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Money-Saving Tips for Family Fun

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

I've adopted a somewhat ostrich-like approach to the crumbling economy. I've sworn off Google Finance. I don't watch cable news anymore. And I don't open my 401(k) statements. I just can't take the stress. But the news finds a way to find me. I'm well aware of the Dow's precipitous fall, busting through barriers that all but the gloomiest CNBC talking heads could scarcely imagine even a couple of months ago. I'm keeping my head down at work, too -- even a stable job provides only so much reassurance.

But while I'm trying to ignore the mortal peril faced by my portfolio, it doesn't mean that I'm not thinking about belt-tightening. We're trying five approaches now that are designed to keep a little extra money in the account without sacrificing family fun:

  • Museum membership: Rather than sampling every little cultural opportunity, we went all in and bought a year-long family membership to the local children's museum, a move that's paid for itself in less than 6 weeks. But it's been the unexpected benefits of being a museum regular that have made this a great deal: The staff and volunteers recognize us now, so when it's time to feed the lizards, they find my daughter to let her do the honors.
  • Dining at Chez Kid: I have written in the past about how mixing kids and cooking is better in theory than it is in practice. But we've found that -- on an otherwise-lazy weekend afternoon -- playing sous chef to my children makes for an entertaining couple of hours. We've gone all-out with the "play restaurant" concept, putting out the fine linens, lighting candles and dimming the lights to give a little added elegance to the fish sticks.
  • Game Night: So Hasbro has been trying to trick us into buying board games for years by suggesting we should all have a "family game night," but in an era in which going to see the latest family-film dreck runs north of 30 bucks, an evening of Monopoly is a bargain.
  • Vacationing Close to Home: After a long year and a frigid winter, we really, really wanted to escape to Florida for the upcoming spring break. But even doing that on the "cheap" quickly became absurd. Instead, we're piling in the minivan and crashing at Grammy's house. We're going to pretend that we're tourists and absolutely light Omaha on fire: the art museum, the zoo, the children's museum, the indoor water park. We're taking the approach that vacation is a state of mind.
  • Babysitting Swaps: Now that we're settling into our new location, we're trying to re-establish one of our old traditions: swapping babysitting with other families. Nothing doubles the cost of a night out like paying a teenager to watch TV. The more organized folks I know can manage to set up co-ops, but a simple you-go-out-Friday and we'll-go-out-Saturday arrangement with the mom and dad across the street does the trick.

This is just a start; entire books can (and have!) been written on this topic. But I want to know what works for you. How have you kept family time engaging without breaking the bank. (And now that I'm hundreds of miles away, no gloating about how the Smithsonian is free.)

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  March 5, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Family Finances
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Comments


Brian, if it makes you feel better - the Smithsonian is free, but getting there ain't! Metro fares for a family of six will set you back 30 dollars or more. And it's not like you can park anywhere near there any more. I'm betting you don't have that problem in Champaign-Urbana.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 5, 2009 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Imagination is free and fun. Running around the yard, or taking walks in the neighborhood is free and fun. Sticks and rocks and pine cones are free and fun. Local parks are free and fun.
We buy toys and games and such from local church consignment sales, not free, but cheap and fun.
We just got a dog from a rescue organization. The fee was $200 and we donated an additional $100 (the sad doggie faces helped to open the wallet a little further...yep, we're suckers.) It's already clear that the fun we are going to have with her is well worth the initial cost.

Posted by: VaLGaL | March 5, 2009 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Why are you forgetting about the many, many no-cost and low-cost ways to reduce the household's electricity, home heating, home cooling and water heating utility bills as a way to save money? Yes, you can even teach your children how to minimize home energy consumption.

After our home energy audit in late 2007 we started to collect suggestions from hundreds of people across the U.S. on how whey reduce their home energy consumption.

http://dailyhomerenotips.com/energy-conservation/

The result is the above list currently constaining more than 240 of their home energy conservation tips, of which 100+ cost absolutely nothing to do and a further 75+ cost next to nothing.

