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10 Budget Friendly Family Outings

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The following article is by Kristi Muse, our staff writer. She is a freelance writer, blogger, police officer’s wife, and stay at home mom of two. To read more about how she tries to live a balanced life visit her website at Moderate Muse.

Life as a parent can be chaotic, stressful, and tiring. Between work and school work, it’s easy to drift apart from your kids. My husband is both a Navy reservist and a police office. He works three weekends a month, along with his regular duty schedule for work and about 90 hours overtime a month. In short, he works hard to provide for us, but he is hardly home.

Due to the nature of his police schedule, he is home after our kids are asleep and gone again before they wake up. We will sometimes go 72 hour stretches without seeing him. When we leave to visit family, he can’t always come with us. My four year old daughter has started asking questions like “Why can’t daddy be home like other daddies?” She didn’t really know any different in the first few years of her life, but now that she is getting older and more aware, we have really been struggling with some separation anxiety issues she is having when her daddy goes to work. She cries every time he walks out the door.

The truth is that my husband loves his work. Even though he isn’t be home on weekends or holidays, and our vacation time has to be scheduled a year in advance, he loves being able to help people. I love that my husband is passionate about his job, but it breaks my heart to see our four year old struggling so much with his erratic schedule.

In an effort to help her work through his absences, we have been focusing on quality family outings when he is home. We are on a terribly tight budget though. We don’t have the extra money to spend on too many activities. We do have favorite budget friendly activities though, for the days that he is home. Here are 10 budget friendly family outings that we enjoy.

Here are our 10 favorite budget friendly ways to have family time

  1. Going to the library

Visiting the library is always great fun with the kids. They love the craft and story times and picking out a giant stack of books to bring home. It’s even close enough to enjoy a walk to on nice days.

  1. 10 Budget Friendly Family OutingsExploring national and state parks

National and State parks are a really affordable way to get out and explore something new. Many locations only make you pay a minimal fee for parking.  We love finding new parks and picking a different trail every time to explore with our kids. We pack trail snacks, bring binoculars, and our daughter pretends that she is going on an adventure.

  1. Stargazing

One of my favorite memories as a kid was staying up late to watch meteor showers with my dad. We sat on a picnic blanket for hours just talking, waiting, and watching the stars fall.

I want my kids to have their own version of this memory, so we are just now starting to teach our 4 year old how to look for some constellations. We also take drives deeper into the countryside so that she can see the stars without the light pollution from our neighborhood.

  1. Visit museums or historical sites

We are lucky enough to live just a few hours away from the many free museums and monuments in D.C. and a short drive to the historic triangle. It doesn’t cost us very much money to take our kids to some pretty amazing locations.

  1. Bowling

Most bowling alleys have discounted prices for off-peak hours. By going before 5:00 on a Monday, we are able to take the whole family bowling for the same as the cost of one person on a Friday night.

  1. Fishing

Our kids love it when we all head out for a morning of fishing.  An annual adult fishing license varies in price by state, but they are fairly inexpensive. Sometimes we even end up bringing dinner home.

  1. Going out for ice cream cones

Small cones from the local ice cream shop only cost $1.50. So for $3 my husband and daughter can enjoy a one-on-one father/daughter date together.

  1. Hitting golf balls at the driving range

If your kids are anything like mine, they love hitting things. The driving range is great fun and an excellent way to get off steam. At a nearby golf course, it only costs $14.00 to drive 180 golf balls.

  1. Matinée movies

Any movies we do get out to see with our kids are a Matinée show. By saving money on tickets, we can justify allowing our kids to play in the arcade and getting something from the concession stand (usually a slushy).

  1. Going to the zoo or aquarium

If you live near to a zoo or aquarium, consider paying for a season pass. We made the investment, and our kids love seeing the animals. Our visits are frequent enough that they more than cover the cost of the tickets for the year.

Reconnecting

Our outings have really been helping our daughter to realize that daddy loves her, even though he can’t always be home. She still has some issues we’re working through, but we are trying our best. We don’t want to let our thin wallet stop us from having quality family time and creating lasting memories. We have learned to reconnect when we can, however we can afford, and without letting our budget dictate the quality of the time spent with our kids.

