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10 Economical Ways to Have Fun

Just because you're trying to keep the family on a sensible budget doesn't mean you have to do without everything fun. Likewise, an economical evening with the family isn't limited to a night of shadow puppets, though in the right context, even that can be a blast!

Instead of dwelling on what you can't spend money on-and really, at this point, isn't everyone a little sick of harping on the economy?-take this as an opportunity to focus on what's really important; enjoying one another's company.

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A tight budget can really bring out the creativity in anyone and you might be surprised at how the simple pleasures in life-a walk in the park or running through the sprinklers-can sometimes be the most memorable.

The next time the kids ask to go to a pricey show, or you and your hubby start listing off the various things you can't do on a fixed income, skip the negative talk and suggest one of these 10 economical ways to have fun as a family!

1. Get Your Feet Moving

Dust off your hiking shoes and hit the trails. State and national parks typically offer a variety of trails to suit any hiker's ability and the admission price is far more reasonable than a day at the movies.


For those who are interested in something a little less strenuous, visit a local park for a casual stroll or head downtown to take a leisurely walking tour of your city. Focus on conversation and the joy of discovering something new together, whether it's a type of wildlife, a street performer or a cool mural painted by local artists.

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2. Learn About Where Your Food Comes From

As more Americans lose touch with the land, children are left with little understanding of the process by which they get food. Ask them where an egg comes from and they'll point to a plastic carton. Inquire about the origins of an apple and they'll probably say "the store."

But kids enjoy soaking up new sights, sounds and smells. A trip to the local farm, community garden or farmer's market is a cheap-or free-way to pass a few hours on a Saturday afternoon and teach some important lessons about the local food chain. Ask a farmer, gardener or vendor if your child can have a hands-on experience-milking a cow, petting a goat, picking a tomato, tasting a new variety of apple, and so on. There's a good chance that they'll appreciate your interest and say yes!


3. Dining With a Twist

Host a cooking competition in your very own kitchen, using a set budget (say, $7 per person/dish) and a specific "secret" ingredient (i.e., avocado). Everyone has to make a dish using that star ingredient and you all get to bask in the joy of a fun, adventurous meal together.If you're in the mood to connect with friends and neighbors, open up your house for a neighborhood potluck or picnic. No fancy themes or catering required - just some music, tasty homemade food and great conversation.

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4. Family Slumber Party

Who needs a cookie-cutter, generic hotel room, when you can turn your living room into the perfect setting for a family slumber party? Make forts out of the couch cushions and blankets, pull your mattresses into the living room, make popcorn and ice cream sundaes and watch scary or funny movies. Stay up late and tell ghost stories or play a game of truth or dare.

5. Old-School Game Time

Take a break from the electronic devices that command so much of the family's attention and enjoy a day or evening of old-school games like kick the can, tag, Red Rover, capture the flag, hide-and-seek, flashlight tag, jump rope (Double Dutch) and hop-scotch.


Organize a scavenger hunt in the backyard or throughout your neighborhood. You can even host a mini field day for your family with competitions for the egg catch, wheelbarrow races and other classic feats of strength and derring-do.

6. Turn Your Kids Into Reporters

Give your kids a notebook and pencil and take them out on the town to do some investigative reporting and help them to write and lay out a community "newspaper" for the family. They can review a free outdoor concert, or the best ice cream cone they've ever had. {relatedarticles}They could even conduct interviews and write a profile of the local pet rescue center. Bring a camera along on your adventures so they can get visual elements to enhance the story. Even if writing isn't your thing, you're bound to enjoy exploring your community!

7. Do Your Own Investigative Work

Scour the Internet for deals on restaurant meals or movie tickets. Call your local chamber of commerce or convention and visitors' bureau and inquire about any local entertainment deals for community residents. Check your local newspaper for listings of free family-friendly festivals, concerts, parades and fairs. Join your local group through Freecycle.org and keep an eye out for used sports equipment and other recreational goods.
8. Get Crafty

Hit up the local craft store for construction paper, googly eyes, glitter, glue sticks, stickers, paints and markers and sit down with the kids for an afternoon of creative expression. You can set up outside on nice days, or throw down a tarp and take the mess-and fun-inside when it's rainy or windy.

9. For Just The Two of You

Replace Saturday night out with a Saturday afternoon on the town. You're more likely to get a babysitter, lunch is cheaper than dinner and matinees are always a better deal. Plus, you can focus on different types of activities, like browsing a flea market or art festival, riding bikes together or going on a picnic.

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10. Spontaneous Afternoon Road-trip

Make your only splurge to fill up the gas tank and grab a few road snacks, then hit the pavement for a brief road-trip. You can plot out your course by choosing a route on a scenic highway, or live more spontaneously by simply hitting the interstate and letting your kids randomly select an exit or direction of travel. You may wind up going in circles or you may not make it more than 10 miles out of town, but the point really isn't the destination; it's all about the journey.