And, most of these suggestions are simple and easy to do.

Reducing the amount of electicity, home heating, etc. non-renewable energy resource consumption in the home is not only 'green', but it directly and immediately reduces the household's utility bills month after month after month after .... in after tax dollars.

Dan

Posted by: Dan_DHRT | March 5, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Excellent timing -- just last night, my daughter insisted that she would make dinner for us tonight (with me as sous chef, of course), and then spent 30 minutes hammering out her menu and decorating it. It is WAY too big, but it's full of simple things, like cheese and crackers, salad, sandwiches, and her specialty: a "monster" ice cream sundae for dessert (scoop of ice cube with 2 Girl Scout Thin Mints for ears and candy pieces for eyes). So it should be an interesting change of pace, at least -- I'm all for encouraging the kids to take over my jobs. :-)

Other cheap thing, which we've been doing for a while now, is when we want to go out for family dinner, we make it Chick-fil-A instead of a sit-down restaurant. Usually by the end of the week I've run out of ideas to cook, and DH is ready to go out somewhere; but by that point, kids are usually both exhausted and wound up and don't do well sitting in a restaurant. And I got tired of spending $40-50 on a meal that was so generic that I couldn't even remember what I had the next day. So we go to Chick-fil-A; kids can run around in the play area, parents can actually sit and talk, food is at least as tasty as the generic "family" chain down the street; and all for under $20.

The one other food recommendation I have is to look for your cheap neighborhood place. We have a pho place a mile from us where we can all eat for maybe $25 -- and the flavors are just so different from what we get every day. Of course, the flip side of that is that our local Indian place easily runs $50 -- but I'd rather support them than the generic "family" chain restaurant that charges the same for boring food.

Posted by: laura33 | March 5, 2009 8:31 AM | Report abuse

I wrote a nice long post that some how did not get posted.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 5, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

VaLGaL, good luck to you, and have fun, but dogs (and cats) are NOT necessarily cheap to upkeep. I wouldn't recommend them as cost-saving options for fun. Like kids - worth it if you're ready and want one, but lots of responsibility and sometimes unpredictable bills.

Posted by: inBoston | March 5, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Ok that seemed to work so here it is again.

We are going to Disney world for spring break. I know it comes with a hefty price tag. But we saved for a year for this trip. We decided to travel in May, slightly off season to take advantage of shorter lines, less crowded parks, and slightly discounted hotel rates. The tickets never seem to be discounted. We got a Disney dining plan and that saved 30% off meals. It included snacks and three meals. Character meals and sit down meals are included. Not all restuarants at Disney honor the dining plan but we had no trouble finding places to book reservations. We went to the Disney store clearance section and bought $3 and $5 shirts. I plan to go back when the night gowns are for sale as well. We have a coin jar and that money will be used for the kids spending money at disney. When they want to pick up cheap trinkets it comes out of that fund. I got stickers, crayons and coloring books at the dollar aisle at Target. We will be renting a car to visit my grandmother prior to hitting Disney, so we can stock up on snacks for the room. We are bringing our reusable unlimited soda mugs from a previous trip. That pays for all our resort sodas.

Since we are doing Disney this spring, we still wanted a summer get away. We decided to stay local. We are doing a week at Williamsburg. We will get a one week time share rental through my husband's free employee travel club. We get a one week rental for $600. It comes with a fully equipped kitchen, washer/dryer, and garden tub. We will get discount tickets for water country usa, bush gardens, and colonial williamsburg. Since we have a fully equipped kitchen, we will eat breakfast and dinners in our room. We will go out to one sit down dinner and do a few take outs. We will eat lunch in the parks. The souveniors (sp?) are cheap and don't inspire a long "I want" list from the kids.

On weekends, we will enjoy free museums and our pool (paid through HOA fees). We can park for free on the weekends at my job which is one block from the Mall.

