Backyard Parties

As the summer heats up, our activities gravitate to the great outdoors.  Hosting a backyard party during the summertime can be a great way to connect with family and friends.  Here are some ideas to help you throw a party to be remembered for years to come.

Engage other friends and family:    You don't have to do it all.  Consider how you can include the participants in the planning where possible.  Family members will enjoy the party more when they had a part to play.  Aunt Susie may be an awesome cook and might take charge of the food planning (that doesn't mean that she has to do it all but she now has an area that she oversees).  Cousin Tommy, might be great at games, someone else on decorations, invitations, pictures, music, set up, clean up....  You get the idea.  All you need is a theme and then begin the plan.  By engaging all family members in the process you build anticipation for the fun day and increase the joy on the day.

Be Available:  Prior planning can help you to be available more during the big party.  People came and they want to see you.  Disappearing to take care of logistics behind the scene makes the event work for you and not what your guest had hoped for.  By creating a checklist and assigning duties, everyone gets to enjoy more of the fun.

Plan For Weather:  Have a plan in case it rains or the weather does not cooperate.  Having a covered shelter or a tent can be a great way to give people a way to stay dry if a sprinkle or two should crop up.  Also if you have decorations for your party, make sure they are securely fastened in case a wind should blow up (don't forget about paper products - they blow nicely if they are not secured).

Lighting:  If your party will go into evening hours be sure to have plenty of lighting around the yard so your guests don't have to search for their food and drinks!  If you don't have outdoor lights, consider renting them from a local rental supply.

Food:  Have as much of the food prepared in advance as possible.  That way you are not slaving over preparations while the guests are there.  Also consider foods that cook quickly like burgers and dogs to maximize the enjoyment of the fellowship with friends.  If you are having guests bring a dish help them to know what would be helpful.  You might suggest that they bring their dishes in low cost aluminum containers so they don't need to worry about taking empties home and you don't have to stress about reconnecting people with their dishes.

Bugs:  Citronella candles can be a great addition to a backyard party.  Also consider having a few cans of bug spray floating around for guests to use.  Don't forget to provide cover for the food as well.  Having a mesh tent for the food can keep bugs out and make your life much easier.

Chairs:  Have extra chairs available for people to sit and enjoy the event.  For those who do not bring a folding chair consider having some extra available.

Games and Activities:  Simply providing a soccer ball or football can be enough to get a game started.  In addition to the list below, check out our summer games list:

-:- Backyard cricket
-:- Basketball shoot out
-:- Discus throwing using a frisbee.
-:- Egg and spoon race
-:- Relay race with batons
-:- Sack race
-:- Volley ball match

Pictures: Your party is an event that you want to remember, so don't forget to take pictures not only of the set up before hand, but also of the guests enjoying themselves.

Music:  Don't forget the music!  Select music that is in keeping with the theme of your party to help your guests get into the mood.

Decorations:  The internet can be a great resource for creating themed decorations without spending a lot of dough.  If you decide to use a theme for your party, you can create the mood by creating decorations that convey the character of the theme.  Decorate your fence with balloons and streamers to add to the festive nature of the event.

Theme Parties
  • Luau:  Go polynesian by decorating with a luau theme.  Bamboo mats and floral decorations can create a wonderful mood.  Fruity drinks with umbrellas can make the occasion very festive.
  • Garden Party:  This can be a great excuse to get some of that landscaping done!  Add some baskets and buckets of plants and flowers around and you have created a feeling of lushness.
  • Years Gone by: Create a theme of fifties, sixties or seventies to add a little life to the party.  Guests come dressed in theme.  Decorate with items from the time gone by.  Vinyl records, muscle cars, drive-ins, create the appearance of going back in time!
  • Outdoor Theater:  create the effect of the outdoor drive in by hosting a movie outdoors!

