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Cheap Dates and Family Activities

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Cheap Dates and Family Activities

I am looking for fun, frugal date ideas for myself and my husband. Also family activities. Any ideas?

Cheap Dates Are the Best Dates!

My husband and I have found that we like our "cheap dates" better than we do our typical expensive ones. You didn't say where you are, but here are some of the things we've done in the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Area. I know that some of these things would transfer elsewhere.

  1. Go for a walk. I know it's cold and it's wintertime, but a brisk walk in the park or near a river is refreshing and healthy and you can often see more wildlife than in the summer. Besides, it gives you an excuse to have a cup of hot cocoa or hot spiced cider when you get back in. (Kids love to explore the outdoors in the winter; just keep your adventure short and make sure everyone is wearing layered clothing.)
  2. Go to a museum. We're lucky in DC; the Smithsonian Museums are free! But in other places I've lived and visited, even the most expensive museums have free days or late afternoon specials. Make a few calls; it will be worth it. Sometimes a historic site will have a reduced rate on a relevant anniversary date; for example, here Mt. Vernon (George Washington's home) is free on the anniversary of his birthday each year. (The real date, not "Presidents' Day.") Call up the aquarium and the zoo while you're at it.
  3. Listen to live music or a lecture at a book store. The big book stores here (the ones with the latte bars) often have a live jazz band on Friday or Saturday nights and lecturers at various other times. You can listen to the music for free or you can buy a coffee and a cookie and still pay less than you would at nightclub--plus there's no annoying cigarette smoke!
  4. Attend the local high school's musical. So, it's not Broadway--it's entertaining and affordable and the admission goes to a good cause. Check out the Community College, too, or a University if you're fortunate enough to live near one.
  5. Fly a kite. You might want to let the weather warm up a bit for that one.
  6. Have a car picnic. Pack a nice picnic (no alcohol for the driver, please) and park the car at a scenic overlook, or where you can watch planes take off, or where you can watch deer or other wildlife amble by. Play some music or a book on tape or maybe a little Garrison Keilor if you feel so inclined, or just talk to one another. This one works on cold-ish winter days (too cold and you have to run the heater) or rainy summer days!

Most importantly, have fun!
Amy F. in Alexandria, VA

Inexpensive Dining and Dancing

I have found membership in the Eagles or Elks to be very good for cutting costs for nights out dancing, dining and a few drinks (to replenish liquids lost during hard dancing). If one has an RV, many of these clubs offer RV parking facilities for very low nightly cost. Membership privileges are good at any Eagles or Elks facility on presentation of your valid membership card.
Joe E.

For the Price of Coffee...

Our favorite activity includes both a cheap date for us and a family activity for our children. We go to the closest McDonald's with a playland area on a Monday or Tuesday evening (preferably after 8:00 pm). The playland area is usually empty so the kids can play to their hearts content without competition. Meanwhile, my husband and I can sit and talk without interuptions. We usually buy a coffee/hot chocolate for ourselves while we are there & purchase some cookies for the kids to eat on the way home. It is a favorite activity for both my husband & I and the children.

It's tough raising kids today!
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Movie Money Magic

We have found in the past that going to the movies cost a lot of money, you pay your way in, you purchase pop, popcorn and other goodies, and chances are if you bring little children, you miss half of the movie. We now find it cheaper to go to the store and pick out a movie that all of of agree on. Most of the time they are Walt Disney movies, and we purchase it from anywhere from $14.99 to $21.99, then we make our own popcorn, buy a case of pop, and watch it in the privacy of our own home. This way no one misses any part of the show because we can pause the movie for bathroom breaks. And then, the kids can watch them over and over. We also have started to purchase family games like Junior Monopoly, Yahtzee, and other similar games that the whole family can play, and this way if they have a few friends over, they are never bored and they will always know that they can play the games that they learned how to play with mom and dad.

Now, for something special for just my husband and I, well we try to split the three children up between Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles, or choose to put them early to bed one night and have a late movie night, usually on the week-ends. Anyways, we usually buy some nice scented candles, some lotion, and some relaxing music, and we give each other massages that are much needed to recuperate from the long work week. This is how we spend quality time together. No talking about kids or bills either!!!
Deb and Rob T.
and, of course, Dustin, Porsche and Kody, too!

Our Favorite Restaurant

My husband and I like to go to Fazoli's, which is an Italian fast food place. You can only find them in certain parts of the country right now, but they are in the process of going national. For very little money, you can buy an order of bread sticks which will be replenished ad infinitum by an employee coming round to the tables with a basket of them. (And if they don't have an employee to spare for the task, you just go up yourself and ask for more breadsticks.) It's not extremely romantic, but it is a good place to sit and chat (with the kids along, if necessary) and get a good quantity of food for just a few bucks.
Isidora in Lexington, Kentucky

Related: 25 Cheap and Free Dates

Ideas for Cheap Dates for Kids and Grown-Ups

To the reader wanting "cheap date" ideas for husband and family, here are my favorites:

  • Pack a picnic brunch, lunch or dinner and go to a city park. If you have more than one park in the area, try to go a different one each time.
  • Go to a thrift shop and buy board games (less than $2 a game, usually) or puzzle and spend a few evenings playing them with the kids. This has been a real hit with my two children.
  • Go to a school playground in a different part of the town or a nearby town and have a picnic or fly kites. Best if the kites are homemade (see library, below)
  • Go to the library and find a book on puppets, kites, or even foreign foods cookbooks. Pick an activity and do it with the kids.
  • Have a BBQ in the snow.
  • Play charades.
  • Swap babysitting with another couple or pursue kids spending the night with friends. Watch a romantic or non-kid movie, take a bubble bath, take a walk and hold hands, take a drive to someplace with a good view (and smooch, if you remember how and can stay awake that long). If you want to splurge and go out, eat dinner at home and only have dessert somewhere nice.

