Friday, February 11, 2011

Free Fun

My oldest daughter has the day off from school today. It's just me and the kids. I was trying to come up with some ideas of fun things to do today. Normally, I'd do whatever I felt like within reason. That might include going out to a local coffee shop for an inexpensive breakfast or maybe visiting a local nature center. I was always mindful of the cost but I didn't feel the need to avoid spending any money.

Now, we are trying to stick to our new one-income budget with some modifications. I can't avoid spending on childcare and rent for the house that we currently live even though those expenses will be eliminated or reduced at some point in the future. So, for my day with the girls, I'm trying to find fun free activities for us. Luckily, we live in a great area with beautiful weather year-round and lots of cultural activities, natural attractions and entertainment nearby. It can come at a cost though so we'll have to plan carefully to avoid spending money. My new plan for avoiding spending money when we're out and about having fun.

1) Pack lunches.

This may seem like an obvious one but often a lot of planning has to go into this. You need to have food on hand that is easily transportable and doesn't require refrigeration. This is often a difficult one for busy working families who look forward to the weekend all week long. Planning for picnic lunches can seem like a very small priority. This will be a lot easier once I have more time to plan and shop.

2) Bring plenty of yummy snacks.

With two young kids, I usually don't leave the house for any period of time without some type of non-perishable snack like pretzels or trail mix in the bag. Inevitably though my older daughter with the sweet tooth will beg for a churro or ice cream or something while we're out. A churro at the zoo easily costs $3. Last time this happened, I thought why not make some yummy snacks and have them frozen and ready to pop out and microwave before heading to a place with known temptations. I'm going to experiment with a homemade churro, which will probably end up more like a cinnamon sugar bread stick but will still probably hold up as an acceptable substitute. While maybe not the healthiest snack, it will save money and avoid the feeling that we're doing without. Hey, it may even taste better.

3) Stick close to home when possible.

This may seem like a bit of a no brainer too. Except that I live in a large metropolitan area. Some of our favorite places to visit are easily 15-20 miles away. With the price of gas, that is easily a $5 dollar if not more trip. This isn't taking into account wear and tear on the car. I still plan on regularly visiting those places. However, I'll need to think more carefully and strategically about when we visit, try to combine trips when possible, and perhaps substitute some closer places for our old favorites.

Today, we're visiting our local Science Center at my daughter's request. We'll be packing lunch, and I'll try to scrounge up some yummy snacks. We still have to drive but at least I'm aware of that extra expense and know that next time we'll be sticking close to home.

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