Families that play together stay together. While there are a number of free entertainment activities your family can engage in, there are also plenty that cost money. From infants to teenagers, it’s important to engage as a family and spend time together, but when the economy is taking its toll on the budget or there may be an unemployed parent the family trips to the zoo or amusement park may be out this year. That makes it even more important to find ways to still have a good time, but without breaking the bank.
When looking for things to do with your children, the outdoors is often the kids’ choice and there is a lot to do if the weather permits. In the warmer months of summer, parks and playgrounds are a great free way to spend an afternoon. The kids can have a great amount of fun while also getting exercise playing on the equipment and running around with other children.
Parks are also great for family sporting activities. Bring along a football to toss around or a soccer ball to kick back and forth. It’s fun in a small group, but even better if you can get together with others to make a game out of it. Don’t forget something as simple as a Frisbee or kite, or simply riding a bike, either. For a few bucks you can provide hours of entertainment.
Hit the Internet for New Places and Discounts
The internet is a great resource for searching for play places and coupons or discounts offered at each. There are a number of websites that showcase different businesses that have specials coming up. Some offer coupons to be printed and brought in when visiting, others have discounted pricing if admission is purchase on their website. Still others have lower prices if you purchase multiple passes at one time. One good place to check is on your local news website. They are usually good at highlighting community events and free activities in the coming weeks.
Many kids activity places that have indoor playrooms, have special pricing at certain times of day or days of the week, either to drum up business or to offer savings for families. Often, the first child is one price and additional children are a couple of dollars less, so that larger families can have the pleasure of experiencing the same fun without spending quite as much.
Many people say the kitchen is the heart of the house, and I’d have to agree. Nothing brings a family, or even friends, together like a good meal. This is where you can really get your family involved. Younger kids especially love to help bake sweet treats, but children at any age can learn a lot just by lending a helping hand in the kitchen. Not only is it fun, but it is an incredibly useful skill for them to learn that they will take with them when they are out on their own. We all know how much money can be saved by cooking meals at home, so when your childeren are armed with the knowledge to whip up a good meal on their own, they will be on their way to living a more frugal lifestyle as adults.
It’s also a perfect time to pass on some secret recipes. I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to help in the kitchen because I want to teach them how to make my award-winning chili recipe and slow cooker BBQ pulled pork recipe. They will be amazing their friends with these recipes years after I’m gone.
If you have one in your area, you may look into the local arcade or game place. These indoor attractions are sometimes akin to amusement parks and have a large assortment of games and some even have rides like a miniature roller coaster or merry go round. Tokens for game play and tickets for rides are usually sold in packages for lower prices when more is purchased, and they also frequently have coupons available on their websites. While it isn’t a free activity, if you plan ahead, get coupons, and play smart, you can have a lot of fun for little more than the cost of a few movie tickets.
If the weather is not cooperating and forces the family to stay in the house, there are many craft activities that can be found on the internet and printed for the kids to work on. Multiple websites offer the option to print pages to be colored with crayons or markers, and others have printouts with instructions to complete a craft project. Dollar stores or discount shopping chains usually have a selection of games and puzzles which could be stocked up on for rainy days.
Finally, it probably goes without saying, but those cold or rainy days are perfect times to break out card or board games. It may be harder to pry your older kids away from their Xbox to play a board game, but once you can convince them to join in they usually have a lot of fun. I’m sure you have some old board games buried in the basement or even a deck of cards lying around so it’s a great no-cost family fun night. Been a while since you’ve bought a game? Check out the offerings at the store and try something new. A 20 dollar game could provide countless days of future entertainment.
Wintertime can prove to be the most difficult time for keeping kids occupied and happy. If the temperature isn’t too cold, going outside to build a snowman is a very fun and free activity that comes complete with a new pretend friend at the end. There are many others things that can be done in the snow too; building a fort, making snow angels, and a (nice) snowball fight. Just make sure to bundle the little ones up well so there are not frozen fingers or toes. Also check the local listings for nearby sledding runs. Most locales have a favorite hill or slope that gets turned into a great sledding track each winter. For the more competitive types, you may even find a sledding race or competition which can be a great event to enter with your children.
Utilize Your Community Center
Community centers are a good place to start when looking for indoor happenings; many offer free or very inexpensive classes and programs for children and adults to participate in. The selection can vary greatly at each location, some offering dance and gymnastics classes, while others offer more arts and crafts. They also tend to provide the discounted total price when purchasing an extended period of time for attendance to their programs or for multiple children.
Whatever the weather and whichever options you choose, spending the time with your children is the most important part, not what you are physically doing. It just feels better if you can spend that time without spending much money.
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About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.