Frugal Family Fun

by heather

With most of the country nestled into the early stages of winter (myself included: it’s 25 degrees out as I write this…) I thought it might be time to start investigating some frugal fun things to do with your family.

Many of us are masters at saving money at the grocery store, and we’ve probably all read over 100 ways to trim your monthly bills.

But, what about having fun? How can we have fun with our family without dropping $50 (or much more) at the movie theater, or dragging the whole troop off to the mall? After all, for most of us it’s cold out. Hitting the park for a sunny afternoon of baseball or a long hike through the woods isn’t as appealing as it once was. Especially if there are small kids involved.

So, here are some suggestions for these long, cold winter afternoons we’re all about to get real familiar with.

1. Have An Indoor Campout

This is my favorite idea for frugal family fun, which is why I’m putting it first.

If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace or woodstove, then drag your furniture around to clear a big, open space in front of it. If you want to set up a tent, that can be a fun place for your kids to sleep. If you don’t feel like making a huge mess, then you could just let everyone pile their sleeping bags where they want.

Make a big fire, drag out the S’Mores, and put in a good movie. Or, keep the TV off and play games, or tell spooky stories.

This makes a nice change of routine in the winter months, and apart from the S’Mores supplies it’s free.

You can also add an indoor picnic to this idea. Spread out a blanket, and eat dinner on the floor. Want to go all out? Drag your houseplants to the living room and hang twinkle lights to really add to the atmosphere.

2. Become A Tourist In Your Hometown

Ok, be honest: how many of you have ever toured your state capital? Or, the local candy factory that makes your favorite sweets? Or, your local newspaper, TV broadcasting station, or radio station?

Touring places like this is usually pretty interesting, and most of the time tours are free. And if you’re touring a factory, very often you get free stuff at the end (like product samples).

Especially for kids, factories can be incredibly cool. The big machines and loud noises are always fun to experience. And, they just might learn something…

3. Create An Indoor Scavenger Hunt

Ok, this frugal family fun tip is going to take some work on your part, but if you don’t mind the initial set up it can be a really fun thing to do.

If you don’t know, a scavenger hunt (or treasure hunt) is when you set up clues that your kids have to work out. One clue leads them to the next one, which leads them to the next one. In the end, they find their “treasure” that’s hidden somewhere around the house.

There are tons of different ways to set up a scavenger hunt. I’ve listed a few sites that give some good plans:

4. Make Homemade Ice Cream

This is a very inexpensive activity that kids love. And many times, your homemade ice cream is tastier than anything you could buy in a store.

With the holidays coming up, you could also add crushed candy canes or peppermints to make a festive blend that is super tasty.

Click here to see some tasty homemade ice cream recipes.

5. Hit A Museum on Their Free Day

Most museums offer one “free day” per month, where admission is completely free to the public. They’re all different, so check and see when your local museum offers theirs.

6. Attend Your Community Theater

Right now, my local community theater is doing “Oklahoma!”. Tickets are $10.

Is it Broadway? No way. But, it’s a really good time.

Community theater is not only cheap entertainment, but it’s also a great way to support the people in your area. And the intimate atmosphere and willingness to have fun makes it all the more enjoyable.

You might also want to check with your local university or high school theater group; many times they’ll let in the public to watch rehearsals. These, of course, are free.

7. Attend A High School, College, or Minor League Sporting Event

I’ve been to quite a few sporting events. But the funnest ones have always been minor league games.

Going to a non-professional game can be a blast. The games are more personal, you can sit closer, the fans are rambunctious, the tickets are cheaper, and the players play with their whole heart.

My favorite is minor league baseball. I hate watching baseball on TV, but it’s a blast to go to a minor league game. The crowd sings, the announcer heckles the opposing team, and there are contests and giveaways every game. Fun is an understatement.

8. Visit Your Local Botanical Gardens

I live close to one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the country, the Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor (it’s the garden where they planted the longest line of tulips, over one mile, that was featured on Oprah). Anyway, I’m always amazed at the number of people who have no idea it’s even there.

Botanical gardens, especially those like Matthaei with a solarium, can be havens in the winter. They’re warm, they’re full of light, they’re full of flowers. And, they’re incredibly inexpensive to visit.

Walking into the Matthaei is like being born again. It truly is like a jungle; there are paths winding around full grown trees, waterfalls, birds, flowers around every corner, and some beautiful koi ponds. All inside an enormous, indoor solarium. It can be 10 degrees out but in the solarium, it’s always 75. Heaven.

Do a Google for botanical gardens or arboretums in your state. You might be surprised to find that you live rather close to one, especially if you’re close to a bigger city or university.

9. Go Indoor Bowling

This is a really fun thing to do if you have a finished basement or large living room.

You can use 2 liter bottles for pins, and a smaller soccer ball or larger softball as the “bowling ball”.

If you have a hard surface and a real ball, you can make it more realistic by filling the 2 liter bottles with sand or gravel, which makes them harder to knock over. You can make a “lane” with long pieces of wood if you have any on hand.

10. Send a Postcard To A Stranger

I love this idea, and have often thought about doing it myself.

Open up the phone book and randomly pick someone’s name. Then, send them a postcard saying something really positive that you think might cheer them up or make them happy. Coming from children, this can be especially fun.

Then, leave the return address blank and send it off.

The reason I love this idea is because you just never know who is getting it. Your postcard might be the brightest thing to happen to them all day. It’s like sending out little bursts of happiness into the universe. And think of how much they’ll wonder who it’s from! It’ll be a mystery they’ll always wonder about…

Last Word

All of these ideas sound fun to me, and I’ll be adding more as the inspiration strikes.

I have my own personal “recipe” to combat the winter blahs. The investment is minimal, but it’s a guaranteed pick me up. For one person, it’s divine. Here’s my winter pick me up list:

  • First I go get fresh flowers (my local Kroger always has some bouquets on Manager’s Special, which are 1/2 price, and they’re just as pretty as the other ones)
  • Next, I hit the library for a luscious book
  • After that, it’s hot cocoa time (lots of marshmallows!).

After that, I set myself up. I drag my reading chair to the window, set up my flowers, get my book and cocoa, and spend a few hours in bliss.

Finding your own “recipe” just takes time to discover the simple things that really make you happy. I suggest coming up with a list, so when the winter blahs strike you’re prepared.

If you have children, you might want to sit down with them and help them create their own list. What, according to them, makes them really happy? What do they really love to do?

This can be fun, and pretty enlightening.

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5 Cheap Vacation Ideas | The Greenest Dollar
May 18, 2009 at 10:21 am

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Valerie July 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm

“Then, leave the return address blank and send it off.”

The USPS no longer allows mail unaddressed (at least in our state).

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