Six weeks – that’s a long time for a child. It’s even longer for a parent if you’ve made no plans over the summer holiday. Then add on the costs of keeping them entertained and it makes the break feel even longer – and my wallet starts to seize up.
Recent figures released by Halifax show the cost of a family day out has risen by more than 50% in the past 10 years, and I can quite believe it. Last year, we took the children to a popular theme park. By the time we’d bought the tickets and filled the car with fuel, we’d nearly spent £200 for just one day of fun.
When I think back to some of the other expensive things I’ve planned for the kids in holidays gone by, they didn’t seem to go down as well as I thought they would. So this year, I’m putting my thinking cap away and taking a risk by asking the children what they want to do.
While my youngest is just two, too young to know what she really wants, and would be more than happy to play dollies all summer, her nine-year-old sister is much trickier to please. She’s at an age where she wants to do and have everything.
When I asked for her input, first up on her list of activities was a trip to Disneyland – this, I explained, was a little unrealistic and expensive. The next four things on her wish-list were swimming, camping, going to the park and baking some cakes.
I was quite surprised. I expected theme parks, the cinema and days out at the coast all to make the list. I’d obviously got it wrong in the past. If I had sat down and questioned her about what she wanted, I would have known I didn’t need to extend my overdraft.
My nine-year-old’s list is quite achievable – even the camping. Although the cost of camping has risen by to an average spend of £35.80 a night, compared to £25.15 in 2004, with a bit of forward-planning we can camp out in the back garden for a snip of the price. You can pick up a two-man (or several-small-children) tent for less than £20 and use it a few times over the break. And, as it’s pretty compact, it can be set up in the living room if the weather is awful.
As for swimming, instead of going to our local pool I’m thinking about visiting the one in the next town over. It doesn’t cost that much more to get to but it’ll make a nice change for my eldest daughter. While we’re there, we can also have a look around, venture to the park and feed the ducks. Although these are just normal things to do, by changing where we’ll be doing them it will give her an extra bit of excitement and new sights to take in.
So how else do I keep my costs down? Well, for any organised activity, I always check online for voucher codes or buy-one-get-one-free deals. I always try to book in advance, too, as inevitability the cost on the day will be full price.
We live in a society where media and advertising play a huge part in our decision-making. We are constantly bombarded with adverts telling us to go here, spend this and buy that, which is just the same for kids. But remember as long as they’re having fun, they’re happy. You don’t need to spend a fortune.
Speaking to my children and asking them what they want to do over the holidays has really been valuable. I know now that even if I can’t afford that trip to the theme park or have numerous days out at the seaside, they’ll be more than happy to spend time close to home, just having fun – with me.
• Ricky Willis is an award-winning blogger and author of the Skintdad.co.uk blog.