Our one big expensive excursion, is we like to take our kids to Sesame Place in Longhorn PA. Between tickets, travel, food, and junk it is usually a $300 day. We will fork it out because we skipped last year, due to our son being born, and my daughter loves it so much.

To enjoy family and friends, we do a lot of back yard cookouts, game nights, and watch DVDs. We almost never go to the movies. We prefer renting or buying kid's dvds to going to the theater.

We also don't go out to eat much, except on vacations. We prefer take out meals and the company of our own home. We only eat out once every few months.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 5, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

I am afraid that the events in our household are free. So what do we do a lot of?

The kids either go to the local park or Papa takes them to the local mall to play in their play area if the weather is bad. This happens just about every weekend. It also gives the honey time to study while the kids are gainfully amused with other kids.

We spend a lot of time at the library. We usually go every couple of weekends to get a pile of books. They spend quite a bit of time at home reading their picks. I usually go alone with the kids so this gives the honey time to study quietly.

We spend a fair amount of time playing games like Go Fish or Franklin. Lots of games are super cheap even if you buy them new. We also play lots of games that my SS makes up.... like trying to roll a ball into the circle created by some string. Simon says is popular and so are lots of word games like... going through the alphabet and naming animals that start with that letter.

Posted by: Billie_R | March 5, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

You know, writing my last post made me realize that you've hit on one of the things that annoys me about my life: the feeling like we have to DO something all the time -- that life is supposed to be one giant rolling ball of entertainment opportunities. Dora live? Sure -- only $45/ticket. Aquarium? Great -- $80. Where did that come from? What's wrong with just playing catch in the yard or going for a walk around the neighborhood -- or, God forbid, spending a morning working on the garden? When I think back, that's what my whole childhood was.

On the one hand, I don't want to go back to spending the whole weekend doing chores, the way my parents did. But at the same time, my daily life is stressful enough; on the weekends, sometimes I just want to enjoy the feeling of knowing I have absolutely NOTHING to do. That, of course, drives my dear engineer husband absolutely bonkers -- must do, must accomplish, must achieve, rah, rah, sis boom bah!

So like everything else, we've figured out a compromise: we try to schedule at least one "thing" most weekends, but I like to make them things that are just really easy and non-stressful -- things like hanging with friends, having the cousins over to play, etc. Added bonus is that they're all free. :-)

So, Brian, you ask about cheap ways of entertaining the family. Let me suggest that maybe step one should be to look closely at your assumptions and expectations -- how much "entertainment" do you really need to provide? We're so bombarded with opportunities that that very bombardment can make us feel like we HAVE to be doing all of this, and that anything else is somehow "lesser" or something we're giving up. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Posted by: laura33 | March 5, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Brian,

I just don't see how you can run out of things to do "downstate." The corn fields are so memorizing! And then when the corn fields and soy bean fields alternate, you can have hours of eye popping fun!

Get off the interstate and travel up state highway 47. It starts right there in Champaign. Explore all the little towns and villages up to Chicago.

http://illi-indi.com/il_Gallery.php?id=1516┬žion=10471&terminus=Southern+Terminus

(Just in case the rest of you don't understand, I have traveled Ill 47 way too many times in my life!)

Posted by: Fred | March 5, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

I vote for board games and sitter swaps. In fact, I think it was on "On Balance" (RIP) that I first heard of Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan, both possibly from ArmyBrat. (Though I don't know if I should thank you or curse you as my husband and I have now found the online version of Catan and we can get impatient with the slow speed of play on the board version.) Board games teach a lot, provide amusement, and good old family togetherness.

I am very fortunate to have relatives in places where I'd want to go on vacation, so we have always saved a lot of money in that department. But where we used to go 4 times a year, now it's more like 2. It may be none next year, who knows? Frankly, I can't wait until we're done paying for college for my SD, it is a large chunk of change and we could really use a newer vehicle!

