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10 Ways to Save on Visiting National Park with Kids

If you love visiting national parks or have always wanted to visit some, then be sure to check out these great ways to save on visiting National Parks with kids!

{Looking for more budget-friendly tips on vacationing as a family? Check out our posts on Creative Ways to Fund Family Vacations, Tips to Plan a Memorable Vacation Without Spending a Fortune, and Money-Saving Vacation Tips.}

Save on National Parks with Kids

Guest post from Brigitte of BrigitteBrulz.com

Did you know there are over 400 National Park Sites in the United States?!

This includes national historic sites, national recreational areas, national sea shores, national monuments, and just over 60 national parks that you can explore with your family. Check out the National Park Service’s website to find one near you (or for your next vacation).

If you love traveling and adventuring as a family, then be sure to check out these 10 ways to save on visiting National Parks with kids!

1. Purchase or Sign Up for an Annual Pass

Families who frequent national parks that charge a fee may benefit from an annual pass, which is good for 12 months from the purchase month.

Seniors (ages 62+) can take advantage of an annual pass (or even a lifetime pass) aimed specifically at them for an even steeper discount. The senior pass will cover the cost of everyone in a non-commercial vehicle if the site has a per vehicle charge. Great way to enjoy some time with grandkids!

Families with a fourth grader can enjoy free entry at hundreds of locations from September through August by getting a free annual pass through the Every Kid in a Park program. Even homeschooling families with a fourth grader can take advantage of this opportunity!

Active duty military members (and their dependents) can receive free annual passes for many sites. Just ask for a U.S. military annual pass.

Even if your family has an annual pass, it is still advisable to contact parks ahead of time to ensure the pass is accepted at that location.

View from Effigy Mounds

2. Go on Free Days

If you don’t plan to visit the national parks multiple times in a 12 month span, an annual pass may not make sense for your family.

Instead, check to see if they offer any free days. It’s suggested to arrive early and be prepared for large crowds of people on these days!

(NOTE: Some national sites are free all year round.)

3. Check the Events Calendar

Junior Ranger days, astronomy programs, family days, historic days, nature walks, sled dog demonstrations, movies, archaeology days, and photography walks are just a few of the low cost or even free events offered throughout the year at national sites.

Schedule your visits accordingly by checking the events calendar.

4. Check out the Junior Ranger Program

Kids may enjoy participating in the free Junior Ranger Program where they can complete fun yet educational activities and earn badges at each national park.

Even kids who don’t have an opportunity to visit many national parks can earn badges at home! They can complete booklets about bats, archaeology, caves, the Underground Railroad, and more.

National Parks Junior Ranger Badge

5. Create a Webrangers Account

Kids (and even interested adults) can earn virtual badges and rewards as they complete activities while learning about people, history, animals, nature, science, puzzles, and parks through the Webrangers program.

Registration is free and simple- just create a user ID and password. Once an account has been created, all of the completed activities are saved so progress can easily be tracked.

Kids can even have fun personalizing their own virtual ranger station! They get to choose a theme and customize the walls, shelves, chair, desk, floor, picture, and window view. What a great way to get kids excited about visiting National Parks and learning more!

6. Carpool

By carpooling with others, you can split the cost of the entrance fee if the site charges a per vehicle fee.

7. Stop by the Visitor’s Center

Visitor’s centers often provide free maps, guides, suggested tips, exhibits, and even videos to ensure you get the most out of your visit.

woods in a national park

8. Talk to Park Rangers

Park rangers are often quite knowledgeable about the area and can offer additional suggestions and information about the site.

You may even be able to get a personal tour if you ask (particularly on a non-busy day)!

9. Plan Ahead

Be sure to ceck out the site’s “plan your visit” section! It’s full of great information about fees, hours, things to do, suggestions, and more to make the most out of your visit. It’s helpful to have an idea of what you want to see ahead of time since some parks are so big!

Also, check the weather to ensure you are wearing weather-appropriate clothing for the day.

Walking Stick in a national park

10. Bring Supplies

Besides wearing weather-appropriate clothing, comfortable footwear, and a hat, it may be beneficial to bring water, a camera, sunglasses, bug spray, and sunscreen.

