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Why Homemade Laundry Detergent Doesn’t Actually Save You Money

We often hear about homemade laundry detergent and how much money it can save you, but this is a really interesting perspective on how it might not actually save you money like you think!

Psst! Interested in other homemade cleaners? Check out this list of homemade cleaners that might save you money!

homemade laundry detergent doesn't save money

Guest post from Ali:

I used to love homemade detergent. I thought it was amazing! It was easy, quick, and cheap to make. It worked well on stains.

But it was a waste. Homemade laundry detergent cost me much more than I saved.

About 6 months after I started making my homemade laundry detergent, all of our clothes started to stink and fall apart. And I ended up having to completely replace our wardrobe.

What I didn’t know at that point was that the bars of soap you grate to be the main cleaning agent, do not easily wash out in a washing machine.

Why Homemade Laundry Soap Doesn’t Work

The Science

The following is a very simple explanation.

Soap and detergent are similar molecules, but key differences make soap appropriate for nonporous surfaces (like counters) and detergent appropriate for porous surfaces (like clothes).

This is because detergent needs much less water than soap to wash out. And washing machines just don’t use enough water to properly wash soap out of clothes.

When soap (that builds up in your clothes) binds to magnesium or calcium, it makes soap scum.

Soap scum is insoluble and builds up, causing the clothes that you want to be absorbent (like towels and cloth diapers) lose their absorbency.

It will also cause your clothes to stink and deteriorate. Just like what happened to me!

So Why Not Use Extra Rinses?

Soap degrades fats like oil and lubricants — the same oil and lubricants your washer needs to operate properly.

With each wash, you are slowly ruining your washer. Using homemade laundry detergents will void your warranty, too.

Eventually, you will have to replace your washer.

You may have to replace your entire wardrobe like me.

What about Washing Soda and Borax?

I highly recommend keeping these around for laundry. They don’t harm the laundry or your machine.

These are NOT cleaning agents, though. These are chemicals that soften your water.

Most waters have dissolved minerals like calcium and iron present in them. Store-bought detergents will bind to these minerals, making them less effective at cleaning our clothes.

So if you have hard water, use a store-bought detergent and add ½ to 1 cup of a water softener.

How do you know if you have hard water?

Red stains in the bathtub mean that you have iron. Calcium will block small pipes over long periods.

Wellwater or untreated water tends to be hard while treated water tends to be softer.

The only way to know for sure is to get it tested.

Take a small sample from INSIDE your washer, if possible, and use a hardness test kit found in the aquarium aisle of most pet stores. It is easy and takes only a few minutes.

Some pet stores will do it for free if you bring it in. You may also be able to find the kits at hardware and pool stores.

How to Save Money on Laundry Detergent

If you want to save money on laundry detergent without homemade detergent being your solution, here are some of my best tips:

  • Use coupons to get best the deal on detergent. Coupons are always a good way to save money if you have the time! Collect some detergent coupons, stack it on a sale, and you can get a great deal. Buy several bottles and stock up!
  • Buying in bulk is always a great idea! Consider Amazon Subscribe & Save or Target Subscribe to Save. Beware of buying from places like Craigslist or Facebook Market Place. Counterfeit detergent is a thing.
  • Water softeners like mentioned above can make your detergent more powerful if you have dissolved minerals in your water.
  • Buy cheaper detergents and use more than recommended (depending on the soil level of the load) with an extra rinse.
  • Let the load soak. The additional time for the chemical to bind will allow more reactions to take place.

Ditch Your Dryer

If you can, line dry your clothes. This will reduce your energy significantly and save you money on your electric bill.

Bonus Tip: Strip Your Clothes

If you have been using homemade laundry detergent or want to check the efficacy of your laundry routine, strip your clothes.

This is a simple process that will pull all the grime out of the fabric.

How to Strip Clothes

    • Fill your bathtub ⅔ full of HOT water.
    • Add 2 cups strong detergent
    • 1 cup of water softener
    • Stir
    • Add clothes. They should be able to move around freely so don’t overload it.
    • Let sit 4-5 hours. If your clothes have build-up, the water will turn dark.
    • Wash your clothes in the washing machine with NO extra detergent.

Stripping will remove any build-up and make your clothes feel like new!

Have you ever tried making your own homemade laundry detergent? Did you like it?

Ali is a homeschool mom of 5. She is passionate about building wealth, teaching others to build wealth, revolutionizing education, and teaching the next generation of leaders.

