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Urban Juggle: Summer fun without coming undone

Will O'Brien
by Will O'Brien, Dimespring 30 (@wpo3)

In four-season cities like Chicago, where winter means snow and spring means cold rain, the fleeting time between Memorial Day and fall’s arrival practically begs to be enjoyed. With sunny skies above, residents pack beaches, outdoor dining patios, concerts and street festivals — venues where fun is abundant, but so are the opportunities to blow your budget.

So what’s a cash-strapped, summer-crazed guy to do?

READ: Can you afford a summer vacation if you're in debt?

Luckily, finding inexpensive warm-weather fun isn’t all that hard. Between barbecues, trips to the local golf course and afternoon hammock naps, take a moment to consider the following. You might well realize summertime entertainment doesn’t have to scorch your savings.

Play ball

Baseball may be America’s pastime — attending games regularly is considered a patriotic duty by some — but most major league tickets don’t come cheap. Between seats, souvenir hawkers, food and parking, a day at the park may easily cause one’s finances to be thrown afoul.

Rather than overpay for crappy beer and the opportunity to sit on a stiff, plastic chair for three hours, organize a game with friends.

Incorporate a potluck. Play music. Make a day of it. The format, number of players and final score aren’t important. By forgoing a costly trip to watch the Cubs lose — again — everyone walks away a winner.

Forage at the farmers market

Farmers markets are everywhere these days. Once a practical means of connecting local food producers with hungry customers, the weekend events have grown to more closely resemble neighborhood social hours, attracting attendees more interested in chit-chatting and walking their dogs than purchasing fresh-picked veggies.

Long story short, the big crowds have driven up prices, and farmer-run pop-ups no longer necessarily beat supermarkets on price.

READ: 3 smart financial habits to develop in your 20s

Free samples and festivities, however, remain a-plenty.

With dozens of vendors seeking to make sales, you can enjoy small bites of cheese, fruit, cured meats and bread without opening your wallet. Many markets feature live music and activities, meaning it’s easy to spend hours browsing the grounds without spending a dime.

I’m not advocating being a total mooch. When it comes time to shop, remember those free samples and make smart purchases based on price and taste.

By wisely foraging your farmers market, you’ll easily leave with two delicious meals — a cost-free brunch in your belly and a dinner to be made with the ingredients you take home.

Take a staycation

When exhausted from softball games and stuffed with farm-grown bacon, take time to relax. But instead of springing for airfare or packing up the car for a road trip, simply take a few days off work and explore the city around you. Whether a metropolis like Chicago or a mid-size town like Milwaukee, every city has hidden gems and neighborhoods that have changed since your last visit.

READ: 5 budget-friendly summer recipes

People who are stuck in an office Monday through Friday can easily forget that cities are brimming with things to do during the daytime, even on weekdays. You’ll be surprised how different your town appears at hours you’re not accustomed to being out and about.

Check out a museum you’ve been meaning to visit. Spend a day neighborhood hopping on public transit. Take a long lunch at your favorite cafe.

A staycation likely won’t quite compare with a Caribbean cruise, but it can provide a much-needed, cost-effective break from the tired work routine. And with more than a few bucks saved, you’ll be guilt free attending an extra concert, throwing one more party or ordering an extra round of summertime drinks. 

Will O'Brien is a 23-year-old journalist originally from Milwaukee, now based in Chicago. Aside from media and politics, his interests include soccer and documentary films. Will is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.