Travel Games and Activities

Planning ahead to have activities along the trip can make the difference between frustration and fun for your vacation travel.  Games can make the travel time go quickly and keep the family in a festive mood to make the vacation memorable.  Here are some ideas to get you going:

1.  I Packed my Trunk For India:  This is a memory game that everyone can play.  The game begins with the first player saying: "I packed my trunk for India and with me I took:" then they name something starting with the letter "a".  Example:  "I packed my trunk for India and with me I took an apple."  The next person has to recant the list and then add an item with the next consecutive letter.  Variation of the game we have enjoyed is packing the trunk with absurd items that couldn't possibly fit in a trunk or be needed on a trip to India.  It adds to the humor of the game. 

2.  Treasure Hunt:  When on a long trip, we have fun by listing off things that we might likely see along the way and creating two different lists and dividing the car into teams that will be on the lookout for the items on our list.  Here are two sample lists, but you can create your own:

Team 1
18 Wheel Truck
Vegetable garden
Grocery Store
Car from out of state

Team 2
Billboard for the destination
Falling Rock Sign
Car with cargo on top

3.  Word Games: Make a game out of considering how many words you can form with the letters of you destination.  For instance, if you are going to Busch Gardens, write down how many words you can form with those letters like: (bush, guard, gas, bus chard, den, etc).  This can also become a competition between teams to increase the fun.

4.  20 Questions:  One person says: "I have something in mind, see if you can guess what it is".  The players ask yes/no questions to determine the item.  The players go around the circle asking one question each until they reach 20 questions.  If someone uncovers the answer, they win - if no one uncovers the answer, the person answering the questions wins.

5.  Hangman: Old fashioned game of hangman can be great fun on a vacation.  Increase the connection to the travel destination by selecting words that would be associated with that location. 

6.  Wave game:  When on the highway, make a game out of seeing how many travelers on the road you can get to wave back to you.  It can be a lot of fun and people will wonder how they know you.

7.  Story telling:  If visiting a family member or going to a location that is a family favorite, share stories about great memories that you had of that person or location.  It will not only help prepare the family for creating memories of their own, but will also help them to become acquainted with what to expect and they will know you more personally as well as a result.

8.  MORE GAMES:  If you didn't find the perfect game for your family check out the Top 21 Travel Games for the Car.

Fun Doesn't Have to Cost Money

One of the best things that has come from our economic reality has been that people are rethinking their priorities and getting connected to those things that are most important.  We all need a bit of fun in our lives, but we don't always need the gadgets, the game systems, the expensive tickets to enjoy a bit of relaxation. 

Virginia Saves is here to help you find some great ways to enjoy some fun without busting the bank.  This is also a great opportunity to teach children to prioritize their spending choices and to think in advance about activities they can do that don't cost a money.

Here are some ideas that we have collected, but we would love to hear yours as well:

Fun for Free Box: is a fun parent activity sheet that you can use with your children to plan ahead for activities that don't cost money.  You can create a box of activities you can do as a family and then an individual box of ideas that the child can use when they are bored and looking for something to do.

Libraries:  Check out your local library for fun free activities.

Money Bunnies:  Integrating a little learning as you plan your vacation can be a great opportunity to communicate to your children the things you value most.  To get you started, take a look at Money Bunnies Take a Vacation.  A fun story with some underlying principles that you can introduce to your children.  Parents can download a presenter's guide and additional activities to follow up the story here.

Parks: You might want to look into what local Parks and Recreation facilities have to offer.  Even state and national parks frequently offer some great free or low cost activities for kids.  Plan a picnic and a day of romp and fun.  Look to some of our family games section to integrate some fun with the great food.

Clubs: Have children become involved in a local kids club.  Churches and civic organizations often offer free fun things to do for kids in the summer.

Local Free Activities: Look to your local community calendar to see if there are activities offered in your city is a great website to check out activities not only in your town but also in other towns you might visit.  During the summertime you will find that these calendars can fill up with great fun.

