4 Ideas for Frugal Parent/Child Dates

frugal parent:child dates

Guest post by Kimber

This year, I’ve had a fun opportunity to spend two hours a week, one-on-one, with my sweet kindergartener. Once a week, my 3-year-old son is in preschool until 2:00pm, while she gets out at noon. I quickly realized that this little chunk of time is precious… so we instituted a tradition: Mommy-Daughter lunch dates!

I know what the most frugal idea is for a lunch date: make it yourself. But she and I both love going out to lunch, and frankly, it’s a splurge-worthy treat for “just the girls”!

Our lunch dates are a special thing for us, and it’s worth spending a little bit of money on. But our weekly adventures could easily end up costing us at least $50 a month. So here are a few tips I’ve learned to make our dates more affordable:

1. Use coupons.

This is a no-brainer, I know. But make sure you look all over as you never know where coupons might be “hiding”!

I’ve found Chick-Fil-A and Panera coupons in the back of our phone book. Schools and libraries often offer free kids meals as rewards. Check out RetailMeNot’s app (or website) to see what deals are available at your favorite restaurants.

If you have the Ibotta App, check for restaurant rebates. And if there are any restaurants you love, sign up for their e-mails and keep an eye out for great deals! Instead of asking, “Where should we eat today?”, I tell my daughter, “These are the places we have coupons for. What sounds the best?”

As an example, right now I have an iBotta rebate for $1.75 back if I buy an $8 “Southwest Pairings” meal at Chili’s. I also have a free kid’s meal coupon that they e-mailed me. So after my rebate comes through, I will have paid under $10, tip included, for a meal for both of us at our favorite lunch spot.

2. Don’t feel like you have to order two full meals.

If your children are like mine, a lot of the fun of going out to eat is to get a meal that comes with a little prize. But it’s okay to think outside the box. If I have a coupon for a free appetizer, we’ll share an appetizer and then share a meal. Or sometimes we’ll order several things off of the dollar menu.

In the past, when money has been really tight, I’ve fed my kids a big, healthy snack right before we’ve gone out to lunch. You’ll spend way less, but you’ll still have the fun of a lunch date.

3. Earn gift cards.

There are several ways I do this. One is to use Swagbucks – I’ve cashed in several times to pay for dates. Sometimes I will use other survey sites, cash out, and use my cash to pay for lunch. I’ve ordered gift cards using our credit card points. I’ve even used my Jingit debit card to pay for lunch at Sonic.

Since all of this is “extra” money, I don’t count it in my budget. And it’s fun to do a little bit of extra survey-ing (or Swagbucks-ing), knowing that the end result is a date with my sweet little girl.

One more tip – check out websites that sell discounted gift cards, like CardCash.com. I just cashed out my Swagbucks account for a $50 Paypal deposit. I am planning on turning around and using that money to buy discounted Chili’s and Applebee’s gift cards, saving me around 10%!

4. Ask for gift cards as gifts.

This isn’t something I’d ask for from many people – in fact, we specifically request no gifts at our kids’ birthday parties. But if you have family members who ask for gift ideas for birthdays or Christmas, you might suggest a gift card for lunch.

It doesn’t have to be expensive – I’ve told family members that even a $1 gift card to buy an ice cream cone would thrill my kids. I’d much rather my kids get a gift card (and a fun date with Mom) than more stuff.

These are a few of the things I’ve done to help pay for my special lunch dates with my daughter. Would I have saved money by staying home? Absolutely.

But I am so, SO glad that I’ve taken this special time once a week to create memories. We’ve had so much fun, and we’ve even stuck to our budget.

What are some ways that you’ve inexpensively “dated” your spouse, significant other, or children?

Kimber is the happy mom of two beautiful kids and the wife to a hardworking man. She has lived in five states, and she’s currently loving life in Texas. She loves reading, chatting, napping, and shopping year-round for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

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  1. says

    Great tips! I do frugal dates with my kids too. We usually get a fancy cupcake and share it or a cocoa at Starbucks. It’s mostly about just talking since my kids are older.

