Eight Inexpensive Family Outings

A few weeks ago, I put out a call on Twitter and on Facebook for detailed posts that people would like to see. I got enough great responses that I’m going to fill the entire month of July – one post per day – addressing these ideas.

On Twitter, Robert asked “How about “Family outings that dont cost and arm and a leg” ?”

This is obviously a major goal for our family, too. We have three young children that have a need to explore the world, but many excursions outside of the house are expensive, particularly with five people in tow. Even a simple trip to a movie theater can easily set a family of five back $60 to $100. That’s painful!

Because of that, my wife and I have strived to come up with family outings that won’t cause our budget to explode. Here are some of our most-loved ideas.

State parks
There’s an abundance of state parks within a fifty mile radius of our home. Even within a twenty-five mile radius, there are several such parks. We make an effort to visit all of them, often once a year. We’ll pack a picnic lunch, drive to the park, and explore what’s on offer there. Different state parks offer vastly different things: lakes, forests, prairie land, fishing, hiking, canoeing… they’re all on offer at different state parks. The best part is that most state parks are free for day trips.

Bicycle rides
When we have an hour or two to kill, we’ll go on a bike ride near our house. When we have several hours to kill, we’ll load up our bikes and take them to a bike trail elsewhere. We’ll park in one place, ride the trail a bit in one direction, then ride back. Usually, we’ll stop for a while at this point and have a picnic lunch, then we’ll ride in the other direction for a while, then ride back. The rides are leisurely and there’s a lot of nature observation involved in the process. We don’t ride like we’re Lance Armstrong, just a family leisurely enjoying the day together.

Volunteer experiences
This is something that’s limited due to the youth of our children, but we still find ways to do it. We’ll spend a day or a part of a day involved in a volunteer activity of some sort. Not too long ago, we helped package canvas bags full of food that were to be delivered to shut-ins, then went around and delivered them to those shut-ins. Not only is it a very inexpensive way to spend a day, it also gives our children a chance to see how our actions can positively affect other people.

City passes
This is probably the most expensive option on our list, but it’s a good one. Many cities offer “city passes” which provide entrance to a number of cultural spots around the city over a period of time (a month to a year, usually). This is a great one-time pickup for your family, as it gives you a chance to fill quite a few outings with stops at such places. For a birthday gift, for example, my wife received two adult “city passes” to Seattle for the next time we visit there, since we’ll be visiting family there and will have several days to explore.

Community festivals and fairs
We tend to hit a lot of these on weekends during the summer. They can be expensive if you don’t go to them with a little bit of advance planning. First, we try to hit them during the day so we can see the free activities, demonstrations, and parades that are going on. To avoid the overpriced fair food, we usually pack our own lunch and snacks. These moves turn such an excursion into a fairly low-cost affair for the whole family.

Outdoor games
All you need for this is a park with some open space and maybe a bit of simple equipment, such as a frisbee. Just take over some space and play some games with your family, like simply tossing a frisbee around, playing ultimate frisbee, playing touch football, or anything else that you can think up. We spend a lot of afternoons and evenings doing this, usually accompanied (again) by a picnic meal.

Potlucks and round-robins
If you have other parents in the area that you’re friends with, engage in some meal exchanges with them, either one-on-one or as a larger group. You can either have one family “host” and provide the meal and the location each week, or do it “potluck” so that each family brings something each week. If you plan this with families that have children your age, not only do you get some time to socialize with people with overlapping life experiences (being a parent in that area), but the children have a chance to play with their peers, too.

Cultural events
Always check the community calendar in your area for free cultural events, many of which are happening without your notice. We try to enjoy a diversity of such events, from going to a free classical concert in the park to watching a chess tournament. There are all kinds of things happening in your community if you just take the time to look for them, and almost all of them are perfect for a rich, new experience for you and your children.

Between all of these things, our calendar is as packed as we allow it to be. Simply put, there are more opportunities to do low-cost things than there is time to do them in.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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