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Recreation & Fun

Fun is a necessary part of life, for children and parents alike. It is possible to have a good time without breaking the bank. It just takes patience, research, and your imagination.

Toys, Games, and Activities

  • Drawing, even on on scrap paper, can create great wall and refrigerator art. Keep those crayons that come with kids meals, and you won’t have to buy a thing.
  • Card games. Look up the rules to various card games online. Many of them can be played if there are cards missing or by putting multiple decks together. It’s also fun to make up your own games with house rules.
  • Old School fun. Some games, such as tag, jacks, marbles, dominoes, and hopscotch, have stood the test of time and have many variations. You have the freedom to modify them as much as you wish to make it the best game for your family.
  • Board Games. Look at thrift and consignment shops, or yard, garage, rummage, and tag sales. Before you buy, inspect the contents so you can see if there are pieces missing. If there are, sometimes you can make your own replacements, or realize they aren’t necessary. You can even buy duplicates of the same game and combine the contents.
  • Keep the spending to a minimum by looking for durable and versatile toys at garage, yard, rummage, and tag sales, or at thrift and consignment shops. In addition, many libraries now lend out toys and games the same way they lend out books. You can also try different add-on toys, such as trains, cars, horses, blocks, and LEGOS. Look on websites such as Listia ( for used toys, games, movies, and books.
  • Make your own toys. For instructions and ideas, check websites such as Disney Family ( or Pinterest ( Your local library is a great resource for DIY books, magazines, and classes. An easy toy to make only takes an empty water bottle or oatmeal canister, and dried rice, beans, or beads. Fill the canister, seal it, and you’ve got a fun musical instrument. Retired teacher Monica Smith suggest lining up empty liter bottles at the end of a hall way and let kids use a soft “nerf” ball to bowl indoors!
  • Make your own activities. FFL President Serrin Foster remembers her mother, Donna, filling cans with water, grabbing some paintbrushes, and letting the neighborhood kids “paint pictures” on the sidewalk. “Not only was it inexpensive, there was no clean-up involved!” said Foster. She also suggests letting your little ones play with unbreakable pots and pans while a parent is in the kitchen (if you can put up with the noise)!

Family Fun

Family nights at home can be simple, but entertaining.

  • Read stories aloud, complete with funny voices for each character. Then, have a discussion about them or act out the story. Introduce your family to your favorite childhood series and make it a nightly or weekly event. Paper Back Swap ( is a great online site to trade books for free.
  • Watch movies borrowed from the library, RedBox, online streaming services, or by a rent-by-mail service such as Swap-A-DVD ( This site allows users to swap DVDs for free, the only cost being the price of postage. Netflix ( is also a good option, as you can have DVDs sent through the mail, or stream online.
  • Make dinner together. Making homemade pizza as a family is a fun activity with a delicious outcome.
  • Have a karaoke night. Clear the furniture, crank the music, dress up, and make the living room your stage.
  • Have an indoor campout. Bring blankets and pillows to the living room or backyard with a parent, turn out the lights, and have fun playing activities by the glow of lanterns or flashlights. Bunk beds make great forts.


Many hobbies can actually save money while providing entertainment, and can be shared with friends and family. Cooking, needlework (knitting, cross-stitch embroidery, crocheting, sewing, etc.), carpentry and mechanics, gardening, and other popular hobbies are just a few examples for older children and teens. Some supplies may cost money, such as ingredients for recipes, seeds to plant, or knitting needles and yarn, but they are an investment in creating something useful and beautiful.

If you’re in need of a teacher, many recreation departments and public libraries offer classes and provide DIY books or materials. In addition, look on the Internet, especially on sites such as YouTube (, for instructions and tutorials. Once you learn, you can teach your children and make it a family affair!

There are also numerous hobbies that, even if they do not necessarily save or make money, are free or inexpensive. Among these are: bird watching, bug and leaf collecting, bottle collecting (to redeem, recycle, or decorate), cartooning, stargazing, dancing, singing, making sculptures out of found objects, geocaching, hiking and walking, juggling, kite building and flying, letter writing, rock climbing, sign language, storytelling, whittling, writing, and yoga.

Going Out

Take the fun outdoors with your family. Zoos, aquariums and museums often have discount days or free entrance hours. Often, young children can get in for free. If you visit someplace more than two or three times in a season, it may be worthwhile to invest in a membership. Memberships often offer extra perks such as free or preferred parking and discounts on food and souvenirs.