Movies and Entertainment:  Do you enjoy concerts, ball games and plays?  Ask the management if they don't have volunteer usher positions that would allow you to enjoy the event without having to incur the costs!  Also check out Free Summer Movies: Regal Cinemas offer free family movies during the summer time.

More Ideas: Disney Family Fun Page: Great ideas for making summertime fun.

Share your favorite ways to enjoy free summer fun.  If you try out some of our suggestions tell us what you think.

Kick Start Your Savings Series

If summer is closing in fast around you, it may be time to kick start that savings plan so that you can enjoy all that summertime fun you had planned.  Sometimes we just need a kick start to get going.  Check out these great ideas for helping get you back on track for your goals:

Overcoming Summer Temptations

Starting the Emergency Fund

Creating Savings Goals  Start Small Think Big

Make More Money

Save on Food and Groceries

7 Ways to Save

Last Minute Vacation Savings

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Summer Projects

Making a summertime memory doesn't have to be done in a day.  Taking on a family project like a garden or a family craft that can be used as a gift later in the year can be a great way to bond together as a family.

We would love to hear about your ideas for taking on a project with your family. 
Your ideas contribute to the 2013 Vacation Planning Guide! Send us a tweet or email. Contact Virginia Saves.

Disney has a website with some great family fun activities.  From building a clubhouse to starting your own pumpkin patch there are some great ideas to start your family project.  Combining learning and play family activities can be designed with a larger purpose in mind!

Or, if you want to stay a little closer to home, Virginia has a lot to offer.  Check out the summer festivals, beach and local community events.

Tell us about your fun projects you have planned for the summer, and we will post some of our ideas on

For more ideas, check out these ideas at: 101 Fun things to do in the summer.

Plan to have FUN and SAVE this summer.

Kids in the Kitchen

Summertime can be a great time to introduce kids to fun recipes that are easy to create.  The extra time afforded as kids are out of school is great to begin training them to create snacks and meals on their own.  As parents, we want to see our children learn the life skills they need to succeed. 
Here are a list of websites we found.  If you have some favorite recipes, please share with our readers!

Easy Kids Recipes  Check out their suggestions for great fun foods for the fourth of July!

Kids Health Has a lot of great healthy recipe ideas that kids can create for themselves

Kids Recipes A-Z has fun ideas from Bunny Salad to Octopus dogs.  Great cooking with a little whimsy!

Recipes from Disney Family Fun:  Disney has some great fun ways for kids to get started preparing snacks and special foods. 

Nick Jr. has a wealth of recipes that are fun for kids.

Great Summer Games for the Whole Family

They say the family that plays together stays together.   Remember the games you used to play as a child?  As a culture, we have become so accustomed to being entertained, that we have lost touch with all the great interactive games of old.  Here are some ideas we found on various game sites to get you started; we encourage you to share yours as well:
Ring Toss - All you need is a stake and some "rings" to toss. Horseshoes would work just as well.

Mother May I? - The adult can play the part of the "Mother" who instructs the children to take steps, or hops, towards her. For example the "Mother" could say "Take five baby steps towards me." or "Take two bunny hops towards me." Meanwhile the child she speaks to must reply with "Mother may I?" before proceeding, otherwise they are kicked out of the game. The last child standing or first child to reach "Mother" wins.

Treasure Hunt - In the mood for some summer adventure? Organize a game of treasure hunt. You draw up a map and burying the treasure throughout the yard. You can leave small mounds of dirt where each treasure is buried to make it easier for the kids to find the buried treasure. Or you could mark the area around the buried treasure as another way of giving your kids a hint. The actual treasures can be things like marbles, beaded necklaces, quarter machine toys, coins, and other small objects.
Scavenger Hunt - What could be more fun than going on a scavenger hunt? Scavenger hunts can be simple or hard depending on the "clues". Simple clues would be "Find something blue.", "Find something soft.", or "Find something shiny." Harder clues could be made up using a combination of two easy clues "Find something blue and shiny." You can divide the teams up with one adult and one child per team. Whoever finds the most items or finds them all first wins.

