How to survive the school holidays without going bust

Plan days out with the kids that are light on your pocket

Felicity Hannah - Virgin Money Living Mentor

by Felicity Hannah | Independent Money Mentor

Award-winning personal finance and consumer affairs journalist


Summer holidays mean a lot of time off for children, a lot of hours to fill and a lot of pressure on parents. That’s understandable: we all want to give our kids a great break from school and build some happy memories before September rolls around again. But it can put parents under pressure to spend a lot of money treating the family to a series of epic days out.

Even if you save money by staying home rather than booking a break, the price of an endless round of days out can soon seem to add up to the same price as a week abroad.

But there are some brilliant ways to have fun for free, or super cheaply, this summer – and you don’t have to book a massive holiday to enjoy them. After all, the best things in life really are free. So here are our tips for surviving the school holidays without feeling the pinch.

Make the most of free fun

There is So. Much. Free. Stuff to do out there. And I don’t just mean walks in lovely woods and hills, or trips to museums – although those are some of the best free days out.  

If you think you’ve been and done your local museums, remember that many will be running free events over the holidays, including talks, displays and craft sessions. It’s worth signing up to their mailing lists ahead of the break, or simply following them on social media, so you know exactly what’s happening in advance.

But that is just the tip of the massive free fun iceberg.

Lots of retailers have special events to entice you in during the holidays. And, as long as you don’t make any big purchases, then that’s just free fun. As an example, Pets At Home runs a summer activity club for children aged 5-11 where they can meet, handle and learn about the animals.

And Waterstones often runs story time sessions and ‘meet the author’ events during the school holidays. Local independent toy shops and book stores may have a wealth of stuff going on – ask in-store or following them on social media too.


Find free events

It’s not just free days out and classes – the summer is awash with free festivals and exciting days out for families. If you make a packed lunch then that’s 100% free fun.

For example, Play Day is a national celebration of play that takes place across the UK every August – in 2019 it’s on Wednesday 7 August. There are street parties and play events in all corners of Britain.


Use deals

Even with all the free fun around you may decide to splash out on some pricier days out with the kids but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune.

Loads of theme parks and destinations have offers on but you need to plan in advance to take advantage. For example, some offer early bird reduced ticket prices if you book at least a day in advance.

Others, including many of the Merlin destinations like Alton Towers and Legoland, sometimes run promotions with partners such as cereal manufacturers where you buy a kid’s ticket and get an adult one free as long as you have a voucher from the box. 

Whatever you do, don’t just rock up at the gate and pay the standard fee – search the web for ways to save at least a few days in advance.


Get group discounts

Many attractions like theme parks and tours offer discounts for group bookings. It’s the days-out version of bulk buying pasta.

Discounts for groups aren’t just for schools and church groups; usually all you need is enough people. For many places that’s 10 or more, which could mean that by attending with one or two other families, you’ve easily got enough to qualify.

You don’t need to stay together once you’re inside. You might want to go off as families or you could even split the older kids and younger kids up so that everyone gets a more age-appropriate day.


Visit Great Aunt Sally

If you have family scattered across the UK then this summer is the time to reconnect with them. Cousins in Cornwall? An aunt in Aberdeen? A sister in Southport? There’s stuff to do in every part of the UK so if you have been meaning to visit a loved one for a while then ask if you can visit during the summer break. It’s a great way to do something a little different while keeping the cost of food and accommodation to a minimum. 

That way you can take the kids to visit somewhere new and catch up with family. You never know, they might even offer to babysit one night.


Use social media

Facebook and similar sites definitely add to the pressure parents feel during the summer. Even if each of your friends posts just one ‘great day out’ photo, it can give the impression that everyone else is permanently at a pricey theme park.

But social media can also help track down the best free and cheap local events. Articles like this one can’t help you track down every local event, but online local parent groups can. See if there’s a page dedicated to local days out with the kids and sign up so you never miss out on local free fun.

Your kids don’t know or care how much you’ve spent on a day out. They just want to have carefree fun with you during the holidays. And if you take some time to hunt down deals and freebies, you can be as carefree as them too.

Going away in the school holidays as well as planning local family days out? You may be interested in our article, How to get away on a budget - home or abroad.

Before making financial decisions always do research, or talk to a financial adviser. Views are those of our mentors and customers and do not constitute financial advice.