Finally, don’t take a bag for collecting specimens since it is illegal to remove items from national sites.

Instead, bring a bag for any trash you may have. And take pictures of all of the neat rocks, shells, and leaves if you want a record of them!

What other tips do you have for visiting National Parks with kids?

Brigitte Brulz is a homeschooling mom, creator of the Adventure Writing Prompt Journal, author of the book Pickles, Pickles, I Like Pickles, and freelance writer. She offers free coloring pages, activity ideas, and more on her website at BrigitteBrulz.com.

More Budget-Friendly Vacation Tips:

6 Ways to Save Money at Culver’s

Love Culver’s? Don’t miss out on these 6 easy ways to save money at Culver’s!

{Also be sure to check out 16 Ways to Save More at Restaurants and our Master List of Restaurants Where Kids Eat Free!}

6 Ways to Save Money At Culver's

Guest post from Brigitte of BrigitteBrulz.com

Ask anyone in my immediate family what their favorite restaurant is and Culver’s is the answer! It’s something we all agree on!

What’s not to love about ButterBurgers and fresh frozen custard? Well, if you are on a tight budget… possibly the price.

On the rare occasion my family does go out to eat, we often end up at Culver’s. As a result, I have learned a few tips to save money on those Culver’s visits.

1. Buy kid’s meals.

One of the easiest ways to save money at Culver’s is to eat kid’s meals.

Even adults can purchase a kid’s meal at all of the Culver’s I have visited. Less calories, less cost, and enough to fill my belly (but not my husband’s who does order from the “adult” menu).

Each kid’s meal automatically comes with a coupon for a free scoop of custard and a Scoopie token. Just don’t forget to take the coupon and token off the side of the kid’s meal bag before throwing it away!

You can save ten Scoopie tokens to get a free kid’s meal later. You can also save the free scoop of custard coupon for a future visit. It’s nice being able to go out as a treat for just custard and not having to pay anything! I keep the coupons and tokens in an envelope in my purse (along with gift cards) until I am ready to use them.

If you are automatically charged for a drink with the kid’s meal but prefer water, you can ask for a cup for water (free) and bring the carton of milk (included in the meal) home to use later.

2. Sign up for their e-mail list.

If you want to save money at Culver’s, be sure to sign up for their email list!

Those signed up for a free MyCulver’s account receive coupons, updates, a monthly flavor forecast, and coupons for free custard on each family member’s birthday by email.

The monthly flavor forecast gives you a calendar of the “flavor of the day” for each day of the month for your local Culver’s. Just keep in mind those flavors are only for your local Culver’s. If you are traveling, you can find the flavor of the day for any other Culver’s on the Culver’s website or the Culver’s App.

3. Purchase Culver’s gift cards during the holidays.

Culver’s typically runs a promotional deal on gift cards just before Christmas. For each gift card you purchase (at the amount required), you receive a free value basket coupon.

You can keep the free value basket coupon for yourself and give the gift card to someone else for Christmas. You can also purchase the gift cards for yourself to use throughout the year (and still keep the free value basket coupons)!

4. Use expired coupons.

One of my tricks to save money at Culver’s is to not throw away my expired Culver’s coupons!

You may want to ask your local Culver’s if they will accept expired coupons, but all of the ones I have asked have accepted them.

The birthday coupons for free custard typically state they expire in two weeks. The free value basket coupons received with the gift cards at the end of the year typically state they expire at the end of February. BUT, since my local Culver’s accepts expired coupons, I don’t have to use them (or throw them away) until we are ready to use them.

5. Fill out the survey on your receipt.

Sometimes the receipts will have information about taking an online survey. If your receipt does, you can go online, answer the questions about your recent visit, and receive a code for a free scoop of custard.

Write the code at the bottom of the receipt and bring it in the next time you want a a scoop of custard (possibly on a day that has your favorite flavor of the day).

6. Only go if you have coupons and/or gift cards.

I typically purchase a set number of gift cards at the end of the year (when Culver’s has their gift card promotion) using money set aside for that.

