Watch the advertisements featuring spectacular family bonding experiences, and you might conclude that making memories is too expensive for your family. Zipping off to an amusement park or museum might thrill your kids, but your budget just won’t allow it. With a little imagination and preparation, you can save on family fun this holiday season without raiding your savings account.
As these inexpensive, family-friendly activities show, it’s easy to keep the kids occupied and make everyone smile.
1. Carve pumpkins
With Halloween upon us and Thanksgiving following quickly, now is the perfect time to stock up on pumpkins for food and decoration. Hold a family pumpkin carving party complete with apple cider and pumpkin pie. Purchase a pumpkin carving kit containing fun carving patterns for both holidays. Make sure to save the pumpkin seeds, which you can toast in the oven and lightly salt for a tasty snack.
2. Collect leaves
The confetti of colorful leaves ready for the gathering at this time of year makes for an enjoyable family outing. If you don’t have a big yard, pile in the car and go to an open area, such as a park, where the kids can fill plastic bags full of nature’s discarded bounty.
The leaves your kids gather also offer oodles of crafting opportunities that will keep them busy for days. One fun project is to make leaf collage Thanksgiving cards to give to grandparents.
Showing your children the benefits of giving their time to the less fortunate is a powerful life lesson that is likely to warm the hearts of everyone involved. With the holidays fast approaching, the opportunities to donate your time abound. You and your kids can adopt a family for Christmas by providing gifts and food, feed the homeless on Thanksgiving or write to military troops and send care packages. Check with your local community service organizations for opportunities.
4. Cook and bake
Teaching your kids to navigate the kitchen ensures they learn a valuable life skill, and the fun you’ll have cooking and baking tasty treats is sure to have everyone laughing. Besides learning how to feed themselves, your kids can practice working as a team, and you can always point out the various science and math lessons inherent in the art of making your own food.
Good kid-friendly foods to make homemade include cookies, cakes, bread, brownies, pizza, chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. For extra fun, come up with a theme and cook corresponding foods, such as Italian or Chinese. This experience also offers a chance to explore other countries and cultures.
Gardening is a rewarding activity on many levels. The hobby gets the family outside, offers a chance at exercise and provides the delight and health benefits of growing tasty, organic produce. If land or time is limited, try container gardening. It’s possible to grow a variety of dwarf fruits and veggies in pots. And if you live in an area of the country that makes outdoor gardening impossible during the winter months, grow houseplants or herbs in your kitchen.
Instead of heading out for an expensive movie or dinner, take the gang outside for some fresh air and a little edification. Pack a picnic dinner and go stargazing. Use a telescope if you have one or pass around binoculars and discuss what you see in the night sky. To make the experience even more enjoyable and educational, prior to your stargazing party, brush up on your astronomy and consult star charts.
7. Visit your local library
Your public library offers a smorgasbord of free materials and activities. Besides a vast selection of books, you can rent DVDs, CDs and books on tape. Many libraries also offer classes and activities for children and adults—often completely free of charge.
Now that you have your list of family activities that won’t bust your budget, grab a pumpkin and watch the fun begin.
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Julie Bawden-Davis is a widely published journalist specializing in personal finance and small business. She has written 10 books and more than 2,500 articles for a wide variety of national and international publications, including Parade.com, where she has a weekly column. In addition to contributing to SuperMoney, her work has appeared in publications such as American Express OPEN Forum, The Hartford and Forbes.