Family fun on a budget: 11 money-saving tips

Enjoy low-cost activities for families by following these saving tips.

The average American household spends about 14% of its annual budget on food and entertainment. But a family outing doesn’t have to break the bank. From faraway vacations to Friday night dinners, there are many ways to save when kiddos are in the mix. Here are a few ideas to help you and your family enjoy the great outdoors—and indoors—and keep more cash stashed in your pocket.

1. Clip and click

If your idea of family fun is backyard barbecues and bowling, you’ll find a variety of ways to stack up spare change that are just a phone call or a click away.

Just ask Alyssa, a mother of two with an eye for good deals. “Most cities have coupon books you can buy at schools or from local organizations. They’re filled with coupons for food, activities and shopping. Best part is that not only do they help you save, but they support the community, too.”

You can also find family savings online. Popular discount sites are a great way to search for deals on meals and activities in your area and for hotel stays out of town. They’re also a good source to tap for family vacation savings.

2. Family bowling

Bowling night with the kids is always welcome, and there’s usually a discount to be found. You might catch a matinee bowl with unlimited games or get lucky with a game of glow bowl, where kids play for free. Just call your local bowling alley or check its website to find out about special deals.

3. Amusement parks

If you’re looking for more excitement and your plans take you near an adventure or theme park, you’ll likely find resident pricing or kid-friendly tickets. You can also save some bucks with vacation packages that include on-site hotels and park tickets. Some parks even offer ride-again days, so you and your family can roll over and over on your favorite coaster without waiting in line again. Be sure to check to see whether any free souvenirs are available, too. Sometimes parks reserve a trinket for kids, helping ensure you don’t go home empty-handed.

Jennifer, a mother of two young girls, happens to live right near a few popular theme parks. “When the girls were young, we loved taking them to the parks. Usually ages under 5 get in free. We got to walk around and enjoy the scenery, and the kids had a blast meeting characters and riding the kiddie rides.”

4. Sibling savings

If you’re a proud parent to more than one kiddo, you could get more bang for your buck by enrolling them in the same programs. Some community sports, camps, art classes and more offer savings when siblings are simultaneously enrolled. And don’t forget to inquire about family plans at local fitness centers. You might go for the gym, but there’s probably a selection of fun activities or classes available for the little ones as well.

Jennifer brings her youngest along for her weekly workouts. “Our gym has a day care service to use when you’re working out. So, not only do I save on sitter costs, but she’s also tuckered out by the time I’m done and ready for a nap when we get home.”

5. Beyond books

Local libraries are also a great source for free kid-friendly events. Calendars are usually filled with storytelling events, puppet shows, plays, arts and crafts hours and more. You might also find a decent selection of free movies to borrow.

6. Historic sites

Every state has a story to tell. Look up the national monuments, historic estates, forts, battlegrounds, etc. in your area. America is teeming with timeless lessons on who came here before us and how we came to be. For the most accurate information on where to go and what to see, contact the historical society closest to your destination.

Jennifer’s oldest daughter loves to read about history. “She’s a total bookworm and likes to search for historic things near the house. She’ll read all about them, and then we’ll take a little family field trip. It’s better than a 3D movie to her; it’s real life.”

7. Movie night

Close to home and complete with popcorn, movie nights are a favorite family go-to. And you can always find a deal if you have your kids in tow.

Alyssa says, “It’s pretty easy to spend $75 for the four of us to go to a movie on a Saturday night.” She advises, “If you can adjust your schedule a bit, pick a late-morning or matinee showing—they’re much less expensive.” It’s also not uncommon for parents to bring their own snacks. “Sometimes we bring our own candy,” says Alyssa. “If you’re going to splurge, though, the hot buttered popcorn is worth it!”

8. Outdoor cinema

Your favorite childhood films, and the occasional newbie, can sometimes be found playing on an outdoor screen near you. Simply search “movies in the park” and enter your location, then see what pops up. BYOB (bring your own blanket) and snacks, sit back and snuggle up under the stars.

9. Outdoor concerts

No matter what time of year it is, you’re likely to find a slew of musicians ready to play for locals looking for good tunes. Whether it’s a summer concert series or a fall folk festival, you can catch your favorite acts at a band shell or park stage near you. A quick search for “concerts in the park near me” should yield some music to your ears.

10. Outdoor activities

If you’re over the video games and can’t sit through another movie, turn off the TV and go outside. Whether you decide to stay local or get your getaway on, ease the ache of cabin fever and take a hike. No, really—take one! There are millions of trails and walkways to explore. And they’re paved with undiscovered excitement. Find a local swimming hole. Head to a lake. Hit the shore. Fly a kite. Pack a picnic and eat a sandwich outside. Do whatever you want. Just get out and take in some fresh air for free.

11. Free food

No matter what you decide to do, you’re bound to get hungry, and maybe you’re not in the mood to cook. Luckily, kids eat free at a variety of well-known chain restaurants throughout the country on specific days of the week. One quick search for “kids eat free” in your area should yield at least one eatery ready to save you from kitchen duty.

Luis is a father of two and, like many parents, he’s no stranger to the costs involved for a family of four to eat out. “We take advantage of free kids’ meals when we can. Sometimes it involves purchasing an adult entrée, but that just makes it easier.” Alyssa suggests eating earlier in the evening. “Our kids get to eat at a reduced price, and we get to enjoy the benefits of a happy hour menu with affordable light snacks.”

And don’t forget to spend smart. Use a cash back rewards credit card when you eat out, or use a travel rewards credit card to help with your next family vacation.

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