Had I known I was prosperous, I would have enjoyed it more.

Had I known I was prosperous, I would have enjoyed it more.

When the economy was roaring in the '80s, '90s and whatever we call this decade, I mostly felt like a regular working stiff. That's not to say I didn't appreciate what I had. I just didn't feel rich.

As it turns out, I was living in a period of great prosperity. Now they tell me. On the other hand, because I didn't feel rich, I cultivated certain frugal habits that now qualify me to compile a list of Cheap Things to Do This Summer with Kids. I'll define cheap as anything less than the family price tag for entering an amusement park. (I hate amusement parks: G-forces just aren't that entertaining to me.)
Here are my suggestions:

Go to a pick-your-own farm and pick stuff
A hundred years ago, that was known as manual labor; now we consider it fun. It's a novelty for kids who get most of their produce from a grocery store. Be advised: An hour of overenthusiastic picking can easily result in a $50 strawberry bill. Of course, you get to eat the entertainment, so it still ends up a bargain.

Eat ice cream
Ice cream contains a lot of joy per calorie. I can think of few other foods, that in themselves, can be viewed as an event. You never hear people talk about going to a carrot social. Keep in mind that you will blunt ice cream's impact if you overstock the freezer with treats. I advise restricting the at-home goodies to Popsicles, reserving ice cream as a special occasion food. That keeps it special.

Skip stones in the river
My daughter and I spent hours doing this when she was young. We had a river handy, so that helped. There's a secret to stone-skipping, by the way: Snap the wrist sharply. That will result in enough spin to get even a not-so-perfect rock to bounce merrily over the surface. But warm up first: If you tear your rotator cuff, stone-skipping will cost you the same amount as a week at Disney World.

Go see animals
You just can't go wrong with animals. County fairs and the Ohio State Fair are great places to see them. Pet stores are fun, too, but there's always the danger you will buy a puppy. Proceed with caution. The best place to see animals, of course, is the Columbus Zoo, which I consider a bargain even though the costs can add up fast.

Let's say the zoo costs a family of four $50, with parking. (Pack a lunch, of course, and forgo souvenirs). And let's say the family stays for six hours. Four people times six hours equals 24 units of fun, according to my entertainment math. At $50, that's roughly $2 a unit. Reason-able, if you ask me. Don't tell the kids about this formula. They'll make a case for staying 20 hours at an amusement park to achieve a similar per-unit price.

Throw water balloons at each other
You can talk a kid out of going almost anywhere that costs money if you promise to let him throw water balloons at you. You'll get wet, but it's a small price to pay.