Cheap Thrills

by Jennifer Beam


With today's economy being what it is, many families have two working parents and, as a result, more to do than time to do it in. Besides being crunched for time, family activities can be cut short due to the costs involved. Family-friendly events such as Disney on Ice, the circus, and even local carnivals can rack up a hefty bill for just one day of fun. These types of events seem to blindly suck you dry as you spend two dollars on a hot dog and five dollars on a snow cone on top of parking, admission and souvenirs. Still, families are looking for rewarding, not costly, ways to enjoy recreation and reconnect at the end of a busy week. When you compare the larger picture, there are more cost-effective ways of funding family outings.

The Season Pass

Amusement parks, zoos, water parks, and recreational facilities all offer season passes. Often, the initial cost is what scares people off. But when you compare the price of one day's admission for each person, you will discover that most family passes pay for themselves in one to two visits. Another benefit is not feeling the need to see and do everything offered in a single visit. Not to mention, when you are feeling hungry, you can leave and avoid the concession stand mark ups, all the while knowing you can come back anytime. Consider this option only if you are certain it is feasible to visit several times each year to get more than your money's worth. Simply switch attractions each year and you've got a low-cost pass to recreational freedom for months and months to come.

Silver Screen, Depleting Green

First run movies are expensive. The average cost is $8 a ticket. Do the math and ask yourself if it's worth $32 (or more) for your family to enjoy a two-hour outing. And that's the generous estimate that assumes you're smuggling your favorite candy or snack into the theater against policy. What does it hurt to wait until the movie reaches the second-run theaters that only charge a couple of bucks per seat? Remember that you could be at the zoo while all the other families are waiting in line for tickets to opening weekend of the next Harry Potter flick.

Free Parking

If you don't already, subscribe to your local parks and recreation departments' event guides. Include surrounding cities and counties. There are year-round events listed with nominal or no charges. Residents usually pay lower rates than non-residents so always utilize the options at your local parks first, then branch out. Examples of outings often available through parks and recreation include ice skating, horseback riding, frisbee golf, sledding, arts and crafts, and many other family-friendly go and do ideas. Again, consider family passes for those facilities that you may attend more frequently.

Athletic Superiority

If sporting events are your bag but general admission seating to professional teams is out of reach, investigate your options. Is there a minor league baseball team nearby or a high school football team that's having a good season? Minor league baseball is sweeping some areas of the nation as a superior family outing. For as little as five bucks, you can purchase a lawn seat ticket and take in a full nine innings of America's favorite pass time. It never seems to matter much to kids if they aren't watching the guy on the Pepsi commercial play as long as they're having fun with the family.

If these ideas haven't inspired your imagination, or at least your wallet, then it's definitely time to reconsider your free time activities together as a family. As the saying goes, "The family that plays together, stays together," and playing this way, maybe you'll find you can afford retirement and college tuition one day.


Jennifer Beam is a freelance writer and editor of American Kids Parenting Magazine, a local parenting resource in the Miami Valley Region of Ohio.

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