4 Ways The Instant Pot Saves Our Family Money

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Have you thought about trying to use an Instant Pot for home cooking? Though it’s a little bit of an investment up front, it might be worth it if it helps you save money on groceries and meals!

{Psst! Want to save money on your grocery bill? Sign up to receive my FREE cheat sheet that teaches you 10 Easy Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill By $50!}

Instant Pot Saves You Money

Guest post from Sarah of Sidetracked Sarah:

I’ve always been a late adopter, so when I continually heard about everyone’s love of the new (at the time) small kitchen appliance called an “Instant Pot”, I was curious, but definitely not planning to get one any time soon.

My friends raved about the wonders of the Instant Pot:

They told me the food was delicious.

They said that it would save me money in the long run.

They insisted it saves so much time, too.

Being a stay at home mom of seven kids, my interest was finally piqued after months of hearing these comments from friends. I truly needed to save some serious time and money, so I decided to try it!

Can an Instant Pot Actually Save Your Family Money?

I was definitely surprised by how much money the Instant Pot saved our family right from the get-go! Here’s how…

 1. We Don’t Eat Out as Much.

If you’ve ever read through the Trim Healthy Mama cookbooks, I’m “Drive Thru Sue”.

My seven kids keep me running around and I often don’t take the time to think through dinner early enough in the day to get it prepared. Because of this, I’m constantly hitting the drive-thru.

With the Instant Pot, though, I don’t have to rely on the drive-thru. I can throw a frozen pot roast in the Instant Pot or even a big block of ground beef for one of the many Instant Pot ground beef recipes that our family enjoys.

I know that if I keep some basic meats and sauces or sauce ingredients on hand, I can make a quick meal that won’t cost me as much as going through the drive-thru or grabbing take out.

2. We Buy Fewer Convenience Foods.

We use to make frozen pizzas, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets too often.

Now that we have an Instant Pot, we don’t buy the convenience foods nearly as often, thus saving us money each month!

3. We Cook More From Scratch More Often.

Having an Instant Pot means we end up cooking from scratch a whole lot more than we used to, which saves us even more on our groceries.

It’s simple to make homemade yogurt, rice, boiled eggs, and beans — as well as many other inexpensive meals.

4. It Replaces Many Other Small Appliances.

The Instant Pot is an all-in-one appliance that eliminates the need for a rice cooker, slow cooker, and a yogurt maker. It can even count as a skillet if you don’t mind using the Saute function to cook your meat.

You can even use it to reheat food, which eliminates the need for a microwave!

Our Favorite Instant Pot Recipe

I’m often asked what our favorite Instant Pot recipe is. And I think I’d have to go with Chicken Tacos!

It’s super simple to make:

  1. Add a frozen bag of chicken breast, can of diced tomatoes and green chilies, and a packet of taco seasoning to the Instant Pot.
  2. Close the valve and cook on high pressure for 20 minutes.
  3. Quick-release the pressure and shred the chicken.
  4. Serve in taco shells, over chips, as a taco salad, on quesadillas, etc.

The possibilities are endless and it’s SO delicious!

We actually have TWO Instant Pots now and I’ve decided I can make just about anything in it! I’ve even taught several of my children how to use it. It is my most used appliance and saves me more money and time than any other appliance in our household by a long shot!

Related:

Sarah is a busy work from home, homeschooling mom of 7 who blogs over at Sidetracked Sarah. She loves helping families spend less time in the kitchen and more time with their families. She uses her Slow Cooker and Instant Pot on a daily basis to help her do just that.

How to Have the Ultimate Family Movie Night at Home

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Why spend a ton of money at the movie theater when you can have an at-home movie night that’s just as fun and doesn’t break the bank? Plan the ultimate family movie night at home with these great tips and tricks!

{Psst! Looking for more ideas for frugal family fun? Check out these Kid Date Ideas, Creative Ideas for Family Fun at Home, and Inexpensive Ways to Have Fun at Home!}

Ultimate Family Movie Night at Home

Guest post from Ivana of Find Your Mom Tribe:

Before my husband and I received the coveted titles of Mom and Dad, a weekly night at the movies was our thing. We’d get tickets to the blockbuster of the week, eat overpriced snacks (or sometimes sneak a Reese’s cup in here and there), and have a fab time.

After our kids arrived, however, we had to get very creative with our movie night ideas. At first when they were babies, watching a full movie in one sitting seemed like a relic of a time gone by.