Hide and Seek - The ultimate hunting game has always been "hide and seek". One player is the counter who must cover their eyes while the others hide. The player who is found first becomes the counter during the next round. Adults can easily participate in a game of hide and seek, either as an individual game or as a team game with their child.

Kick Ball - With just a ball and a few family members you can have hours of fun and competition playing this variation of baseball.  Instead of hitting a small ball with a bat, you kick the ball and then run the bases!

Egg Relay
- Two spoons, one egg, are the basics of the classic egg relay game. To play a game of egg relay with adults and children you can have the adults line up in a row and the children line up in another, facing each other. Give each child a spoon with a boiled egg and have them race to their adult partner meanwhile trying not to drop their egg. The first one to reach their assigned adult wins. Then you play again allowing the adult to carry the egg on the spoon back to the child.

Three Legged Race - The three legged race is a classic summer barbeque game where two people tie one of their legs to the other and race to the finish line. This game can be played by both adults and children though I would not recommend mixing the two unless the child is older or the adults understand that they need to keep pace with the child and not the other way around.

Water Balloon Toss - Looking for a way to cool down at your summer barbeque? A game of water balloon toss may be just what you need to cool off during the warm summer months. Two people stand within feet of each other and one tosses their water balloon over to their partner who in turns catches the balloon. If they are successful they each take one step back and repeat. If they aren't successful the water balloon bursts and someone has just managed to cool themselves off meanwhile being kicked out of the game. The last dry pair is the winner. Kids and adults can play this game together or separated by age group.

Tag  Remember how much fun it was to play a simple game of tag? When kids of decades past wanted to play something fun outdoors, tag was always at the top of the list.
Hide-and-Go-Seek A favorite outdoor game from yester-year.  Find a good hiding spot where no one else would think to look, and to make the game even more challenging, move to a new hiding spot after the seeker begins searching.

Ghosts in the Graveyard  This outdoor game that kids loved to play on a moonlit night. One person was chosen to be the ghost, and everyone else hid in the yard. The ghost would begin counting, one-o'clock, two-o'clock, three-o'clock, and so on until shouting midnight! At that point the ghost would search the yard for kids to run after and tag. Once they were tagged they also became ghosts who went in search of those hiding in the bushes and elsewhere in the yard.

Looking for more great fun?  Check out 50 Ideas for Old-Fashioned Summer Fun

Computer Games

If you have a child that is "plugged in", finding computer games that are age appropriate and child friendly can be a challenge.  Check out some of these free locations for games that can be entertaining and sometimes educational too. 

Free summer fun computer games for kids to mix up some of the activities in the summer. 

From Scooby's Rippin' Ride to Mower Mayhem to puzzles and word games all appropriate for kids.  Check out this summer games selection from Primary Games!

The US Mint has a great selection of fun games that teach about money, art, history and just plain action games.  Play When Pigs Fly to build your own plane an see how long you can keep it in the air.  The Lewis and Clark Adventure can inspire the explorer in you.  Join the journey into the old west and overcome the challenges that were faced by Lewis and Clark.  Many more games at H.I.P. Pocket Change 

The FINRA Investor Education Foundation has a website Dollars from Sense a beginners guide to getting started with money management, saving and investing.  Great information for the whole family.

Learn for Good is a great website with a great array of fun online games for kids.  Some educational and some just plain fun.

Vacation Savings Guide

Take a Break without breaking the bank!  
Vacation is a time for taking a break from our routines of  life to reconnect with the important things in life, like family and friends while taking time to unwind and get rejuvenated.  Virginia Saves is here to help your family create a vacation to remember!

Staycation Ideas

Fun can reside in one’s own backyard!  As parents, you can use the summer staycation to help your child explore their interests  Check out some of the great arts, crafts, exploration activities right in your own area.  Staycations can provide great fun with family without the costs of travel. 

The trick to a successful staycation is to create the mood of a traditional vacation.  Breaking from routine and enjoying fun activities together as a family. 

