WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Frugal summer fun!

Posted May 14, 2012

With summer just around the corner, it's time to start thinking about frugal summer adventures that won't require a second mortgage to finance! Here are some ideas to keep you entertained and out of debt. Please share any other ideas you have!

Turtle Hole in Durham Finding frugal summer fun

Stay close to home with daycations. One day trips to nearby towns can offer just enough of a getaway if you have very little time. One of our Smart Shopper blog readers wrote that she uses the "Our State" magazine articles and once a month they pick a place from the articles and take a day trip there. She pointed out that they have found great places to eat, small town charm and things they would never have known about that are all just a short drive away.  Pack a picnic and make it even more frugal!

Daily Deal sites: I have mentioned them to you before and using daily deal sites like , and are excellent ways to get ½ price discounts to attractions in cities where you are planning to vacation. These sites have deals posted for many cities in North Carolina as well as cities in nearby South Carolina and Virginia. You’ll find fabulous discounts on everything from restaurants to mini-golf to theater productions and more! Now is the time to start watching the deals for your vacation destination or your staycation here in the Triangle so you have some fun ½ price activities to do when you get there. We are taking a 3 day trip to Boone this summer and staying at a hotel for ½ price using a Groupon deal that was available about a month ago.

Use a discount travel site for airfare and hotel needs: Sites like are good for travelers who have a lot of flexibility and can take off at a moments notice when a fabulous deal becomes available.

Offer to pay less: If a hotel has available rooms the night before you are thinking of taking a last minute trip, they may be willing to discount them deeply to get that room filled. Call the hotel directly to negotiate a better rate. Some hotels allow you to name your own price and the hotel decides if it will accept it. The Create Your Rate promo at Ocean Isle Inn got us to try the hotel at a big discount last year and we had a great time! Click HERE for more information.

Free bowling: The Kids Bowl Free program includes 2 free games of bowling per day per child this summer! Participating bowling centers are offering this freebie as a way to give kids a safe and fun activity to do while they are out of school. This doesn’t include shoe rental. Rainbow Lanes in Clayton, and other locations in nearby towns are participating. See HERE to sign up for the program.

Free and cheap movies

There are many movie theaters that offer free or discounted family-friendly movies throughout the summer. Here are the theaters that we know will be offering these discounts this year and as we find out about more, we will add them to the list.

Raleigh Grande 16 on Grove Barton Road: Enjoy a FREE movie every Tuesday and Wednesday at 10:00 AM starting on June 19, 2012. Click HERE for more information.

Regal Summer Movie Express: Last year they had $1.00 G & PG movies at 10:00 am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Check back soon on their website for the 2012 Movie Express details. Click HERE for more information.

Blue Ridge Carmike Theater: Movies are always $2.00
600 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC

Marquee Wakefield Cinemas will be having a 2012 summer movie program according to the website, but the details are not yet available. Click HERE for more information.

As we get closer to June, more theaters should announce their summer programs and I’ll post the details when available. We are also big fans of Redbox movies. They offer free codes every month when you sign up with them online and it is so much less expensive than going to a theater.

Zoos, science centers, museums:

Memberships to zoos, museums and science centers are often well worth the initial investment if you frequent the locations. Many of these attractions offer reciprocal memberships to other attractions. For instance, with a zoo membership, you can also go to many other places including museums and aquariums.


Sarah with the GoAskMom blog on has a long list of clickable links to area parks and playgrounds and those are FREE!


Many bookstores have summer reading programs where you can get free books when you read over the summer. Many also offer weekly story times for the little ones. Once the stores start announcing their programs I’ll post them on the blog.


Give back to the community: There are many area organizations that would love to have a little extra help over the summer break or track out sessions. Most food banks welcome assistance from families and there are many jobs kids can do including sorting. To find your nearest food bank and inquire about volunteer opportunities see: HERE.


Free preview/rehearsal dates for plays, minor league sporting events, free concerts in the park, tours of grocery stores for playgroups and farm visits are all fun activities for the family.

What other frugal summer fun ideas do you have?


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  • hummerjojo May 14, 2012

    ref: henderson drive in- i believe it only cost my husband and son(9 yrs.old) $9.oo to get in for both of them. they went last weekend. they have gone up very little on the last couple of years. we really enjoy it.

  • ts67688 May 14, 2012

    Thanks Nakabi!

  • nakabi May 14, 2012

    ts67688-the website is

  • nakabi May 14, 2012

    ts6788: the closest drive-in that I know of is the one in Henderson. I think it's called the Raleigh Rd. drive-in, but I'm not sure.
    We LOVE it!! You can buy pizza there as well as other food..the prices are reasonable considering you are at the movies and I like knowing we are supporting a local business. There aren't too many drive-ins left in the USA so I hope this one is able to stay open...

  • ts67688 May 14, 2012

    Nakabi, is there a drive-in near by? That would be so much fun!

  • couponmom May 14, 2012

    Thanks!!! Faye for all of the ideas!!!!

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper May 14, 2012

    Free Cary summer concert series:

    Thanks for all the additional ideas, everyone!

  • nakabi May 14, 2012

    We love to go the drive-in with our kids! For $6/person for 2 new movies, it's a great deal! We love that our kids are't constrained and con play at the playground while we wait for it to get dark. Our kids are 2.5 & 1 and go to bed around the time the first movie starts so my husband and I are able to enjoy the movies!!!

  • mikke114 May 14, 2012

    On the offering to pay less for hotels, I have had great luck using the Priceline Name Your Own Price feature.

  • Anna C. May 14, 2012

    Our local library is one of my kids' favorite places - and mine too! They have various story times throughout the week that include stories, songs, poems, and crafts. They also have "Free Movie Fridays" where they show a recently released kids' movie. A teen movie is shown on Saturdays for the older youth, and there are plenty of activities for the adults too (book clubs, knitting groups, etc.) Lots of fun and all free! Don't forget to check out some books, dvd's, or cd's while you are there to keep the fun going once you get home - there are treasures to be found for all ages!