But now that they are older, we have lots of fun watching different movies as a family – mostly at home, though, since frequent trips to the movie theater as a family of four would definitely break our budget!

Besides, with so many streaming services available, it’s easy to plan a fun family movie night at home. (And if your kids start crying — or worse, fighting — you won’t have to deal with the glares of the entire movie theater).

movie night popcorn in bowls

How to Have the Ultimate Family Movie Night at Home

Over the past few years, we have really improved our family movie night game and I would love to share some ideas with you! And maybe they’ll become a family ritual in your household as well.

1. Make a concession stand.

Snacks are key for any movie-watching experience! You can always just get some popcorn, a couple of packs of M&Ms, some soft drinks, and call it a day.

But what we do to make it really fun is turn our kitchen into a concession stand! It doesn’t have to cost you a fortune either. I just use some colorful cardboard paper and a Sharpie to make a sign. Bonus points if you have some glitter glue to really kick things up a notch!

Years ago, I bought a few reusable popcorn tubs at the Dollar Store and they’re perfect for this sort of occasion, as they really make the kids feel like they’re at the movie theater.

My husband usually takes charge of running our DIY concession stand and we give the kids Monopoly money to “pay” for their snacks and drinks. (Don’t worry, we’re not as bad with the prices, although you could argue it would be a valuable life lesson!)

As we’re still trying to keep our kids from eating too much sugar, we try and only “sell” healthy snacks and drinks to our kids. The funny thing is, I think we could serve them broccoli like this and they would still eat it since they love role-playing so much.

It’s also important to set some ground rules so that you’re not getting up every 10 minutes to get something from the kitchen once the movie starts.

In our house, we usually take a break when the movie is halfway through so that everyone can get refills and run to the bathroom. Ten minutes is typically more than enough time for the whole family to take a break and gather back in the living room to watch the second half of the movie.

2. Design your own movie tickets.

Since the whole point of organizing a family movie night is to create fond memories for our kids to look back on, I also like to create “movie tickets” to give to the kids that they can hold onto as a keepsake.

Again, it doesn’t have to be anything too fancy – you can draw them by hand and color them with your kids as a fun activity.

But if you would like to go all out (and have a bit of experience using design tools or don’t mind learning), you can use computer software to design and print the tickets.

Personally, I love using Pixlr because it’s free, online (no need to download and install anything), and great for beginners!

With a bit of trial and error, you will get the hang of it pretty quickly and your kids will have really cool tickets to remind them of some great family moments.

If you’re short on time and can’t design your own, you can Google and find some free movie ticket printables to use.

family having a movie night on the couch with popcorn

3. Transform your living room.

One of my favorite movie night ideas is to give your living room a fun (but still reversible!) makeover to make the night even more memorable. We usually blow up our air mattresses, place them on the floor, and cover them either with old blankets or bed sheets.

In any case, I try and avoid the couch for one reason only – our kids are still quite clumsy and if they end up spilling their drink, it’s not as big of a deal. Plus, it’s much easier to get rid of any runaway popcorn or chips!

We also like to get all of the cushions out and arrange them on the mattresses so that everyone can lean back and get a comfy seat.

Or you can make a giant blanket fort for extra coziness! Just get the chairs out of the kitchen, drape them with all the blankets you can find and you’re good to go!

As a finishing touch, it’s nice to hang some inexpensive string lights to create a cozy atmosphere.

4. Take it outdoors.

With summer right around the corner, one of the best at-home movie night ideas is to take it outside, although you might need a couple of extra gadgets for an outdoor movie night, such as a projector.

The good news is that these types of movie projectors are pretty affordable these days and you can use them indoors as well, so it’s good value for money.

This is also a perfect opportunity to invite the neighborhood kids over! Just make sure to tell everyone to bring a foldable garden chair or sleeping bag with them unless you want to spend days removing grass stains out of blankets.

5. Go offline.

When I say “go offline”, I don’t mean canceling your Netflix subscription and digging up old DVDs and VHS tapes.

Instead, grown-ups should put their phones on silent mode at the very least, although my husband and I make a point of turning the WiFi off on our phones during family movie nights.

Whatever work-related text pops up during those two hours can definitely wait, and all kids deserve to have time with their parents being fully present for the family fun!

