With a family of five, I find it necessary to set aside a portion of my budget for fun activities. Often, like most households on a budget, I find myself struggling to achieve a balance between having fun and staying frugal. While I take any and every available opportunity to enjoy the things that I have already invested in, I do tend to get stir crazy if I sit in my beautiful home for too long. Here are five ideas that help me that might also help you get out more often while still saving money.
Hourly activities: About three times a month, my family grabs our pool sticks and loads up the car to enjoy our local billiards hall. The pool hall happens to be located conveniently about three minutes from my house and is family-friendly. When entering, you're asked for your ID and given the option to stay on the adult side of the building, where drinks are served, or to stay on the family side of the hall. No matter what side we end up playing on, we always end up having a great time.
The people are friendly and the atmosphere is fun, but more importantly my family can have hours of good competitive fun for under $15. The pool hall charges an hourly rate of around $7.50 to play. Even before discovering our local family-friendly pool hall, we had a passion for the game, but after seeing the prices we all decided to try and master our hobby. Even if we decide to indulge in a large order of fries and a large pop, a couple hours of family-friendly fun almost never puts us over our $20 spending limit.
Enjoy your surroundings: No matter where you live, there are most likely plenty of things to do that actually have no cost. Whether it involves going for a hike or enjoying a local beach, there is always something in your local area that has fun potential. We often discredit those things because of the no-cost factor, but they can make great activities. A couple times a month, we pick up a couple bundles of firewood and our favorite snacks. Soon we find ourselves in the middle of the woods or on a beach with bonfires and great company! Don't forget to bring your favorite outdoor game. Football on the beach is always a blast.
Good company: A group potluck or block party is one of the best ways to ensure that you, your family and your friends can have a great time and save a bit of cash in the process. An important thing to remember as the host is not to spend too much money. For less than twenty bucks, you can get plenty of basics to make sure your party has all of the necessities. Often times, attendees are unsure of what to bring and don't want to bring duplicate party favors. A fun way to solve this problem is to make a list of things, all less than twenty dollars in value, and then have each friend pick an item to bring. This reduce stress for everyone. All that's left is to turn up the music and enjoy your company!
Local fun: Your local newspaper always has great ideas for fun family-friendly events. You may find anything from a local farmers market to the state fair. Here in Portland, Oregon, we have the notorious Saturday market. Blocks and blocks of unique vendors all lined up and ready to show off their products. The food choices are amazing and all vendors offer competitive, low prices. We often take public transportation to avoid unnecessary parking and gas prices. There is live entertainment, and the best part is that it's all free. Use your twenty dollar budget on snacks or cool little knickknacks. We usually pack our lunch, sit near the music and enjoy the show before making our way around to all the cool new vendors. It's a great way to get all of the family out of the house for little to no cost.
Great deals: Every family on a budget should always be on the lookout for the best deals. It just so happens that my family loves to bowl. On a normal night, bowling can be quite expensive. The cost of shoes and the lane, for five people, can cost a pretty penny. Luckily for us, we found a way around spending too much. By signing up for an email and text list, we are informed of all the great deals that our local bowling alley has to offer. And at least once a month, always on a weekday, we get our "open lanes" reminder. For five dollars per person, during the set hour, you can bowl and not have to worry about breaking the bank. This allows the bowling alley to bring customers during slow times and it allows us to have a great time! There are plenty of great deals out there, you just have to find them, so be sure to ask.
Final thoughts: The most important thing to remember when looking for fun new things to do is be creative! Don't feel limited by finances and you won't be. Have a family meeting, come up with a couple great ideas, and then take a vote. You will be surprised what you can come up with.
Joshua Rodriguez is a personal finance writer with ModestMoney.com.
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