Guest post from Brigitte of BrigitteBrulz.com
Zoos can be fun and educational family outings, but if you do not have a free zoo nearby, they can be a huge drain on your family’s budget. Here are 12 ways to save money on your next zoo visit.
1. Become a member
If your family has a zoo nearby that you plan to visit often, becoming a zoo member may be advantageous. A membership usually pays for itself within a few visits.
In addition to free or discounted entrance, zoo members often receive discounted prices for various programs throughout the year.
2. Go on free days
If you don’t plan to visit the zoo multiple times in a year, being a member may not be beneficial. Instead, check if the zoo offers free days. Be aware, though, that you still may have to pay for parking, and be prepared for large crowds!
If you are a homeschooling family, check if the zoo has a “homeschool day”. In addition to a free/discounted admission, they may offer extra activities throughout the day. Make sure to check the requirements before going since some zoos require proof of homeschooling to get the discount.
3. Go in the “off-season”
Zoos are normally discounted certain months of each year. Although you can save money in the off-season, be aware that there may be less activities, rides, and animals available.
4. Go with a group
Many zoos have their own rules concerning group discounts (the minimum number of people, advance ticket purchases, etc.), so check out the zoo’s website to see what they offer. You may find that visiting with a group of friends or family would be beneficial (and fun!) for you.
Some zoos offer free parking; however, there are many zoos that charge per vehicle. By carpooling, you can split the cost of parking.
6. Use coupons
Coupons may be found on various online websites (including the zoo’s website) or by calling the zoo directly and asking if they offer coupons. You may also find coupons in Entertainment books, which can be purchased at certain times of the year at a steep discount. Sometimes, libraries even give coupons out as prizes for their summer reading program.
7. Pack your own drinks, snacks, and lunch
Although each zoo has its own policy on foods and drinks, most allow patrons to bring in their own drinks or snacks. If allowed, bring your own water bottles for an inexpensive and convenient drink. Fill up for free at the drinking fountains.
If the zoo doesn’t allow you to eat on zoo grounds, check to see if you can go to your car at lunchtime and re-enter when you are finished eating. Not only will this save you money, but you also won’t have to drag your lunches through the zoo with you.
8. Arrive early
Some zoos offer discounts if you arrive within the first hour or two on certain days. By arriving early, you will have more time to spend at the zoo for the same (or lower) price than someone who arrives later in the afternoon.
Early mornings are also often cooler in the summertime when it can get extremely hot.
9. Plan ahead
Check the weather forecast, so you can plan the indoor/outdoor activities accordingly.
Check the zoo’s website, so you can view their policies, closures, and any special activities or shows that are included in admission the day you visit.
By knowing this, you can schedule your visit accordingly to get the most for your money. This can also prevent some disappointment if you know that certain animals will not be available to see ahead of time.
Pack your bag and needed items the night before if possible so that you can easily get out the door when desired.
10. Buy inexpensive souvenirs or just skip the souvenir shop
There are some zoos that require you to walk through their gift shop in order to exit. Though this can be frustrating for parents, it does not mean you have to spend a fortune. Before going to the zoo, let your kids know if they will or will not be getting a souvenir. If they will, set a price limit they are aware of ahead of time and stick to it.
Although gift shops are often filled with expensive merchandise, souvenirs do not have to be pricey. Smashed pennies (which can be stored in a penny passport), postcards (which can be stored in small photo albums), and pictures (printed when on sale, of course) can be great inexpensive and space saving souvenirs.
After all, how many stuffed animals do you really need?
11. Take your time
Although this won’t necessarily save you money, taking your time and doing the activities included with your admission allows you to get the most for your money.
Not all children will want to spend an entire day at the zoo; however, you may be able to find some fun activities for them to do along the way. Older children may enjoy taking their own pictures. For younger children, you may appreciate one of these free zoo scavenger hunt packs (here and here).
12. Bring a pack
Bringing a pack of supplies can save you from having to purchase pricey items on site. Some items to pack may include sunblock, bug spray, sunglasses, hats, cameras with fresh batteries (and maybe spare batteries), pennies and quarters (for smashed pennies and petting farm food), hand sanitizer, zoo map and schedule, water bottles, snacks, and an extra change of clothes for the little ones.
May you have fun visiting the zoo without breaking your budget!
Brigitte Brulz is a homeschooling mom and author of Pickles, Pickles, I Like Pickles and Jobs of a Preschooler. For free coloring pages, activity ideas, and more information, visit her website.
Krystal @ Simple Finance Mom says
This is perfectly timed! We have talking about taking our girls to zoo before the end of the summer!! I might get a group of other homeschooling moms to see if we can get a discount. And I never even thought about asking for free days! Thanks for the tips!!
Krystal @ Simple Finance Mom says
This was perfect timing!! We have been planning on going to the zoo before the end of the summer. I think I might get a group of homeschooling moms to go to see if we get a discount. And I never even thought to ask about free days! Thank you for the tips!!
Our local zoo has reduced admission in January and February. We’ve gone a number of times on nice days – winter is cold and snowy where we live. It’s a great opportunity to see some of the animals from colder climates (e.g. Siberian tigers and snow leopards) more active than they are in hotter months when they are trying to hide in the shade.
I work at a zoo and I must second all of these but especially getting memberships for local guests. Many members with small kids will come for just a few hours as they know they can always come back and not have to pay for parking either. Our zoo also offers a discount on food and gift shop purchases for members.
Lastly I wanted to add that zoos donate a lot of money to conserve animals in the wild so your visit is helping them be in this planet longer!
Jamie @ Medium Sized Family says
We adore our zoo! It’s one of the few places that sells a flat rate family pass, so even with 5 kids we can afford it.
Another bonus of a pass is that even if you can only squeeze in an hour or two, it’s no big deal. You don’t feel like you have to spend the whole day there to get the most bang for your buck.
I love your tips about what to bring along. I hate having to buy something because I was forgetful!
My in-laws give us a family membership for Christmas. We have one of the nation’s largest zoos. Our membership provides us with a reciprocal agreement at other zoos. We took advantage of it and saved 50% on admission to another zoo 100+ miles away last week when we took an out-of-state vacation. Our zoo membership also gives us free parking at our zoo.
Wow! That’s so cool! Thanks for sharing! -Meg, MSM Tema
Brigitte Brulz says
Thank you for sharing. If you check out https://www.aza.org/reciprocity, there should be more information about various zoos and aquariums that accept memberships from other zoos.