Backyard Parties  Great ideas for connecting with family and friends right at home.

Backyard Recreations:  Having a party or just enjoying games as a family can be a great way to create summertime memories.

Explore your own Backyard:  One of my favorite things to do is to investigate some of the history of my hometown and visit historical locations.  Check out your local historical society or search for a book on the history of your area.  Roadside America can also introduce you to some oddities that might be right in your own area!  Finding that hidden treasure in your community can be a great adventure.

Family Reunions:  You don't have to wait until Thanksgiving and Christmas to reconnect with extended family.  Family reunions allow your children to connect with the roots of their family tree (and perhaps all the branches as well).  Check out this website with all the resources you need to plan the perfect family reunion:  From concept to the actual event, there are lots of details to cover.  The planning can become a family project with every member contributing something to the event.

Summertime Projects:  Summertime can provide the time needed to tackle some of those projects.  Doing projects together as a family can be a great way to create a memory this summer.

Random Holiday:  I enjoy this one.  Plan a day several weeks in advance for a special day to honor someone you love.  It could be a grandparent, Dad or some other important person in your life.  Spend time preparing a celebration that will show them how much they mean to you.  Because it is random, it adds to the celebration - they will never expect it, but your family can have a great time as you plan and anticipate the event!

Pitch a Tent: You don't need to leave town to go camping.  Consider camping in your own back yard.  Just the very act of leaving the house can create a sense of adventure and fun.

If you are looking for some additional inspiration check out Smart Ideas for a Summer Staycation.

Building Family Ties

You don't have to wait until Thanksgiving and Christmas to reconnect with distant family members.  Summertime can be a great way to build family ties while strengthening the relationships in your own household.  Planning a family vacation, reunion or just a gathering in your back yard can be a great way to connect family members to their extended roots.  Here are some great ideas for getting started:

1.  Host a family picnic:  Invite family to a family picnic.  You can make it as simple or elaborate as you desire.  If family are located close, you can have them bring a dish to pass and share the costs or you can provide the food and have them contribute the activities or decorations.  The more every member is involved in the planning the better.

2.  Plan a family reunion: Check out this website with all the resources you need to plan the perfect family reunion:  From concept to the actual event, there are lots of details to cover.  The planning can become a family project with every member contributing something to the event. 

3.  Combine a Vacation:  Sharing a vacation can be a great way to create family memories!  Choose a destination and start making plans.  To help inspire you, check out  as a resource for ideas to build your vacation plan.  Pick a location in the middle or go to a favorite spot.  The possibilities are endless!
Check out our vacation planning tools in the guide as well.  Share your stories with us!

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Vacation Planning

Vacation Planning can save you lots of money on the total cost of your vacation, but can also be a great family activity with each member getting involved in the choosing of the destination, planning the activities and the costs.  With everyone involved, saving for vacation becomes an adventure in itself. 

Planning for your vacation includes not only considering the costs before you go, but also allocation of time for travel and activities as well as creating a list of all the things you will want to take with you.  By planning ahead you can save yourself not only money but stress as well! 

Start with the budget:  Knowing the financial boundaries before you begin planning will help simplify the decisions and lessen disappointments when lofty vacation dreams don't fit within your financial reality.  The budget is the amount of money you have saved or will have saved prior to the vacation.  Saving each month toward the costs will allow you to grow a larger reserve from which to plan activities.  If you are planning a vacation to cost $1,200 then by saving $100 each month, your reserve is completely built before leaving.

Plan your destination:  Getting the entire family involved in determining what you would like to do on vacation.  Knowing the amount of money you can spend on the vacation, have a family meeting to discuss possibilities.  The dream vacation you thought the kids would love may take on a new flavor with the kids involved in the planning.  Establish rules for contributions so that no one is excluded and all ideas are considered.  Good rules allow for unrealistic ideas to fall off the radar pretty quickly.