Family Movie Ideas

What Movies to Watch

My husband and I often use the family movie night as an excuse to rewatch all the movies we liked when we were growing up. But our kids end up loving them just the same most of the time, so I don’t feel like we’re in the wrong here!

Of course, we always make room for the kids. I can’t count the number of times we watched Cars and Frozen (I know that my daughter wore her Elsa costume for at least 50 percent of those viewings) and luckily there is no shortage of good kids’ movies coming out on a yearly basis.

When it comes to movie night ideas with kids, you just can’t go wrong with an animated Disney movie or a beloved kids’ classic.

Here are some of our personal faves:

  • Ratatouille – I could watch this story of Remy, a rat who dreams of working as a chef, any day, anytime;
  • Moana – My seven-year-old daughter loves this one and knows all the words to “How Far I’ll Go”;
  • The Lego Movie – If you haven’t watched this one yet, do yourself a favor and do it ASAP! It’s genuinely hilarious for all ages and I guarantee you’ll have the “Everything Is Awesome” theme song stuck in your head for days;
  • Toy Story 3 – Any movie in this franchise is gold in my opinion, but the third installment in this series gets the most rotation in our household which is why I picked it over the others;
  • Wall-E – Way more than just a kids’ movie, Wall-E does an amazing job at teaching little ones about the importance of protecting our environment;
  • Harry Potter – This is a classic that we haven’t introduced to our kids for one simple reason – they’re still a bit too young, but we’re definitely counting down the days until they get to watch it for the first time!
  • Shrek – Any movie with a talking donkey in it is an Oscar-worthy movie if you ask us. On a serious note, though, Shrek belongs to a category of kids’ movies that even grown-ups will fully enjoy!
  • Finding Nemo – Who knew fish could be so funny and heartwarming at the same time? Apart from being a classic, it was my son’s favorite for the longest time, so I couldn’t leave it out.

A family movie night at home is guaranteed fun for your kids, even when you’re on a budget. Plus, it creates a kind of warm, family atmosphere that makes for wonderful memories later on in life!

Whether you decide to go all out or keep it simple with some snacks and comfy pajama pants, there’s always a way to incorporate fun movie night ideas into your family tradition – and it’s never too late to start!

Ivana Davies is an educator turned stay-at-home mom. She’s a proud mom of a beautiful 7 year old girl and a playful 5 year old boy. Since she didn’t have a clue about raising kids, she had to learn it all in a hard way. Ivana managed to find so much information online and it inspired her to turn to blogging to share her experiences and struggles as a mom. Her blog, Find Your Mom Tribe, is here to help you connect with other moms, as well as to share mom hacks, information, and tools to help you on this parenting journey.

5 Inexpensive Ways to Have Fun at Home

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Looking for fun things to do at home with kids that don’t cost a ton of money? Check out this list of great inexpensive ways to have fun at home!

Psst! Looking for more ideas? Check out these creative ideas for family fun at home, these frugal vacation-replacement ideas, and these budget-friendly summer fun activities. And don’t miss our family’s top 5 favorite board games!

fun things to do at home with kids

Guest post from Bella of Bella’s Money Café:

As social distancing recommendations continue, we have found ourselves spending more time than usual at home as a family.

To keep ourselves entertained, we have come up with some fun activities that have introduced quite a bit of laughter into our lives at a surprisingly low cost!

Inexpensive, Fun Things to Do at Home With Kids

If you’re looking for some creative, fun activities to do together as a family while at home, these are our top 5 favorites we’ve really enjoyed lately…

1. Puzzles

We are a family fond of puzzles because we love the challenge!

The sense of accomplishment when we finally finish one and the joy of working together keep bringing us back to puzzles.

If you have little ones at home, you can still get them involved by asking them to find the edge pieces or to help finish the final few pieces of the puzzle.

The best part is that puzzles are fairly inexpensive even if you buy one online. A 1000-piece puzzle typically costs around $20. However, if you shop a second-hand store, you can often find brand new boxes of puzzles for less than $5!

2. Fort Building

My family found a YouTube video that showed us how to build an epic fort with common household items that we already have — such as pillows, chairs, paper clips, and of course, bed sheets. We even brought some Christmas lights into our fort!

Building a fort is SO fun for kids, too! I remember when I was a kid, every opportunity to not sleep in my own bed was an adventure, and I gladly went to sleep in the fort without my parents’ coaxing.

Additionally, since you probably already have all the key elements on hand at home, it’s probably going to be a completely FREE form of entertainment.

