As my oldest boys have become grown men, they have thanked their father and me, not for the money we spent on them, but for the time that we spent with them.
I love spending time with my kids – seriously! They are amazing people with lots of interesting ideas. Time together has been a hallmark for our family for a very long time.
However, often in our society, spending time and spending money are conflated, and, in our minds, come to mean the same thing. Additionally, when you are hip deep in trying to achieve a debt-free status, coming up with cash for extra events is a difficult, if not impossible, assignment.
So, what do you do when you want to treat your kids to a family-bonding experience and, yet, don’t have any money to do it?
Here are TEN Ideas – and the Ware family has done them all!
#1 – PLAY WITH THEM.
We don’t often consider play with our children to be an important part of their development. My boys absolutely loved it when Daddy got on the floor with all of us. Suddenly, the low-key, sedate “Mom play”, became a dizzying game of cops and robbers or American Ninja Warriors. Be sure to have a round of hot cocoa and cookies for after the fates decide the outcome of play time.
#2 – GO ON A PICNIC
While raising our four sons on a shoestring budget, we had no money for eating out at restaurants. I can, literally, count on one hand the number of times we set foot in a restaurant – fast food joints included! However, we still wanted to mark special occasions, celebrate the end of the week, or just enjoy a meal outside. So, we took the boys on Friday night picnics.
My oldest sons have consistently voted Friday Night Picnics as their favorite growing up memory.
#3 – GO ON A SCAVENGER HUNT IN YOUR HOME, YARD, OR AROUND TOWN
We did this once for a friend who was celebrating a birthday. He had to decipher the answers to riddles to figure out the location of the next clue. At the end of his quest, he found his gift.
Have your kids help draft the riddles and figure out where to hide them. Bonus points when the text in the clues rhymes. We had as much fun creating the riddles as we did watching our friend figure out the meaning of each clue and finding his gift at the location of the final clue.
SO – MUCH – FUN! Seriously!
#4 – GO FOR A HIKE
There is no end to the interesting hikes that can be taken in any locale. We have our favorite “haunts” (like a local cemetery), but we’re always open to discovering new parks and trails that we have not, yet, explored.
#5- HAVE A WATER FIGHT.
There’s nothing more refreshing than throwing water at each other, especially if it’s done in a friendly spirit of camaraderie. My husband and I had many a water fight over the past thirty five years. BONUS! – If you combine the water fight with washing the car, you kill two birds with one stone and you have a great time together.
#6 – GO FOR A BIKE RIDE.
Our town has miles of hiking and biking trails. They are well maintained and a very safe way to ride while still in the city. Nearly every evening, weather permitting, my husband grabs one of the boys for a little one-on-one time, while exploring the trails. As the boys got older, we made sure they had plenty of reflectors and a bright headlight, allowing them to ride with Dad at night!
#7 – PLAY A BOARD GAME.
Don’t underestimate the bonding which can be done over a rousing board game! Back in the 1970’s my mother had a book of card games. I remember vividly looking through the volume to find new games of strategy and begging her and Dad to play a round or two with us.
Nowadays, most searching is done electronically, but that glorious feeling of fellowship as you learn something new together as a family does not change. Games engender cooperation if your children are on the same team. They will also learn to be both a gracious winner and loser. The best part is that as long as you have a deck of cards, you can Google fun family card games and compile a huge list of card games, which will cost you absolutely nothing!
#8 – HAVE A FAMILY “COOK OFF”.
The 15 year old sous chef and I are totally hooked on watching cooking shows on Netflix. He is a worthy opponent when it comes to improvising in the kitchen. It’s great fun to plan and execute a family cook off night.
Divide up into teams, choose a theme (like desserts or soups). Be sure there is one strong cook in each group. Each must then create the designated category of item within two hours, You can either provide the same standard ingredients for each team or broaden the possible finished dishes by allowing them to incorporate any ingredient that they find in the house.
BONUS! You now have a soup to eat for the next couple of days!
ALTERNATE IDEA: Invite friends over and each family or “friend group” becomes a team. You can provide an ingredient list ahead of time to improve each group’s chances of success.
#9 – Attend a free lecture or community event
Look on-line and you’ll find a huge number of FREE lectures, events, and concerts in your area. We always throw a picnic lunch in the car in order to extend the number of hours that we can stay and still keep everyone fed and happy.
10. Go to a historical reenactment.
You can immerse yourself in history for very little money! In fact, you can take a page from our book and volunteer to be a part of the event, insuring that you not only get in free, you don’t miss a minute of the action!
What do you do for free family fun?
I’d love to know! The more ideas, the merrier all of our lives will be! Leave your tips in the comment section below.