If you want it to be completely free, there is always the option of going to a park. Some parks have playgrounds, small water parks, trails for hiking or walking, pools, sports complexes, ponds for fishing, and more. They are a great option for the family that has a variety of interests. During the summer, many parks offer free concerts and plays.

If your family has an interest in the arts, go to local schools’ (elementary, middle, and high school, or college) concerts and plays. Oftentimes, tickets are under ten dollars, and if you call ahead to reserve seats, you can buy at a discount.

Likewise, if you have an interest in sports, go and cheer on your local high school and college’s various sports teams. Often, tickets to watch high school teams compete are free, and colleges rarely charge more than ten dollars. If you have a minor-league team in your area, it is much less expensive to go to their games than to attend a major-league game. Check the community bulletin board or newspaper in your area, often found in libraries, for inexpensive activities to do with your family.

You can also take a day trip to the library. Most have computers that you can use to surf the Internet.  Often, the children’s department has computers with parental controls enforced and child-friendly games. Libraries also have story time for children, and sometimes “books on tap” or book discussions for adults. In the children’s department, many libraries have toys to play with. At many libraries, you can check out computer or video games, board games, movies, CDs, and passes to amusement parks, museums, zoos, and aquariums.

Celebrating Holidays, Birthdays, and Special Occasions

You already know when birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and other special dates are coming up, so plan and budget the celebrations in advance. Think about the important things: what are you celebrating? Where? Whom would you like to invite? What do you want to eat (snacks or a full meal)? What activities or decorations will enhance the experience? Should there be gifts, and if so, what is appropriate to the occasion?

After you have a general idea of what you want, think about the ways you can save money. Can you use resources and materials you already have for decorations and supplies? Can you and your children prepare food items together, such as cake? Can you buy gifts in advance at sales, or make something yourself? Are there free activities you can include? Think creatively! Some foods can be made as part of the festivities, like decorating mini pizzas, cookies, or cupcakes at a birthday party. Presents and decorations can be stored for reuse. Check dollar stores for decorations and favors instead of going to a party store. For activities, consider making your own piñata (link to instructions provided in the resource section) or a Pin the Tail on the Donkey game with a picture, paper shapes, and tape. Consider alternative gifts, such as giving to a charity in the recipient’s name or treating him or her to lunch. You can set up a day and time to volunteer together, write a special letter or poem, or create coupons for favors and tasks you will do for them (such as lawn mowing or free babysitting).


Traveling is possible, even on a budget. Plan ahead and use the library to check out travel guides to educate yourself. Bring your own food rather than eating out at restaurants. Pack a reusable water bottle as well. With careful planning and an investment in equipment, camping is often an affordable option. A quality sleeping bag costs money, but it’s less expensive than many hotel rooms in the long run. Read up on family camping and get advice from experienced campers before purchasing gear and choosing destinations. If you can, borrow gear before buying, and go on shorter trips to national, state, and regional parks in your area to get acclimated. Some outdoor gear stores, such as REI, offer classes and rent equipment. Check thrift shops and sites such as Gear Trade ( This site allows members to sell, buy, and trade hiking, sport, and camping gear.

Investigate different modes of travel and accommodations. Evaluate travel by car, bus, train, and plane. Consider hostels, guesthouses, and rental properties, as well as hotels. Air BnB (www.airbnb) is a cheap alternative to most hotels.

Having fun may seem overwhelming at first glance, as commercials and advertisements brag about a good time for a good amount of money. However, with some research, patience, and creativity, fun can be had without breaking the bank.

Updated by Katie Freddino. Original article by Cat Clark in the 2009/10 issue of
The American Feminist, “Raising Kids on a Shoestring” published by Feminists for Life of America.


Air BnB, www.airbnb

Disney Family,

DIY Piñata,

Gear Trade,


Paper Back Swap,




What You Can Do

  • Don’t let those toys your kids used to play with gather dust in the closet. Donate them to thrift and consignment stores or swap online. You can also donate or swap your old children’s books on sites such as Paper Back Swap or at thrift stores.
  • Share Ideas. Join a parenting group online or within the community and share the activities your family has come up with that were a hit with the kids. Swap instructions on how to play new games or make crafts that are easy and inexpensive.
  • Trade nights for sleepovers or camping, books for toys.