Friday, July 13, 2012

Frugal Friday: Saving Money on Family Activities

Jessica did a great job of telling us how to save when we're away from home. However, some of us would like to have a little fun with our families more than just a week-long vacation once a year. In fact, for our family of 4 children under 10; we often skip the longer trip altogether and opt for shorter ones closer to home. Here are a few ways to save money in your own home state:

Eating Out
While eating really shouldn't be considered a recreational activity, for moms who like to get out of doing the dishes and cooking once in a while, it can be very recreational. Depending on where you go, it can be fun for the whole family to have a change of scenery and try new foods.

One great strategy is to find a restaurant where kids eat free. Here is a great site that lists 101 of them! Some restaurants will still let you use coupons for Mom and Dad on top of the free kids' meals. Be sure to check their policy before you go. There are sometimes buy one entree, get one free coupons which would allow your whole family to eat for the price of one meal! Even the $4 or $5 off two entrees in the coupon insert of the paper is a savings.

Some restaurants are having happy hour now (no, not those ones!) where there are half-price drinks or cheaper prices from 2-4 or 3-5 p.m. on weekdays. We recently ate cheaper at a pizza buffet during happy hour than we could have eaten at McDonald's.

Teaching your kids to drink water with lemon while eating out can be a substantial savings. Unfortunately, this doesn't work well for us, because eating out seems like a treat and everyone wants a "special" drink. (My kids drink a lot of water at home.)

Some grocery store chains offer gas rewards for purchasing groceries and gift cards at their store. If you know you are going out to eat at a particular place, purchase a gift card for that restaurant ahead of time and get a little kickback at the gas pump later.

When you are saving money on eating out, please remember to tip on the full price amount. Your server does the same amount of work whether you pay $50 or $5 for the meal. 

Museums, Zoos and Amusement Parks
We recently wanted to visit a science museum with our kids a few hours away from our home. When I checked the price online of admission for our family of 6, I was shocked! As nice as the museum might be, it simply wasn't worth the cost. Instead, I bought a membership at our local science museum for $25 less than our daily admission would have been. We got into the pricey museum free (its yearly membership was $90!), and we can enjoy our local museums whenever we want as well as find free ones when we travel.

This same thing goes for zoo and amusement park memberships. If you only go once a year to these places, you might not want a membership. However, a membership usually pays for itself by the second or third use if you have children.

If a membership isn't an option, many zoos and museums have free or half-price days a few times a year. Military,senior, homeschooler and even ministerial discounts are also available at many places. It never hurts to ask.

We love books around our house and visit the library weekly, coming home with 2 or 3 bags of books. However, our area libraries provide more than reading entertainment. During the summer reading programs, libraries create interest by inviting entertainers. We have seen a magic show, an exotic animal show, a puppet show, a balloon animal show and a bubble blowing show all at our local library for free! Our library also gives out prizes and free fast food meal coupons for reading books.

You might be amazed at what is in or near your town that you never knew existed. We have made a tradition of hiking the trails in our Metro Parks system. Many counties have state parks and nature trails with lovely scenery. Take a picnic lunch and you have a great family activity for free!

The traditional kind of parks with a playground in your area may surprise you as well. I really didn't know about all the parks available for my children until I did an online search for my city's top parks and talked to friends from different surrounding communities than my own. One local park has a nature center next to it with animals the kids can pet, and a few others employ staff that bring out special large toys, plan activities and play with the children.

While you are out in nature, you may just want to try geocaching. This is a fun treasure hunt for the whole family to enjoy, and it's absolutely free!

What other activities does your family enjoy?

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