Kris H.

Related: Mother-Approved Frugal Teen Activities

Our Fun Times

Living on a limited budget and having three children, we have thought of many inexpensive or free means of entertainment for our family. Here is a sampling:

For the family:

  • Have a weekly game night, break out the card, board, and other fun games (UNO works well for all ages), have chips, dip, etc.
  • Make pizza.
  • Have a movie night, rent or borrow movie from friends or go to your local library to borrow movie.
  • Take walks around your neighborhood, use a scavenger hunt to make it fun!
  • Have everyone pitch in and make a big family dinner.
  • Ask family members to help assemble a donation box to a charitable organization or volunteer at local soup kitchen, etc. as a family.
  • Assign a week to each person and do what that person wants to do!
  • During chores, take turns reading a good story aloud (Nancy Drew was our favorite)

For the dates:

  • Rent movies and view after kids are sleeping.
  • Leave a note for your spouse about a "remember when" moment; try to recreate the scene at home.
  • Have a candlelight dinner (or picnic without ants) in your bedroom, have finger foods.
  • Take a drive at night, parents can talk while children sleep.
  • Listen to favorite music together, cuddle, talk, etc.
  • Parents can do a scavenger hunt, have the prize be you!
  • Read a romance novel or adult book aloud to each other.

Most importantly, remember that even though you don't have a lot of money, you are rich for having your family and each other! The best and least available gift is your precious time!
Trina P.

Could you earn $50 while junior naps? Here's 5 possible extra money sources to put your naptime plans in motion.

"No Screen" Activities

Set up a schedule for an evening or perhaps a four-hour period on a weekend of "no-screen" time. That means no TV, computer, phones or video games. Once the kids are not distracted, let them guide you in discovering what their interests are. Don't expect immediate results, and be prepared to offer some alternatives for the first few times. Depending on children's ages, some suggestions are board games, simple science experiments, team problem solving activities, simple outdoor games like four-square, hop scotch, etc.

Some Are Silly, But...

I'm so happy to see you looking for cheap date ideas, since I am the pro at dating on a budget. Here's what I have learned. Be honest. If your date KNOWS we are working with a budget here, there won't be any confusion after the 4th or 5th date is equally non-flashy. We're compensating for a lack of moolah, not covering up. (Ran into this problem, from the opposite perspective. This poor guy is STILL paying off credit card debt he ammassed so I wouldn't know his finanial status. Yikes.) Ok, that said, let's have some fun! All the very best dates are special because they are memorable. Here are the ideas:

Toss a frisbee
Go to the beach and camp
Go for a drive
Hang out at a coffee shop poetry reading
Attend local college events.
Attend underattended community events
Rediscover Scrabble and chess
Paint a room
Go to a Youth Hostel
Candlelight bubblebaths
Grill out
Make margaritas from scratch

I could name them all day. But remember, you have to have the right company to do this stuff. Someone stuffy and pampered won't be able to get psyched about rooting on some Little Leaguers. But I swear, you can have a blast doing this stuff. ESPECIALLY CHECK OUT THE YOUTH HOSTELS. If you want to get away from it all, a youth hostel is cool and cheap. Now, see, I've gone and given away my best secrets!!

Also check out J.P. Godek's 1001 Ways to be Romantic. It has a lot of cheap ideas there too, granted many are SILLY!

Private Picnic

Let's see, this may sound crazy but - I love to go to playgrounds and parks at night. A nice or inexpensive wine and a picnic. Believe it or not, it brings back childhood memories - leaving lots of room for good conversation - and is very stress relieving!

Outdoor Fun

Depends on the ages of your kids, but for the most part, these apply to all ages. We love to collect pine cones from nature walks, add peanut butter, and you have great bird feeders. We also go sleding. We live up north, and if you don`t have money for sled, garbage bags and boxes work well.

Zoos and Museums

We bought family memberships to our local zoo and science museum for $42 and $60 respectively. We live in Rochester New York. The zoo membership gets us free admission not only to our local zoo but also to the zoos in Buffalo and Syracuse (both about an hour away) and discount admission to zoos and aquariums around the country. We can visit as often as we want. Likewise with the museum membership, which also includes free admission to a nature center. These memberships are well worth the initial upfront investment. Next year we may belong to something else, if we feel like a change, but this year we will be spending a lot of time at the zoos and museum!
K&G A.