We also get Culver’s gift cards as gifts from others who know we enjoy Culver’s. Those gift cards and coupons last us for the entire next year of Culver’s visits.

If we don’t have a gift card or free custard/free value basket coupons, we don’t go!

What are your best tips to save money at Culver’s — or your favorite restaurant?

Brigitte Brulz is a homeschooling mom, creator of Reading Journals for kids, author of the book Pickles, Pickles, I Like Pickles, and freelance writer. She offers free coloring pages, activity ideas, and more on her website at www.brigittebrulz.com.

How to Homeschool for Free or Cheap

Interested in homeschooling but afraid it might break your family’s budget? Read this post for some really great tips on how to homeschool for free — or very close to free!

{Don’t miss our weekly round-up of all the best FREE homeschool curriculum & resources! And you can also check out my Top 10 Favorite Free Homeschool Sites here.}

How to homeschool for free

Guest post from Jessica of Where’d My Sanity Go:

Yes! It is possible to homeschool for free or cheap!

Once you dig into all the homeschool curriculum products available, it can be overwhelming. When you check out the prices on those bad boys, it can get scary.

Don’t worry though, there are a lot of ways to give your child a great education at an affordable price. Some of the homeschool lessons and curriculums we use are completely free!

So if you’re wondering how to homeschool for free, here are my top tips…

Use what you’ve got:

Search your home for any books you may have forgotten about.

When I started out, I had no idea how I was going to afford all the things I thought I needed.

Luckily, my son had a ton of nature and science books already. I used these to build a few of my lessons for him, and we had a set of dictionaries we used for spelling lessons and other subjects.

Borrow:

If you already know of other homeschool families in your are, ask them if they have any old schoolbooks or homeschooling curriculum books they aren’t using and that you might borrow for a while.

If you’re not familiar with any other homeschool families in the area, look on Facebook for local homeschool groups or ask your friends and family, your church, or even your local schools.

When I pulled my son out of public school, they were kind enough to give me some information about local homeschool programs.

Shop for used books:

Check local garage sales, used bookstores, and other local stores for discounted items.

Join a few Facebook groups where people are selling their used homeschool books for dirt cheap. I have saved so much money by doing this and hardly ever purchase anything brand new. Before buying anything, I always first search for used homeschool supplies or books.

Utilize free homeschool resources

There are tons of free online homeschool curriculum options out there. You don’t have to stick with just one either, you can take different lessons from multiple online curriculums to fit your educational outline.

A few popular free curriculums:

  • Easy Peasy – All In One Homeschool – 180-day lesson plans for PreK-8th. (this is one of our favorites)
  • Khan Academy – Free online lessons for just about any subject.
  • K12.com – Independent teacher-led courses for homeschoolers.
  • YouTube — there are a ton of educational YouTube channels out there that are perfect for supplementing your homeschool curriculum. You can find different channels that range from preschool to high school subjects.

Finding affordable or free homeschool educational materials or curriculum is not as hard as you think!

I recommend scouring the internet to find out what’s available. Join local homeschool groups, find local Facebook groups, etc.

Several of our local homeschool families often get together for different field trips — many places even offer homeschooling families a discount on tickets!

Do you have any other advice on how to homeschool for free? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Jessica Fuqua is the owner/editor of Where’d My Sanity Go, where she often writes about family, parenting, and homeschooling.

5 Unique Ways To Make Money Cleaning Your Home

Are you looking for unique ways to make money from home? Did you know that you can make a nice chunk of change just by taking stock of what you already have, staying organized, and decluttering regularly?

{Looking for other unique ways to make money? Check out our list of over 40 different income-earning ideas!}

Make Money Cleaning Your Home

Guest post from Rebekah of The Tex-Mex Mom:

I’ve never really loved cleaning. I love a clean room for sure, but cleaning? It’s not really my favorite.

One thing I do love, though, is finding ways to make money from home!

Did you know that you can make money cleaning your own home? Yes, you can! How’s that for cleaning motivation?

Here are some of my favorite ways to make money cleaning your own home…

1. Collect spare change

As you clean your home, make it your goal to see how much spare change you can find.

