How to Save Money on Family Activities

Mother and daughter using laptop at home

Planning family outings can get costly, but there are ways to spend time with your family without breaking the bank. Read along as we go over some strategies you can use to save money and enjoy quality time with your loved ones of all ages.

Embrace the Outdoors

One of the biggest ways to save on family activity costs is to take advantage of the natural environment around you. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Take a hike. Go on a local hike and explore nature together. Most parks and trails don't have entry fees, so you can visit as often as you like and take in the scenery together. Just be sure to come prepared with the right footwear, supplies and guidemaps.
  • Get competitive. Stage a mini "Olympics"-style game complete with relay races and obstacle courses made out of everyday items found around the house. You could even incorporate less-physical activities such as trivia.
  • Stay active together. If you have access to bikes, take a family ride at dawn or dusk and have a picnic. Or try playing a sport together: Many sports require only minimal equipment (like a soccer ball or basketball), and the proper equipment for new sports you try like disc golf may be available at a local park. If you're looking for something a little less involved, go for a family stroll and play "I spy" while you walk.
  • Find a list of local festivals and events. Many festivals are free and open to the community. Check your local listings or try apps like Goldstar. Whether you pack your own lunch or budget for vendor food, the best part might be the people-watching—and that's always free.

Get Cultural

Exposing children and teens to art, history and culture is a great way to help their brains grow, but luckily it can be fun too. Here are some low-cost or free ways to explore more arts and culture as a family:

  • Get smart about gifts. When family members and friends ask what you want for special holidays and occasions, ask for family memberships to local cultural institutions like museums, galleries, the symphony and theaters. If you don't have luck getting memberships, a lot of institutions (including museums, gardens, science centers, historic sites, zoos and aquariums) offer a free or discounted evening or two each month, often called "community nights." Check to confirm availability and cost before you arrive.
  • Explore program offerings. Many educational institutions make available free activities for kids of all ages. And with widespread closures due to COVID-19, many places began—and are still—offering activities online. For example, take a few minutes to visit the sites of your local libraries and you might be surprised by the wealth of free activities available where the only thing you need to do is show up.
  • Check your benefits. The cost of admission to many institutions can be a barrier for many families on a budget, but there are a number of initiatives designed to make cultural outlets more accessible. One of the biggest initiatives is called Museums for All. Through Museums for All, people who receive food assistance (SNAP benefits) can gain free or reduced admission to more than 700 museums throughout the United States simply by presenting their SNAP EBT card. You can find a participating museum near you on the Museums for All website. Also, think about more specific programs your family qualifies for. Are you homeschooling? You might be eligible for educator discounts. Are you or your partner an emergency worker? You might be eligible for first responder discounts.
  • Explore cultural cuisines. Travel around the world through food by having your family pick a country and recreate the national dish. Recreating a dish from another country at home is likely to be cheaper than dining out for a family of four or more. If there's a concern about rarely used ingredients going to waste, try this: Encourage older kids or teens to use only what's available in the fridge and pantry and put together a meal of their choosing. Feeling competitive? Make it a "Chopped"-style event and host a competition using preselected mystery ingredients. (Bonus points for picking items that are close to their expiration date.)
  • Pick a theme and start a family book club. It might seem odd, but you don't actually all have to read the same book. If you pick a theme, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr., your teens could read a graphic novel about his life, parents and grandparents could read a biography, older children can read short chapter books and very young toddlers and babies can "read" board books about the same topic. Then come together to share a meal, ask prepared questions and share different perspectives on what you learned. Themes can work for a person, place or thing, so let your imagination run free.
  • Check out local parks' programs. Local governments usually offer a variety of programming. For example, you can often find dance lessons, foreign language classes, crafting instruction and ethnic cooking courses along with many others.

Get Creative at Home

Sometimes you don't need to leave the house at all to have fun:

  • Try a paint and sip night. Paint and sip nights aren't only for adults. Make it kid-friendly by breaking out the paint (or other art supplies) and grabbing your favorite family drinks: Try a hot cocoa bar when it's cold out and a lemonade or iced tea bar when it's warmer.
  • Have a movie night. It's tried and true, but it still works. Pick a movie everyone can agree on and make it an event with popcorn, homemade bingo cards and cozy blankets.
  • Tackle a home project. If you've been meaning to get around to a home project or two, there's no reason to wait. Get your (older) children and teens involved with painting or knocking out a wall, installing shelves or decluttering. It's a great way to save money and learn new skills.
  • Pull out the games. From puzzles to card games, game nights are a great way to bond with family members of all ages. Have a teen who's more into tech than board games? Dust off your gaming skills and have a fun night playing video games—you could even take the opportunity to introduce some games from your youth.

Other Ways to Save

There are tons of other ways to save on family activities too. Here are a few more:

  • Hunt for deals. Check out websites like Groupon or Certifikid for steep discounts on activities like shows, classes, camps and dining out.
  • Rethink how you travel. Consider driving to a new destination instead of flying. It may seem daunting, but it might save you so much money that you don't mind. Use a gas calculator and compare the cost against buying plane tickets. Don't forget to pack your own snacks, wherever you go.
  • Give back. Volunteering for a good cause can be a great way to get the entire family involved in something positive while making lasting memories.
  • Scale back. Limit expensive classes or activities to one per season. Not only could this free up your family's schedule, but your wallet will thank you.
  • Apply for scholarships. Don't be shy about asking for scholarships for activities. Dance, theatre and music programs often have funds set aside to ensure families from lower-income backgrounds can access the offerings.

The Bottom Line

There are ways to help your family feel more connected without breaking the bank. With a little bit of planning and a lot of creativity you can find fun activities for your family and create memories that last for years to come.