Weekend Family Fun without Busting the Bank

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After a busy week of work and school schedules, the weekends are a time to reconnect as a family and find some fun.  The thought of being stuck at an indoor arcade that serves up nauseating, sub-par pizza and junk food makes my skin crawl.  Besides, with winter around the corner, I like to find as much outside fun as I can.  

This can become quite costly, depending on your families interests and ages of children.  I’ve become a master of finding local fun on the cheap, and my kids enjoy the “adventure” in finding these sometimes hidden gems.  Here are some favorite that my family hits every year:

Fall Festivals at various nature centers or park district. These events are usually sponsored by an educational non-for profit and are held outdoors at a Forest Preserve or park.  I love that this type of festival has an educational element, but is fun, creative and celebrates the fall holidays like Thanksgiving and Halloween.  I’ve painted pumpkins with my kids, made handmade beeswax candles and decorated pinecones, while sipping hot cider all FOR FREE. Best part is that my children were exhausted after being in the woods all day.

Take a drive. Now, I must admit that with three sons under the age of 8, the car can get hairy.  But one day, late in the fall of the year, my kids were bored, crabby and at each other’s throats.  What did I do? I made hot chocolate, packed each of them a goody bag of healthy snacks, loaded them into the car, put on some Halloween songs and drove around a nearby neighborhood, looking at the various light-up Halloween decorations. We do the same “holiday drive” at Christmas to admire all the lights and trees. Sure, you spend some money on gas, but you have a few laughs and gets you out of the house.

Look for local coupons to use. We love to watch movies and many times, we rent a DVD and have movie night at home. But you just can’t beat going to the local theater, getting popcorn, watching the previews and checking out a NEW movie. For a family of five, we know this can get costly.  I usually plan a week in advance what we would like to see, look for local coupons for a free popcorn, free refill and try to hit the first showing of a film to save on the ticket price.

Host a potluck. My family loves to entertain. But hosting, serving food, snacks and drinks can certainly add up. Within my circle of friends, a potluck is a favorite weekend get together. Asking each family to bring a dish, desert, snack or beverage is not only an inexpensive way to spend time with loved ones, but it’s an awesome way to try new recipes, new foods and has given my boys a great sense of community.

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