Good spots for finding random change in my home are:

  • under the couch (along with who knows what else!)
  • at the bottom of the purse and diaper bag
  • in the laundry room
  • in random pants and jacket pockets

I’ve even found a few stray bills on occasion – that’s always a big win! You might be amazed how much spare change you can collect when you intentionally look for it.

2. Make the most of your receipts

If you’re like me, you probably have way too many old receipts that need to be cleaned out. Before just throwing them all out, scan some of your recent ones into a shopping app like Ibotta or Fetch.

Take Fetch for example: You can usually get between 2-4k points just for downloading it and using it the first time. Quickly scan a couple receipts and you’ll have enough points to cash out a $5 gift card (5k points) right away!

I will say that the amount of points or dollars back that shopping apps give you tend to decrease after using the apps awhile, but they’re definitely worth downloading at least for the beginning bonuses.

3. Clean out your closet

Closets have a way of starting to overflow after a while!

Take some time to clean out your own or your kids’ closets. Pull out any clothes you no longer need and set aside the nice pieces to take to a consignment store.

I have earned an easy $10 to $25 multiple times by selling clothes we are no longer wearing!

You can also sell online through places like ThredUp or through the Poshmark app.

4. Say goodbye to books you never read

While you’re dusting your bookshelf, pull out the books you know you’ll never read again and post them for sale on Amazon.

My husband did this a few weeks ago and was amazed how many books he sold. You may not make big bucks, but every little bit helps!

5. Sort through your DVDs and Blu-rays

Ready for my favorite tip to make money from home while cleaning? (I’m pretty proud of this one.) My husband and I took some time last week to clean out and organize our DVD collection. We decided to put them all in an album and get rid of the cases. I don’t know why it took us so long to do this — it saves so much space!!

As I was organizing the DVDs I realized we had several Disney movies that came with both a DVD and a Blu-ray disk — and we’d never even touched the Blu-rays. We stuck the Blu-rays back in their original cases and posted them on Facebook Marketplace (obviously with the disclaimer that they did not include the DVD.) They all sold right away. Score!

6. Take stock of what you already have

This is more of a tip for saving money, but that’s just as important right?

When you’re cleaning out the space under your kitchen and bathroom sinks, take careful stock of what you already have. If you’re like me you probably have more spare toiletries and cleaning supplies hidden in there than you realized!

Taking stock of what you already have and organizing it will keep you from spending money unnecessarily!

While I still don’t love cleaning, finding ways to make money from home has definitely given me more motivation to clean!

Have you found ways to make money from home while cleaning? I’d love to hear them!

I’m Rebekah, wife to Pablo and mom to three little kiddos. I enjoy staying home with my kids, teaching English online with VIPKID, and reading new books when I get a chance. I love to write about motherhood, frugal living, and everything else that pops into my head on my blog, The Tex-Mex Mom.

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6 Frugal Habits That Stuck (+ 5 that didn’t)

Guest post from Jennifer:

In 2009, I became a mom for the first time and my husband got the “job of his dreams” (or so we thought).

In 2010, I lost my job… and my husband’s “dream job” wasn’t turning out the way we thought it would. In other words, we were broke. Not so broke that we couldn’t pay our bills, but broke enough that we could ONLY pay our bills.

My first thought was: “if I can’t MAKE money I can at least SAVE money.”

Here are a 6 things we started doing 9 years ago (and continue to do today!)

1. We Buy Bulk Rice

At one point we were literally on a “beans and rice” budget, so much so that we bought rice 25 pounds at a time! It’s so cheap in bulk at Costco (we shared a membership with my husbands parents) that it just made sense.

Even though we are much more financially secure now, we still buy our rice 25 pounds at a time and love having it on hand for a quick side dish.

2. We Cut Hair at Home

Do you know what a haircut for a child costs? We paid over $20 for my child’s 1st haircut!

Once our 2nd child arrived, I quickly realized I needed to invest in a $25 hair trimmer, watch some You Tube videos, and learn how to cut my kids (and husbands) hair.

There was a learning curve at the beginning, but with some practice I can now do a pretty good fade on all three of my boys — my husband now shaves his head!

3. We Shop at Thrift Stores

I LOVE THRIFT STORES!

