Jen is a penny pinching Mum of two who balances full time work with family adventures and blogs about family life, money saving and everything else.
The summer's finally here and it seems the sun's decided to put his hat on! Like many parents, we've been counting the days until the school holidays, looking forward to spending time together as a family and going on new adventures.
Amongst all the excitement and anticipation, the cost of all this fun has been playing on my mind. We're saving a deposit for our first house so have a budget to stick to and I want to make sure we get the best value for what we have to spend.
I spent the last few days of term planning out the next six weeks, making sure the funds we have will keep us going until September and will buy us memories that last for years to come.
The first thing that I did was plan our breaks away from home. As we don't want to spend too much, we decided not to go abroad and have two trips planned within the UK instead.
The first one takes us to London for five nights where we'll be making the most of our Merlin Annual passes. These will get us into larger attractions such as Legoland, Sealife, Madame Tussauds and Shrek's Adventure, as well as giving us the chance to check out views of the city from the London Eye. Annual passes can work out to be excellent value if you'll use them multiple times a year and with Merlin you have a good mix of attractions located all over the country, making them perfect for families. If an annual pass isn't for you, then collect 2 for 1 or kids' go free vouchers with your groceries and you'll see the cost of popular attractions cut significantly.
We'll explore the capital on foot and visit the Natural History Museum which my eldest is really looking forward to and is free to enter!
We found somewhere cheap to stay online that's a short train journey out of the capital, so we'll use our Family and Friends Railcard to save on rail travel.
Our second trip away will be later in the holidays to tie in with my son's ninth birthday. We've booked a few nights away in York, a beautiful city to explore with a rich and interesting history. Top of our list to visit while we're there is the National Railway Museum!
When booking our budget hotels, we searched for voucher codes online and took advantage of a promotion, as well as getting the benefit of cashback. This will come in really handy for buying the back to school essentials. I love the feeling of being paid to spend money!
Closer to home
Sadly, we can't spend the whole summer travelling, so I had to consider how to entertain the children closer to home. My key theme here is outdoors. I'm a great believer in the saying, 'There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing', so we'll be exploring what nature has to offer, whatever the weather! I've found some fantastic free nature printables online which we'll be making use of.
We'll also be visiting events at Forestry Commission and National Trust sites, where we can take a picnic and enjoy a Stickman Trail or a circus skills workshop as well as find trees to climb and muddy puddles to jump in!
Our local council website has details of lots of free events taking place in our local parks across the next two months, including a music festival that we've booked free tickets for.
I grew up on the coast so we'll be sure to go for a drive to the beach to run around in the seaside air! Sand in your toes and children's laughter in your ears is a memory that no amount of money can buy.
Although many of these days out have no entry fee, I've budgeted for the cost of petrol and parking as well as the odd treat such as ice cream, so I'm not caught unawares.
There are times where we'll have to stay in, but that doesn't have to be boring! I've got lots of activities planned for the lazier days: from building dens to baking, making our own ice lollies and lots more. I took advantage of the end of term sales in a high street stationery store and stocked up on craft supplies at a fraction of their usual price!
The most important thing is to stick to the budget once you've set it. Plan your days out and activities in advance, do research online and make the most of free events. A summer full of adventure and memories doesn't have to break the bank…