This morning when I woke up, I found that my husband had made all of the preparations for a family hike. We spent the late morning/early afternoon enjoying a pleasant hike around the Mount Rose Meadows. My kids were exhausted when we came home, so the teens and I watched the last episode of Eureka Season 3.5 (from Netflix). After dinner my oldest son suggested we play Quelf (the unpredictable game that gives random a new name) as a family. It was a relaxing, fun day, which also happened to be frugal.
My kids taking a break on our hike this afternoon.
Contrary to popular belief, most children would rather have time playing with their parents rather than the latest electronic gadget. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it doesn’t have to cost a thing. Below are a few ways that our family enjoys frugal fun.
Take a walk. We have enjoyed taking family walks every where we have lived and in every kind of weather. We love watching the wildlife and the seasons change. We always take a walk in the first snow, even if that means we pull on snow pants over our pajamas and walk at midnight. And speaking of pajamas, one of our kids favorite activities when they were young was “pajama walks”. We would get them completely ready for bed and then either my dh or I would say, “who wants to go for a walk?’” and of course the kids always did. One of my favorite memories is of my two oldest holding hands while skipping and quoting Robert Louis Stevenson in their pajamas after dark. It didn’t take long before the neighborhood kids were asking if they could be included in our “pajama walks”.
Watch the stars. My kids have learned a lot about astronomy on our “pajama walks” and we have continued to build on it. We live in the country, so there is very little light noise. We have a friend who owns an incredible telescope (think has to arrive to our house in a truck bed big). We host a barbecue and he brings over his telescope for everyone to look through. I have to admit that although it is really interesting to look through the telescope, I am just as happy to sit on the patio with my family and enjoy the night sky and occasional shooting star. We also enjoy watching sunsets and playing eye spy with cloud formations.
Go bird watching. Check out a book from your library on the local birds and where they nest. We keep a list of the birds that we have seen and try to capture them on film. This is fun whether you do this in conjunction with a family hike or while walking through your neighborhood.
Bake together. Sugar cookies are one of the most affordable cookies to make as they do not contain chips or nuts. The decorations need not be expensive. I put plain white sugar in bowls and then add a couple drops of food color to make colored sugar. Then I make a bowl of butter cream frosting, divide it between small bowls and add food color to make the desired color. If a cookie needs piping. I spoon a small amount of frosting into a plastic bag and cut off a corner, twist the bag above the frosting level, and then squeeze the frosting onto the cookie. I have not found anyone who doesn’t enjoy making cookies. Even my husband sits down and decorates cookies with us. Of course, he turns the circles into the great eye of Sauron, but that is part of the fun! A more practical application is making pancakes with your kids on a Saturday morning. We make a double batch, so that we have pancakes all week long. I put metal cookie cutters directly on the griddle and then pour the batter into it. My husband freehands letters and Mickey Mouse.
Game Night. We enjoy game nights, whether we invite another family over, lots of my kid’s friends, or just hang out together. We do not play the highly strategic and competitive games as a family. We prefer games that create conversation and make us laugh. Some of our favorite games are Balderdash, Loaded Questions, Imaganiff, Whoonu, Taboo, Scattergories, Apples to Apples, Cranium, Guesstures, Catch Phrase, Boggle, and Pictionary. You don’t have to buy lots of games to have a game night . One or two favorites will do. Some libraries loan games. Another options is to ask friends to bring their favorite game when they come for a game night.
Movie Night.We enjoy watching a movie together. We are happy to watch old favorites. In fact sometimes they are more fun to watch as a family, because Tigger adds the most hilarious commentary. Netflix has an incredible selection of movies when we decide to watch a new release. I make a big bowl of air popped popcorn and serve HFCS-free soda from my stash. I have found that organic popcorn from the bulk bins is much less expensive and tastes just as good as the more expensive popcorns. If you like microwave popcorn, Storybook Woods has a post on how to make your own microwave popcorn.
Visit a State or National Park. Whenever we move, we always visit all of the state, national, and historic parks within a days drive of our new house. Entrance fees are usually quite reasonable. You can also buy an annual pass that will allow you and your family unlimited access to all of the National Parks for $80.00 and people over the age of 62 can buy a life time pass for $10.00! (That is all I want for my 62nd birthday!)
Camp. Even if it is in your backyard or your living room. Camping is always fun for kids and it can be fun for the parents if you remember to keep it simple. Adults complicate things by trying to cook fancy meals in the woods and buying all of the latest gadgets, which have to be packed and unpacked, and packed, and unpacked. Then they get annoyed that they are working so hard while the kids are running off and playing. You can survive for a couple of days on oatmeal, beans, and hotdogs, as long as you consume a healthy dose of marshmallows.
Go on a picnic. Everything tastes better when served on a blanket. Again, keep it simple. If mom is stressed because of planning an elaborate event nobody is going to have fun. We pack peanut butter sandwiches, apples, some veggies, and cookies. It is the time spent together that is important, so this is not the time to try to get junior to eat all of his veggies or finish his sandwich. But if you play a good game of chase you might get junior to work up enough of an appetite that he will willingly eat what ever you have packed. We used to play dinosaurs. My husband would be a tyrannosaurus and chase the children who would pretend to be a triceratops and a struthiomimus. I would be a maiasaura (it means good mother lizard) and protect the children from the T-rex.
Play in the water. Go swimming in a lake, rock hopping in a stream, or run through the sprinklers. When my kids were younger one of their favorite activities was to run through the sprinklers with their umbrellas. Of course they sang, “I’m Singing in the Rain” at the top of their lungs. We lived in a NATO community when my kids went through this phase. I remember trying to explain to the foreign parents who were asking questions about our activity that this was not a traditional American game, that we were just weird. Fortunately, they still let their kids join in the fun.
Visit a museum. We have planned most of our museum visits around our children’s current interests. If you check your local museum’s web site you will probably find that they offer free entrance one day a month or a couple times a year. Angela at My Year Without Spending has links to a program which allows you to get into museums across the country for free on the first weekend of each month.
What frugal activities do you enjoy with your family? Please share your ideas or links, I’m always looking for more ideas.