When I was a kid, grandparents on both sides of my family used to take us to all sorts of educational places as outings. All of my grandparents were economically minded, so they chose places that were both fun and economical at the same time. By adding in bagged lunches, it was a win for everyone.
At the time, I didn’t realize that their intention was to help us experience as many things as possible, but that foundation has stayed with me. Now that I am raising my own children, I am dedicated to making sure that they experience as much as I can possibly fit in with the time I have as well. Being a single parent, I have to watch my budget, yet I don’t feel that should keep us trapped at home. Aside from gas, there are many opportunities available for wonderful yet free or cheap experiences. Without further adieu, here is a tasting of some of the fun things parents can do with kids, even if you are living on a budget:
Museums are fairly economical options for families. If you live close enough a museum that you would visit regularly, a season pass can make it very economical – you just have to make sure that you use it enough times, or else you end up wasting your money. Many museums have weekend specials and/or day camp type programs that may make a season pass a useful item to purchase. As well, some museums are connected through a larger system and a season pass may get you into other local museums, or even associated museums across the country.
State parks are definitely economical and fun. We live in the heart of the Finger Lakes Region of New York State and so we have parks galore. New York State Parks has a system of 180 parks and 35 historic sites. All of our local state parks have informational interpretive signage along the trails to help visitors learn about the area’s natural history. Entrance fee is by car, or a state park pass will get you into any state park during the on-season. During the off-season (Labor Day – Memorial Day), admission is free. While I love supporting my local parks, I admit I sometimes park outside of the grounds and hike in to make our trip even more economical.
Federal Parks and National Monuments
A few weeks ago, we went to New Jersey as my first vacation in about 5 years. On our way back we had to pass through Philadelphia. My kids have an active interest in the Liberty Bell so we decided to stop and see the beautiful, broken, copper bell. The Liberty Bell is maintained by the US Parks System and I was pleased to find that admission to see it was absolutely free. I did incur a $9 fee for parking in a garage, but for four people, was satisfied with that. If we had wished to visit Liberty Hall that day, we would have been obligated to pay admission.
A season pass with the US Parks System will gain you admission into 2,000 parks, national monuments, and wild areas across the country. An added bonus is that they have a program for free passes for 4th graders and their families. Follow the link above to register and access that great deal!
Interpretive signs and on-the-spot educational information varies across these parks, so you may wish to do some research before you go to learn about what you may see while you are there.
Local Trails, Village Parks, and Wildlife Management Areas
My last summer of college, I worked on Lake Ontario as a Dune Steward for Sea Grant and the NYS DEC. I educated visitors on the importance of the dunes which are only present on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario and Lake Michigan. I had not gone to visit “my beach” for about 10 years and last summer decided to return with the kids. I knew they would love the rocks and the waves and the beautiful wetland that the dunes protected. This trip was super economical for me because we took a cooler of sandwich stuff for lunch and the site we accessed has no fee to enter. This site is a Wildlife Management Area, run by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which are open and free to the public.
Wildlife Management Areas aren’t the only options to consider, though. Our area has a slew of local parks and nature trails that run through and around towns, most with at least one playground – and are all free to use. These parks and trails are some of our favorite places to visit. While they are often well used, we have spotted turtles crossing the trails, cedar waxwings feeding in the trees, and a myriad of wildflowers blooming from spring to fall, so their charms abound. Winter doesn’t keep us away from local trails either, we just pull on our snow pants and boots and call it a hike.
Organizations in towns and cities across the country offer fun, educational opportunities for children at very low fee or for free. We often complain that there is nothing to do where we live since it is out in the middle of nowhere, yet more and more often, community organizations are coming together to get the word out about their services and offer kids something fun and safe to do at the same time. We try to attend these kinds of fairs and activities in our area as ways to mingle, have fun, and support our local businesses. Occasionally we make lasting connections that we would not have otherwise.
As you can see, there are always lots of things to do with kids even if you live on a budget. Kids love learning and trying new things; mine don’t even pick up on the fact that I am taking them somewhere educational, they just know they are having a fun time. They aren’t the only ones who have fun, I always find that by allowing myself to be a life-long learner, I do too.
Share your thoughts: What have you found to be some fun family outings that are also nice on the wallet?
*This post was originally published on a sister site on July 30, 2018. I am in the process of transferring posts made on the sister site to this one so I can delete that site (it’s cheaper over here!).