No matter what the season, every parent knows it’s essential to get kids out and about in order to keep your sanity. Stir-crazy little ones can quickly lead to a crazy mom, which means there should always be activity options that are affordable, local and simple enough to navigate through. Unfortunately, many children’s activities are out of the price range of a typical family. More affordable options like visiting a local pool or hiking a nearby trail can be made much more difficult if there are very young siblings involved. Oftentimes elementary school-aged children end up sitting around more than older or younger kids often because of a lack of time or money. If you often find yourself placing your child in a similar situation, take heart – there are plenty of ways to save money on family activities that will enrich the lives of your kids and not break the bank.
Many local amusement parks offer group discounts or some sort of deal if you refer a friend. Gather some close friends with similarly-aged children and enjoy a discount on admission, lunch or any other number of things. All running deals should be listed on a destination’s website, but feel free to call and ask about group or tell-a-friend deals.
Have a Flexible Schedule
The local water park may be too expensive for a weekend trip for a family of 5, but do they have a discounted rate for a weekday or evening admission? If you live somewhere warm enough, a “night slides” deal or something like it might work out particularly well for you. Even Disneyland offers a twilight admission price. Look for mid-week promotions, deals for those visiting a winter destination in the summer (like ice skating), or be on the lookout for grand openings in your town that may offer great incentives in order to build a customer base.
Often the admission price to an amusement park, museum or other attraction isn’t the issue – it’s the money you spend once you’re inside the gate that can cause problems. Packing smartly can save some major bucks. Pack lunches for every member of your family – while it probably won’t be as tasty as the resident pizza or hot dog stand, it will be healthier, more affordable and convenient. Double checking your bag before leaving the house can also save you money – did you remember to pack sunscreen? Extra diapers or a change of clothes? Extra camera batteries? Remembering everything on the first try leads to avoiding the purchase of marked-up essentials at the closest gift shop.
Avoid the use of those magical debit cards and you’ll save a bundle without even trying. If you’re headed to an amusement park or another pricey destination, budget out how much you can spend beforehand. Withdraw that exact amount of cash from the ATM and limit yourself to that. Money becomes much more precious and tangible, and gives you an opportunity to teach your kids an important lesson about valuing cash and pacing themselves when it comes to spending.
Coupons are obviously a good idea when you’re trying to save money, but there are many available in places you probably never even thought to look. Fast food restaurants often offer incredible discounts to local attractions, and many websites have cropped up in recent years. Use those sites to print your own coupons or order tickets ahead of time online with a particular promo code. Coupons can also be unexpectedly found on box tops (cereal, juice, fruit snacks, etc.) and in the free parenting magazines available on many newsstands where you live. Sometimes even mentioning a certain radio station or local TV show can get you a hook up at a place you normally would’ve had to pay more for.
Encourage your kids to enjoy free activities rather than the big, impressive things. Parks, libraries, some museums and nature trails are always free and available for play and exploration. Sometimes our kids get too wrapped up in electronics and “wow” factor-driven events which can lead to paying a high price not only monetarily but also in the sacrifice of imagination and intellectual engagement. Try to challenge your kids during school vacations to find three free things they love for every one thing they have to pay money for. Teaching joy through frugality is something they can carry with them for their whole life.
Do a Swap
Maybe your kids love swimming but you don’t have the money or space for a pool. Have you ever taken it one thought further to realize maybe the neighbor’s kids love video games but don’t have the latest hit your son happens to have? Or maybe you have access to a horse, volleyball net or even a coveted book collection? Get to know your neighbors and arrange goods swaps. Your children may enjoy an afternoon in a backyard pool while the other local kids happily eat your famous chocolate cupcakes. Everyone has a talent to share or swap, and this can save you a lot of money while helping you make new friends at the same time!
Try to keep money out of conversations with children unless you are trying to teach them a lesson in value and restraint. Kids tend to become stressed out if they sense instability, so stay positive and emphasize the fun that can come out of being budget-conscious and grateful for all the things your family has!
Written by Tamara Warta