Sound too good to be true? Well, it isn't. It's all about focus.
1) Write a bucket list. What 5 things do you really, really want to do this summer? Keeping the list short will force you to think about what's most important and allow you the space to actually accomplish them. If you come up with more than five, move the balance to next summer.
2) Check out free activities in your area. Google 'things to do in..." I guarantee you there are far more than you're currently aware of. Add that to your top five list of paid activities, and strive to incorporate at least one of these as many weekends as possible.
3) List your required summer activities. Your kid's camp? Family reunions? Friends coming in town? Write all of them down, along with the estimated cost.
4) Now that your bucket list is complete, research and add the estimated cost beside each. Be as specific as possible.
5) Now that you know what you want to do this summer, what you must take care of, and the total cost, focus on how to make it happen by asking yourself one basic question: what are you willing to let go of - at least over the next three months - to accomplish these goals?
Will you give up eating fast food or your Starbucks habit, and put it towards your beach trip? Will you scale back on said beach trip from one week down to three days, and set up alerts for whenever airfares or all-inclusive resorts go on sale? Instead of sending your kids to every summer activity you can find, will you focus on one and request a multi-child discount (if your kids can't go to the same camp, see if one of their friends want to). Better yet, can you find your teen a job or internship so they can make their own money?
A few other suggestions: check your airline and credit card statements for points, and see if any can be applied towards your summer wish list; barter with friends and family to decrease the costs; be flexible on dates, commit to the least expensive ones; tack on a mini-vacation to a work trip and invite the family; determine if summer is really the best time of year for this activity. If it can be done in September at a lower rate, make it happen!
Finally, stick to your budget. I firmly believe in amazing experiences, but being so inflexible that it puts you in debt is simply not worth it. If you're clear about the big picture experience you want to create, determine how much you can afford, then be flexible with the rest. The best part is when Fall rolls around you'll have the joy and weightlessness that comes from living the good life on your own terms. Magic is made wherever you are.
And so it is.