  2. Amy says

    I like to take a child to Costco with me, order something to eat, and sit in front of the window to watch the people make pizzas (they love this.) We get to chat, also, but it’s fun to watch the kids enjoy such a simple thing.

    I LOVE the idea to request no presents at BD parties. I actually have not had BD parties with our friends because several families are pretty strapped for cash and I don’t want them to have to bring presents. (We do also have WAY too much stuff.) How do you go about requesting no gifts?

    • Gina says

      We have not done many birthday parties, but when we do, we include on the invitation, in lieu of gifts please bring an item for a designated charity. We done books for a local school for underprivileged kids, pajamas for the homeless shelter, even toiletries for the shelter can be a very inexpensive thing to bring. I am happy not to have 15 or more toys coming into my home and my kids are learning the joy of giving to others while still getting to have a blast with their friends!

      • Kimber says

        I love that, Gina. I’ve done that for a girls’ night in, as well – I asked people (if they were interested) to bring a toiletry or pampering item, and donated them to the women’s shelter so they could have a girls’ night in, too!

      • Dani says

        That is definitely something to keep in the back of my mind. What better way to teach your children to think of others? Thanks for sharing!

    • Kimber says

      April – we always say something like, “No gifts, please – thanks for coming to share our special day!” I’ve also seen like “No gifts, please – your company is your gift to us.” You could probably google it and get more ideas. :) But we agree – our kids don’t need more stuff, and we don’t want our parties to be a financial hardship for anyone. Glad you found it helpful!

    • Natalie says

      At one party my 3rd grade son attended this year, they did a book exchange. Instead of bringing a present, each child brought 2 books (used were totally fine). The parents collected the books and then the children took turns selecting books to take home. They really enjoyed it.

  3. kadi says

    I have 2 teens and we have signed up on several websites for pre-screening movies (free if you answer a few questions after). They are usually on week nights so we have to work around soccer schedule, but it has been fun going with one child or the other or all 4 of us once in awhile. Going with the gift card theme, I have started asking family for movie theater cards so we can share a drink or candy. Makes for an inexpensive (date) night out and I enjoy the conversation before (usually we get there 45 to 60 min early-so they are stuck talking to mom) and on the ride home about the movie.

  4. says

    I remember one of my daughter’s favorite special “dates” with me. It was a trip to Target – nothing really that special except that her brothers weren’t with us. At the check-out, I let her pick out a candy (Skittles if I remember). Then we walked into the Starbucks in Target where I ordered a coffee with a gift card someone had given me. We sat and chatted while she ate each and every Skittle one by one. It was a long time of talking and so much fun!

  5. Melissa says

    So you use Jingit? I used it for awhile, but they quit putting up ads for a number of months. I was glad I never activated the debit card since it charges you $2.00 if you don’t use it for three months. If they don’t give you a way to earn money, I would guess the debit card starts charging you and it’s a money sucker as opposed to a money maker. I also noticed in the terms that they will charge you $10.00 if you cancel your debit card.

    • Kimber says

      Melissa – I’ve found that Jingit has expanded a lot recently. There are more offers (like Ibotta) – last week there was rebates for buying potatoes, Easter Candy, and a few other things. Plus there are occasional ads to walk, and a few items you can scan in-store to earn money.

  6. Dani says

    I recently joined IHOP’s Pancake Revolution – their e-newsletter club that sends members coupons and notifies members of new menu items or specials. A few nights after I joined, my husband decided we should go cruisin’ to get some air (I’m a SAHM with 3 under 4). When everyone got hungry, I thought it would be the perfect time to hit up our tried and true, cheap late dinner spot – IHOP.

    I got a free meal for joining the Pancake Revolution and we saved by letting our oldest 2 share an adult-sized meal (which they finished the following day – we believe in leftovers). The baby’s still on formula, so that was a no-brainer! At that point, my husband could order whatever he wanted and I felt so good that we spent only what it would have cost for the 2 of us to eat out (conservatively).

