Making Memories On A Budget

Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.

-Bob Dylan

making memories on a budget

When the kids are out of school for break, everyone is now racking their brains to figure out what fun activities they can make work into their budget. We want to do “fun” stuff with our children but sometimes it seems like making memories on a budget is ridiculously difficult.

The businesses that we’re currently in does not permit many consecutive days taken off, which forces us to think out of the box a little bit and take advantage of cool things around us for day trips.
Making memories on a budget is easy when you remember to keep the activities age appropriate, double check times/prices/directions/reviews and remain flexible. Some of the best parts of this memory making business happens when plans derail or someone does something so funky you are still chuckling just thinking about it. The beauty and fun is in the imperfections, adventurous spirit and candid pictures you take to commemorate it!
Our Making Memories on a Budget Ideas:
(Keep in mind that I live in Southern California so our winter weather is less severe than most)
*Go to a museum… or a few!
From the time my kids were small in a stroller to now, they enjoyed museums. I started taking them to children’s museums,Β  the Los Angeles Science Center (free admission except to traveling exhibitions) and the Natural History museums. They loved it! The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has a neat program that allows every child under the age of 18, into the museum for FREE + Free admission for an adult accompanying them! Check the websites of your local museums, most offer one day per month for free, plus discount days to additional attractions or programs. Even though you may get in the door for free, please remember that there is usually a fee for parking.
Tip: It will save your sanity to pay for flat rate parking rather than dashing back and forth feeding a meter.
Plan to go on the same day as a friend or a few friends so you can take advantage of a group rate. Note that some zoos, aquariums an museum memberships offer additional discounts to other attractions. Make sure to try to plan a membership purchase in a year that you intent to fully take advantage of ALL the perks. You paid for it, make the very most of it.
*Campfires accompany some great memories.
Like I said, we haven’t the time to properly take a camping trip currently BUT that wont stop us from taking a short drive to the desert to enjoy an evening. We go out to the desert earlier in the day to explore and find a nice spot. We hike around, identify plants, animals, pick up trash and build a large campfire. We cook a “pioneer dinner” or bust out sub sandwiches if we splurged a bit. We make s’mores and banana boats in the fire, for dessert. We tell stories, we laugh, we stare up at an endless sky filled with stars so bright. Someone starts identifying the constellations and telling the mythology. A coyote howls. We break out the glow sticks from the .99 cents store. The fire gradually dwindles down and it feels much later than the clock on the truck dash says. We load up and everyone is dirty but sleeping hard by the time we arrive home.
*Hiking is beautiful, healthy, inspiring… and FREE!
(Some places and trails there will be a fee. Know what to expect where you plan to go.)
By the powers of the internet, you can Google local trails and read what people have said about them. Taking a dangerous trail with small kids isn’t wise, to say the least. Look, read up and find a place near you that will allow the experience that you desire for the people you plan to have it with. We have many great trails around us. From old movie ranches like Corriganville, that offer a much lower impact stroll, to Sycamore Trail that takes you through the mountains to the beach. Always bring water and dress appropriately for optimal fun.
I started playing the quiet game with my kids when we would go to the forest. They sit and listen for bugs, birds or other animals. Then they would want to learn about them. They now have a deep respect for the outdoors and know more than I do about the critters, trees and insects.
*Make your picnic a destination.
I’ve planned a short scavenger hunt for the family ending in a picnic making sandcastles at the beach. Even if the water is too cold to go in, it was still fun to pick up shells and goof around. We try to make it fun and mysterious, even if we end up getting .99 cent Rite Aid ice cream and swinging at the local park. Being creative and engaging the family in the whimsy will be what they talk about later.
Tip: if weather does not permit any sort of outside picnic- trade a picnic with a pal. One day they host your family for a old fashioned picnic on the floor (you bring the food) and later that week, you host the party picnic and she can bring the chow. Kids are happy and parents get a little time with another adult as well.
magic mtn 21
*Hit the theme parks!
How can this be budget friendly?
We live so close to Magic Mountain that our family invests in passes. We love hitting the roller coasters as a family. With our season passes came coupon books that allow us to get people in free more often than not from January-October. I often get offers for free tickets because I’ve filled out their surveys. We have easily gotten thirty + people in to the park for free this year alone. Eat before you go, picnic outside the park or eat when you leave. Drink water from the fountains or fill up an empty bottle you brought. $5 gets you a commemorative popcorn bucket and then you can refill it for $1.08 to tide people over. Best theme park purchase to date. Ask your pals who has passes and if they plan to go. I’m never sad to hit up a day at the mountain with my friend and their crew so they can have a day to play for cheap. Bonus, they may have passes you can use to another attraction your family will enjoy. Works out very well.
-By the way- our theme park passes WAY more than pay for themselves because of our frequent use so be sure to do the math and be ready to use it before you purchase a pass. Our passes included the water park for free, which was a major perk.
*Family Time Machine
Make a list of 15-20 questions for each member of the family to answer. Video tape their answers and turn it into a tradition. Each year, film the new segments and then make some memorable snacks for the unveiling of “The Video”. Watch the video from last year and everyone will be cracking up. Then continue if you have more years to watch. It is a really fun way to capture everyone. Then morph the evening into a game night of Charades, Pictionary, Apples to Apples or our classic family game, Uno. People may complain but they all secretly LOVE it!
7-up cake 4
*Baked with Love
Cooking is obviously something I adore so I get excited about a good day in the kitchen. I noticed that our kids gravitate to the kitchen while I’m cooking so I got them involved. Soon they were making their own muffins, cookies, bars and breads. They learned that some of the best part of cooking, is sharing it. From cooking to packaging, the process is long but worth it. Then they gleefully pile into the truck so we can leave goodies on friends doorsteps, ring the doorbell and RUN! Who doesn’t like treats?!
