Want to do more activities with your kids, but don’t feel you can afford it? Try these ten ways to save on family activities, and have more fun while spending a lot less!
I was talking to another mom the other day about the joy of getting our families out of the house and doing fun activities together on the weekends.
“But it kills me,” she said. “I just can’t afford to do stuff like this more than a few times over the summer. I mean, last weekend we just went to the wild animal park. By the time the day was done, I’d shelled out 30-something for admission, another 30 bucks on lunch, and then of course everyone needs a stuffed animal or a t-shirt from the gift shop before we go…that’s another $50 bucks right there. I just can’t afford to do this every week!”
Me neither. I hear ya, mama!
But you know what? We’d taken our family of 4 to the very same park the week before, and spent less than $20 for the whole day. Our secret? Checking out discount passes from our local library, bringing our own lunch & drinks, and skipping the gift shop on the way out. And we had a great time!
My kids are still talking about the mountain lions and peacocks, and are eagerly awaiting our photos to show up in the mail so they can add them to our summer scrapbook.
Days of outings and adventures like this do so much for our family. We share plenty of time for chatting while we’re in the car (no temptation to turn on a tv!), we learn together, make decisions together, and do a whole lot of laughing together. I want that in my life WAY more often than just a few times a summer. I want that every week!!
So here are my best tips for slashing the cost of getting out of the house, and doing more activities as a family:
Save on Admission
Use Library Passes
Most libraries have a collection of passes available to library members, which offer free or discounted admission to local museums and parks. Be sure to ask your librarian what passes they have available this year, since not all library websites get updated frequently.
Also – if your library doesn’t have passes to a museum you’re hoping to visit, it can be worth checking out what other libraries in your area have available for passes. Sometimes libraries offer free library cards to patrons from surrounding towns, and sometimes a small cost for a non-resident library card can be well worth it for access to a more extensive offering of museum passes.
Join mailing lists
Often parks, museums, historical sites and other activities will offer discounts just by signing up for their mailing list. Or they may send out coupons, or notifications of reduced admission days, only to their email lists. It can definitely be worth signing up so you can take advantage of these offers!
Many museums in particular, have ways of making admission REALLY affordable for the general public – but they don’t always advertise it clearly. It’s very worth it to spend some time poking around the website, looking for things that might be called:
Free or Reduced Admission Days
“Access” or income-sensitive programs
Food Pantry Drives
These are just a few of the kind of programs you might find available if you look. Whether it be bringing your whole family for one low rate, getting in free on a particular day of the month, receiving nearly-free admission based on your income, or getting in for the cost of a few canned-goods to donate to a local food pantry – there are very often ways of visiting museums for very little cost, if you look around.
Check your chamber of commerce for coupons
Sometimes chambers of commerce or local tourism centers are given stacks of coupons to hand out for local events. It can definitely be worth stopping by to see what’s available. Another benefit of visiting your local chamber of commerce is that you’re almost certain to discover some fun new things to do as a family – even if you’ve lived in the area all your life!
Save on Food
Bring your own lunch & snacks
Buying food while you’re on a day trip with the family can easily cost as much (or more!) than the cost of admission! We almost always pack our own meals, snacks, and drinks to bring with us, and we save a ton by doing it. Some tips:
Bring more than you think you need. Having fun works up an appetite. If you’ve got plenty of snacks on hand, you won’t be temped to hit the snack shack!
Pack the night before. Packing meals and snacks always takes me way longer than it should. If I have everything ready to go the night before, I’m not temped to say “let’s grab something there” – just so we can get out of the house on time. Cold stuff gets packed in a soft-sided cooler in the fridge. Dry room-temperature things go in a tote ready to pop in the car.
In really hot weather, I throw some juice boxes in the freezer the night before, to add to the cooler bag in the morning – by lunchtime, they’re still frosty-cold, but drinkable, and our lunch is nice and cool. Easy peasy.
Hit a grocery store instead of the snack shop
If packing lunch seems a bit much, it can be easy (and fun) to take a break at lunchtime and get your meal from a nearby grocery store. It might cost a tad more than what you might have packed – but it’s guaranteed to hit the spot, since you have a whole store to choose from, and will certainly be much more affordable than buying lunch at a museum or amusement park.
Send in a spy to scope out snack prices
If you do want to splurge on a fun treat at the snack shop, it can be really helpful to send in one of the adults to quickly scope out the prices. Often there will be 50 cent popsicles in the freezer right next to $4.50 Hagen Dazs ice cream bars.
There’s no reason you can’t offer everyone their choice of a raspberry, mango, or coconut popsicle – without having to steer everybody away from the most expensive options right in the moment, in the middle of the snack shop. It can easily be difference between a super-fun $2 snack break for the family – or a $20+ splurge that you hadn’t banked on.
Save on Souvenirs
Let your kids take pictures
Souvenirs are another way the fun budget can easily get blown. One way to skip the gift shop, and still give each child some tangible mementos, is to let THEM take their own photos for a scrapbook of your family adventures.
My 4-year old and I have been building our summer scrapbook together this year, and I’ve noticed that the photos she takes herself really mean a lot to her. Even if they don’t look like much to you – it can still be a lot of fun for the kids. If you don’t want to let them take photos with your camera or phone, chances are you’ve got a dusty old smartphone or point&shoot digital camera that still takes perfectly decent pictures. It’s SO cheap these days to let kids have a way to take their own photos.
Grab a brochure for each kid to cut out for their scrapbook
Usually brochures are free for the taking, and it’s generally fine to grab one per person. Getting a brochure for each child gives them one more way to look back at all the fun things you did. It can also be a lot of fun to cut out their favorite images from it, to add to their scrapbook!
Come home and create some art
Another way of collecting “souvenirs” without spending anything, can be to give each child a watercolor book at the beginning of the summer. The day after your big adventure can be a really good chance to take a quiet, restful art day. Get out the watercolors, and encourage each kid to paint their favorite things from the day before, while the memories are still fresh.
Kids love looking back through their own illustrations, and chances are, this’ll become a memento that will mean a lot to you in years to come!
Those are some of my tricks for getting our family out of the house and on the road for more fun activities – without breaking the budget! How about you? What tips or ideas do you have for cutting down costs on your family adventures? I’d LOVE to hear them!!