Anyone who has children has likely heard "I'm bored!" a few too many times. When you're on a budget, it can be tough to think of ways to entertain the family that don't cost a lot of money. Fortunately, there are many options available to you if you know where to look.
- Head to the library, and not just to check out books. Look at the library's community events calendar. Most have everything from story times for toddlers to game nights for teens. Many also have enrichment classes offered free of charge.
- Visit the local community center. Most counties have at least one. There, you can pick up a parks and recreation schedule, with information on free events taking place throughout the year, such as hikes, holiday parties, arts festivals, outdoor movies and concerts in the park.
- Tour the fire station. Most fire fighters will give you and your kids a free tour, as long as you call and schedule ahead of time. Kids can learn about fire safety and tour the facility. For safety reasons, fire stations do not generally accommodate toddlers under the age of four.
- Check out a state park. Stop by the ranger station and ask about free kids programming, such as nature walks and hands-on science classes. Some parks have junior ranger badges children can earn by completing conservation related activities.
- See if your city has any free museums. For example, all of the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. are always free to visitors.
- Go on a factory tour. It's great fun for kids to see how chocolate, cheese, ice cream, or even bread is made. Just be sure to call ahead to learn about age and safety requirements.
- Ride bikes. You can do this pretty much anywhere. Just don't forget your helmets.
- Look at outdoor art. Many art museums that charge for admission still let visitors check out their outdoor sculpture gardens for free. You can also search for art in public areas around your town.
- Go bowling or skating. With the Kids Bowl Free and Kids Skate Free programs, children can enjoy free recreation during the summer.
- Camp in a National Forest. A lot of the sites are free to use, though they do lack amenities.
- Go to the beach and build a sandcastle. If there's no beach nearby, do the same in the sandbox at a playground.
Many attractions, such as museums, zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, planetariums, and theaters, offer pay-as-you-can days several times per year, often during the first or last week of the month. In other words, you can enter for free or by making a donation in the amount of your choice.
Here are some other ideas that cost very little, but are big on fun:
- Go to the county or state fair. Admission is usually fairly inexpensive, and check your local paper for discounted days or coupons.
- Watch a movie at the drive-in. It's way cheaper than the theater, and it doesn't matter if the little ones fall asleep.
- Spend a day at the community pool. If you don't want to spring for a membership, ask for the daily "drop-in" rate and only pay on the days that you go.
- Go as a large group. Visit websites like meetup.com to find other families in the area who are interested in attending events. You may be able to get discounted admission as a group an it's also a good way to connect with others who can help you brainstorm more activities, as well.
- Mix any brand of dish soap with equal parts Karo syrup to make your own bubble solution. Use a wire coat hanger as a wand and have hours of fun.
- Cook a meal together as a family. Have the kids pick out a recipe and go to the grocery store together to gather the ingredients. Visit a community garden and pick up some seeds to plant at home. Teach a lesson on where fruits and vegetables come from before they reach the grocery store.
- Create a puppet show using socks or paper lunch bags. Have the kids come up with an original story, or use one from a favorite book.
Enjoy Family Time
No one wants to spend family time worrying about money. Instead, remember that the most important thing is that you and your family are together, no matter what you are doing. When everyone is engaged in an enjoyable activity, it often doesn't matter so much what that activity is; the family can make anything fun.