Gone are the days that all children could be easily entertained with books, climbing trees and wooden toys. What happened? We might have to look partly to ourselves for an answer. Have we too become dependent on electronic entertainment to make time to stop and smell the roses? Either way, creating a full and stimulating family life for your children needn’t cost the earth or depend solely on playing card games…
Looking after kids on a tight budget
Depending on how old your children are, there are plenty of entertaining things to do with them that cost nothing at all - or very little. Do you remember the excitement of first flying a kite, for example? Nothing beats the thrill and it’s an experience money can’t buy.
If you think you might have a writer in the making, nurture this while they’re still young and unselfconscious - encourage them to enter competitions and help them set up a free blog with WordPress to showcase their work on. The Young Writers website runs several poetry and short story competitions throughout the year and is a good place to start for tips and inspiration.
Teaching your children to bake something simple is an afternoon well-spent, as is a master class in knitting or cross-stitch. Head to your nearest craft shop (or look online) for craft materials and set aside some room at home for creative exploits. Wool can be purchased very cheaply online – look on eBay or local online marketplaces like Gumtree for job lots.
Pinterest is a huge online scrapbook of sorts and a superb, free source of inspiration for everything from home styling to cookery and arts and crafts. Set up an account and start compiling ideas for crafty things to make and do, or weird and wonderful science experiments to try. Our favourite is the melted crayon art – look it up!
And if your kids are a bit older, a morning of basic car maintenance might be a valuable lesson, or if you’re feeling brave perhaps you could buy a pot of paint and let them loose decorating their bedroom just the way they want it. Your local library is another place to steer your brood towards for entertainment; not only do many libraries put on cheap or free events for children during the holidays, but they’ll have access to more books than you can ever provide at home, plus cheap DVD and CD rentals.
For all the activities and planned entertainment you don’t want them missing out on, there will often be a hearty discount to be had if you plan ahead and search around a bit.
Where can you find cheap things to do with your family?
Check out VisitBritain.com for a list of free attractions by city. From museum and gallery entries to free walking tours and festivals, there’s a huge amount going on all the time that’ll cost you nothing.
Orange network customers (mobile or broadband) you can get 2-for-1 cinema tickets on Wednesdays as well as 2-for-1 pizzas (and dough balls) at Pizza Express. Book ahead for a half term treat or consider switching providers if your contract is up.
If you travel by train with your kids (or plan to), get a £30 Friends and Family Railcard for a year and get up to 1/3 off adult rail fares and 60% off children’s tickets. Up to four adults and four kids can travel on one card and they needn’t all be related, so grab a group and plan some adventures!
National Rail also offers 2-for-1 entry to lots of days out, theatres, gardens, parks, restaurants and tourist attractions around the UK. Just show your rail ticket when you turn up and check the extensive list on www.daysoutguide.co.uk before you travel.
You can use your Tesco Clubcard points to buy tickets for all sorts of family days out at a very discounted price. As a guide, £12.50 in Clubcard points will buy you one entry ticket for Alton Towers, which can cost up to £45 on the day.
As ever, a bit of forward-planning, some good diary management and savvy search skills online will throw out all kinds of ways to save money when entertaining your children. Get on Twitter for access to exclusive offers from your favourite retailers and money-saving tips from professional bean-counters.
5 top tips by Julie Cheung from Finance Girl
1. Utilise free resources
Even when you all fancy a trip out for the day, it doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. You’d be amazed how many places such as museums and festivals offer free entry for children while family showings in theatres and cinemas will at least almost always offer a discounted price for youngsters. In that same vein, a trip to the local park for a game of football and a good old fashioned run around will cost you nothing.
2. Get creative
If you encourage children to tap into their creative sides, who knows what hidden talents you may uncover. Kids love to paint and draw as it’s easy, messy fun – but it’s also cheap for the parents.
Getting them involved in cooking and baking is another great way of keeping them occupied while teaching them new, valuable skills and even for slightly older children, who may not be as willing to get out their colouring book or help mum in the kitchen, you can help them set up a free blog on sites like WordPress or Blogger to showcase their writing skills or they could use additional free outlets like Instagram and Flickr to post their pictures and hone their photography skills.
3. Keep it local
There’s nothing worse than having the kids relentlessly nag you about wanting to go away on holiday when you know the budget simply won’t stretch to it. You could however compromise by having what is often called a ‘staycation’, where you visit local attractions.
This way you still get out and about to do fun things as a family but you immediately cut out the cost of travel and accommodation. Chances are there are great things in your local area you are yet to discover anyway, so why not use this as the chance to finally use what’s already right on your doorstep?
4. Use what you already have
They might be droning on about new toys they want but have they really used the ones they have? Don’t splash out on new things when perhaps all the kids need is a gentle reminder to appreciate and use what they already own. A night in with a DVD you all love is also a cheaper and easier alternative to a trip out to see a movie.
5. Engaging their imagination
Do you remember when you were a child? You battled dragons, vanquished monsters and rescued the damsel in distress. You travelled to far off lands, befriended wondrous creatures and most importantly, you did it all using only your imagination.
It’s wonderful, it’s creative, it’s engaging and it’s free. It was once the norm to make our own fun but a shift in priorities has changed the way children think they should play but why bother with mind numbing gadgets when we have everything we need to create our very own adventures in our minds?
Read more from Julie at Finance Girl
A massive thank you to Julie for her amazing tips for keeping all the family entertained on a budget. Got a tip you’d like to share? Comment below – we’d love to hear from you.
I’ll be back soon with more thrifty money saving and money making tips. Good luck saving!