Almost every weekend, particularly during the summer when I’m working at home and Sarah is on break from teaching, we plan some sort of family “adventure.”
The goal of these “adventures” is to either visit some location or engage in some large project at home that will teach the children something useful. They might learn a life skill or learn about how some element of society works. We also try to pick things that can be fun for all of us at the same time.
Naturally, Sarah and I want to encourage our children to be smart about how they spend their money and their time, so some of our activities are geared toward financial improvement. Some teach about saving money, others teach about entrepreneurship, but one big theme is frugality.
We work hard to teach our children that frugality is not only very useful, but it’s also enjoyable and often fun. You don’t need to spend money to enjoy life. Then, you can use that money you’ve saved for other things in life.
Here are five examples of weekend adventures that we’ve enjoyed with our children. Each one was (at least at one point) a new experience from. Each one was an activity that ended up eating up most of a day. Each one had a major component that revolved around saving money, too.
Visit thrift shops or secondhand stores
We’ll often spend a weekend day doing this in the early spring to pick up summer clothes and in early fall to pick up winter clothes. Thrift shops and secondhand stores are often loaded with children’s clothes that are in great shape for just a few bucks. We’ve completely refreshed our children’s wardrobes at such stores for a tiny fraction of what the same clothes cost elsewhere – and the clothes look basically new.
We usually encourage our children to take a few dollars with them so that they can buy things, too. They’ll come home with new books that they bought for a quarter that basically look unread or new games to play. They’ve even found treasures like costume jewelry that have brought them hours of fun.
Attend a free DIY workshop
Many stores and community groups run regular DIY workshops that work well for the whole family. They’re usually free and they’re often project oriented, teaching both children and adults how to take on a simple project of some kind.
One great example of this is Home Depot’s kids workshop series that they run many Saturdays. These are free DIY projects that usually teach children how to use a few tools and put together a simple project – often a toy.
Another example is the children’s cooking classes from Williams-Sonoma, which takes the same approach as the Home Depot class, teaching a few techniques and making a simple product, but in this case you usually make a snack or a simple entree.
There are many workshops for adults that work well for adults with children “helpers,” too.
Launch a microbusiness
Honestly, there are few better personal finance projects for kids that work better than a microbusiness, like a lemonade stand. It gives everyone a chance to look at the realities of running a business, the need for an initial investment, the usefulness of being frugal in buying those initial items, the value of salesmanship, and so on.
Encourage your children to build a lemonade stand. Talk to them about pricing, location, the best time of day, and so on. Help them calculate initial costs and then “loan” them the money to cover those costs.
This kind of project, if aided with some basic business direction from the parent, can be incredibly insightful for children.
If you have a GPS unit, this is an incredibly fun and practically free way to spend a day.
Geocaching is essentially a real-world treasure hunt. Visit a geocaching website – like geocaching.com – and they’ll tell you about geocache locations near your house, giving you the exact coordinates of those caches. Caches usually have some sort of item inside of them along with a logbook. When you find the cache, sign the logbook (and add a note about the item you found) and if you choose to take the item in the cache, you should replace it with something of similar value. (For a while, I was putting signed copies of my book in the caches we found, as I had a pile of author copies from my publisher.)
Most of the time, you’re just wandering around in the middle of a park or something like that trying to find the cache you’re looking for. It’s an excuse to get outside and explore.
Start a garden
This is a great activity for late spring days. If you have a patch of land that you own (or have permission to cultivate), it’s a great family project.
If you’ve never gardened, keep it simple. You can even start with an old large flowerpot that you fill with dirt. Plant some seeds. Water them. Watch them grow.
If you’re anything like our family, everyone will become addicted. We now have five garden plots on our land, plus some string beans on the side of our deck, plus some indoor vegetables that our daughter is adamantly growing. This doesn’t include our ornamentals.
Get kids involved. Show them fun things that don’t require throwing lots of cash down. If you do that, everyone walks away a winner.