Each Friday, families all around the Triangle ask themselves the same question – what should we do this weekend? There are the obvious choices like going out to eat or catching a new movie. Unfortunately, those options can also drain your budget pretty quickly. An outing to the movies for a family of 4 can easily cost over $75 when you include tickets and drinks and snacks. In this economy, with 11% unemployment, many families don’t have an extra $75 to spend each weekend on family activities. Thankfully, there are many ways to be frugal and still have tons of fun. Here are 25 favorite frugal ideas to help you enjoy family time on a budget.
1. Find out the schedule for free days at local museums and spend the afternoon discovering dinosaur fossils and 16th Century paintings. Make sure you pack your own snacks though – drinks and granola bars tend to cost a lot more when located anywhere near a gift shop! Check out the WRAL site Go Ask Mom for a long list of museums in the area.
2. Call the local theater and ask about preview/rehearsal dates for plays. You can often see a play at a greatly reduced price during the preview rehearsals.
3. Try minor league sporting events that usually cost much less than major league sporting games. Recently, Groupon.com offered a 63% discount on 4 tickets to a Carolina Mudcats baseball game. If you didn’t get in on that bargain, watch for their daily deals so you can take advantage of their next fabulous family friendly offer.
4. Memberships to zoos, museums and science centers are often well worth the initial investment if you frequent the locations. Many of these attractions offer reciprocal memberships to other attractions. For instance, with a zoo membership, you can also go to many other places including museums and aquariums.
5. Concerts in the park are often free on evenings and weekends. If you pack your lunch or dinner (vs. stopping to buy take-out) the outing will be that much more affordable.
6. Many businesses, such as grocery stores, newspapers, TV or radio stations, manufacturing plants, train stations or airports, will offer tours and field trips for your family. Although most adults might not view a trip to the grocery store as family fun, children love to learn about the world around them and field trips are an ideal teaching opportunity for the little people in your family. Simply call ahead to see if any businesses offer this service in your area. I was in a Lowe’s Foods the other day and there were a bunch of 4 year olds (with parents, thankfully!), who were on a grocery store scavenger hunt. They had to find specific items on a checklist and once they found them they checked them off. I imagine they received some fabulous gift like crayons and balloons once they completed the hunt. It was so cute to see how enthralled they were with this activity!
7. Farm visits are a great way to show children where their food comes from. Visit a local farmer’s market and ask some of the vendors if they have open house events or offer tours. See the box above for a link to Wake County pick your own farms – another funa nd frugal activity (as long as you don’t pick too much, of course!). http://www.pickyourown.org/NCpiedmont.htm (including Wake County) and http://www.pickyourown.org/NCcoastal.htm including Johnston County and eastern counties
8. A day trip to the beach is a wonderful way to experience the ocean. Collecting seashells, walking along the shore and building sand castles are inexpensive ways to enjoy nature. Avoid high beach prices by packing your lunch, snacks and plenty to drink. During the summer, we often take day trips to the aquarium at Fort Fisher. After touring the aquarium, we enjoy the beach area next to it.
9. Pull out the board games a few times a month. Not only is this less expensive than renting a movie or going out to eat, it is a wonderful way to spend time with your family and friends in the comfort of your own home.
10. Head to your local library for children’s reading time. It’s free and fun! After reading time is over you can stay and check out a few books to take home and read for the next couple of weeks at no cost.
11. Many national bookstore chains also offer free children’s reading time. Call around your area to see when the reading days and times are in your town. For a great list of area reading times see the Go Ask Mom website.
12. There are a number of national movie chains that offer free or reduced morning movies during the summer. This is a great way to get out of the house on a hot day and enjoy watching a movie in a theater. Granted, these are generally movies that have been out for a while, but the kids love seeing them on the big screen and the moms love seeing them for free!
13. Many home improvement centers and craft stores offer free workshops for children on the weekends. The children and the parents learn firsthand how to make birdhouses, picture frames and many other creative projects. Usually the store pays for all the supplies and the children take home the projects they make. Lowe’s Home Improvement, Home Depot and Michaels often offer these Saturday workshops for kids. See the link in the box above for info on Lowe’s workshops and ask at your local craft store about their workshops. The next free workshop at Lowe’s is March 27 where kids will be learning to make free kaleidoscopes. http://lowesbuildandgrow.com/
14. Check out your local parks and recreation departments. They offer inexpensive arts and crafts, cooking and dance classes, as well as many other low cost ways to learn new skills.
15. Go bowling. Many bowling alleys will issue coupons for free games in the local paper. You will still need to rent shoes, but the cost is minimal. Our local bowling alley in Clayton offered a free game of bowling every day during the summer. All you had to do was rent the shoes.
16. For the really frugal, make your own bowling game using 2-liter plastic soda bottles. Leave them empty for the younger children and fill them halfway with sand for the older ones. Use an appropriate weight ball based on the child’s age and the weight of the bottles. You can use your driveway, basement, garage or living room and play as long as you like at no cost. Another benefit: no goofy shoes required.
17. Grow your own fun by planting a garden with your family. Not only will your children have a great time, they will also learn the value of growing their own food when they get to harvest and enjoy it! With the rising cost of produce, it’s not only entertaining to garden, it’s smart.
18. Scrapbooking is a wonderful way to spend time while getting all your photos out of boxes and into albums. Albums can be made using very old family photos, pictures of the kids when they were younger, or recent photos of the family trip or holiday party. Have the kids help sort photos and create their own scrapbooks.
19. Head to the park with a picnic and spend the day swinging, bike riding, kite flying, walking the trails, playing ball and eating your frugally packed lunch and snacks. Everyone will sleep well that night and your wallet will be pretty happy, too.
20. Free festivals are lots of fun and usually offer free entertainment. Pack a few snacks and cold drinks and enjoy looking at all the arts and crafts booths and listening to the music. You may even find a frugal and beautiful gift for someone on your gift list. I can guarantee your kids will get their share of free pens, stickers, balloons and mini Frisbees!
21. Have a scavenger hunt either in the house or outside. Make a list of 10 items for the kids to find and watch them go. If the kids are too young to read, draw pictures of the items they need to find or just tell them what to look for, one item at a time.
22. Enjoy your own neighborhood by going on nature walks, riding bikes, and chatting with your neighbors along the way. Sounds pretty basic, but it’s a great way to get some frugal exercise for you and the dog.
23. Rainy Day? Have an indoor picnic by moving the coffee table out of the way, spreading out the picnic blanket, having lunch on the floor and making smores for dessert (it’s not necessary to heat the marshmallows).
24. Enjoy music time with the little ones by singing songs, playing instruments, and marching around the house with your “band”. It may be loud, but it is so much fun! If you are short on musical instruments, grab a pot and a wooden spoon and drum away.
25. Take part in volunteer activities through religious or other organizations to help those in your community. Volunteer opportunities exist all over town, including nursing homes, animal shelters, schools and children’s hospitals. Often local newspapers list available volunteer opportunities in the community.
Now you have a long list of frugal and fun activities to keep you busy for many weekends to come. Please share your other ideas for frugal fun so we can all save a little more money and have a lot more fun! As I always say, it’s your money – spend it wisely!