Posted by: WorkingMomX | March 5, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

At this point, entertaining our elder daughter is easy -- at 3, she's perfectly happy to run around at the park or go for a carousel ride at the mall. DH also loves to take her with him on his seemingly-inevitable weekend trips to the hardware store, and she finds that entertaining, too.

In the summer, we spend a lot of time at the pool and at "Camp Granny" -- my in laws live on a gorgeous lake, and we spend a week there (as well as several weekends and the occasional weekday) every summer, swimming and sailing and generally having a ball. In fact, that week with the in-laws was the only vacation DH and I took for the first 9 years of our marriage, an economy that made us feel justified in splurging on Disney this past September.

Foamgnome, enjoy your Disney trip. FWIW, for the last several years, Disney has been running a free dining promotion in September -- every member of your party gets the dining plan for free with the purchase of a hotel/park tickets package. That's what we did, and it was great. In September, the crowds are quite light (though the weather is kind of brutal). They're also currently running a promotion where if you buy a four-day package, you get three additional days (hotel and tickets) for free. Not that that probably helps you at this point, but I thought I'd pass it on.

Posted by: newsahm | March 5, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse

newsahm: No we already booked and paid but we will keep that in mind for our next trip. I wanted to go back when both our kids still qualify for kids tickets and meals. We looked at a number of ways to save and it got quite complex and found that offseason and dining plan worked best. I would love to go on the disney cruise again but that always seems to be expensive except when school is in session. :(

Posted by: foamgnome | March 5, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Our pets help save on heating/air conditioning costs. We've been able to trim a few degrees off the thermostat at night this winter by employing a cat or 2 as designated bedwarmers. I'd say they pay for themselves, not to mention help control the neighborhood rodent/bird population.

And nothing has taught my kids to keep the front door shut better than the dog. Leave it open, the dog bolts and whoever left it open gets plenty of exercise chasing her all over town. Entertaining to say the least.

Pets rock!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | March 5, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Foam, insted of Sesame Place you might try Dutch Wonderland www.dutchwonderland.com in the Lancaster area. We like it a lot more than Sesame, more little kid rides, less commercial and less crowded and they do have a water park. You could also combine it with a little Amish trourism as well. There is also the Strasburg railroad nearby that my kids loved. It has a real steam enginge you can take a trip to "paradise" PA on and a cool musueum across the street. They have a Thomas the Tank engine weekend, so check the website. www.strasburgrailroad.com.

We went to Disney in December, the locals thought it was cold, we thought it was fine. Really, really light crowds. I know people like the proximity of staying onsite, but the Doubletree just down the road was like $179 a night, had two rooms and was much bigger than our room at the Beach Club, plus you didn't have to fight to get a decent breakfast buffet. I would not stay onsite again. That said, I hated the commercialism and just gross overconsumption (would it kill them to do even just a little recycling?) and if the kids want to go again, they will have to do it on their own. For the same price, we could have gone to Europe. My two cents.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 5, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

moxiemon:I will check it out. Dutch wonderland might be better for my son too. I have heard of the train thing you mentioned. On of all things that Jon and Kate plus 8 show.

Disney is one of those things, you just have to do at least a few times. I loved the cruise but am not that interested in the parks. But since it the kids will enjoy it, we will go a few times. I went every year (just for the day to Magic Kingdom) when we visited my grand parents. So I have fond childhood memories. But that was when Disney was a one park deal. Now it is a mega land of resorts. My friend went in February and she loved staying at the Grand Floridian. We couldn't afford a whole week there but found a nice hotel on site for $185/night. One thing is my daughter talks non stop about going to breakfast with Cinderella. I couldn't believe that I had to make reservations 180 days in advance to have a cheap IHOP buffet with Cindy! AT a cost of $125 (with out meal plan). But we picked up the Cindy princess gown at Costco for half price and she is so excited. She mentions it every few days. So for that it is worth it.