We get great quality, brand named clothes for a fraction of the price!

If I were to give you a tour of our house you would be shocked on how many things (furniture, clothes, decor, tools, toys, etc) have come from thrift stores. It just saves us money, and it’s a thrill to get items for a fraction of the cost.

Even our “Santa” shops second hand!

4. We Buy Groceries at Aldi

This switch took me longer than I’d like to admit.

I thought coupons were the way to go at the beginning of our struggles, and it may be for some. I was blinded by free toothbrushes and cake mixes and didn’t realize these coupons were actually costing me more time and money than we had.

Aldi is a magical place where food is cheap and coupons aren’t needed. I am Aldi loyal and always will be.

5. We Make Food From Scratch

I quickly realized that processed food cost more, I always knew this, but now it mattered. So I pulled out my Betty Crocker cookbook and made my own food.

We made French fries, homemade waffles, biscuits, oatmeal packets, and Hamburger Helper Meals just to name a few. This was great because homemade tastes better and is usually better for you!

Since eating out wasn’t much of an option, we also found recipes of our favorite restaurant food. I can now make some amazing orange chicken, and an outstanding pizza crust.

I still make homemade waffles weekly for breakfast and my biscuits are a family favorite!

6. We Sell Stuff to Buy Stuff

During our lean years, all money that came in went to bills and food, there wasn’t a lot left for “stuff” like clothes, electronics, toys, new furniture and so on. If we wanted to get new things we looked around our house to see what we could sell in order to get the money.

For example, we really wanted a new sectional but was not prepared to make such a large purchase.

I then started looking around our house to see what was more important, the old elliptical I never used or a new sectional? An old sofa or new sectional? Finally we made enough to pay for a new-to-us sectional without using any money from our accounts!

We do similar things now, we try our hardest to sell stuff we don’t use anymore in order to buy stuff we want/need. This way of doing things has allowed us to be debt free and build up our savings.

Although there are plenty of frugal habits we have continued through the years, there are a few frugal habits that didn’t stick around after our very lean “beans and rice” years…

1. We no longer wash ziplock bags to reuse them.

2. We no longer make our own laundry detergent.

I buy whatever is on sale at Costco.

3. We no longer cut dryer sheets in half.

I now get a little crazy and put in the whole sheet… sometimes two!

4. We no longer say, “We can’t afford it.”

Instead, we say: “That’s not how we want to spend our money.”

I say this a lot in front of our kids, I want them to know that we’re okay financially but that doesn’t mean that we will buy whatever they want.

5. I no longer put my needs and wants on the back burner.

I did this for years and years… but now I treat myself to quality makeup and skincare products, and I don’t feel guilty.

Even though we are in a much better place financially, I always have a frugal mindset about how we spend, and save our money. I’m blessed to be a stay at home mom to 4 kids and watch my husband thrive in his career (which wouldn’t be what it is today without that first “disappointing” job so many years ago).

God really does have a funny way of working things out.

I’m Jennifer, a stay at home mom to 4 children. I’ve been married to John for 12 years and we are happy to live in the suburbs of Kansas City! I love staying home with my kids, working out, watching way too much TV, and crafting!

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Kroger vs. Aldi: Which is cheaper?

Is it cheaper to shop at Aldi or Kroger? If you’ve ever wondered, read this post for the full scoop on which store is actually cheaper.

{Note from Crystal: While I love shopping at Aldi, I’m also such a fan of Kroger markdowns, so this was a fun guest post to read!}

Aldi vs Kroger

Guest post from Heather of The Debt-Free Mama

I grew up with a mama who LOVED our local Aldi store — it’s how she stretched those dollars to feed our family of eight kids.

When my husband and I started our marriage in 2009 with $75,000 of student loans, payday loans, AND credit card debt, we were determined to pay it all off as fast as possible.

With an Aldi store right down the road from our home, it became my go-to grocery stop over the years. My husband tried to convince me to use coupons for other stores but I refused to try anything different.

Trying Out Kroger for One Month

We started 2019 with a renewed energy and focus to pay off our mortgage of $99,000 over the next five years.

