For us, our kids remember hiking up a mountain and getting lost, sleeping under our Christmas tree by the fireplace when our electricity went out, floating in tubes down a river (and yes, we bought our own tubes at the end of the summer before on clearance for the same price it was to rent them), standing-in-line at midnight to get the last Harry Potter book (my kids still talk about this!) and riding on the subway in a big city.
So for number 2 on our list of saving money for your family, I am going to say: make cheap memories and have inexpensive experiences-- Save money on entertainment. Your kids are not going to remember these as being “cheap,” but these will be part of the fiber which makes a rich childhood. What I am telling you is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to create lasting memories.
Here are some ways that we have saved some money on vacations and other entertainment needs, but still gave (give) our children wonderful experiences and memories:
-Make your way to all the local playgrounds . . . often.
-Visit free festivals. These can be outdoorsy, artsy, folksy, craftsy, techy, etc. Most communities have one or more of these during the warmer months of spring, summer, and fall. There are lots of things to see and do—most are usually free. Of course, bring your own drinks and food or eat before you come and splurge on “dessert.”
- Use your State and National Parks. Buy a park pass. Go on hikes and explore. Many have beaches and creeks for spending the day just picnicking and hanging out.
-Buy those family passes for museums and zoos. Most of these reciprocate in other cities and states. Large families get a lot of bang for their bucks. If these passes are too pricey—ask for this for the kids as Christmas presents from your parents.
-For older kids, take up Frisbee golf. Most college campuses and many parks have these courses for free. You will have to invest in a couple of Frisbees per person. (Christmas presents!) Other games you could play together would be: Corn Hole, Bocce, Croquet, Ping Pong, Badminton, Four Square, etc. Have family tournaments. For cooler weather, you've got family game night with your favorite board games and card games.
-Use your Local Library. Summer reading clubs, crafts, and other activities are almost always free. Get your movies here instead of purchasing or Redbox. Borrow books and CDs instead of buying them.
-Get rid of Cable TV. This not only makes TV monitoring a little easier, but saves cash monthly. Netflix is a pretty good bargain. If you need sports on TV for your family, consider a Roku with Sling or apps like the MLB channel. Yes, these cost money; and yes, you will have to monitor all the shows they offer; and yes, you do need internet—but this still costs less than a monthly cable bill in the long run.
-Take up camping. Don’t get carried away with buying all new stuff, either. Purchase a new tent, but find everything else used—preferably using what you already have. It’s supposed to be simple. Improvise. That’s part of the fun.
-Eat out sparingly, making it special. Don’t make eating out your “burned-out, I’m spent and tired” go to. When you feel like this—make scrambled eggs or spaghetti with sauce from a jar for dinner. (I actually have a list of easy, go-to dinners for whenever life goes this way. Make one of these for yourself. Post it in your kitchen somewhere. When you are burned-out and run down, it’s hard to think of these.) Trust me on this. Your kids will value eating out and see this as a means of celebrating—like mom’s birthday, or John’s confirmation, etc. Plus, you will save a lot of money. Always use a coupon or Groupon when dinning out. And if it’s a birthday, look for places that offer a free dinner or at least a free dessert. Find this info online.
-When we go out for ice cream—it usually means we go to the grocery store and buy a box of ice cream treats, usually something BOGOF. (Klondike Bars, Drumsticks, even Ben and Jerrys goes on sale occasionally!) We take it to a nearby park. Instead of spending $20, we spend under $5.
-Go on a pilgrimage. I wish I could say I took our family to Rome—but that didn’t happen. I am still waiting for my turn to go. Someday. But there are lots of beautiful pilgrimage spots rights where you live. Yes, even if you live in Kansas, Texas, or like us, in the middle of the Bible belt. And I know this because, when we travel, we always find a place like this to visit. There are shrines and beautiful churches within travel distance of everyone. You may need a little travel time to get there, but that makes it feel like a pilgrimage. You don’t need to spend hours in prayer there, either. We want to create fun and happy memories, but don’t miss the opportunity for some short prayers of thanksgiving and petition. And guess what? These visits (and graces) are free!
Life is an adventure. There is so much to see and do right where you are living. Take some time to explore all that your city and state have to offer. The best part of all of these events is just taking the time to be together. Moms, it’s up to you to make this happen (yes, Dads, too, I am assuming moms are reading this, though.) Don’t settle for just randomly dishing out that hard earned cash. Take some time to plan and do your research. This will allow you to have some “rich” family times together that won’t break the bank.
Do you have other ideas for family "cheap" entertainment that I am missing?