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This is a guest post by Kelly Wilson, author of Live Cheap & Free! Strategies to Thrive in Tough Economic Times. You can find her at www.WilsonWrites.com
In September, we took our family to an Octoberfest celebration at a locally owned amusement park. We never go anywhere without a coupon, so after a little research, I found a 2-for-1 admission coupon for my husband and me. As the kids didn’t cost as much as we did to get in, this was great news!
But the money train didn’t stop chuggin’. There were carnival games and rides, Octoberfest treats and fair food, along with several vendors with goodies for sale. We took a break by the Maypole, trying to figure out what our budget should be. Even after the careful thought and discussion, we left after having spent about $25, without buying food to eat while we were there.
This experience reminded me why we don’t go out to these kinds of events very often. For us, it was definitely a splurge, and we had a lot of fun. But it was expensive! And it made me think about what we do to have fun as a family without spending money. I came up with five general ways that could apply no matter where you live!
We have a set budget each month for entertainment which includes eating in restaurants. When we get paid – which is monthly – we have to decide what kinds of events we’ll participate in and how much they’ll cost. If there’s a birthday in our family, then we know we’re going to go out to dinner on that night during the month.
If it’s October, we know we’re going to spend some time and money at the pumpkin patch (ours has a train…you have to ride the train). So we try to figure out from the beginning of each month how many times we can say, “It’s been a tough day, let’s order pizza for dinner.” Otherwise, we’ll overspend. But that also doesn’t mean that we never go anywhere or eat out at restaurants! Planning makes it possible.
“I’m bored.” This is a phrase many of us who are parents hear more often than we’d like to. My responses include delegating chores or saying, “Great! Down time is good, and inspires creativity.” But sometimes I feel bored too, but what I realized was that I’m not bored, I’m restless – a Sunday afternoon stretches ahead of me, and I feel overwhelmed by the possibilities.
When I feel this way, I do two things:
First, I take a mental inventory of all of the recreational products we have in our living space, including the garage. Second, I break the time up into chunks that I can manage, taking advantage of some of the stuff we have around – I’ll read for a half hour, then play two games of Go Fish, then go for a bike ride with my kids. It’s time with my family, it’s down time, and it’s free.
My kids recently had a day off from school. I wanted to do something out of the ordinary, something fun for the afternoon. I decided we would go to the movies, and then I mentally started adding up how much it would cost – more than I wanted to afford at the time, because I knew we would need a night of pizza for dinner soon. Instead, I came up with a plan to rent a movie – even if it’s from a video store as opposed to a Redbox, renting is still far cheaper than going to a theater. I made sure we had popcorn and candy, and my boys set up a fun “pillow bed” on the living room floor.
We had a great time. But coming up with alternatives takes practice, and there are certainly a few alternatives per situation. We could have gone to a matinee with a coupon that would have knocked some money off our admission price. Or we could have watched a movie we already owned instead of renting one. I chose the option that sounded the most fun and reasonable to me, and it’s taken me some practice to think of them. This process is, however, worth it.
One of our favorite parks is a short drive from our house. It’s really a dormant volcano, covered with nature trails, trees, and fields that beg for us to eat our picnic lunches on them. There’s also a playground at the end of a hike we like to climb with our kids. We spend many sunny afternoons here, often with a bag of snacks!
This particular activity is FREE! What local attractions are free in your area? Is there a community park that hosts nights of music, or free nature hikes with experts? A simple internet search should point you in a helpful direction. Also, there are probably a few helpful blogs for your local area, which you could also find with an internet search! Sign up for email updates, and you could be informed about what free events are happening in your area each week.
In our current economic climate, there are coupons for almost everything. Sure, you need to register or become a fan on Facebook, but it has been worth it several times over for our family. We don’t go anywhere or do anything without looking for a coupon first. Some resources for finding coupons include the internet (of course), local and state newspapers, the Entertainment book, and local ads like “The Clipper.” Keep your eye on these on a regular basis, and looking for coupons for local attractions will become easier and more automatic.
Having fun that’s free with your family takes some time, effort and practice…but it is well worth the savings you’ll experience. You’ll get to do more with less, enjoying it because it didn’t cost you very much at all!
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