Now that Labor Day has passed and the school year is in full swing, the cool and colorful months of autumn are upon us. Until Thanksgiving break, most families only have the weekend to spend some quality family time together. Here are nine ideas for things to do with your family on a crisp autumn weekend that won't chill your wallet.
Spend a weekend at a local university. Even if you don't have a child in college, the traditional family weekend at a local university can be well worth taking advantage of. Most universities host a weekend when they invite parents and alumni to campus to tour the facilities, enjoy free food, attend a sporting event and take part in special programs. These are usually open to the public and can offer an enjoyable family weekend. Plus, if you have teens in high school, it's a chance to scout out colleges they may be interested in applying to.
Take a fall hike to see the colors. Once the leaves start to turn colors, take a hike and check out the beauty of the fall hues. The crisp autumn air, the colorful foliage and the crunch of the leaves under your feet give fall hikes a special feel that isn't matched at any other time of the year. Take along a backpack, and gather colorful leaves, pine cones and other interesting items -- they might be useful for some other ideas below.
Make your own Halloween costumes. If you have young children, Halloween trick-or-treating in costume is a big fall experience. Usually, people buy a costume at the store, but why not spend a weekend designing a costume, and create it together? This will save you from shelling out upward of $50 for a store-bought witch outfit or Batman suit and provides a fun, and relatively easy, home crafting project that you can do with your kids.
Create handmade autumn decorations for your home. If you went on that fall hike and collected a bunch of beautiful leaves, pine cones and other items, you've got all you need to make some great home decorations. Fill up a bowl with pine cones, string the leaves together to make a table decoration or attach some of the leaves to windows to add an autumn theme to your home.
Go apple picking and make something delicious with the apples. Spend part of a day together picking apples at a local orchard. Then take all those apples home, and use them to make something tasty, such as apple cobbler, apple pie or apple cider -- or all three. Chop them up in oatmeal or purée them into applesauce. There are endless options here, and they can be used in delicious recipes for the rest of the fall and beyond (if you freeze them).
Make pine cone bird feeders. If you picked up plenty of pine cones on your nature walk, you can easily turn them into pine cone bird feeders, which is a great project for younger children. All you need are pine cones, bird feed, string and peanut butter. You just tie a string on the top of the pine cone, then smear the peanut butter on the pine cone and roll them in the bird seed. Hang them in various places outside your home, then watch and see what birds stop for a snack.
Rake leaves -- and then jump in the pile. If you have a yard that gets covered in leaves, raking them up doesn't have to be drudgery. Get the kids involved. Have everyone make giant leaf piles, then jump on them. When you need to actually get rid of the leaves, bag them together -- or figure out other ways to use them.
Pick and carve pumpkins. Turning a pumpkin into a jack-o-lantern is an autumn tradition. Opening the top of a pumpkin, scooping out the insides, carving a face on the front and putting a candle or a small light inside is something most of us did as children and something to pass along to your own children. You can make a full day out of the process of picking pumpkins, cleaning them out and carving faces or designs. If you lack art skills, you can find carving templates online .
Build a haunted yard for Halloween. Some spooky spider webs and a tombstone or two in the front yard can add a festive touch to your lawn during the Halloween season. You can turn cardboard boxes into tombstones (replete with humorous names for the pretend deceased) and old bed sheets into ghosts to hang on trees. Get creative, and see what ideas your kids come up with.
Autumn weekends provide a great opportunity for family projects and healthy activities. Remember, no matter what you choose to do, the real benefit is the time spent together.
Trent Hamm is the founder of the personal finance website TheSimpleDollar.com, which provides consumers with resources and tools to make informed financial decisions.
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