5 Budget-Friendly Ideas for the Outdoors

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Over the weekend, we invited some friends over for an easy barbecue and some intense ping pong playing*. With four high energy dogs, two inquisitive babies, and more than enough beer and rosé to host three more parties, our get-together was a great way to enjoy the outdoors and the celebrate some nice weather. Whether you're about to host a big barbecue or just want to lounge outside to catch up on some reading, we've pulled together a few easy and budget-friendly ideas for outdoor spaces...


1. A Cabana For One, Please

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This idea is so simple and easy--and won't cost you much more than a few sticks and an old bed sheet. In fact, even if you don't have a lounge chair, you could just lie on a beach towel or an old blanket. Simply stick four wooden poles into the ground and tie the ends of a bed sheet to each pole to create a private cabana for yourself.

Perfect for: A college student who needs to cram for a final but wants to lounge outside instead of hibernating in the library. Or just anyone who wants to lounge outside without spending a dime and wants to avoid getting a wicked sunburn.


2. A Makeshift Mattress

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Grab a few floor cushions to create a bed outside (this version utilizes a back wall to support a "headboard") and surround yourself with a few potted plants to dress up the space. (An alternative to floor cushions: a beanbag chair. Put this much maligned rec room/dorm staple to good use...outside.) Since the bed is so low to the ground, you could use a simple breakfast tray as a handy table to hold your drinks.

Perfect for: Someone who has a small balcony or patio with lots of potted plants and hasn't gotten around to furnishing the space yet...well, aside from the potted plants.


3. Well, It's More Like a Juliet Balcony...

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Let's say your "balcony" is more like an extended windowsill--just big enough for a few plants, if even that. Here's one thing you could do instead of the usual window box of petunias: get one or two tall topiaries. From the outside, it'll give your windows a bit of a regal look since topiaries are usually flanking front doors.

Perfect for: Fans of Edward Scissorhands, Romeo & Juliet, and residents of Tasmania's Topiary Town; as well as those of us who have very, very limited outdoor space.


4. Hammocks

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Oh man. How appealing does this look right about now? No matter how popular café tables and teak patio sets can be, the hammock is still the icon, representing all things great about lazing outdoors (we particularly love Hammock.com's tag line: "Accomplish Nothing..."). Nowadays, you don't need a tree or two to enjoy a hammock--there are a wide range of hammock stands from cheaper metal frames to intensely large wooden arcs that look vaguely like gigantic banana stands. Hammock sets can run a bit high, depending on your preferences; but if you are lucky enough to have trees, the ultimate outdoor indulgence is yours for typically less than $100.

Perfect for: Backyards with trees, and anyone who likes to nap outside.


5. The Family Reunion

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While the hammock may seem a bit indulgent (you can fit, at most, two adults, maybe three kids) and highly impractical for anything except sipping on a beverage and sleeping, the real workhorse of any outdoor gathering is the patio set. While there are many, many different variations and options out there (ranging from circular iron-wrought tables with matching chairs with cushions etc.), the most basic can run anywhere between $140 (Ikea's Tullerö patio set) to $899 on up (Crate and Barrel's Arbor Dining Set). However, if you do like hosting outdoor parties, we'd say the most versatile option is a simple table and two benches. That way, you don't have to scramble for extra chairs if there's one or two unexpected guests, and it's sturdy enough to last for years. If you're particularly handy, you could build a set yourself (check out Jeana Sohn's table and bench set that she and her husband made), or look for a few deals. We found this Balthazar table for $170 on Overstock.com and the Rorick backless bench for $169 at Benches.com.

Perfect for: Anyone who loves to host big(ger) parties and barbecue enthusiasts.

*The easy barbecue part was hanging out with the babies and dogs:

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Here's Craig of GetOutsideMore and his daughter Leah as she is protected fiercely by Herbie (who looks about 3x the size of Leah) and Frankie. The intense ping pong playing happened after a few too many drinks when I was trying to win a game...and managed to pop my knee out of its socket. So my personal tip for entertaining: don't believe anyone who says that ping pong is a low-impact sport, especially when there's alcohol involved.

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