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I love spending time with my son. He’s only 16 months old, so for now, I don’t have to do too much to keep him entertained. We tickle each other, play hide and seek, chase each other, and read books when we’re too tired to run around.
When he gets older, I know he’ll need something a bit more captivating to keep him entertained, and I’m sure that can be expensive. I am the youngest of five kids, and I can’t imagine what my parents paid to take all of us out to dinner, the movies, or a theme park.
It’s a common problem: how can parents maintain a frugal lifestyle while still spending fun, meaningful time with their children? Oddly enough, one way to do it is by spending money. With the right purchases, you can keep your family entertained and forego much pricier alternatives. Here are some my family uses.
Netflix (or Redbox)
You might not be able to watch the latest blockbuster on Netflix, but you can still have a movie night with your family, and at a much lower cost, too. A Netflix subscription costs $96 a year – that’s $8 a month. Coincidentally, that’s a little more than the average cost of a single movie ticket. So for the cost of one movie ticket, you and your family can watch as many movies as you want from the comfort of your own home.
For another cheap option, rent a movie from your local Redbox (or other DVD-rental kiosk). They’re usually just one dollar per day plus tax.
Board games (and card games)
For three straight summers, my family and I went cosmic bowling so frequently that some of us bought bowling shoes to save money on shoe rentals. But even with that savings, bowling nights were expensive.
In contrast, nights with my in-laws are usually spent playing board games. They have collected many games over the years, and we play one or two almost every night we’re together.
Of course, there are upfront costs in building a collection of board games, but constantly paying for other activities each time you go out will cost more in the long run. Besides, it doesn’t take much to build a suitable rotation of games: four or five are enough to have one game night every week without playing the same game twice in a month.
As an added bonus, some games can help children express themselves, develop strategic thinking, and learn to cooperate.
When I was in grade school, a fair set up in my neighborhood for a few days every summer. I spent hours in the arcade, played carnival games, and loaded up on pizza and funnel cake.
Lawn games can be expensive, but they provide a long-term value that far outlasts these fleeting experiences. Some of my family’s favorites are Ladder Golf, Beanbag Toss, Bocce Ball, and Kubb. These can cost as much as $80 each, but you should be able to find some for half that price (especially if you buy used).
As with board games, lawn games have an upfront cost, but it will ultimately be cheaper to buy a few lawn games than it would be to regularly go to arcades, carnivals, and theme parks.
Cooking can be a family affair. Instead of going out to eat, create a menu for a meal at home that everyone in the family can contribute to. One person can make the main course while others work on an appetizer, soup, dessert, etc. Another option: learn to make something together like homemade pizza or sushi.
You may have to buy specific ingredients each time you do this, but it will likely be much cheaper than dining out with the entire family. Not only that, it can also help your children learn valuable skills.
Spend money to save money
It might seem counterintuitive to the thrifty, frugal mind, but every now and then, it makes sense to spend money in order to save money. What other things can you do or buy to make family night less expensive?