Make a list:  You will want to get the family involved in making a list of all the potential costs for the vacation.  The more detailed the list the fewer surprise costs.  Consider the cost of preparing the car for the long trip, the cost of gas to get there or the cost of alternate travel.  How will you get around once you are there?  Where will you eat?  How much will you spend on souvenirs?  What is the cost of activities once you arrive?  Use this worksheet to get started.  As you develop the list, you will find new ideas cropping up from the team about what they would like to do - great time to discuss the costs and logistics of all the ideas.  This way you are training your children to plan in advance for the costs of other items as well.

Begin Preparing:  After the list is made there will likely be many things that need to be done to make the vacation successful, from adding to the vacation fund by giving up some of the costs of other daily things or packing, preparing the home for leaving, preparing travel meals and activities. 

Consider Food Costs: Having snacks and drinks for the car can save a ton on stopping along the way.  Also discuss boundaries in advance for eating out.  You can save a great deal by drinking water instead of ordering beverages and skipping the dessert in favor of something tasty later.  If you will be staying at a location that has a fridge with a microwave or stove, you may be able to purchase some groceries to make meals and save on costs of eating out.

Here are some more resources to get you started:

Plan Your Summer Vacation Now.   Extension Service offers some great suggestions for getting started planning your summer vacation great strategies for breaking down the costs of the summer vacation and worksheets included.

Budgeting: Summer Travel.  Practical Money Skills for Life offers some great tips for saving on your travel costs this summer.  Arm yourself with a good vacation plan that accomodates all the costs.

How to save for the vacationMSNBC offers 9 great travel tips for creative ways to save for vacation.

Travel Budgeting- Do you know how much you're going to spend on your travels? The Travel Budget Tool will help you plan your your vacation costs   Little things add up so this tool can help you create a realistic budget for your total cost of vacation.

10 money-saving tips for a vacation  Get creative and think about some great alternatives to those costly vacations.

Travel Savings

Traveling in the summertime can be a great way to enjoy a family adventure while strengthening valuable relationships.  With some simple strategies and the right planning, you can make that summer vacation you and your family have been talking about a reality.

Planning the Family Trip
As you plan your family vacation, there are several important things to keep in mind:

Picking a Destination
When considering destinations for your summertime get away, it is important to keep in mind how long the trip will take, the method of transportation, and how each relates to your budget; however the most important thing to keep in mind is the reason for the trip.  Pick a destination where you and your family can relax, explore, and do the things you wouldn’t normally be able to do at home.  An important thing to remember is to pick a destination where your family can spend and enjoy time together on a family adventure you will remember for a long time.  Once you’ve chosen a destination, then you can plan with detail exactly how you will make your vacation possible while fitting your budget.

Travel Trends
By selecting less popular routes and travel dates, you can save both time and money as you plan your itinerary.  For example, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturday afternoons often offer the best rates on air fares because there are typically fewer people travelling. 


A savvy vacation planner should be sure to find the best deal possible when making hotel reservations.  The following are links to several popular hotel and lodging search engines you can use to find the best rate available for your vacation.

Vacation Packages
Vacation Packages are often affordable solutions when planning a family vacation, however might not offer as much flexibility as planning your own.

The AAA website has a page on Travel Planning which offers a variety of valuable tips, tools, and resources to help you as you plan your itinerary.  The article 20 Secrets to Save on Travel, lists in detail a variety of important tips to keep in mind during the planning process.

For tips and ways to save on food and dining during your summer vacation, see

Make a Memory

Vacation is not just about getting away, it is about connecting with the important things in life.  The pace of everyday routines can allow us to take family and values for granted.  Summer is about getting back to the essence of who we are and creating memories to last a lifetime.   Think about your happiest childhood memories, weren't they when you felt loved and connected as a family?  Summertime is a great time to make these memories for your children.  Check out some of these great resources:

Fun Doesn't Have to Cost Money

Great Free Summer Computer Games

Games Adults and Children Can Play

Summertime Projects

Summertime Recipes for fun

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