We won't do Europe too much. Maybe once when my kids are in HS but we do plan on making at least three trips to Vietnam. And let me tell you, it is a lot more expensive then Europe. But I don't plan to take my kids till they are both fully potty trained. Third world countries are not exactly known for good bathrooms. :)

Posted by: foamgnome | March 5, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Laura33: I love your follow-up question. I actually rarely schedule anything for at least one weekend day and limit after-school activities to one per child because 7-year-old asked me not to schedule too much.

As for our low-cost activities, we tend to opt for bike rides on nice days, gardening, cards or checkers. As spring comes, great spots are Wheaton Park, Brookside Gardens/the Nature Center and Huntley Meadows.

Instead of going out to movies, the kids have been watching lots of old Looney Tunes cartoons and loving them.

One big question around here has been how much we want to spend on summer camps/activities. Anyone else in the same boat?

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | March 5, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Regarding summer camps/activities: I have heard, though not confirmed, from three different people that there has been a sudden onset of gang activity at our local YMCAs. And some are hiring security. Apparently, people who don't have memberships are dropping their kids off to basically hang out all day. At a few of the Ys, it's easy enough to get in without a card if you are up to sneaking past the desk. We don't do summer camp (there or anywhere else) since I'm at home, but it has made me wonder whether there will be a drop in enrollment. The Y is the cheapest option around for full day "camp". Don't know if this is happening elsewhere. One of the best things about not working right now is I don't need to be planning for what to do with the kids during the summer. No worries about which camp or how much or logistics. I sure miss my paycheck, but for me, right now this is where I need to be. I don't do well with too many logs on the fire.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | March 5, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Foam, I'm not planning your trip for you, really, but every time we have driven by this place, I've been curious. Its a hotel made out of cabooses (is that the plural of caboose?) so you can stay the night in a train car. I don't know how nice it is but I've always thought the kids would think it was fun. Here's the website, and then I will stop, I promise. http://www.redcaboosemotel.com/index.html

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 5, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

I second the library as excellent enterainment, for DVDs as well as books. another cheap source of DVDs is Red Box (in Giant) - they're only $1 per night. Just don't keep 'em too long!

My kids are 15 and 11 and we have NEVER been to Disney. When DD was 11, she pouted about never having been, but got over it in a hurry, and DS has never been interested. I agree with the person who said that you could go to Europe for the same money... just watch those airfares and exchange rates. DD is off to Israel this summer with a group... not cheap, but an unforgettable experience!

Posted by: lorenw507 | March 5, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

What used to be the dollar theatre now charges $3/kids, $4/adults. That's an occasional treat for us. Someone else mentioned game night--we have one almost every week. Cook's night off is a takeout meal from Wendy's--small sandwiches, one large fries to share, fruit and milk/water at home.

When we travel, we get the coupons at the rest stops and stay cheaply at motels with free breakfast and take sandwiches for lunch as many days as possible.

Posted by: janedoe5 | March 5, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Oh, yes inboston, I am quite an experienced pet person, so I am aware of the potential costs. Also, I didn't say it was cheap, I said the return was worth the expense.
Also, caring for a dog for 10 years is still not as expensive as a family trip to Disney.

Posted by: VaLGaL | March 5, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

"Also, caring for a dog for 10 years is still not as expensive as a family trip to Disney."

Presuming you don't have to pay for cancer surgery for said dog. (Noted by a canine-lover who's done that. Yes, there are veterinary oncologists; one of the best is in Montgomery County.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 5, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

moxiemom: That hotel looked neat but we have family in PA. So we would stay at their house for free. I am not sure we would consider paying to stay somewhere else. But it does look neat.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 5, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I agree that Dutch Wonderland is GREAT for young kids. Plus Hersheypark is just a little over an hour away from DW. All kinds of fun stuff to do in Lancaster - - check out www.padutchcountry.com - - and no, I'm not a travel agent!

For low cost family entertainment, we just (re)discovered roller skating. Our local roller rink, no frills, is $9 for a family of 5 on Sunday plus $2 each for skates. It's low key, VERY friendly staff who will teach even absolute beginners how to skate (for the price of admission), good snack bar. It's great exercise on a cold winter day, the 3 hour session goes by unbelievably fast and the kids have a great time . . . even the little ones!

