A single child can cost parents upward of about $17,000 per year, which can really put a strain on a family's finances and limit their ability to spend on fun activities, treats, and the experiences parents dream of giving their kids one day. To help relieve the burden, 21 parents are sharing frugal tips for treating your kids when you're out in this expensive world. Here's some of what they said:
1."My dad would give us $5 and set us loose in the dollar store; it was wonderful! The last Christmas before he passed, he gave both my sister and me an envelope with a $5 bill in it so each of us could go on a shopping spree on him."
2."Don’t count out a simple evening with a walk through your local park and bringing some sandwiches, snacks, and a towel or blanket for a small picnic."
"You can also bring a Frisbee or card games to play. If you are in a colder climate, my parents used to sometimes just have us go to a $5-and-below store and pick out a new board game or something, and we would stay home and play the new game and watch a movie."
3."Highly recommend fast-food apps. The deals! They have buy one, get one free and Free Fries Friday."
4."I take my wife for ice cream once a month. Less than $5 for us both, and we walk around the park and talk while we enjoy the ice cream!"
"During the winter, we get back in the car, though. Then we usually sing along with the radio together and giggle at what awful singers we are. It's cheap and fun and it helps us stay connected."
5."My dad used to take me thrift shopping every Monday because I loved fashion. I'd only get one or two things each time, but it was such a great experience, and to this day, I'm still so grateful that he saw something I was interested in and invested in it, even though he didn't have a lot of money at all."
"It feels great to feel treated but also to have some sort of value come out of that $10."
6."Getting a Fujifilm Instax camera and taking a photo every time you make a memory ends up being really cost-effective in the end (can be as low as 50 cents a shot). The cameras are easy to find used and relatively foolproof to use."
7."Museum day. Most museums will have a free day once a month for locals."
"When I was growing up, my library had museum passes you could check out to get free admission to a number of museums and the aquarium. Not all libraries do this, but worth seeing if yours does!"
8."Go to an interesting nearby market or grocery store and pick out some things to try. I'm lucky because I have numerous Asian, Mexican, Polish, Turkish, and other markets all in fairly close proximity to me, and my daughters love picking out new things to try."
9."We got really into doing tastings. So for a while, we’d buy one piece of chocolate from any chocolate store and kept a log of our favorites. Pretty cheap and very fun."
10."Read together weekly on the couch while sipping a homemade smoothie or hot chocolate!"
11."When I was a kid, I LOVED feeding ducks, turtles, and fish at local ponds and lakes."
12."Have your child pick out a recipe online, shop for ingredients together, and make it together."
"Kids need lots of breaks, so this could be a whole weekend's worth of an activity."
13."If you like pups, shelters often need people to read to the adoptable dogs. Usually ages 5 and up."
14."We would dress up in the wackiest outfits we could make up (mismatched shoes, multiple layers, exaggerated makeup, etc.), give ourselves code names, and just play tag or go fishing or whatever."
15."When my kids were little (and we were very poor), we went on trips to the pet store to look at the animals. It was like a mini trip to the zoo. We would always buy a treat for the dog while we were there. An hour of entertainment for a few bucks."
16."Get your kids involved in creating a game for when you go out. Like who can spot the most out-of-state license plates, or count the motorcycles (which is a helpful skill when they learn to drive)."
17."We would go to the woods and build a fort with only rope, a tarp, and whatever we could find."
18."This is kind of specific, but whenever my mom knows that my nieces and nephew will be at a nighttime event where there will be vendors selling glow sticks and light-up toys, she spends a few dollars buying glow sticks at the Dollar Tree."
"That way, the kids still get to wear a glowing necklace, but the cost is a fraction of what it would otherwise be."
19."Cheap matinees on a weekday at the local theater."
20."On early-dismissal Wednesdays, my kid likes that we stop by the 7-Eleven for a dollar Slurpee!"
21."It might not be for everyone, but I take my kids foraging, and then we make tasty stuff with what we find. I know of a handful of places with persimmon and mulberry trees that we make cakes, cookies, and candy with."
"If you’re interested, there’s also a website called Falling Fruit that is basically a Google Maps for foraging. Put in your location, and the map populates with foraging spots around you. The site is fed by other foragers, so be sure to add things when you find them too to keep the community going."
Now I'm curious: When you were a kid, what hacks did your parents have for making a day special without spending loads of money? Let us know in the comments.
Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.