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
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 his or her own. You could do the same
for tacos, enchiladas, pancakes, or grilled sandwiches. Cook your entree together,
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.
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 avoid 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, entertainment.com, 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
www.travelzoo.com or other 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
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
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 Road Scholar
(formerly Elderhostel), a group 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 multi-player video games or other challenge events.
By exploring these options, you can create a year’s worth of fun family activities
and become closer in the process.