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Twenty tips for a frugal but fun summer with the kids

Pricewatch: Before shelling out on expensive away days and treats for your children, consider these cost-effective alternatives

1. Keeping children entertained is undoubtedly the key to a happy summer for many people but it can be pricey as anyone who has ever taken a pack to the cinema and then on to a restaurant afterwards will readily and wearily testify. However, children are not that hard to please, a ball and a park — and jumpers for goalposts, obviously — can keep gangs of them entertained for buttons. So, wherever you go, make sure there is a ball in the boot.

2. There is no need for pricey meals in fancy — or not-so-fancy — restaurants either. When Pricewatch were a lad we only ever saw the inside of a restaurant when people close to us were making their Communion or Confirmation or had just died or married. But nowadays children are seen and heard in restaurants all the time. In many ways that is a great thing and we’re all for small people eating hot cakes drizzled with caramel or smashed avocado or sushi but lordy is it expensive. If you take two children to the most average of restaurants once a week over the three summer months it is likely to cost more than €500. That is money that need not be spent. This summer return to your yesterdays at least while the weather’s not entirely miserable. A picnic for four will set you back no more than €10 and it doesn’t have to be fancy. Ham or cheese, bread, crisps and cordial and you are good to go. And if it’s hot food you’re looking for, fry some cocktail sausages and stick them in a flask and away you go. You can feed four for a fraction of the cost of a disappointing lunch in a restaurant. And as a bonus when you are dining al fresco you don’t have to police your children quite so carefully so the experience can be a lot more relaxing for them and you.

3. There is a good chance that many people will be having barbecues over the next few months. Don’t be bothered making them high-end. Burgers and bangers and baked potatoes are all you need.

4. If you want to make a dessert that everyone loves for one of the many barbecues you are going to be having, buy a bunch of bananas, peel them, run a knife down the middle of each one and fill the gaps with chocolate buttons. Wrap them in tinfoil and chuck them on the dying embers for 10 minutes and you have the perfect summer dessert for no more than 30 cent a pop.


5. And staying with food and pops, making your own ice-pops is both frugal and fun. Now, we know it will not save you a barrel of cash but every little helps, right? You can buy a six-pack mould set from Ikea for €3 and then a bottle of cordial for less than €2 which will get you your first 30 ice-pops for €5 after which they fall in price to €2 or less — that’s the price not even our German discounting friends can match.

6. This is our last food-related tip for a while, we promise. Have chipper chips for tea. They are not fancy or flashy but there is nothing like a bag of the best chips you can find after a day out in the warm summer sun (there’s no harm in a bit of optimism). We’re not talking French fries or home fries or potato rösti or any of that nonsense, just an old-school bag of chips from your local chipper doused in salt and vinegar and — possibly — stuffed between two slices of white bread. It is not super healthy we know but as an occasional treat, it won’t do you any harm, is super cheap and you could easily feed a family of four for less than €20.

7. We are forever chasing new experiences far from home while neglecting all the potentially new experiences on our doorsteps. There are reasons why millions of people spend many millions of euro coming to Ireland from overseas every year. Find out what some of those reasons are by channeling your inner overseas tourist and checking out all the attractions in your locality, focusing on the free ones.

8. We pay over the odds for so much in Ireland that we can sometimes forget we also have a world of free in the form of our national museums. There are family drop-in activities, tours and workshops throughout the summer in all four branches of our National Museum network. If you haven’t visited one for a while, then make this summer the time to change that. In case you have forgotten, the themes of the four branches are: archaeology (Kildare Street); decorative arts and history (Collins Barracks); natural history (Merrion Street); and country life (Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co Mayo). The programmes change regularly but when we had a look last week, the question being asked in Collins Barracks was, “What does Irish culture and identity look like one hundred years after the formation of the State?” In Mayo, there was an interesting exhibition focusing on the murmur of bees. You can find a full programme of events at each, and more besides, at

9. And there is more. The National Gallery of Ireland is a lovely space for a visit and the cafe has some splendid treats too as is Castletown House Parklands, Glendalough and the Botanic Gardens. Then you have Farmleigh, the Phoenix Park and the Chester Beatty Library; right there you will have the guts of a week’s entertainment for almost nothing.

10. There are other ways to have some craic too. A treasure hunt in your local park will take a while to put together if you want to do it right but it can provide children and adults with hours of fun for free. The key things are to plan the route and make sure there aren’t any more than five minutes walking separating the clues. Make sure the clues are put in rain-resistant covers and don’t make them too easy or too difficult to find.

11. Go to see Taylor Swift. Ha! Only joking. Anyone looking to see the queen of tortured poetry set to melancholic and/or poptastic beat in Dublin this summer might need to remortgage their house or sell an internal organ to cover the cost. Between the tickets, merchandise, food, friendship bracelets and accommodation, a family of four travelling from outside of Dublin to see the concerts at the end of June will do well to have any change at all out of €2,000. Now this is going to be very much a case of do as we say but not as we do because we have the tickets bought and the friendship bracelets made but if you or the people around you are big Swifties you could sign up to Disney Plus for a month for €11 and build a whole day around watching the Eras tour on the telly including getting dressed up and — obviously — making your friendship bracelets. You could probably get it all done for less than €100 or €1,900 less than seeing her in the flesh would cost. And you’d also have a month’s worth of Disney Plus viewing thrown in for good measure. Watch Feuds and Only Murders in the Building to get you going. You’ll be glad you did. But if you have got all you need from it after the month, don’t forget to cancel.

