Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Family Fun on a Bare Bones Budget

First and foremost, a little business! This blog’s name has changed! From now on, please access it using www.skbellblog.blogspot.com! You can get to it this way for a few more days, but www.skbellblog.blogspot.com will eventually be the only way to get to it!


I set aside $3 from Ryan’s last paycheck for our activity fund because that’s where we’re at right now. And since I already know for a fact that a lot of you are in the same boat, I thought I’d share some of our favorite free/super cheap family activities.

Share an ice cream. A lot of places serve way too much ice cream as it is, so find a place that serves it cheap and share! Or, if there’s a great sale/coupon, get it from the store and get creative at home.

Walk downtown. We have lived in quite a few places and we have had really great downtown areas in all but one. If you pick the right day/time, just walking around downtown can be a really awesome experience. We happen to enjoy going into stores and looking around with no intention of purchasing anything, but sometimes there are events going on down there which means plenty of entertainment.

Get outside. Hike. Nature walk. Sled. Splash around in a lake/creek/river/stream. Camp. Blow bubbles. Ride bikes.  Whatever. Just get outside. Kids, especially, love it. Our son will spend a few minutes playing with a plastic toy but hours playing with rocks/sticks/pine cones.

Play with toy boats in the kiddie pool. We don’t have a water table but we do have a kiddie pool. Sometimes I fill it up a little bit and throw in a few toy boats, a measuring cup, and a rubber duck. Voila! Water table!

Library. Ryan and I are a hair obsessed with the library. The kids and I go once a week but we often end up going as a family one evening or weekend day each week too. We all enjoy the free books/music/DVDs, Ryan and I jump online and get a few things done, and the toddler loves to play with the toys our current library has in the children’s section. Sometimes a library has no infectious diseases toys, which I prefer, and then he just enjoys browsing the children’s books/CDs/DVDs, and especially likes to climb into big arm chairs and look at his books like a precious and tiny imposter grown-up. All of our libraries have always had story time and all kinds of other events—movie nights, workshops, etc.

Visit a zoo/aquarium/children’s museum. Last year Ryan’s mom got us a zoo membership for Christmas which was absolutely wonderful. We only got to go twice before we moved, but the particular membership she got us is valid at quite a few zoos all over the country so we’ve still used it a handful of times while traveling. It has already paid for itself 1.5 times and it doesn’t even expire until December! If you have something like this in your town you should definitely consider asking for a membership for Christmas or your child’s birthday… and also keep your eyes peeled for free days! They’re typically pretty crowded but they’re also, you know, FREE. (Another good gift request might be a bus pass, if that makes it more possible for you to go enjoy other free things!)

Hang out at the park. The other day I packed up a simple lunch and then the kids and I took a stroller walk down to a nearby park. I sent Ryan a text message and told him to meet us there instead of at home on his lunch break. While we were waiting for him, the toddler and I got to be amazed as a six-point buck came bounding down the busy street, ran right through the park, and kept going. We ate lunch and enjoyed the fresh air, then our boy even got to go down the slide with Daddy before he went back to work. We also have a park in town with a splash pad which is a great option in the summer time!

Play sports. My dad played on the church softball team for a while when I was a kid and I have a lot of fond memories of that. He was having fun playing and we were having fun cheering him on, watching the game, hanging out with our church friends, etc. I think a lot of churches and companies still offer softball leagues so it’s definitely something to look into. You can also grab a few friends/family members and start a tradition of basketball, touch football (or real football if you’s crazy), kickball, volleyball, disc golf, dodgeball (so fun!), whatever you’re into. I put together a few dodgeball games in college, in the tennis courts at a park near my apartment. They didn’t have great turnout but they were still a lot of fun!

Make things. Ryan is really into woodworking. He doesn’t always have the time for it, but when he does, it’s a really fun thing for him. Sometimes this means a weekend naptime activity for him, but sometimes this means I sit with the baby out there while he works and the toddler plays (supervised) with (safe) tools. I like to sew, so sometimes the toddler will pick out a fabric from my stash (mostly purchased from thrift stores, gift cards, or awesome coupons) and make something I found online or in a library book. I also enjoy loom knitting, and since I found a huge bag of mostly unused cross-stitch supplies at a yard sale the other day (we were just walking by on our way to the park and it was lying on the ground out front!) for a dollar, I’m about to start learning that. (I’m super excited to make us a cross-stitch family portrait! But I’ll probably start with just Ryan and I since we aren’t done having children yet) { http://www.marthastewart.com/857131/cross-stitch-family-portrait }. The toddler also very much enjoys coloring and we sometimes pull out the craft box and work on gifts for the grandparents like bookmarks, hand/footprint art, etc.

Trade. Make friends with other frugal people and then trade things with them. Trade board games or DVDs for a weekend, trade clothes instead of shopping, trade babysitting duty so you can go on a cheap/free date.

Picnic. In your backyard, in your kitchen floor, at a park, in the woods.

Loiter. We have a great entertainment store near our house. We spend way too much time there. Ryan and I use the Internet there, the toddler loves to play with a train table they have set up for kids, and we’re all fans of browsing the book shelves. They also accept trade so this is where we trade in books/CDs/DVDs/video games for new ones, especially when we find coupons. Other favorite places to loiter: Barnes & Noble or any bookstore, Cabela’s, Sportsman’s, any craft/fabric store, thrift stores IF you have the willpower to not buy any old thing.

Walk your neighborhood! This is a great way to make new friends. I mean, I’m speculating, but if you’re not introverted to a fault it’s probably a great way to make new friends.

Save gift cards! We try not to let gift cards burn a hole in our pockets too much. We kept all of our dining out gift cards to use as baby meals but when we get one to a bookstore, we save ‘em. It’s really easy for us both to fall in love with a book and use up the gift card, but instead we try to be mindful of our purchases and check the library first unless it’s a book we know we’ll reference again and again AND have had on our list for a while. No impulse buys! Barnes & Noble makes for hours of fun for this little family. There’s a coffee shop which we occasionally treat ourselves to, though not often, and we all enjoy browsing the books, CDs and DVDs. The little guy also loves playing with the train and Lego tables most of them seem to offer, and of course begging us for all the toys we refuse to buy.

Movie in the woods… Ryan and I once enjoyed a date night of pizza, and a free Redbox DVD on our laptop in the bed of our truck up on Casper Mountain. This could be a lot of fun for little ones too.

Cook. In our house, I do the cooking. It’s just what works. But sometimes it’s nice to make it a family affair. Especially if you’re grilling!

Local events. I only get online once or twice most weeks, but I still try to keep a decent watch on our city’s and church’s upcoming events. There is also a maternity/baby store within walking distance from my house so I try to watch for fun playgroups and things they offer as well.

Host something! This is way outside my comfort zone so I have never done it even though I am constantly talking about doing it, but consider hosting a group of friends with more gas money than you ;] Start a mom-friendly (no big deal if los ninos are screeching in the background) book club or Bible study, plan a weekly stroller walk/jog or workout DVD session with nearby friends, have a monthly potluck with a few family friends.

Once upon a time I would have said to walk the mall. We do still do this a lot in the wintertime so we can still move our bodies even when it’s too chilly outside for the youngsters… but if we can handle the weather, I prefer to avoid this option. I find that we leave thinking about things we want to save up for rather than feeling like we’ve had a great time.

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