By SARA WELCH and ALICIA ROCKMORE
It was a warm summer night. The humidity had to have been 100 percent and the crickets were extra loud. Lightning bugs glowed and your stomach ached from the 23 marshmallows your buddies challenged you to eat in one minute.Maybe you didn't have exactly that experience, but chances are you enjoyed something pretty close to it -- a quintessential summer evening. The best part about such a night: it involved nothing more glamorous than hanging in the back yard and cost no more than 99 cents or so for the marshmallows.We may be languishing in one of the tightest economic downturns our country has seen in decades, but there's no reason to let money woes throw a wrench in your summer fun! You can have a fantastic summer and create lasting memories with little or no money. All it takes is a little planning. Read on for inexpensive ways to beat the heat and have some fun this summer.
1: Homemade slide-Got a hose, a sprinkler and a tarp? Then you've got a slippery slide. Just flood the tarp with water and add a sprinkler or two for extra fun. Don't have any of these items? Ask a neighbor, friend or family member if you can borrow theirs for the day. Home Depot sells tarps fairly cheaply. Be sure to get all sticks and rocks out from underneath first. And if you place the tarp on a slight slope, that works nicely, too. Fun for children of all ages
2: Take a hike-When was the last time you visited a state park or a hiking trail? Take a nature walk by yourself or with others and recharge your batteries. Just be sure to wear sunscreen and bug spray, have first-aid supplies with you and let another person know where you'll be and when you'll be back. Consider taking your cell phone as an extra security precaution.
3: Just beachy-Even if you're not near the ocean or one of the Great Lakes, chances are there's some form of a beach on a lake within 50 miles of home. Take a day trip to the lake and just relax in the sun and shade.
4: Rack those little brains!-School may be out, but learning can be fun for your child. Try out your library's summer reading programs for fun and free entertainment with an educational twist. For added incentive, invite your child's friend to go along.
5: New sports-Ever tried golfing? Go on eBay or Craigslist.org to find inexpensive sets of golf clubs in adult or youth sizes, buy a bag of whiffle golf balls and set a bucket in the yard as a target. Then swing, aim and enjoy. Golf is a game of patience and practice, so even if you don't actually go to the course very often, you can still enjoy it. You can also teach yourself the rules while the matches are on TV. Hate golf? Pick another sport you don't usually play and give it a whirl.
6: Help others and learn-Community service is a great way for kids of all ages to get out of the house and learn about others. Donate your time with the local animal shelter or join a community service club, like 4-H (http://www.4-h.org/). Volunteer activities remind you of what's really important in life and enable everyone involved to make new friends.
7: Neighborhood campout-If you have children, and even if you don't, backyard campouts are always an adventure. Ask everyone you invite to bring snacks to share. All you have to supply is your yard, a bathroom and beverages. Note for parents: Have a space available in the house if it starts raining or the children get scared.
8: Budget-store art-Raid the budget store for art supplies and go wild. You don't need to have $7 markers and $15 paints to have fun and stretch your creative muscles.
9: Budget-friendly child care-Try your local parks program for free or minimal-cost day camps for kids. These programs offer a fun-filled day.