even more challenging than usual.

In May 2022, 88% of us said the cost of living had rocketed. Hardly surprising when gas prices are up by 95% (over the previous year) and electricity by 54% (1). And, that by June 2022, the average cost of a full tank of petrol soared up to £100 for the first time (2).

Hang in there. Fun times don't have to be expensive. Why not try a few of our summer savings ideas? They could help keep your kids busy, without busting your budget.

Holiday clubs and childcare

The average cost of full-time childcare in the school holidays is £148 a week, according to Coram Family and Childcare (3). Private or specialist holiday camps (like sport or drama) could cost around £35, or even more a day, especially if you need an early drop-off or late pick-up.

Scaling back on the number of days you book could be a no-brainer. Especially if you work from home and became a master of multitasking during the pandemic.

If that's a no-no, or you want your kids to stay away from their screens, here's another way you could cut costs.

The tax-free childcare scheme is an online account that you can use to pay for childcare. There are currently some substantial financial benefits included, which are very widely available, so it’s well worth taking a look.

Most people associate the scheme with pre-school childcare, but it can also be used to pay for after school or holiday clubs. You just need to check the childcare provider or holiday club you’re using is signed up to the scheme.

Just bear in mind, your eligibility depends on:

  • if you are working
  • your income (and your partner’s income, if you have one)
  • your child’s age and circumstances
  • your immigration status

Check the government’s Tax Free Childcare pages for details and how to apply. It might be too late for this school holiday, but it could be very useful to have this support for the future.

Another option is to team up with other parents and try a ‘you have mine and I’ll have yours’ approach.  As long as days are agreed in advance, everyone can benefit and not feel like they’re asking for a favour. 

Fun without big funds

A day out doesn't need to be a theme park or attraction, and days at home don't have to be screen based.

Kids of any age usually can't resist a paddle in a river or stream. Grab a picnic, some fishing nets and see if you can find a spot near you.

Go old-school and plan an afternoon of retro board games. Check your local charity shops for bargain supplies. Or to spend even less, swap games with friends.

The same old habits can get a bit boring. Brighten things up by exploring new bicycle routes. Are there any off-road routes you can try? And check out local pump tracks, they are often free. 

Make it a mission to find five parks in your area you have not visited before. Packing a picnic helps keep food costs down. And don't forget the footballs and frisbees. 

Plan a family pizza night - make the dough yourselves and everyone gets to top their own. Cheaper and much more fun than a takeaway.

Love dogs but don't have one? See if a nearby dog owner will lend you their four-legged friend a couple of times a week. Older kids might enjoy the responsibility of walking the dogs more regularly.

Get competitive and recreate your favourite game shows at home. Invite friends over for Taskmaster-style challenges, arrange a Bake-off or plan your own quiz.

Kids glued to their screens? And do they call all your other entertainment suggestions "BORING?" How about getting them to use their screen time in a new way? Free language apps are full of fun ways to help them learn another lingo. Coding apps could teach them how to make their own video games. YouTube addicts in the family could make their own videos and showcase them at a home-movie night with friends. Popping corn isn't expensive and a little makes a lot of popcorn.

Is your place full of unwanted old books, CDs or DVDs and tech? Challenge your older kids to sell it and earn themselves some pocket money. There are lots of buy-back apps that could help make it easy. Search 'sell your CDs' and get started.

Back-to-school savings

Another summer money challenge is the cost of getting the kids back to school. All that gear they need doesn't come cheap. According to the Schoolwear Association, the average cost of a secondary school uniform is £101.19 (4) and that's not including essentials like shoes and a bag. If you can, plan ahead. There are ways to save if you can avoid leaving it to the last minute.

Cheap school shoes can be a false economy, but a decent pair can set you back £30 - £40. Cut costs by making most of discounts at outlet shoe shops. If there isn't one near you, check out your favourite store online and see if they have an online outlet.

You may have missed end-of-term second-hand uniform sales but that doesn't mean you have to buy everything new. Start by asking your school's PTA if they have a uniform bank.

Ask local friends or neighbours if they've got any second-hand uniforms you can have or swap. On top of saving you money, it's better for the environment. Another option is to put requests on school social media groups. Parents will usually be happy to pass it on for free, but you also have the option of making a donation to the PTA.

The uniform lists for new schools can be demanding, especially for secondary school. Try speaking to parents with older kids at the school before you hit the shops. Find out exactly what you need, what you can do without and anything that can wait a while.

Try not to leave it too late to buy trousers and skirts from supermarkets and high-street retailers. They often sell out of popular sizes. Specialist uniform suppliers are often more expensive and you probably want to avoid their prices.