Frugal Family Fun

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.

frugal family activities 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.

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About Alea Milham

Alea Milham is the owner and editor of Premeditated Leftovers. She shares her tips for saving money and time while reducing waste in her home. Her favorite hobby, gardening, is a frugal source of organic produce for her recipes. She believes it is possible to live fully and eat well while spending less.


  1. My kids don't want to have game night any more but we do sometimes fix a special supper and watch a movie. One thing I miss about not living around family is the card games and movies and such that we used to do. Happy 4th to you and yours!!

  2. Rebecca says:

    We're in Estes Park, Colorado, and have hiked in RM National Park the past two days. Today's bonus: the non-hikers ("What's the point?") in our family were thrilled with Alluvial Fan, the section in the park of rocks and trees that slid in the 1982 Lawn Lake flood. For some reason, a challenging climb is better than hiking, so we must be needing to upgrade our hiking level to keep the kids challenged!

    Have a great rest of the July 4th weekend!

  3. tamilyn says:

    Great ideas! I love to hang out with the kids (even they think I don't any more now that they are older) but we too live in the country and we like to fly kites in the field in March before the farmer plows and we shoot off rockets in the fall. We have a fire and watch the flames and the fireflies. Or play a game of Phase 10. Best things in life really are free!

  4. Tamilyn, I saw our kite yesterday and realized I had never flown it with my youngest. I am adding it to the list for next weekend's activities.

  5. Hey Alea- Thanks for the mention and link. Love the photo of your hike! How great to wake up and find it's all arranged. I love to hike, but am ALWAYS the planner, organizer, and instigator of my husband and friends.

  6. Porch Days says:

    I am so glad to learn that families still do things like this. One of our favorite activities was watching old musicals over and over again. "The Music Man" was a favorite. When our middle son played the lead, Professor Harold Hill in high school, he already knew the part. He is now pursuing a career as an actor.

    Our oldest son had a major role in "Godspell" and it turned out he could sing and dance. And our youngest son sang in an A cappella group and went on to major in music at college. I think all the musicals and Fred Astaire moves had an influence.

  7. We love the old musicals too! My daughter is a violinist and one of the violinist from the phil called and asked her to sub on short notice. She only had a couple days to practice, but since she grew up watching the old musicals she was familiar enough with the tunes to pull it off even though she had never seen the sheet music before.

    When people say musicals are so unrealistic and ask, "who just breaks into song and dance like that?" My kids always say, our family does". If you listen to enough music, you have a song for everything!

  8. Oh man, we totally watch old musicals too! You should see my 6-yr-old boy do his Lina Lamont impersonations from “Singing in the Rain” it’s hysterical. We also like to play board games and card games, and we do a lot of drawing. I love your list Alea! Great ideas that I’m bookmarking for summer.

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