Thursday, July 26, 2012

Finding Free and Inexpensive Outings

     Being a broke mom has forced me to search for different ways to entertain my kids.  It's very hard to keep hyper kids entertained.  They lose focus quickly and boredom leads to bad behavior, so it's important to keep a hat full of tricks to stave off the boredom. Of course there are obvious things like going to the park.  But even that becomes as mundane as the backyard swingset if you over do it.  (I really wanted some cute pics to go with all of the activities, but figured the info was just as valuable without them.  I'll find some pics/clipart and make it fancy later.)  
     Check the online calendar of events in your local newspaper.  You can often find things that are family friendly and free there.  Check with local entertainment venues to see if they offer any daily specials.  One movie theater in my town had free showings of kids movies one morning each week in the summer - they were usually ones that had been out for quite a while, but it was fun for the kids to see them on the big screen, plus if you have little ones that act up and you need to leave, you don't feel cheated out of the admission price.

     Our local symphony offers a two free concerts each summer.  Both are in a picnic friendly environment and we pack sandwiches or finger foods and head out with a blanket.  If you have young kids, try to sit near the edge or back, you may not have the best view, but you'll be so busy watching your kids, it won't matter anyway and you'll still be able to hear.  Kids will constantly want to get up to walk to the restroom or explore something else that catches their eye and you don't want to disturb the people around you.  The best thing about the second one last year was that if you brought a bag of non-perishable food to donate for a local food bank, you got a voucher for free concert tickets for a family of four at one of their indoor concert hall shows.  I had used coupons in conjunction with sale items and for under $5 we had a plastic grocery bag full of items to donate.  (We attended the Christmas concert, dressed in our Sunday best and got a free family photo taken in front of a BEAUTIFUL Christmas tree in the lobby.  We just had to go to their website to download it and print it off. Talk about getting a bonus!)

     Check with your local university.  If they have a music or theater department, they usually offer free events a few times a year.  Our local university also offers a free family swim night one night a week in one of the indoor campus pools.  Occasionally, they have free admission to their rock climbing wall, planetarium viewings, and other events.  

     We recently found out a local civic theater is often in need of ushers.  You don't get paid, but you get to enjoy the play or musical free of charge.  This is usually for children and adults 12 and over, but I'm considering making a date night out of it.  

     Research state parks in your area.  Our state offers a family membership for $35/year that allows admission into all state parks.  We found one near us that has a nice beach that's open seasonally, and surprisingly isn't crowded.  They usually have nice picnicking areas complete with hibachi's and playgrounds.  The walking trails are a nice way to get exercise and fishing or boat rentals provide additional entertainment.  Many state parks offer youth learning center and family friendly activities for no additional charge.  If you have a way to haul your bicycles, there are usually nice bike paths.  

    Investigate your local library.  Ours offers story time several times a week, free computer classes, a monthly Lego building contest, weekly video game hour, and the occasional special event.  My girls had a blast at a Fancy Nancy Soiree, dressing up and walking the red carpet with games, crafts, refreshments, door prizes and even treat bags as we left. The library used the event to promote a new Fancy Nancy book.

     In the summer, many churches offer a Vacation Bible School program.  I have a friend who tries to send her kids to one every week she can find one offered. The kids enjoy the Bible stories, games, and crafts and it gave her a couple of free hours each day to get things done.  These are often free or a small fee per family and you get a free CD of songs they learned.  My kids always go to the one at our church and I volunteer.      

     Give blood.  Yes, that's right, donate blood.  I read about an LA firefighter who was badly burned and injured in an explosion and by the time he was released from the hospital needed 84 units of blood.  You could help save a life and our local blood bank doesn't pay you, but they offer free movie passes, concert tickets, an all kinds of other fun stuff.  My husband went last month when they gave away free movie passes and I'm going today for the same deal.  They only give you two and we can use them for a date night or wait until we have six and take the whole family.  It's also a great lesson for your kids in giving and I've heard that giving blood regularly has some health benefits.  Make sure you hydrate well 2-3 days before going.  You even get a free snack afterward.  Last year we each got a free ticket to a concert by going on a day sponsored by an area radio station.  They also included a coupon for a free sandwich at a restaurant near the amphitheater.  We had a great date night.  

    Minor league sporting events are often inexpensive and most baseball stadiums have family nights and other specials that offer discounted admission certain days or a free concession item.  We found 2 stadiums in opposite directions from our home that have dollar night where all or selected concession items are $1 each.  

     Many museums have free admission days throughout the year.  Keep in mind these are often their busiest days of the year.  Pack a lunch to save money as most restaurants at zoos and museums are quite pricey.  

     City water parks are becoming more and more popular.  Surprisingly, they're starting to show up in smaller towns too.  One very small town of about 6,000 not far from us has a splash pad in their park.  A concrete pad with various sprinklers and fountains painted in primary bright colors, it's free and a fun way for the kids to cool off in the summer.  A couple of other towns within a reasonable drive have actual water parks with reasonable admission rates around $5/person.  

     Volunteer with your kids.  There are many places to volunteer as a family.  Many food banks need help stocking and while most people volunteer around the Christmas holidays, they need help year round.  Homeless shelters need volunteers to serve meals.  Even small children can wipe down tables and offer a smile to someone down on their luck.  Even better, bake and decorate cookies and take to pass out, just make sure you okay it with the shelter first.  Some have strict rules about any food served.  Visit a nursing home or senior center armed with some board games, card games and compassion.  Many of these people only see their families a few times a year.
     Visit an orchard or u-pick farm.  Plan in advance and have everything on hand so you can come home and can or freeze your pickings.  Blueberries, apples, strawberries are all popular u-pick goods and you can make jams, jellies and apple butter or pie filling as a family.  (My post for making your own jams coming soon.)  Store up for the winter or make enough to give as gifts.  Every year our extended family looks forward to getting a jar or two of homemade goodness for Christmas.  

     Team up with some other parents on your street and organize a neighborhood block party.  Have the kids decorate their bikes and parade down the streets.  Get with your city administration before blocking off a street completely though.  You may need a permit, but if they find out you only want to block off one block for a couple of hours, they may okay it without requiring any fees or permits.  Otherwise meet at a neighborhood park or a vacant lot and have some old-fashioned games like potato sack races and tug-of-war.  For a few dollars you can buy mini party bubbles - they're around $5 for a box of 24 and tie cute messages around them as favors.  Have someone come up with simple paper crafts and ask parents to donate inexpensive treats such as freeze pops, juice boxes, and other sun tolerant snacks.  

          Camp in your own backyard.  Pitch a tent (I just found out the local university's outdoor center rents them out) and sleep in your backyard.  Roast marshmallows, use a candle if there's a burn ban, and tell ghost stories if your kids are older.  Print an astrology chart off the internet and find constellations.

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