12. It is hard in Ireland to make weather-dependent plans because the gods like nothing more than to rain on our parades — or at least on our barbecues or long-planned trips to the beach. You can’t rely on the weather but you can be ready to strike when it gets hot. Having the capacity to make plans on the hoof is essential to get through summer on the cheap. Be prepared to put dinner plans on hold if an evening suddenly becomes barbecue-friendly and have the capacity to turn a lunchtime picnic around at the drop of a sun hat if the clouds break for a couple of hours. And if an evening turns out to be unexpectedly warm and clear, drive — or better still cycle — to as remote a location as you can find and watch the sun set, then wait for darkness and marvel at the magic of the night sky. If, like Pricewatch, you have no idea what you are looking at when you look up, download the Sky Guide app. It shows you where all the constellations, planets, and satellites and all you have to do is point your phone towards the sky. There is a free version but the enhanced app costs less than €5.

13. And, speaking of spontaneity, try to have a tent on hand at all times — or at least at some times. You can get a functional-looking one that sleeps two in Decathlon for as little as €30. It wouldn’t serve you well on the side of Everest, we suspect, but we are not suggesting you bring it to a mountain. We are not suggesting you take it further than your back garden or somewhere slightly more exotic if you are the adventurous type. Pitch it and sleep in it and you will have the craic — this works best for young (ish) children but older people can have some fun out there too. The beauty of home camping is you have all the things you need close by and if it starts raining in the dead of night you can just go up to bed.

14. We often tie ourselves in knots of anxiety over the usage of smartphones but there are ways to use them to make the summer more fun at virtually no cost. We’re not talking about mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or TikTok but using them as a force for creative good and for making memories. There are apps which can be downloaded for buttons that will allow you to shoot funny home videos in ridiculously high definition of your children being adorable or annoying. As they get older you can get them involved in the cinematic process by encouraging them to write short films staring themselves which they can direct and shoot. It is much easier than it sounds and all you need is a bit of space, a few props and some time. The best thing is that whatever they create will be a joy to have when they are older.

15. Join a library. They are a wonderful and wonderfully free way to spend time and have come a long way over the last 10 years or so. There are readings, workshops, classes, free wifi, DVDs and box sets. Oh, and they have the odd book for rent too. And they have only recently scrapped the fine system which means there is something less you have to worry about.

16. Keep an eye on our German discounting friends in the weeks ahead for stuff you might handily use for cheap summer fun. Every year they sell everything from paddling pools and hot tubs to diving rings and wet suits at competitive prices. But remember, it doesn’t matter how cheap something is if you don’t use it and a 50m heated swimming pool that you never use will be a waste of money even if it costs only €10.

17. Cycle everywhere. One of the most commonly used reasons we hear of people not cycling is the weather. Over the next four months or so there will be more bright and dry days than gloomy wet ones (touch all the wood here) so take advantage of it by exploring the world around you on two wheels rather than four. And if you have to go on errands go on the bike.

18. Wear sunscreen, but buy wisely. Most supermarkets stock their own creams and oils for not much more than €5, which is a fraction of the price you’ll pay elsewhere and, according to consumer magazine Which? they’re just as good as all the rest. And before you buy this year’s batch have a look at what you have left over from last year. The shelf life of sun screens is surprisingly long and an open bottle can last up to two years. The bottles have the information you need on them, although it is not easy to find. You will find a “period after opening” number in small print on the back of a bottle. It will say either 24 months or 12 months.

19. Spend less stressful time in your car by always checking out Google Maps for congestion on your routes before you set off. A quick look may save you from spending two hours of a rare sunny day stuck in traffic jams swearing at fellow drivers and shouting at your children. And speaking of children, if you are going on a road trip of any duration with them spend half an hour thinking of games you might play as you move from A to B. There is I-spy, Road Bingo — print out bespoke bingo cards and give each player a pencil. When they see something on their card, they scratch it out. The more items you have on the card the less time they have to fight. With I’m Going on a Picnic, the first player says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing … an apple” or something else that begins with A. The second player repeats what the first person said, but adds something that begins with B. And on it goes.

20. We are big fans of annual passes and if used in the right way they can be big money savers throughout the summer. Take Dublin Zoo. An adult ticket is €23.90 and a child’s admission is €18.28 when bought online. A family ticket for two adults and two children, meanwhile, costs €67.27. Compare that to the cost of an annual membership. An individual annual pass costs €155 while an annual family pass costs €215, the same prices as last year, incidentally. The individual pass allows the pass-holder and an adult or two children to visit, while the family pass covers the pass-holder, two adults and two children, or the pass-holder and up to six children. The same is true for places like Clara Lara Fun Park, Airfield, Emerald Park and Fota Park and many other places countrywide. While the initial investment might be high, if you visit these places just four times over a year you are saving money. Not only that but when you visit regularly, you can do it in a much more leisurely way.