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Family Fun on a Budget

These days, dinner and a movie may feel more like a major expense than a cheap evening’s entertainment. And if you have children or older adults living with you, taking everyone out for a good time can be costly.

It’s time to start looking for low-cost family fun. Here are ideas on how to have a good time for less. You can find ways to enjoy each other’s company without paying a cent.

Cook with your kids

Eating together as a family leads to healthier, happier children. So why not plan a dinner that’s fun, nutritious, and inexpensive? Consider putting out bowls of healthy toppings for pizzas and letting everyone create their own. You could do the same for tacos, enchiladas, pancakes, or grilled sandwiches. Cook your entree together. Then add a salad or fruit and sit down as a family to eat.

Get to know local parks

Being active as a family is good for everyone. Most neighborhood and city parks are free. Most counties and cities have websites advertising free or low-cost community events. Don’t forget national and state parks near you. These can offer budget-friendly activities in beautiful settings.

Here are ways you can enjoy yourselves for free at parks:

  • Take a nature walk or hike.

  • Play Frisbee, tag, badminton, soccer, or basketball.

  • Have a picnic.

  • Explore playgrounds and public beaches.

  • Fly kites.

  • Fish, if you have a license.

  • Hold a cookout with family and friends.

Hold a movie marathon at home

For the price of one movie ticket, you could spring for one or two rental movies plus popcorn or homemade snacks at home. Consider pulling mattresses together in the family room for a family sleepover.

Watch for free outdoor plays and concerts

Once the weather gets warmer, many cities host free plays and concerts, including opera, in public parks and squares around town. Plan to take your own food, so that you’re not tempted by overpriced food stands at the event.

Check out child-friendly matinees

Many movie houses offer early showings for families with children at a greatly reduced cost. Contact your local theatres for scheduling.

Join your public library

Public libraries offer many activities for children, including puppet shows, storytelling, arts and crafts, and music performances. Many host book clubs for adults where everyone is welcome. You can also check out books, music, and DVDs for free. Just remember to bring them back on time to prevent late fees!

Visit museums for free

Many places, from art museums to historic sites and amusement parks, offer free or heavily discounted visiting days. They might not be on the weekend, but you can still have fun on a Tuesday.

Look for deals on entertainment

Active duty and retired military members and their families are often eligible for discounts on local entertainment. You might also be able to get discounts at events if you are a member of AAA,, or other travel or recreation groups. You may also be able to find $5 or $10 tickets for a $45-a-seat show if you visit discount sites online.

Buy a year-long membership

Save up for an annual family membership or season pass to a venue that you’d enjoy visiting throughout the year. This might be a zoo, science center, children’s museum, or YMCA. If you want to go often, you’ll pay pennies on the dollar by paying upfront. And you’ll be able to attend members-only events and get discounts on purchases. Many YMCAs offer fully padded rooms and bounce houses for toddlers, plus a family gym and pool year-round.

Enjoy seasonal activities

Many communities offer a bounty of free activities in each season. You can find spring flower shows, summer berry picking, pumpkin patch tours, and snowballs and holiday lights festivals.

Join a faith group or other community center

Churches, temples, and other community groups often plan social events. These include potlucks, which offer fun and socializing for the price of a casserole.

Look for store-sponsored workshops

Home improvement stores sponsor the occasional child-oriented project day. This can also be fun for accompanying adults. For a small materials cost, you can spend an hour or two on a project. Keep an eye out for similar events in other retail stores or malls near you.

Check out the local senior center or independent living group

If you are helping care for elderly parents, visit local senior centers, the YMCA, and local independent living groups to see what they offer in the way of senior outings, book clubs, and get-togethers. Your parents might also be interested in groups that offers low-cost educational tours for older people and their families.

Have a family game night

Board games are great, but think outside the box a bit. Try unlimited playtime on favorite multiplayer video games or other challenge events.

By exploring these choices, you can create a year’s worth of fun family activities and become closer in the process.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
  • Marianne Fraser MSN RN
  • Rita Sather RN