However, by early February I realized I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching — I wasn’t trying new strategies to save money.

Thanks to MoneySavingMom.com’s Instagram account, I had been watching her savings at Kroger for months. So I gave in and decided to try an experiment. I told my family and friends, “Okay, I’m going shop at Kroger for one month and see if I can save money.”

The day came. I had saved digital coupons and knew I should scan the perimeter of the store for the markdowns. But I had no menu list, no shopping list. What I DID have were sweaty pits and cold hands just thinking about something different — something completely outside of my shopping comfort zone!

I Felt So Awkward!

I took a deep breath, walked into Kroger, and shopped through my Kroger coupon app.

You guys, I felt so awkward. Not to mention, it took me over an hour to shop. Plus I still spent more than I expected I would!

I went home, looked at my purchases and then scanned my pantry and freezer to see what meals I could put together for a few dinners.

I continued visiting a couple local Kroger stores 3-4 times a week for about a month. I got faster each time and more creative with our dinners.

My Best Finds at Kroger:

  • $0.29 per packet of Simple Truth organic baby food (normally $1.25)
  • $0.19 half gallon of milk (normally $1.79)
  • $0.25 pint of cottage cheese (normally $1.25)
  • $8.47 for 3.15lbs of pork chops (normally $17.29)
  • $9.34 for 2.84 lbs of beef stew (normally $17.01)
  • $.79 for a package of smoked polish sausage (normally $1.99)
  • $0.99 for dozen Simple Truth organic eggs (normally $2.79)

In my normal Aldi routine of picking meals for the week, making the list, and then buying what I needed, I kept myself to $100-$120 weekly. However I often spent extra fun money by stopping in at the Walmart next door. Browsing equaled spending more than I needed to and buying things that weren’t essential for our home.

Because I was now ONLY shopping with coupons at Kroger, I saved on our grocery budget, AND in the fun money category.

I saved $46.66 just using the digital coupons. This DOES NOT include all of the money I saved buying clearance items. We also saved in our gas category by using our Kroger points at their gas station.

I saved a total of $100 in February by trying this new technique.

I know I could save even more over time because I’d get smarter and learn how to layer coupon deals.

What I Enjoyed About This Method:

  • Finding killer deals on dairy and meat.
  • Getting creative with our meals.
  • Dinner seemed quicker to prepare because they weren’t complex recipes.
  • We got to try different items or brands because they were on sale.

What Was Challenging For Me:

  • I have a baby and a toddler with me so nothing is quick in-and-out.
  • I had to make sure I always knew what was already in my pantry and fridge.
  • I needed to make sure we ate up the produce (clearance) more quickly so it didn’t spoil.
  • I am a unit-cost shopper and often I felt like the coupon deals still weren’t a better price than the Kroger brand of the same item.

My Plan Going Forward:

Since quick in-and-out isn’t part of my life right now, I still plan to utilize my Aldi store on a regular basis. However, I have decided to adjust my meal planning routine that continues to save me money.

Instead of picking recipes for a week’s worth of dinners, I use what we already have, piece together dinners, and fill in the holes. I did this process just last night and was surprised to find that I already had the majority of four dinners on hand — I just needed an item here or there to supplement. Then I added a chunk of items for when we have guests over next Sunday.

I still plan on stopping by Kroger a couple mornings a week to snatch up the clearance meat. I will also keep an eye on their Friday/Saturday ONLY sales and buy only the items that will really benefit our family.

Lessons Learned From This Kroger Experiment:

  1. It’s okay to try new things. In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s necessary for growing as an adult. You might discover you like the new thing.
  2. When you’re new at something, you aren’t going to do it perfectly. That’s okay, too.
  3. When you try a new thing in one area of your life, you become more open to trying new things in other areas of your life.

This experiment started out as a challenge to save money for our family. While I did do that, the real value came when I opened up to other new things in my life. I hope that reading about my experience encourages you to try a new method in saving money for you and your family.

You never know. You might just LOVE it!

Heather Burgette inspires and educates women to boss their dollars, everything from budgeting to saving and investing. Heather shares her own journey of paying off debt at The Debt-Free Mama.