5 Free or Cheap Family Fun Ideas
Movies, sporting events, amusement parks, zoos, museums. We want to give our kids the best experiences out there, but taking your family on these outings gets expensive! No one wants to sacrifice family fun in the name of budgeting. Luckily, there are ways to save money while still sharing moments like these with your kids.
1. Free Days. Many museums, zoos and other attractions offer free days a few times a year, when they waive admission for local residents. Although you will likely encounter a crowd, saving on hefty ticket prices can be worth it. Watch the websites of your favorite attractions or subscribe to their email lists to make sure you get the free days on your calendar.
You can also find places that suggest a donation for admission or let you pay what you can. Although they may recommend a certain amount, it’s really up to you how much you’d like to pay, as you often simply drop money in a box at the entrance. Some places offer this all the time, while others have special discounted days to help defray the cost of bringing your whole family. Ask your friends and neighbors or check the websites of your favorite spots to see if this is an option.
Before you go, see if you can bring in food so you can stay longer without having to buy it there. Alternatively, some places allow for re-entry if you want to leave to eat and then come back.
Libraries are always free and offer much more than just books. Many have play areas and activities for kids of all ages. Expand your horizons and see what libraries in other towns have to offer.
2. Discounts. Park districts, libraries and other community services may have discounted passes or coordinated trips to various attractions to take advantage of group discounts. Credit unions, employers, alumni associations and more also offer discounts or free passes to their members. And, of course, there are always online coupon sites.
When all else fails, the attraction itself may offer discounts. For example, many movie theaters show older family movies and cartoons on weekends or during school breaks. For just a couple of dollars per person, you can share with your kids the movies you loved when you were growing up.
Families with young children can look for local “toddler time” hours at bowling alleys, trampoline centers and bounce-house places where admission is lower for children under a certain age during set times. Sometimes adults get in for free as well. These are usually on weekday mornings, catering to stay-at-home parents and caretakers. In addition to saving on admission, most older kids will be in school, so your little one will have free reign to play and explore.
3. Memberships. If there’s a place that you visit often (or would like to visit often), consider purchasing a membership. Many memberships pay for themselves after two or three visits and may even work at other places in your city and around the world. Some museums, zoos and public gardens have partnerships so that your membership gets you free or discounted admission elsewhere. Buy your membership while you’re there so you can apply the cost of your visit to make it more worthwhile.
4. The great outdoors. There are plenty of ways to have fun with your kids at places that don’t charge admission, too. Look for forest preserves, public beaches and bike trails to explore. Many are free to get in, but you may have to pay to park.
If you’re going on a nature hike, prepare a scavenger hunt beforehand. Young kids can look for things with certain colors or textures, and older kids can look for specific plants, animals and other natural elements.
Kids love playgrounds, but many families get into a rut of going to the same ones over and over. Make a list of nearby parks so you never have to hear “I’m bored” again. When you try and like a new park, make a note of it so you remember to go back.
5. New uses for common things. You may be surprised at how many things you already have that can be turned into a fun activity. Baking cookies, playing games and doing puzzles together aren’t necessarily out of the box, but what about making music with kitchen utensils, sending your kids on a treasure hunt or planning a field day? “Shop” your kitchen, garage and craft supplies to see what sparks your imagination.
Whether you take your kids to see dinosaur bones at the museum or pretend to be archeologists digging in the backyard, they will appreciate the time you spend with them, not the money you spend on them. For those times when you do want to take them somewhere special, know that you may not have to pay full price.