Four Ways To Save Money on a Last-Minute Summer Family Outing

With the United States back on the upswing from the recession, you’re thinking that this year might be the one where you pull together a family trip in the waning moments of summer. I mean, hey, the economy’s in a minor upswing, right? There’s a lot of places you’ve missed going to during the economic hardship, and now that it’s slowly moving on, it’s time for your family to party, right?

Well don’t be stupid, stupid.

Don’t let the slightly-lower gas prices and general sense of impending back-to-schoolism get you all hot in the pants – we’re still tightening our belts and making the best of what we’ve got, just in case international politics go all ape on us again. I mean, dude, you’re the head-of-household. You’ve got to have a plan. And a gun.

This is why I humbly present to you four satisfactory replacements for a last-minute family outing. You want to take care of your kids, but you definitely want to pinch your pennies for the zombie apocalypse.

The Car Wash > The Water Park

Can we be honest about water parks? They’re crowded and you swim in kid-piss. I won’t judge you or tell you how to have a good time, but when I’m swallowing bucketfuls of chlorine and piss, it doesn’t necessarily tap into the pleasure sensors in my brain. And sure, this one’s more of a summer trip, but no reason you can’t head on down to the car wash any time of the year.

Also, do you know that as a matter of public health and safety, you’ve got to drain a public swimming pool if a turd is found in it? You tell me how many times you’ve seen Raging Waters close a wing of their park mid-day. If one of the employees spots a brown trout, there’s a 210% chance he’s got a direct order from his high command to immediately get a plastic grocery bag over his hand, jump headlong into the water and make the situation disappear. And don’t think that some of this stuff goes unnoticed by all parties. There are no calm-waters at a water park for a reason – if some little kid cranks out a poop on one of the slides, it’s going to get broken up and smashed on the way down and into the rushing waters at the bottom. Soon enough, it’s between peoples’ toes, getting mashed into the bottom of the pools, and more or less invisible in the fluttering, always-moving current. And, of course, it’s being forced into your scalp when you’re thrown down one of those slides and into that same pool area. Also, they chlorinate the balls off that water, which is why if you accidentally open an eye anywhere in a water park, it feels like someone just shot off a roman candle under your eyelid.

This is where your neighborhood do-it-yerdamnself car wash becomes a blacktop oasis. First-off, there’s one of these in almost every neighborhood, so your commute is negligible. Second, it’s cheap, and you might be able to trick your kid into emptying his piggy bank of quarters for it, since there are no longer any Street Fighter II arcade machines at 7-11.

See how excited little Susie is?

The set-up is simple: you drive to one of those booth car washes and make sure to park closer to one side of the booth since you need room for your child’s waterplay. Put your quarters into the machine, and use that high-pressure wand to spray near* your child. If you want to imitate a real water park, you can buy a blow-up kiddie pool and fill it up at the air pump, conveniently-located in the same lot. Also, bring a standard blue tarp, available from any hardware store. That way, when you hit the soap cycle, you can soap down the tarp and your child can use it as a slide. In that case, you aim the hose down at the back of the tarp, which will create a current your kid can ride as he sails across.

*PRO TIP: Don’t ever spray your kid directly with the hose. That s**t is 1200psi and you will be arrested. But no one’s going to throw you in jail for making an impromptu water park. I think.

Also – if you want all the fun of a water park without the water, I suggest doing one of those drive-through car washes. Face it, you’ve got to get gas – and you get a couple bucks off the car wash as long as you fill up more than 5 gallons of gas. It’s like the gas station is speaking directly to your kids. The only boner about this option is that it only lasts 3 minutes, and there’s no real water-interaction. But hey, take it or leave it – it’s open year-round. And if it makes it any more fun for your kid, he can throw mud on your car before you go so he can watch it get washed off.

Or..if you’re the type that’s into history…

The Old Folk’s Home > The Museum

Recession Trip Museum

Look dude…the museum, that is, any museum is great. There’s a wealth of historical stories and artifacts that are unearthed and given to museums. But whether you’re at LACMA or the Guggenheim, your cash will be “history” when you get hit with separate door and exhibit charges, as well as all of the artsy horses**t your kid will sucker you into buying at the gift shop.

The worst part of museums is the butterfly-effect of inspiration. God bless children – they’ll walk out of the museum with some new artistic meaning in their life, and immediately want you to drive to the craft store so they can buy 10lbs of clay so they can become the world’s worst sculptor. What should really feel like a firey kick to the cod is that you just walked out of the museum, where you saw exhibit halls full of melted-turd-looking statues and mangled ultra-modernist “art” that’s nothing more than a couple spheres set on the floor – but when your kid makes an identical piece, no one will break down your door with a ticket to fame and fortune.

This is no secret, but with the exception of natural history (aka dinosaur) museums, you can get far better historical accounts down at your local senior assisted living center.

Most people in old folks homes are there because the American thing to do is to suck all of the money out of your parents’ fat pockets for 60 years, at which point, they’re literally skin and bones, and then you stuff them into an assisted living place. Up until the 1900s, your home was the assisted living home – you took over your parents’ ranch, hired a good-natured Pueblo man to do some farming and watch over the cattle, and his wife would look after your kids as you wrapped your dad in a bearskin and talked about the expansion into the West. I watched Legends of the Fall, so I know this is how it worked. Nowadays, we’re fine with dumping ex-Army sergeants, famous actors and inventors into homes where they’re cared for by Filipino nurses while we kick our feet up in their old house and light a cigar with a smoldering $100 bill.

Hey man, I won’t judge you. I could go for a cigar too.

Anyway – those bags of bones in assisted living – they’ve got stories. And these are stories you won’t want to miss. No matter who you talk to in an old folks home, they’re all super soldier dudes that make Captain America look like a pansy or well-traveled hookers that survived something crazy like the Titanic sinking, and got traded around backstage at Woodstock like a wet, hot bong.

If you sit your kid down in front of one of these people, they’ll learn more history in an hour’s talk than they’ll get in 40 trips to the museum. And old people curse. I’d say “like sailors,” but they all were sailors. Your kid will hear how some old guy kept a Nazi’s eyeball in a jar for two trips around Europe. Your kid will probably even get to see a picture of that eyeball. Have you ever watched “Pawn Stars“? On every single episode, some wiley old woman walks in with a scimitar from the 1400s. And the bald guy looks and says “Hey, I don’t know if this is real but if it is, I gotta have it.” Then, he asks where the woman got it, and she says something ridiculous like when she was little, her family lived in Tunisia and her grandfather helped build the capital building, and they befriended a Tunisian war general. Blah blah blah. Anyway, the bald guy always has a buddy that comes and checks it out and it ends up being a movie prop from the Stargate TV show. Not even the movie, dude. The TV show.

The point is, these old fossils have stories, even if they end up being written-off as fake by your snarky buddy that sleeps on a Constitution duvet. And your kid can learn a lot more about life from some old zombie that thinks they lived in Tunisia than from some dimly-lit painting of the French Revolution.

The best part of this is it doesn’t cost you a dime, and if you play it right, you might get a free lunch at the cafeteria if you can pretend one of those old codgers is your kid’s great-grandparent. And the oldies will get in on that action because they’re so thrilled someone’s there to see them. For bonus points, try to get an old painting to be your kid’s pen-pal. Yeah, game, set, match – old folk’s home.

For younger kids that are into animals…