Do you have a favorite budget friendly way to spend time with your kids?

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Nelson July 15, 2015, 12:29 am

    I like disc golfing although I haven’t done it in a while. If there are nice courses by your house, it’s fun way to get some physical activity in with the whole family.

    • Kristi July 15, 2015, 4:28 am

      I had never heard of disc golf before, Nelson. I looked it up just now, and it looks like great fun! I will have to keep my eye out for a place to try it.

      • Nelson July 16, 2015, 12:31 am

        Oh I forgot to mention, make sure you do some research on a disc golf course before going. Some courses are family friendly. Other courses are places where people like to smoke medicinal herb so not as family friendly.

  • Pennypincher July 15, 2015, 4:08 am

    You really covered some great ideas. The stargazing and fishing really teaches kids patience, and they don’t even realize it. Hiking is a favorite, identifying all the wildlife and nature they see. Keep a list of different species of insects, birds, etc. spotted. Seeing something rare, like a kingfisher or a walking stick insect is always a thrill. It never hurts to ask for a military discount at places. And packing your own food, always the healthier option.
    Every week, Yelp emails me a good list of what’s happening around my area. Things you wouldn’t think of yourself-art fairs, antique auto shows, many fun, free events. The weekly trip to the library does wonders for everyone. If you’re close to two, visit both!

    • Kristi July 15, 2015, 4:31 am

      That’s a great idea! We haven’t thought to have a nature scavenger hunt of sorts, but I’m sure my daughter would love it. We love going to art fairs and events as well. And you’re right, asking for a military discount doesn’t hurt!

  • Jon July 15, 2015, 6:08 am

    We don’t have kids yet but we babysit our niece all of the time. When the weather is nice, we go to the local playground. She love the swings and climbing on things. It’s fun for her and free for us!

    • Kristi July 15, 2015, 6:33 am

      Playgrounds are a great way to exhaust the kids too. Hello, early bedtime!

  • Mrs. Budgets @MrandMrsBudgets July 15, 2015, 7:33 am

    A friend showed me a very cool app for stargazing. I think it was called Star Chart. The way it works is you hold up your phone to the sky and it will read what constellations are in your sight. It was really cool and blew me away, it was like a telescope .

  • Kristi July 15, 2015, 8:50 am

    I think my husband has a similar app on his phone. I’ll have to look into that one for my own phone. Thanks for the tip! It’s amazing what technology is capable of now.

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods July 15, 2015, 9:51 am

    All great suggestions! We’re all about the $0 entertainment budget and for us, hiking ranks up there as our favorite activity. Anything to get us outside in nature is ideal, plus, it’s almost always totally free. Going to the library is another good one–the bonus is that you get to bring books home ;)!

    • Kristi July 15, 2015, 11:03 am

      Hiking and going to the library are two of my my top three free activities =] I love anything outdoors, so hiking is our go-to activity as well.

  • retirebyforty July 15, 2015, 11:44 am

    Thanks for the tips! We love our library system and spend a lot of time there. Summer is a great time to go hiking too. Next week we’ll go to a hot spring and all we have to pay is the parking fee. Stargazing sounds like fun for a bit older kids.

  • Kristi July 15, 2015, 12:46 pm

    Going to a hot spring sounds like a lot of fun! I would love to be able to visit one someday.

  • Duncan July 16, 2015, 8:25 am

    I love the library, way better than red box and way cheaper too. Only downside is I don’t reserve things and just generally grab whats on the shelf so it may be a while for me to grab that movie I’ve been wanting to see. Great list!

    • Kristi July 16, 2015, 8:28 pm

      I used to just check out whatever was available that day too. I recently found out that our library now allows you to reserve books and movies online. It makes it a lot easier to get a hold of the movies that we have been wanting to see.

  • Bryan@Just One More Year July 16, 2015, 10:34 am

    Your top 3 (library, state parks, and star gazing) are high on our list as well for great inexpensive experiences. Watching matinee or reduced price movies are a favorite of ours when we exhaust the “free selection” at our local library.

    • Kristi July 16, 2015, 8:31 pm

      We love seeing matinee movies, but our nearest theater is an hour away. So, we don’t get see movies when they first come out as often as we would like to.

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