The recession was hard on many families. There were a lot of people that lost jobs altogether. Many more, like myself, have found themselves raising a family on part-time wages, sometimes with the help of others. Despite improved numbers, money may still be tight for many families. This changing economic environment does not leave a lot of room for luxury or needless expenditure.
Regardless of the financial situation, in my experience as a father of 16 years, a family still needs social interaction. The family that plays together communicates much better, and is far less prone to the issues that plague all-too-many families today (such as delinquent behavior and marital hostilities) as I have witnessed on many occasions in my role as an informal counselor to married friends.
In the case of my family, we have small children. You cannot keep small children cooped up at home, and the South Carolina summer heat makes simply playing outside nearly-impossible, especially since babies can dehydrate so quickly. As I am back in school working toward my degree in Psychology, and only working part-time, it became necessary for my wife and I to devise ways to relax and enjoy ourselves as a family… and to do so on our minute budget. All of our ideas have worked in our region, and results may vary based on where you live. But here are our ways of finding family leisure while cash-strapped, with little-to-no planning required.
- Fast food fun. And no, I am not talking about eating burgers and fries. Find a fast food restaurant with an indoor playground (or, if your climate allows, an outside playground will do). Grab a few cheap items off the menu, and then mom and dad can sit down while the children play! No planning, no mess, and it is safe for your children. Seeing the children interact with other children is worth it alone. (Estimated cost- $3-$20)
- Picnic in the park. This is fairly self-explanatory. Pack a picnic lunch, and take the kids to a park. Make sure it is shaded if your climate is like the sweltering swamp of South Carolina. Let the children play on a playground. Spend some time soaking up some sun and fresh air! (Estimated cost- A picnic lunch)
- Explore your environment. Here in South Carolina, there are small national and state-protected parks all around the state. These places may have historical significance, such as the Camden Battlefield, or natural significance, such as Peachtree Rock in Lexington County. Wherever you look, there are places that a family can visit without entry fees, that only require a minor amount of hiking to get to. Take a picnic lunch and make a day of enjoying history or nature. (Estimated cost- A picnic lunch and comfortable shoes)
- Weekday fun. Many families wait for weekends to engage in activities. But if it is possible for you to go on the weekdays, even in the evenings, then do so. There are many lower-price options at non-peak hours. Movie theaters often have matinee showing or lower prices during Monday-Thursday nights. There is a place in Lexington that has slides and bouncy areas for the kids to play on. Their prices are a dollar or two lower per child Monday through Friday. A little research on the internet will find the local options for you. (Estimated cost- $5-$40, depending on family size)
- A day at the zoo. At our local zoo, an option allowed us to purchase a year-long membership. What this family membership bought us was free admission for 12 months, and access to certain members-only events. Also, the membership gave us discounts of between 10 percent and 50 percent at a plethora of zoos and other animal attractions throughout the country. Two visits to the zoo with our family of six, and our membership had paid for itself. Find out if your local zoo has similar options, and take advantage! The expense up-front could lead to an entire year of fun! Take a picnic lunch (if your zoo allows it) for even more savings! (Estimated cost- $50+ and a picnic lunch for a year of access)
Family-friendly activities are out there for everyone, no matter your budget. Take your mind off of your financial stress and spend some much-needed bonding time with your family. I am quite sure you will not regret it!