Posted by: ElaineatLipstickdaily | March 5, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Foam, why Vietnam? Nice place, but a little off the beaten path. I'm curious about your affinity?

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 5, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

moxiemome:I am Vietnamese and was born there and still have family there.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 5, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Well foam I never would have guessed that! Given your name, I guess I always pictured a small, chubby, white gal who enjoys gardens and booking travel through Orbitz!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 5, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

c'mon, Moxie! Back in the day foamy told us that - something about "big dragon/little dragon." Heck, she even told us about the nickname (friends stole yard gnomes from people's houses for kicks; she somehow made a gnome out of foam - a "foamgnome" to give to the friends who would do that.)

Wow -that's what my kids would call "stalkerish" "-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 5, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

AB: Wow you have some memory (big dragon/little dragon).

Posted by: foamgnome | March 5, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

foam - no, I just have a friend called "google" :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 5, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

What about the zoo? Do kids ever get tired of seeing lions, or monkeys, or snakes? And a couple of years ago, I read about a program at the national zoo where members can sign up for a camp-out. You get to stay in a tent, and visit the lion house after hours, etc. Sounded like fun to me.

Speaking of which - camping. Buy a tent in the off-season, and hit the state parks. Personally, I require basic plumbing, but all the state parks have real bathrooms you can walk to from your tent. In VA there's even a park at the beach - First Landing State Park. For about $20/night you can walk from your tent to the bay. Or you can drive a couple of miles to the ocean. Cheap, easy weekend at the beach when you're desperate for a getaway.

Posted by: JHBVA | March 5, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I second the zoo...you do have to pay for parking in the lot, but you may get lucky and find street parking, and admission is free!
Not sure if they do the camp out thing anymore, but friends of mine did it years ago and loved it.

Posted by: Catwhowalked | March 5, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Last summer, the family spent the week at my inlaw's cabin. It was tons of fun - north GA mtns. So much to do - which is completely hilarious to me, cause my DH and I used to go up there a bunch before kids. And we'd sit and DO NOTHING (Laura: I completely am like YOUR DH - after a few minutes, I'm like: oh, okay, I'm DONE with this). But DH could go and do NOTHING. So I would bring stuff up to the cabin to cook and make these elaborate meals, since there wasn't anything else to do up there, I'd just use the day to cook (oh, we'd go on hikes, and stuff, but that was IT).
So, last summer, my husband found TONS of stuff to do - we tubed down the river ($5 per person), we went horseback riding, we did went to the dam and swam in the lake. We had a great time.
This summer...well, I don't know. I'm looking for a job (DC is out for today), and probably will be starting sometime soonish - so we'd have to move, so summer camp might be out (so we'd save on that!).
Anyway - we have several memberships to museum (natural history), zoo, botanical gardens, art museum (tho that one's not free, cause I always have to pay for parking). Tons of stuff to do here, and it's great. We love just taking walks outside after dinner. Or having family movie night.
I'm with you, Laura, though, re: always having to DO something. I remember not doing things all the time as a kid. We had to figure out for ourselves how to entertain ourselves. Parents weren't much help.
I try not to schedule stuff on weekends, but then things always seem to happen (soccer game, purim carnival, birthday party). One cool thing I'm doing with older son this weekend is taking him to see his cousin in a play at the high school. He's SO excited. And it's more expensive than I woulda thought ($23 for two of us) - but he's definitely going to think it's as good as a broadway play...so going to a high school concert, etc, is a great idea (heck, even middle school or elementary would be good, too, I'm sure!).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 5, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

