Summer time, and the living is expensive.  If you’re in Manhattan, it’s more expensive than most other places.

We had summer camp all lined up, but it fell through at the last minute when the camp was forced to relocate.  Now we’re trying to figure out how to keep our little one busy and happy for the summer.  The economy’s tough, unemployment in New York City is above 8%, and we’re looking for cheap ways to make it a great summer.

So we set out to see what we could do for under $20 per day in Manhattan.  No easy feat, by the way.  But with a little time and creativity, it can be done.

Here are 11 fun kid-friendly things you can do for less than a single Andrew Jackson.

FAO Schwarz: $20 won’t buy a lot here, but a visit to the world famous toy store is a great way to spend an afternoon. They also regularly schedule fun, free special events including their famous giant piano dancers. Check it out here.  Speaking of piano dancers, be sure to hop on the giant keyboard and pretend you’re Tom Hanks from Big.

Central Park: You could spend all summer in Central Park and never see the same thing twice.  21 playgrounds is just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of activities planned for families in the park this summer including the A Clearing in the Forest series on alternating Sundays.  Go to Strawberry Fields.  Visit the Alice In Wonderland statue.  Have a picnic on he Great Lawn.  Have an ice cream and a $2.50 carrousel ride.

The Manhattan Children’s Museum: Fun and educational, and now open 7 days a week for the summer. When my child was an infant, the top floor was like the center of the world.  The $11 admission fee could be a budget buster, but on the first Friday of the month between 5 and 8pm admission is FREE! More info here.

Bryant Park: The summer is packed with activities at this Manhattan park. There’s entertainment, educational activities, and even a summer movie festival (warning – not all movies are kid-friendly, so check the schedule).  Check the park’s website for daily activities.

The Children’s Museum of the Arts: Children under the age of ten will have fun here. The regular admission fee is $10 for each adult and child. On Thursdays from 4 to 6pm however, the museum offers a “Pay as You Wish” program. Nice! Check out their calendar for all the details.

Tony Dapolito Recreation Center: Just north of Houston Street in the West Village, this place is a terrific find because not only do kids 18 and under get free admission, there’s an indoor and outdoor pool to beat the heat.  They also feature a series of children only and teen programs.

The Today Show Summer Concert Series: Sure it’s a bit “touristy”, but being a part of the broadcast can be a fun family experience.   Concerts are held on Friday mornings, and it’s fun.  You’ll need to get there early, so grab a coffee and a bagel from one of the carts that line Fifth Avenue in midtown.  The concert series schedule can be found here.  Combat the tourist crowd by making a sign that says, “We Came All The Way From Brooklyn!”

Battery Park: Water fountains for the kids to dance in, and great views of The Statue of Liberty. Having a fun, full day at Battery Park should be no problem! Use your $20 budget for hot dogs and pretzels at one of the food carts. Take time and plan a day in this historic area.  When you get too hot from playing, go over the Bowling Green park and watch the world go by (say hi, too – Bowling Green is right next to the bankruptcy court in Manhattan).  Details here.

The Sony World of Technology Lab: SWTL contains 4 floors of exhibits and displays to encourage creativity in a family environment. While SWTL is free to get in, you must arrange for free tickets in advance. Make arrangements for tickets at least 7 days ahead of time. Full details are available here.

The Field House at Chelsea Piers: With a rock climbing wall and batting cages, sports oriented kids will love this place. They have it all. Prices vary depending on activity, so be sure to visit the link below, or call ahead with questions.

The Staten Island Ferry: Kids love boats and trains and the ferry can be a fun part of a summer day. It offers great views and best of all, the 25 minute (each way) trip is free!   There’s a decent pizza place on Bay Street when you get off the ferry, so cross for a quick bite before heading back.  Remember to get a spot at the front of the ferry for the ride back to Manhattan for a killer view.  For the full story and schedules click here.

Sure it’s Manhattan and it’s expensive but there are still affordable ways to spend time with your kids this summer.  Who said you need to spend a ton of cash on camp, anyway.