I like to think that I’m a pretty fun mom. I regularly plan field trips around town, and I’m totally fine with jumping on the bed. But every parent hits the end of the rope every now and then, and it’s at such times that I find myself shelling out money for kids’ activities that will keep mine busy for a few hours. However, a trip to Chuck E. Cheese can seriously drain the bank account.
I’ve learned that the most expensive activities aren’t always the best. Sure, I can spend $20 on a trip to the arcade, but it only gets me a couple of hours of entertainment, and not much to show for it. That’s why it’s best to look for activities that are both cheap and fun for your kids – an added bonus is if they give you a few moments to yourself. Spring, summer, fall, or winter, it is possible to find free and cheap stuff to do so you can be a fun parent too.
Fun Places to Visit on a Budget
1. Jumping Gym
Jumping gyms are becoming more common and are easy to find in many communities. There are usually two types: One made up of bounce houses, and one that is more akin to a gymnastics gym. As a parent, I prefer the second kind. It’s easier to see my kids at play so I know they’re safe, and I love that they’re jumping, climbing, and burning energy. Admission costs only around $5. Just call ahead, and be sure to ask about specials or family discounts.
2. Working Farm
If you live in or near a rural community, look to see if there’s a working farm open for tours. Most people think about going to the pumpkin patch or farm in the autumn, but it can be just as interesting in the spring (baby animals!) and summer months. Show up with your kids, check out the animals, and maybe even snag some organic produce, eggs, and milk.
3. Local Museums
There are a ton of community museums available that don’t charge an admission fee, so give your kids a little culture and head on over. All it costs is gas money, and maybe a donation to the museum to keep it going. If you don’t have a public museum nearby, check nearby colleges and universities, which may have a free or cheap natural history or art museum open to the public.
4. Target $1 Section
Tired of the whining in the grocery store? Give your kids a dollar or two and head to a store that has a $1 section, like Target. It’s filled with small toys, books, and art supplies for kids, which means you have a great way to keep your kids happy and tantrum-free while you shop. I stipulate that my kids have to buy a toy that will keep them active, like paper dolls, coloring books, or sports stuff. It costs only a few bucks, but can keep your children busy for the rest of the day.
5. Bowling Alley
Bowling is an awesome way to get kids to be active, but it can also be very expensive – that is, unless you find a place that offers family specials. Many bowling alleys have trouble filling up during the day, so they offer cheap kids’ rates or family days throughout the week. Check out your options and you might be able to bowl for half price.
6. Kid-Friendly Restaurant
As long as you choose a place that caters to kids, you can score a free meal that’s healthier than fast food. A ton of family restaurants allow kids to eat free with a paying adult, such as Applebee’s (on Mondays), IHOP (every day), and Cici’s Pizza (every day for 3 and under, select days for under 12). When you’re not spending big bucks to eat out, you can relax, let your kids order what they want, and bring on the crayons and placemats!
Fun Things to Do at Home
7. Have a Glow Stick Bath
Head to your local dollar store to find a ton of cheap glow sticks. I like to keep some on hand for fun, and they’re especially enjoyable in the bathtub. Fill up the bubble bath as usual, and then toss in a few glow sticks and dim the lights. The glow of the sticks makes the water neon-colored, making for some seriously cheap entertainment. Just make sure your kids don’t try to get the liquid out of the sticks, as it can be toxic.
8. Search for Online Crafts
I love doing crafts with my kids, but trying to get all of the stuff necessary usually means a trip to the craft store, which can easily cost a bundle. Instead, order your supplies online. A party website like Oriental Trading offers craft kits for around $3 apiece (usually in bundles of 12). They come with all of the supplies needed, minus the craft glue, so you can make a few items with your kids and tuck the rest away for another time.
9. Make Chalk Paint
Have a box of cornstarch on hand? Whip up a batch of chalk paint and let your kids decorate your front walk. It’s really easy: Mix equal parts water and cornstarch until dissolved, and then add a bit of food coloring. I like to divvy up the mixture into paper cups to make a bunch of different colors. Then, hand over brushes, rollers, and whatever else you can find and shoo your kids out the door. The paint goes on wet, and then dries opaque, like sidewalk chalk.
10. Play Smartphone Games
If you’ve got a smartphone, you have access to literally thousands of kid-approved games to play together. The best part? A ton of them are free. Just bring up your phone’s app store on your screen and search specifically for your child’s age group, or thumb through the educational apps. You can grab trial versions of games that cost money, so you can determine whether they’re worth the $1.99 to buy. Also, be sure to read the reviews from other parents.
Don’t get sucked into pricey activities on a daily basis. A trip to the amusement park, the zoo, or the indoor gaming spot can drain your wallet. Instead, use a little creativity and search your area for fun stuff that won’t cost a fortune, but will provide you with awesome memories to share with your kids.
Do you consider yourself a frugal parent? What activities do you like to do with your kids on the cheap?