It really is amazing how much fun your kids can have for free. I can remember a conversation I overheard my son having with two of his friends, in the back of the car a few years ago. Each of the, (then 8 year old), boys was "bragging" about what they had in their basement. One had a pop-a-shot game and a big screen T.V.; one had every possible video game system, a foosball table and skeeball. You could tell that these kids had nice finished basements supplied with fun "stuff." I held my breath, knowing that our basement was unfinished and without any expensive "toys." I wondered if my son felt bad about this.
My son chimed in and stated, proudly, that he had a mattress and a human habitrail that he and his friend had made out of boxes, in his basement, (the mattress had been moved to the basement following his sister's move to college apparently it was now being used for some kind of entertainment.) The other kids at first looked puzzled and then my son began to explain how he and the neighborhood boys played with the tunnels and mattress. "Cool," was the reply. Who would have thought a few cardboard boxes and a mattress could provide sooo much entertainment.

Posted by: coachjamie | March 6, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Brian- I live in Omaha (for now), and it's just full of great stuff for kids- most of which isn't very expensive, either. Our son is 3, and we highly highly highly recommend the Omaha Zoo- it truly is world-class (we've also lived in SD and DC, so think about what we're comparing it to...) and the price is great. We have a membership, and probably go about every 2 weeks. Unlike most zoos in cold climates, Omaha's actually considers the fact that snow falls here! While there is some great outdoor areas (including a steam train...), the Desert Dome and Lied Jungle (largest in North America, and I think the world), the Scott Aquarium, Gorilla Valley, etc are ALL indoors- even in bad weather, just dash from the entry to the first stop and go from there. Also, the Strategic Air and Space Museum is a great place for kids to burn off steam in a kid-friendly environment (not going to break the planes!) where there's tons of room and wide-open areas. And the Durham Museum has a fantastic train area that you can walk through multiple types of trains, etc. And all are very reasonably priced. There's tons of other great things that area free or almost, but unfortunately you're probably going to want warmer weather for those! We just have membership to the Museums and Zoo, and go all the time- we have gotten our money's worth about 500 times over in the last 2 years!

Posted by: TiffanyJD | March 6, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Hi! Just another reminder about how much fun stuff can be found at your local library. Ours has games that you can play there, but we also have video games that you can check out (cheaper than buying every game your child might want). Plus, there are family-friendly programs all the time, including arts & crafts, movie nights, and more!

Posted by: Maalik | March 6, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

For the National Zoo, if you join FONZ parking is free and the kids get free popcorn. And advanced notice on their events. When the kids were small, a FONZ membership paid for itself quickly.

And Lancaster/DutchWonderland/Strausburg has been an annual event for many years. Only go to Thomas day if the kids are really into it. Otherwise too crowded.

Posted by: debsteve | March 6, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Brian, as a parent of a soon to be college student, I wish I would have done more at home crafts with photographs and photo albums and let the kids decorate them. I think I got too caught up in wanting the albums to be perfect instead of letting them reflect the ages and ccreativity of the kids.
Today my baby turned 18 and she opened a "time capsule" she made in elementary school. I highly recommend getting a coffee can, let your kids decorate it it and fill it with photos and momentos along the way. Soon you will be saying 'where did the time go?"
I have a great money saving blog with many ideas for kids and families. It is called www.morewithlesstoday.com-"friends sharing tips to save money and help each other through the tough days ahead." best wishes

Posted by: lorijfelix | March 10, 2009 12:33 AM | Report abuse

Brian, as a parent of a soon to be college student, I wish I would have done more at home crafts with photographs and photo albums and let the kids decorate them. I think I got too caught up in wanting the albums to be perfect instead of letting them reflect the ages and ccreativity of the kids.
Today my baby turned 18 and she opened a "time capsule" she made in elementary school. I highly recommend getting a coffee can, let your kids decorate it it and fill it with photos and momentos along the way. Soon you will be saying 'where did the time go?"
I have a great money saving blog with many ideas for kids and families. It is called www.morewithlesstoday.com-"friends sharing tips to save money and help each other through the tough days ahead." best wishes

Posted by: lorijfelix | March 10, 2009 12:35 AM | Report abuse

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