Frugal Ways to Enjoy Summer

If you're suddenly feeling like your social calendar is filling up and you're spending more money on meeting up with friends, you are definitely not alone.  The warmer weather just naturally lends itself to more meetups, because everyone wants to get out of the house, finally.  But I don't think we need to be spending as much money as we do just to be able to see our friends.  One of my favorite (top 3?) street fests in Chicago is coming up quickly, the Belmont Sheffield Music Fest, which got me thinking about how many fun but also free or cheap things there are to do during the summer.

Street fests are totally free.  The things that cost money at the fests are food and drinks.  I never buy drinks there, I always just bring my own.  I just fill a bunch of water bottles with whatever I want to drink, usually Parrot Bay coconut rum because what else screams summer?  I'm known for it - my friends call it my 'purse alcohol.'  Tara and I are going to try a new strategy where we bring Hawkeye in a stroller and then fill the rest of the stroller with beer because why not?

Movies in the park are also free.  They have these all over Chicago and they don't cost a dime to get into.  Just bring some chairs or a blanket and set up your spot.  You're also free to bring snacks and drinks so it's perfect for a very cheap date night.  I live by Gomper's Park, so that's where I'll be!

Play hooky and hit the museums on free and discount days.  Various Chicago museums are free all the time, but some are only free on certain days (to Illinois residents) and some of those come up in the middle of June - like the expensive Shedd Aquarium.  Of course, they're on week days, so it requires playing hooky from work one day.  Do it!  You need a break and work will be fine without you for a day.  Betsy has a detailed post on what free days are coming up, and which places are free all the time.

Spend the day at Navy Pier.  The Pier is free to get into, and while you spend a pretty penny to do touristy things like ride the Ferris wheel, it's not a requirement to do any of that.  Plenty of things are free there to enjoy just walking around and there are some boat cruises that are surprisingly cheap and you can get discounted tickets through Groupon fairly often.  There's also an outdoor area towards the end of the pier that has bands playing Wednesdays through Sundays, and that area is free as well.  Plus, you can see the fireworks!  Every Wednesday and Saturday, Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Who doesn't love free fireworks?  Tara and I always had the most fun there, and of course we bring our own drinks because ain't nobody got time for Navy Pier prices.

Take a free tour.  Residents and visitors alike can enjoy a good Chicago tour, especially in areas you're not familiar with.  And you really can enjoy them for free!  Check out Chicago Greeter and Free Tours By Foot for your options.  Just tip your tour guide at the end (optional but kind, and split with a group of friends would make a great tip for them!) and you got yourself a much cheaper option than some of the other tours out there.  Since they're volunteers, they're very friendly, happy, and knowledgeable.  Another benefit is that they can tell you about the cheap food and drink options in the area you're touring.

There are plenty of things you could do that aren't specific to Chicago, of course, like:

Use Groupon for local deals.  There's always discounts for bars and restaurants if you've got your heart set on meeting up for cocktails, so take advantage.  It's also the best way to find deals on tours and classes, if your group of friends is looking for something more adventurous like kickboxing or kayaking.

Volunteer.  People tend to remember to do this at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but summer is just as good of a time to get out there.  If you can handle it without taking home every dog, walking dogs at a shelter would be a great and totally free way to hang out with a friend, get some exercise in, and help your local shelter.

Take a picnic to the park.  All it will cost you is the price of drinks and some finger foods, which you can just factor into your weekly grocery budget.  Cheap and charming!

Plan a spa day.  Invite your friends over for masks, nail painting, and cocktails, all in the comfort of your own backyard.  Everyone likely already has some supplies they've been waiting to use up, and all you need to provide are some cocktails and snacks.  List of super easy summer cocktails coming next week for you.

Anything you would add to the list?  Let me know in the comments how you're planning to enjoy your summer without spending a ton of money!

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