Sometimes all you need is a bit of creativity introduce some excitement into your life with what you already have on hand. And I’ll bet if you ask any kid, they’ll say this is one of their favorite fun things to do at home!

3. Growing Plants

We have recently tried growing some simple plants and have been surprised and delighted by the results.

We started out with soybean sprouts and green garlic since they seemed relatively easy to grow and didn’t require a lot of expensive equipment or raw materials.

Some of my friends have also tried growing lettuce from the leftover stem. Similar to green garlic, you only need the stem, a clean glass with the water level covering the roots (about 1/2 an inch), and sunlight. Within a week, you should be able to see some small leaves growing out of the center of the stem. Once that happens, you can decide to either eat the leaves or, if you want to go one step further, plant the lettuce into the soil for a fully-grown edible plant!

Growing your own plants is such a frugal way to have fun at home with kids!

4. Cooking Competitions

Cooking and baking are always a fun thing to do at home, and kids love to join in. And if you want to take it up a notch, you can try a cooking competition!

We loved doing this as a family. The criteria we set were simple. We were allowed to use all resources available, with some caveats: all ingredients must be already available at home, and we must complete the recipes within an hour.

Whoever got the most votes from others would win the competition AND would not have to wash dishes for a week. For someone like me who isn’t fond of washing dishes, it was a huge incentive! 😉

At the end of the competition, we had a nice salad with bean sprouts we grew, fried rice, spaghetti with meatballs, and some warm banana bread cupcakes. Although these dishes were nowhere near the standards of those in an actual competition, we all had plenty of fun and had a good meal to celebrate at the end.

5. Old-Fashioned Games

Nowadays, we spend more and more of our time glued in front of electronic devices. And games are a great way to bring the entire family together for some screen-free fun.

Old-fashioned, simple games like hide-and-seek and scavenger hunt never get old!

Even as an adult, I still find that these activities bring me joy. For example, my dad found a tiny little plastic toy from the back corner of a drawer, and we have been taking turns hiding it in unexpected places for people to find. The toy has been found in the shower caddy, in the closets, on a hat, or even in a bowl in the dishwasher. Every time someone finds the toy, you can hear a wave of laughter and clapping in the house.

Who would have thought that such a simple and inexpensive trinket could deliver so much fun for adults and kids alike!

All of the above inexpensive activities were thoroughly enjoyed by members of our family, regardless of age.

I encourage you to try some of these in your household. You might just discover some unexpected fun!

Do you have any other ideas for fun things to do at home with kids? I’ve love to hear!

Bella Wanana is a writer passionate about personal finance. She is the proud owner of Bella’s Money Café, where she loves sharing her knowledge of personal finance and money-saving tips and tricks.

How to Save on Snacks: Minimize The Cost Per Serving

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Does your family love snacks? This is such a simple tip to save money on snacks!

{Psst! Check out how making your own snacks can save you over $100 per year! And read about how we afford snacks for our kids on a tight grocery budget.

save money on snacks

Guest post from Margaux of A Momma and Her Flock:

We are a snacking family. Typically, we find a way to squeeze four snacks into the lunchboxes on top of the main lunch item.

But a healthy snacking appetite can be bad news for the grocery bill. That is why I started calculating the cost per snack serving, so that I could try to find cheaper alternatives.

The True Cost of Snacks:

I like to believe that I am reasonably thrifty with my grocery spending, but some snack habits can catch me off guard.

For instance, grapes and Honeycrisp apples both cost $2 per pound, but my husband eats more grapes at a time than the equivalent of a single apple.

To calculate the ‘cost per serving’ of a snack, I base it on the actual amount I or my family would eat in a sitting. A “serving” is what fills up the person eating the snack, not necessarily the recommended portion on the box.

One snack my husband likes to devour after his morning workout is hard-boiled eggs. Since he eats three eggs at a time, I divide the cost of 12 dozen eggs to get $0.37 per 3-egg serving.

My personal rule of thumb is to keep any individual snack under $1 per serving. The closer to $0.50 or less per serving, the better!

Berry Healthy Snack

How to Minimize the Cost per Serving:

If you can minimize the cost per serving on snack foods, you can save quite a bit of money!

With this cost per serving goal in mind, here are 3 ways I satisfy my family’s “snack tooth” without breaking the bank…

1. Find the most filling snacks.

Occasionally I find myself munching through an entire bag of chips. Some snacks are not as good at satisfying hunger.