    We don’t eat often, and the hubby has a busy work/school schedule, so we take advantage of our quality time as often as possible. It’s usually in a creative, untraditional way, but it’s kept our family close and our children know Mommy and Daddy love them.

    I’m really enjoying this new adventure in frugality! Thanks to Crystal for posting a list of restaurants that give you something free for your birthday. I get a free meal on my birthday at IHOP as well!

  7. Dani says

    Can I just say it’s so nice to read that other parents are taking time with their children?! Life can get busy, but our kids need us, so it’s encouraging to see families taking time together. It seems to be more and more rare…

  8. Tracy says

    I use the shopkick app to earn points towards either restaurant.com gift cards because I get the full $25 value from the points or target gift cards that let us buy and movie gift cards or Restaurant gift cards

  9. Jennifer H says

    Maybe you could reserve the lunch out for one day a week to keep it extra special, and do fun in-house or picnic lunches the rest of the week. Make your own pizza, taco, loaded potato, plus one picnic in the park (or on the living room floor if the weather is bad) can also make for fun dates. My son and I do the living room picnic once every couple of weeks and he loves it. We spread out a picnic blanket, pop in a video, and eat fun finger foods like popcorn, apple slices or grapes, carrot or red pepper sticks (hummus or ranch for dipping), cheese cubes, nuts, and hard-boiled eggs (hits all the food groups for a vegetarian). It’s special because 1) we are watching a movie, 2) we are eating a “snack” for dinner; and 3) we are eating on the FLOOR with our FINGERS!

  10. says

    We will allow a child to stay up after everyone else is in bed, and that child gets to play a game with either my husband or I, or stay up and watch a movie with one of us. We have also done one on one trips to the library.

    I also will often take one child with me when I go to run errands. That gives them more one on one time with me (my husband has done the same).

    Another thing that we do is have our children take turns learning how to cook. This teaches a skill and also gives each child a time with just mom.

  11. Mel says

    In our area there is a program called “kidsdinefree.net”. Groupon often offers a card for $10 for a three month period and the child can eat for free at close to 100 locations with the purchase of an adult meal. There are fast food places, chain restaurants and even ice cream places. We have saved a bundle and have had wonderful experiences with the card. If it’s available in your area, it may be worth checking out.

  12. says

    I think this is the best thing I’ve heard in a long time! What wonderful memories you’re creating with your daughter! And you’re instilling in her how important she is to you with the one on one time. She must feel really special. Good job mama:)

  13. DJ says

    You can also save your change and cash it in for a restaurant gift card with Coinstar. They also have AMC cards, Coldstone and even Build a Bear. It’s not really saving you any money, but it’s fun to save the change together and my son even loves using the machine. :) Another idea: Our local pawn shop sells gift cards at a discounted price (and you can sell any you get that you won’t use).

  14. Mel says

    My daughter and I would have a one on one dessert date at the Mexican restaurant. They give you chips and salsa and we just love sharing the sopapilla’s with ice cream and caramel sauce. We would go at odd times so not to be an annoyance to the waiter and tip well too.

  15. says

    Love this! We go to breakfast once a week at a local coffee shop. I buy coffee and a hot chocolate, but typically bring my own muffins and fruit. Since it’s not a true “restaurant” they don’t mind, and it saves me money and we eat healthier food!

  16. says

    More ideas:
    – The park, the library and the grocery store can all become a new adventure when you are just bringing one out for the day.
    – Groupon occasionally has something really worth getting for a parent / daughter date.
    – If clothing shopping needs to be done anyway, especially a girl will enjoy this as a 1 on 1 date.

  17. Elise says

    My husband and daughter sometimes go out for donuts or bagels – much cheaper than a whole meal (and less likely to be wasted). Occasionally they bring their Bibles along and look at something together and talk about it. Sometimes they invite another dad and daughter along and call it Daddy Daughter Donut Double Date. 😉

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