When my husband got his first after-college “real” job we decided to set up our budget around just his income. I worked for five years before our son was born, but that money never went into our regular expenses; instead it paid off our college loans, a new car, and financed a few vacations. So when I quit my job to be a stay-at-home-mom, we had no trouble meeting our day-to-day expenses. The one thing that did change was that we no longer had money for fun extras. Coming up with cash for a babysitter, dinner AND a concert was something neither of us had planned on. We started to get creative to find money to finance those splurges. Eventually we got better and found they were within our reach.
4 Ways to Have Fun When You are Saving Money
1. Use Gift Cards
My favorite presents are restaurant gift cards because they force me to go out to eat! Gift cards can let you enjoy time out without spending any money. You can also check with your bank to see if there is a way to get free gift cards. My bank gives points for every dollar spent with their credit card. I then use those points to get free gift cards. You can also use any leftover money at the end of the month to buy a gift card for a future date. We love sorting through our gift card stash to plan a night out. So, request a gift card the next time your mother-in-law asks what you want for your birthday.
2. Re-Think the Traditional “Date Night”
You probably will not be able to afford the downtown steakhouse and a movie every week if you are trying to make your dollars stretch. However, you can get creative about date night. Clip coupons and use your gift cards for these occasions. Skip the movie theater and grab a Redbox movie—just start your date late enough that the kids are in bed when you get home! Or you can go play Frisbee golf at a local park or hike a trail nearby; the important part of date night is spending time together, not where you go. You can also schedule an evening where the kids eat early and Mom and Dad enjoy a nicer dinner by themselves, after the kids are asleep. Buying steaks for the whole family can get pricey, but you can probably find the wiggle room in your grocery budget for just two.
3. Make the Most of Free or Discounted Family Fun
Libraries are a fantastic place to start. Our library has story time, summer reading programs, and special activities year-round, and they are all free! Some fast food restaurants have family night or kids eat free days. Even if your family fun day is just a few Happy Meals and some coloring sheets, a change of routine is exciting for everyone. During the warm weather months, you can make the most of local parks and splash pads for free fun. Craft stores, home improvement stores, and other local shops often schedule free projects for kids and parents to enjoy completing together.
4. Buy a Membership for your Favorite Pastimes
Last year we splurged for a membership to our local zoo; those trips were the highlight of our summer. Not only did we have a nice change of pace every week, our zoo also has a great reciprocal list that allowed us to visit other nearby zoos and aquariums for half price. Consider what your family loves to do and look for a way to make it affordable. Before we had our son, we purchased season passes to the amusement park near us and enjoyed spending most of our Mondays (my husband’s day off) there. Neighborhood YMCAs can provide opportunities for swimming, a weight room, affordable team sports, and classes the whole family can enjoy. Whatever pastime your family enjoys, seek out a cost-efficient way to go there more often.
There are ways for all families to enjoy fun, no matter your income level. You may need to do some research, but checking with friends and seeking out money-saving websites and social media groups can help you enjoy time together without breaking the bank.
What are your favorite low-cost family fun activities?