Related: Cheap Family Activities for Families With Grade School Kids

Let's See, Which One First?

Here are some suggestions for Dionne, the woman looking for frugal date and family activity ideas: Going out in a rowboat on a lake for an afternoon; having a picnic in a nearby park; taking in a free or low cost play or concert given by a community theatre group; going ice skating or bicycling or walking in your home town; going window shopping in a town with a lot of interesting or 'different' types of shops; eating at an 'ethnic' restaurant- they tend to be less expensive than restaurants with strictly 'American' cuisine. I hope these suggestions help.
Maureen McC. in Trenton, N.J.

Sources for Discount Tickets

Someone asked about cheap dates. Well, I belong to a credit union in northern California. Credit Union members can purchase discount tickets available for local hot spots. My favorite are the 1/2 price movie tickets to some of the major theaters (UA, Cinema 9, etc.). I can see evening movies at matinee prices. One catch is that they can't be used for first-run movies--you usually have to wait until 2 weeks after a flick's been released). The discount ticket actually resembles a special pass. So, my coupon-shunning girlfriend doesn't get embarassed when I whip them out.
Deb T

A Little Culture and A Little Fun with Cheap Dates

You don't say where you live but a little creativity can adapt them to your location. I live in Minneapolis but if you don't live in or near a city, perhaps a day trip adventure?

  • Check out the art museums in your area. Many have at least one day a month/week when you can get in free. Pack a picnic and meet your sweetie there for lunch on the grounds. Many museums have programs tailored to reach children and families for free or at low cost. If you have the money, a year's membership is a great investment for both you and the museum.
  • What other museums or special interest sites are in your area? As examples, we have a Science Museum, a Children's Museum, the Landscape Arboratum and several zoos. Call and see if they have free days or days when rates are cheaper. What about organizing other families to get a group rate? (Great birthday party idea!) Personally, I love the city zoo, which is free and is a great source of drawing subjects. I go there regularly to sketch an old tiger who obligingly sleeps through his modeling session.
  • Minneapolis has a wonderful collection of free music, movies and Shakespeare in the Park programs through the summer. These are great cheap dates! Sometimes they'll even spray you with bug spray to keep you comfy!
  • When I was single, I used to "volunteer" usher at a wonderful theater. They had a program where I spent a couple hours ushering once a week and was compensated with 2 free tickets for each new show! ($30-80 value) I stayed after my usual ushering shift to see the show and then gave my free tickets away as gifts. I know many theaters and music halls do this. Check with your favorite theater or music hall.
  • If you are in a location where there are colleges or universities, they are an unlimited source of free or inexpensive entertainment. Movies are often discounted that show on campus, though they may not be main stream or the most current. Art and music majors both are required to give shows or recitals as graduating requirements. These are often free & open to the public.
  • If you are in more rural areas, what about meeting for walks, either as couples or as a family? Some of my most treasured times with my family have been walking dirt roads around home, talking and looking for agates or rambling through the woods. Walking is free, great exercise, most people don't need special equipment and you can do it almost anywhere and with anyone. Biking and skiing are also great if you have equipment or can borrow it.
  • My favorite date last year was for Valentine's Day. My sweetie made a wonderful candlelit dinner with a rose, then took me to the planetarium for a special sweetheart show, dedicated to the lovers in the sky. The show was really sweet and cost $3 for each of us. No matter what he spent, I was just touched by all his effort and attention. I felt like a queen. I think that's what counts, his attention.
  • We make sliding, skating, swimming and drawing dates with my nieces and nephews. (ages 2-9) They love it and their parents often take advantage of that time to sneak off for time alone. I don't have kids of my own but both my husband and I love kids and are willing to help my siblings with theirs. Do you have friends or family you can ask for similar gifts of time?
  • Every Sunday evening, my husband and I take time to verbally appreciate each other for all the things the other has done for us through the week. We started this early in our marriage when we were both feeling angry and unappreciated. We started with a 2 minute time limit. At that point it was hard to find 2 minutes worth of things to be thankful for. We've stuck with this weekly, however and now we can ramble for an hour easily. I recommend this highly, best free thing I've ever done!!
  • We also have a 90 minute "money date" every two weeks. Its a designated time for us to learn about money and money management together. We just finished reading Ruth Haden's "Women & Money, How to Turn Your Money Life Around". It was a great book to work with, despite its female focus. We read it aloud to each other, neutralized the gender references as needed and worked the exercises.


Reviewed January 2018

Take the Next Step

  • Don't miss these 15 romantic time-outs for parents.
  • Learn smart ways to raise your family on one-income in this two-income world. The Dollar Stretcher's Guide for One-Income Families will give you ideas for reducing expenses and making money from home.
  • Once you trim your family's budget, don't waste that extra money! Consider opening a savings account to start an emergency fund or save for some other financial goal.
  • It's tough raising kids today! You need every time and money saving idea you can find. That's why you'll want to get our free weekly Dollar Stretcher for Parents newsletter. You'll find great ideas designed just for parents that will help your family 'live better...for less'! Subscribers get a copy of our ebook Little Luxuries: 130 Ways to Live Better...For Less for FREE.

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