I search for snacks high in fiber and protein that will still appeal to our taste. When comparing items in the grocery store, I ensure there are at least 150 calories and 3 grams of protein per serving.

Nutritionists recommend pairing proteins with carbs for the ultimate filling combo – like grapes and cheese, or apple slices and peanut butter.

When I eat denser and more filling snacks, I find that I need fewer snacks throughout the day — which ultimately saves money.

Pre-Packaged Snacks

2. Avoid pre-packaged snacks.

Many foods are now available in snack packaging, but the convenience comes at a high markup. Think of mini hummus cups, snack cracker packs, pre-cut cheese squares, and more.

The difference in cost is striking in the example of homemade versus pre-packaged peanut butter snack cups.

JIF To-Go peanut butter is priced at about $0.40 per 1.5-ounce cup. If I make my own to-go cups by spooning out 1.5 ounces from a full-size jar of JIF peanut butter, each serving costs only $0.24 for 1.5 ounces. And if I use store-brand peanut butter instead of JIF, the serving cost drops to $0.14 for 1.5 ounces. (Note: These prices are based off what I find in my region: $3.19 for an 8-count pack of JIF To-Go, $2.39 per full size jar of JIF, and $1.50 per jar of store brand peanut butter.)

You can easily make single-servings on your own by dividing a regular size item into individual containers.

For reusable containers, I like the Rubbermaid Brilliance storage containers. Alternatively, disposable containers can be purchased in bulk from a store like Gordon Food Service.

If you are unsure about finding time to make your own snack packs or wash the resulting containers, try starting out with one of these simple solutions:

  • Cut your own cheese slices or cubes from a block
  • Slice your own salami or pepperoni from a large roll
  • Dish out peanut butter, hummus, yogurt, or crackers from a full-size container

Peanut Butter and Strawberry Snack

3. Mix in cheaper substitutes

I go through seasons where I eat primarily dairy-free, and the challenge is that the dairy alternatives are more expensive.

The way I justify purchasing dairy-free yogurts, ready-made snacks, and other items above my target cost per serving is by mixing in low-cost substitutes.

For my husband and daughter who enjoy Greek yogurt, I find that cottage cheese is less than half the price for the same calorie and protein content. So sometimes we forgo a day of yogurt and eat cottage cheese instead.

Also, consider swapping out these pricey snacks:

  • Almond butter -> Peanut butter
  • Greek yogurt -> Cottage cheese
  • Berries -> Apples, Bananas, or Oranges
  • Bell peppers -> Carrots or Celery sticks
  • Rice crackers -> Tortilla chips

Start Saving!

I recommend doing a personal snack-spending inventory this week.

Calculate the ‘cost per serving’ of the most popular snacks in your household. Do not worry if the cost is higher than you thought. Set a cost target and work on lowering snack spending gradually.

Want a jump start on snack savings? Try these ideas:

Margaux is a full-time mom, wife, and engineer who firmly believes there are not enough hours in a day. She is a fan of schedules, to-do lists, and mom hacks. Above all, she tries to keep God at the center of everything. She writes at A Momma and her Flock.

Cut your grocery bill!

Psst! Crystal here! Need more help saving on groceries? Go here and sign up (it’s free!). I’ll send you my 10 Easy Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill By $50.

How to Save Money on Parent-Kid Dates

Have you ever experimented with the ideas of parent-kid dates? They’re a unique way to spend individualized, quality time with each kid! This post has some great budget-friendly kid date ideas!

Parent Kid Dates

Guest post from Katie of My Joy in Chaos:

As a stay at home mom of five, with a husband who works fairly long hours during the week, our individual time with the kids is quite limited.

We live in about an 1800 square foot house and it feels like there is always someone in every room. As soon as we start time with one kid, there is suddenly an avalanche of additional kids climbing on us to see what we are doing with their sibling. 

As our kids started getting older we looked at the example set by my husband’s parents when they did foster care for teen boys — we take turns taking them out on dates!

Why do we take our kids on dates?

Each of our kids is incredibly unique. God has created them with individual personalities, interests, and talents. If we are always doing everything together as a family, we are bound to leave out a hobby, adventure, or food that someone likes and wouldn’t otherwise get to enjoy.

Some of our kids are also completely different in a group setting compared to the one-on-one setting. By spending a few hours focused on each child, we get to know a whole new side of him or her!

