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Frugal Family Fun… When You Can’t Afford a Vacation

Guest post from Deanna of From this Kitchen Table

Some years, the budget doesn’t allow for even a short trip let alone the vacation you’ve always dreamed of taking your kids on.

It might be easy to feel mom guilt over not being able to give your kids that trip – but there’s no reason to!!!

Instead, focus on the areas you CAN have fun as a family… on a budget!

If your children are young like mine, you can easily find lots of ways to have fun without going anywhere. In fact, if you are excited about the awesome year you are going to have staying home, it will rub off on your kids. If you are down and upset about not going on vacation, that attitude will rub off on them too.

Here are four ways you can have fun with your family on a budget this year:

1. Enjoy the Little Things

Please, don’t let the little things pass over you. Life is made up of way more small, mundane moments than it is big, fancy, elaborate ones. Take the time to slow down and enjoy what the day to day brings.

  • Celebrate small victories with your kids: make a big deal out of the first lost tooth, learning to ride a bike, finishing a list of books, memorizing school facts or Bible verses. Don’t forget you can celebrate family victories as well. When you pay off that debt or reach that savings goal, make a cake and have a little party.
  • Go on lots of evening walks and bike rides.
  • Start little traditions that don’t cost much: Saturday morning pancakes, celebration plate, last day of school ice cream, make up your own holiday, birthday streamers etc.
  • Let your kids work along with you as you cook and do chores.

2. Watch for Free Local Events

Find where your local community (and surrounding areas) posts upcoming events! I don’t live in a large town, but since I’m always on the lookout for free events, we are often finding really affordable things to do as a family.

Some ideas for where to check for events:

  • Local community Facebook groups
  • Chamber of Commerce or your city’s Facebook page
  • Local business pages
  • Flyers at the library
  • Talk to friends that have lived there longer than you

Twice a year, a children’s museum in a neighboring town has a “get in with a canned good donation day”.

One night, our local rodeo has family night and community appreciation night – kids get in free and there is a free BBQ supper.

Recently, a small local museum was celebrating their 10-year anniversary with free admission, giveaways, and refreshments.

You get the idea! I have a feeling you will be surprised how many freebie events you can find near you!

3. Watch for National Promotions

Our town is small enough we don’t have many of the places that do these things, but if you live in a larger area watch for events like:

These are a few promotions I’ve seen over the years. If you live in a well populated area, I’m sure there are many other promotions to partake in.

4. Build Community

Having friends or extended family to do life with is a great way to have fun on a budget and can make those little moments more special.

If it’s been a long week with nothing going on and your kids are going stir crazy, being able to call someone up and plan a simple get together is a great way to make a memory. My kids love spending time with their friends, grandparents, uncles, and aunts.

Here are some ideas:

  • Play dates at the park
  • Inviting someone over for spaghetti or soup (both affordable and easy meals)
  • An evening of dessert and water balloons with friends
  • Meeting up with another family at the free museum day

All easy and cheap ways to excite your kids and have fun as a family.

If you are feeling stressed about not being able to have fun with your family because of financial restraints or goals, hopefully you are able to let that pressure go.

Instead, I encourage you to embrace the season you are in and to even look forward to celebrating and having fun doing all the little things you might otherwise have overlooked.

How do you stay in the loop on free events? What are your favorite budget-friendly ways to have fun as a family?

Deanna writes about real life homemaking on less at From this Kitchen Table. She’s passionate about helping moms learn how to embrace living on less and thrive right where they are. She’s married, has 3 young children, loves dark chocolate, reading, running, & cooking, and gets excited about saving money.

photo source

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  • Jessica says:

    I need tips on dealing with the family and friends who post about their semi-annual family trip to Disneyland, Hawaii, France… while I work on figuring out how I’m going to pay for orthodontics, that hole in the wall that’s been there since the plumbing leak and the flooring that needs replacement.

    Also, what do you do when the kids at school brag about their summer trips, and all your kids can come up with is, “We went to Grandma’s house in Akron.”

    • lynn says:

      Over the years we’ve had many talks with our children about how we may hear about some people’s big trips, but that’s because they are excited about them. It may seem like “everyone” goes away for Spring Break, etc., but then we point out how many people are still driving down the roads, visiting the library, shopping for groceries, etc. If “everyone” left for Florida, Europe, etc., then who are those people?! Lol! We’ve also discussed how although we may see/hear about the fun stuff other families do, we don’t know all the details/what happens behind the scenes. Maybe Grandpa pays for their trips; maybe they put it all on a credit card they can’t pay off in full; maybe everyday life is really difficult…; and so on. We tried to help our children look beyond the obvious and beyond themselves. Most times those discussions helped me and my attitude just as much or more 😉

    • Karen says:

      I think we need to take a break from FB when we get “the grass is greener on the other side” feeling. As for a trip to Grandma’s, I always loved spending a few days with my grandmother even though she lived only thirty minutes away. I know it’s difficult to shut out all those voices telling you what should be fun, but take the advice in this post. Do those things close to home that you and your children enjoy. It the long run, you will be glad that you made the needed repairs to your home instead putting an expensive trip on a credit card.

