4 Ways You Can Invest in Family Night

ruserI 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.

Lawn games

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.

Dining in 

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?

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  1. Great suggestions. We have given up dining out almost completely b/c we find ourselves saying did I really work for x hours for that meal. If I am measuring it against how many hours I work, I’d better be enjoying it.

    • Admittedly, my wife and I probably eat out more than we would like, but it’s definitely something we’re working on in part because it’s cheaper, but also because it’s usually healthier, too.

  2. My two-year-old gets totally charged up when I (dad) play matchbox cars with him. He’s an early riser, so that’s usually an early-morning activity for us, but it works just as well in the evenings. We also have a rug with roads on it (from ikea, I think) that we can roll out in the living room. Great times!

    • I really like those rug-roads; I think I’ll have to invest in some when my son is a little older. It sounds like a great way to start an end the day with him!

  3. I was going to leave a comment about geo-caching too. There are free and paid apps that make it very easy and fun to do!

  4. My favorite family activity is family movie night. We rent a movie from Redbox, make some air popped popcorn, and make ice cream sundaes. the whole thing cost less than $15!

    • Yes — once you include the costs for snacks and drinks at the movies, you could save a small fortune watching at home instead of in the theater! :P

  5. You can also play some geo-caching. In short you have a GPS (or smartphone) and you have to go around find some secret treasure in your surrounding. Or you can spend some time making a treasure & looking for a place to hide it

    Something similar is Ingree (google), also with GPS and capturing some portal/zone
    It force you to go out, it’s pretty fun with a big team going around by bike. And kids love it :)

    • I’ve never done geo-cahing before, though I’ve always wanted to. My wife and I really like scavenger hunts so we think it’s something that we would really enjoy. We’re hoping our son has a similar interest!

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