Frugal Parenting (featured column)
by Rachel Keller
What fun activities can you do when you have neither the time nor finances to afford a vacation? Spending a week or two at Disney World or some other vacation resort may be exciting, but those getaways can drain your budget. Family fun should not require you to purchase a vacation plan or take out a second mortgage on your house.
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Listed below are several dozen simple ideas that are fun yet inexpensive. Our family has tried many of these, and we hope to try many more in the future. This is only a partial list of the many things you can do as a family. Add your own ideas to the list, and you will never lack for fun recreation.
1. Take a bike ride, but remember bicycle safety. Our family of seven has been cycling for several years now (even throughout my last pregnancy). We bought a child trailer which can hold two children, or up to 100 pounds. The trailer also holds food and other items, so we can ride to the park for a picnic or stop by the store for groceries.
2. Fly a kite or a battery-operated plane. We have done this on more than one occasion–a very fun, yet inexpensive outing.
3. Play catch or Frisbee. Even if you don’t have a Frisbee, a Rubbermaid® or round plastic lid make a wonderful and fun substitute.
4. Go roller-skating or roller-blading. (Always wear protective gear.)
5. Visit a local museum. Some museums have special discounts or even free admission on a specific day of the month. In our city, the second Friday of each month is free admission to several area museums.
6. Tour a local establishment (newspaper, office, radio station, city hall).
7. Stop by the state capital. This can be both fun and educational.
8. Visit a zoo. We purchase a family pass to the zoo. Because we are a larger family, the zoo pass more than pays for itself in just two visits. The pass is also reciprocal at other zoos. (Many of which are larger and more expensive than our local zoo.)
9. Go to the airport. When I was young, our family enjoyed watching airplanes take off and land. Now, since we live close to an airport, my children can often watch planes going across the sky from our own yard.
10. Walk the mall. Some malls have seasonal decorations and activities available. (Just watch you don’t overspend at stores while you’re there.)
11. Attend a church, school or community softball game (or basketball, volleyball, soccer, etc.). You can cheer on your favorite team often at no cost to you.
12. Plant a flower and/or vegetable garden. Gardening is a fun, healthy, and educational activity for you and your family. Children learn responsibility, and your family saves money on fresh and healthy produce.
13. Take a trip on a city bus. The buses in our city are very inexpensive, and with the price of gas, this may be a viable alternative. Once my sons took a ride on the bus, and they loved it. Just be prepared to spend extra time getting to your destination.
14. Play board games or card games at home. Even better, make up your own fun games.
15. Invite a family for popcorn. They may even enjoy playing a board game with you.
16. Walk, jog, or run as a family. We live on a cul-de-sac that is great for this activity. Sometimes, we all walk, pushing the two youngest in a stroller. Other times, I’ll run and my three oldest ride their bikes. It’s a great workout for me in trying to keep up with them.
17. Surprise the family. Go on a mystery walk. Only you know the destination. Have something special waiting at the end of the walk.
18. Have a scavenger hunt either inside or outside. Children will have fund finding the items listed.
19. A variation of the scavenger hunt is the nature hike. Look for as many different varieties of a specific item, such as leaves, flowers, rocks, birds, etc. You could look for several items on one walk or look for one specific item only.
20. Feed geese or ducks. We save our stale bread to feed the birds. (Keep it in the freezer until it’s time to feed the birds.)
21. Visit a nearby playground or park. Pack a lunch and make a day of it.
22. Have a barbecue or picnic at a park.
23. If you cannot get to the park, have a picnic in your backyard.
24. Did your picnic get rained out? Do not despair. Have an indoor picnic, complete with blankets, paper plates, cups, etc. (My children and I had so much fun when our planned picnic got rained out.)
25. Take a drive in the country or in the mountains. Stop at scenic overlooks. (With the price of gas so high, you may not want to drive too far.)
26. Go fishing.
27. Take a paddle boat ride.
28. Swim in a creek or pond (Practice water safety, of course!)
29. When it snows, find a hill to toboggan or sled down.
30. Build snowmen, snow angels or snow forts. Have a snowball battle.
31. Visit the library. Many libraries have activities planned for the children, such as story time, craft activities, movies.
32. Read a book together as a family. Even older children can enjoy a younger child’s book, and you may be surprised at how much younger children comprehend reading materials beyond their reading level.
33. Take a blanket and several books outside and read under the shade of a tree.
34. Work on a word puzzle together. Have fun and make your own word puzzles or word searches.
35. Watch a family video and discuss it together afterwards. Feature Films for Families has some wholesome videos with discussion questions listed on the back cover.
36. Make homemade ice cream.
37. Make homemade finger paints, edible play dough, invisible ink. See my article on Fantastic Frugal Finger Paints for some great recipes.
38. Do a puppet show, charades, or act out a play.
39. Wash the car together. This can be great fun on a hot day!
40. Use a hose, squirt guns, sprinklers, and water balloons to cool down on a hot summer day.
41. Camp out in the backyard.
42. Make an indoor tents with blankets draped over tables and/or chairs. Make an outdoor tent with blankets draped over a wash line. I had fun as a child making my own tents.
43. Brush up on constellations and go for a star-gazing walk.
44. Now, that you are brushed up on your constellations, visit a planetarium.
45. Clean out the garage, basement, or attic.
46. Sing songs. If you have a musical instrument, play along. I play piano, and my husband plays guitar. If you have a portable instrument like a guitar, you can take it on a camping trip.
47. Write a handwritten letter to grandparents or other relatives or to a missionary.
48. Attend a children's play.
49. Explore a different part of town.
50. Have fun making your own pizza. (If you don't want to make your own pizza dough, you can buy ready-made pizza dough.)
51. Find some old family albums and have fun reminiscing.
52. Learn how to preserve your memories by creating acid-free photo memory pages together.
53. Make a family journal of your fun times together.
54. Draw a mural together.
55. Bake cookies and give to the neighbors. (Visit our Cookie Club for great recipes!)
56. Make homemade Christmas decorations.
57. Visit a shut-in or the elderly at a retirement facility. This is a wonderful way to teach compassion to young children.
58. Do a helping project for a church or needy family.
59. Do something special for others. Children can help prepare meals for the sick or shut-in or gather items for a needy family. Buy some groceries and deliver to the family. (You can make this extra fun by putting them on the doorstep, ringing the doorbell, and hiding.) At Christmas, buy a few extra gifts for someone in need.
Family fun need not cost a family fortune, just a little time, planning, and creative thought. Yet, the memories created through family time together can last a lifetime.
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Copyright © 2005-2012 by Rachel Keller. All rights reserved.