    • Jen says:

      I thought about the family vacations I used to take as a child. What made them truly special was that it was designated time to relax and enjoy simple pleasures as a family. I try to bring that to my family at home. The realization that my children are also enjoying the things that made my childhood special definitely tames the feelings of envy and guilt.

    • Guest says:

      If it makes you feel better, even if you took your kids somewhere really cool there’s still the comparison talk at school. We have been financially able to take our kids somewhere every year and I’ll be honest…we don’t focus on cutting costs when we travel so they’ve been to some beautiful places and had some amazing experiences. But, as human nature is so quick to do, there’s still a comparison. We flew to California a little over a year ago and did all sorts of fun things. One of our kids shortly after commented about a classmate and friend who does “really cool” things like swim with dolphins and ziplining. Mind you, she wasn’t being ungrateful for our trips. It was just a comment but my eyes could have rolled out of my head at the irony.

      The takeaway for me is that our nature as human beings is to not stay content and it’s something we have to constantly work at because those feelings of inadequacy and jealousy come up for us all regardless of how much or how little money you have.

      I grew up below the poverty line and we went on one short vacation my entire 18 years at home. It was fun but my favorite childhood memories are of things like swimming in the local creeks, going to the lake to camp and swim, Vacation Bible School in the summer and so many other things that didn’t cost anything.

      My financial situation is very different as an adult and we can afford to take nice vacations which I very much enjoy. But we do it for us, not to keep up with the Joneses. We do things we want to do and focus on family time.

  • Lynn says:

    We live in a suburb of a city that has many suburbs, each one having their own branch of the county library system. Our library card is good at each branch (I think there are 10 of them?). When my kids were in elementary school we made it a goal to visit each one of the local branches. For the cost of gas we got to experience a new library environment (each one has a unique children’s department) and usually found new-to-us books. Sometimes I would pack a lunch and we would hit whatever park was closest to that library. It was a fun and educational summer!

    • Deanna says:

      That’s awesome you can go to 10 library branches!!! So fun to get to try out all of them. I bet your kids loved it. I’m going to remember that if we ever move. We just have one library here but the kids love their little programs and checking out books.

  • Although we do take an occasional vacation, I love visiting older family members. They lived in the USSR and have so many amazing stories to tell. I wish I had interviewed my grandparents more and recorded their stories before they were gone.

    Also, my husband and I love taking walks and hikes in different parks around us.

    • Deanna says:

      LOVE that! I regret not visiting with my grandpa about his time serving in WWII. Reading his obituary I found some fascinating stories I never knew and really felt like I missed out.

      Walks and hikes are the best! Love those in the the fall especially.

  • Great tips!

    One summer we swam at a different place every week. Another summer, we picked wild berries for free at a few different places.

    Sometimes we take weekend camping trips that are no more than 1-2 hours away. For $50 – $100 (including gas, campsite, food, and recreation), we’ll have a few days of a mini vacation for the entire family and we come home in better moods and more relaxed than we often do when we take a “real” vacation. We slowly built up our camping equipment over several years by buying/requesting items as Christmas & birthday gifts.

    Another thing we enjoy doing is taking a family bike ride in the evenings ?

    • Deann says:

      Camping is on my list of things to do someday! I need to find someone with equipment we can borrow or find stuff at a garage sale to test it out – my husband is a skeptic of it being fun ha ha.

      Bike rides are so fun. I can’t wait until the little ones are older so I don’t worry about them crashing or getting hit by a car.

  • Amy Greene says:

    I just wrote a similar post on my website about Staycations! We have had many years where were not able to travel much of anywhere, and we always tried to make it fun for the kids. We went to libraries, had day trips that were an hour or less away. We visited museums, had water days in our yard and one year even spent an entire day in our pajamas! My kiddos still talk about some of those as their best memories. I’ve learned it’s not about the money you spend but the memories you make!

    • Deanna says:

      Yes! The memories are so much more important than the money. Love all the fun staycations you’ve done with your family. My kids love those days where I let them stay in their PJs. 🙂

  • Guest says:

    We did a fun “trip around the world” last summer. I took a week off from work and we ‘visited’ a new continent every day for a week. I researched culture, crafts and food and had fun stuff for us to do each day (focusing on the things kids would think were cool) and then we ate a meal each day that would be representative of that continent. Antarctica was kind of tough food-wise but we had fish and the kids liked that well enough. 🙂

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