The siblings are no longer competing for attention, but rather getting to soak up quality time with just mom or dad. 

What do we do on kid dates?

We don’t do all of these every time we go on a date, but our kids can typically expect 2-4 hours of uninterrupted time with mom or dad when it is their turn.

We often let them dictate the agenda unless we have an errand that needs to get done.

Their favorite choices are:

  • Go out to eat
  • Visit favorite stores
  • Play at the park
  • Visit the library
  • Walk around the mall
  • Run errands

Biking as a Family

How do we save money on kid dates?

Spread the dates out

We used to try and do one date per month. Back when we only had two or three kids, this was reasonable. Now that we have five kids we’ve shifted to doing them in two-month blocks. I take January and February, my husband takes March and April, and we continue to alternate throughout the year. 

Spreading out for your family might mean once per week or once per month. Look at your calendar and your budget and get realistic about where you have wiggle room in both.

Sign up for restaurant deals

I’ve taken kids to Chili’s for as little as $14 with tax and tip because we had a free kids meal coupon, I ordered off the 3 for $10 menu, and we both took food home for later in the week!

Other places may send coupons for a percentage or dollar off, free appetizers or desserts, and other discounts to your email. Many also offer accumulated rewards where you earn points for eating with them and can cash them in at certain levels. 

Many restaurants will also tell you what day of the week they offer free kid’s meals. For instance, every Tuesday is Kids Eat Free at Pizza Ranch. If this is what one of our kids chooses for a date then you better believe we make it happen on a Tuesday!

Choose not to eat out

Our kids have gotten pretty accustomed to dining out being part of their date but we’ve made it a part of our budget and are okay with it for now. But should there come a day when that doesn’t work, we would find other things to do. Eating out, especially for full meals, can get pricey quite quickly so looking for alternatives is a great way to keep costs low. 

Look for free or discounted events

Libraries, book stores, toy stores, craft stores, and other places around your town might offer fun events for kids and families. We have done LEGO builds at Target, JoAnn, and Toys R Us that always add an extra bonus to a date. 

Our movie theater often runs kid series with older movies that come back to the theater for a limited time for a discount. They usually offer a free small bag of popcorn with each ticket as well. They also have $5 Tuesday showings (all day for every movie!) and Student Thursdays. 

Be honest with your child about the budget

Our kids LOVE sushi but it’s completely out of our budget to take them to a sushi restaurant for every date. Instead, we allow them one sushi date per year. This makes it a special treat, plus we can plan accordingly for the expense. 

Kid Dates with Dad

What are the best free kid date ideas?

Visit the library

Reading the same books over and over at home can get old. Hit up the library, grab a stack of books, and curl up on the couch together. Many libraries also offer board games now which would make for a fun afternoon. 

Our library also offers lots of different classes and events that are free when you register. In February and March, they had multiple Harry Potter events for different ages, and around the holidays they offered craft classes to make small presents – all for free!

Go on a walk or bike ride

We can only take advantage of this idea during a few months of the year because we live in the frozen north, but try to get out and enjoy nature!

Our town is full of bike and walking paths, and now that our kids are getting older they can handle going a further distance without complaining.

Venture out then find a place to stop and talk before heading back home. 

Pack a picnic

My kids adore picnics. Eating outside is an adventure that never gets old. Throw some peanut butter sandwiches and veggie sticks in a container and find a new place to explore.

The point is to spend time getting to know your child; the food is just a bonus. 

School events

Our school district offers so many free events that it’s easy to find one to attend.

Check out a concert, visit the art displays, or take in a play.

Most school sporting events will have an admission fee, but some may have free entrance depending on the school and sport.

Park events

I’m always amazed at the number of events our park district offers for no charge or with a small canned food donation. 

They have done movie nights, craft events, inflatable game parties, and more – all for no charge!

If you aren’t doing dates with your kids or at least doing something with each of them on a regular basis, I want to encourage you to try.

It can be as simple as grabbing one when you head off to the store, to drop books off at the library, or while taking the dog for a walk. 

We only have so many years with our kids before they are off on their own. Spending intentional one-on-one time with each of them gives us the chance to learn who they are as people, discover what’s in their hearts, and have a little fun along the way!

Katie is the wife to Micah and mom of five smushed into six years. Her goal is to help moms find joy in their everyday chaos by offering practical homemaking tips, inspiration for growing their faith, and simple family activities on her blog My Joy in Chaos.