*Community events
Every year our town hosts a variety of programs and fairs in our parks. Most are free or nominal charge. I have found that you can also get tickets to those type of events by volunteering to set up or take down of the event or visiting a business that is sponsoring the event, if there is a fee. The community center puts on everything from snow days to magic shows and even drive in movies ever so often at $3 per car. The police and fire company days are super neat with tons of free food, games, bounce houses and prizes. Plus you can climb on the equipment and learn about it. Community events are also a great place to pick up free stuff too. We’ve won some great raffles of gift baskets filled with goodies or gift certificated to local businesses. All of our smoke alarms have some from the emergency preparedness booths and every ruler in the house is from a pest control company.
*Pioneer Day
Turn off the lights, we’re going old school. Do some research as a family and plan a day where (beyond use of toilet and cold water in the shower/sink) you are camping in your own home. How to stay warm? What to do to pass the time? How to cook? Be creative. We’ve read stories together, learned a new crafty skill, learned a thing or two about being grateful for what we have, saw a different perspective and played games. The kids learned a lot… and I appreciated my gas oven that much more. Makes us appreciate the comforts we have and how much our ancestors did have to struggle. It gets silly and serious but it is a memory making experience.
*ABC Meals
No matter how much time you have, there is room for an ABC meal. Each sentence spoken has to start with the next letter of the alphabet, in order, no matter who is speaking. After you play it a few times it starts getting easier to quickly grab the next sentence to fit what you’d like to say but it is a fun thinking game that forces everyone to use their language skills. Some of the most brutally honest conversations come from ABC meals. Yup, we’re a bit nutty.
*Fort making
Can you remember making a fort and twisting your body up so you could still hardly see the television? Fort making is hours of fun. Must be willing to sacrifice several clean sheets and allow use of wooden laundry pins as well as most of the kitchen chairs for hours and hours of fun.
*Into the Box
Remember the joy of a fresh new box of crayons?
When your out, swing by a large appliance store (or other store you believe might have what you are looking for) and ask if they have any large boxes that you could have. Appliance stores ALWAYS have big boxes and our local supermarkets have had several great boxes over the years for us. Bring the box home, hand over the crayons and let your kiddo(s) creativity loose on a few boxes in the middle of your living room for a day of play. We’ve had cities built, pirate ships, elaborate spaceships, stuffed animal barns but always a work of art and tons of fun.
-Tip: I’ve found that before you start the activity, you need to firmly state how long the box(es) will be permitted to live in the house before they need to decorate the recycling plant. I usually allow three days for large projects to occupy the majority of the space before they need to relocate. Remember, it is a box… it will fold up should you have space to stash the art for another date. I’ve found that they are ready to move on after day three so by setting the boundaries allows them to be prepared and not feel dejected that you discarded their art. Another day, another box possibility. πŸ™‚
*Local Tales and Lure
Check out those local hotspots, places of mystery, myths, historical fact and have fun!
For example… here in Simi Valley, California, there has been plenty of noteworthy things that have gone down. Spahn Ranch, Chumash Indians, the place where they filmed Little House on the Prairie, Poltergeist and a ridiculous amount of old Westerns. The trail that tar fountain that sprang up off a local trail, Santa Susanna Pass/ Devil’s slide, Rocketdyne, Santa Susana Train Depot, Big Sky, scouting/ casting mountain lion prints after damp weather, Strathern Park, the ghost dogs, . The Ronald Regan Library, that scary Bottle Village that puts the creep in creepy. Even our local landfill is a great place to scout birds, take astounding pictures of the back hill we don’t get to see and I’m sure there is plenty of tales to tell about that land too. Dig in, learn a bit and you can easily make a great day and spin some stories that will have the kids thrilled to live in their city.
blanket 054
If you are lucky enough to live close to a library, get up and visit!
Many offer classes, groups and story time for all ages. Ours offers a variety of activities and fun positive reinforcements for children to young adults. They host events, lectures and even discount sales. You can get books on tape and CD. You can borrow VHS movies, DVD and Blue-ray. You can get entire sets of language videos and CD’s to take home for free and teach yourself using the exact set you saw on television for just three low payments of $99.99. Pick up a few adventures in the form of books, a few movies, a DIY manual to fix the sink, pick up a foreign language you want to try and do it totally for free (provided you return the things you checked out on time). We’re nerdy bookworms so a trip to the library with my four kids could easily and happily take hours. Take advantage of the events, hosted speakers and you won’t regret it. Our kids have won free meals/ice cream at local restaurants, gift cards, books, magazine subscriptions, games, stuffed animals, desk supplies and more… for reading and turning in their sheets at the library.
*Tip- set an alarm on your phone for the day the books are due back. We have a habit of a once a week visit and that avoids the back due problems.
Making memories on a budget doesn’t require special skills, get organization or tons of planning ahead.
Keep in mind that the day is already great because you get to spend it with some excellent people that you love, everything else that you do and experience together is just the frosting on the cake.

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  1. Wow, you are a FUN mom! And incredibly imaginative and resourceful. It ALMOST makes me wish my kids were young again and we could do some of this. I’m sharing this blog with my daughter for her littles. Thanks πŸ™‚

  2. Everything you write about sounds just so fun! Thanks for the great ideas πŸ™‚

  3. Before times go by in a blink of an eye and your kids grow up and go to college, any moment should be cherished. Of course, every age has its beauty, and time cannot be turned back to enjoy those moments again. This is a good opportunity to teach your children the importance of spending time with the family.

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