Thursday, January 29, 2009

10 Ways to Have Big Fun on a Small Budget

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

We're hearing about it a lot these days. The economy is spiraling down while costs are rising up. People are tightening their belts, staying close to home, and clamping down on extra spending. But does that mean that we have to hang up our fun clothes and wait for time to pass? No way!

Yes, we all know about the old inexpensive pastimes. Read a book. Ride your bike. Go to the park. But it's clear that families are looking for more variety these days. They don't mind passing on costly vacations if they can still have a good time close to home. A parent contacted me through my parenting blog the other day and said, "Dr. Robyn, we're all 'parked out!' What else can we do that doesn't cost a lot of money but is still loads of fun?"

Here are 10 ways to have big fun on a small budget:

1. Have an inside picnic: Make fried chicken and all the fix'ns, if you'd like! Spread out the blanket, play games, and let your imagination go wild. Sometimes simply doing something ordinary, like having a meal together, in a different way, can make the time spent extra fun and enjoyable for everyone.

2. Throw a costume party: Why do all costumes have to go back in the closet after Halloween? Invite your favorite families from around the neighborhood and ask them to dress up. Make it thematic! Be your favorite character from a book! Come as your favorite sports star! Have an "out of this world party" where everyone dresses up as a creature that only exists in their imagination! To keep costs down, make it a potluck and ask every family to bring a yummy dish and their favorite game.

3. Arrange a Family Slumber Party: You might be surprised by how excited your children get when you propose a family sleepover party! Drag in the sleeping bags, soft blankets, and air mattresses and huddle up by the fire. Make popcorn, play games and watch movies. You might even entertain staying up a little later than usual? Yes, you might feel a little stiff in the neck the next morning but when you look back on the day you’ll surely only remember the good times!

4. Build a fort: Another way to get close and have fun is to build a fort in the living room or basement. Such an operation encourages closeness and cooperation. Push together some of your couches and chairs and drape blankets to create a cozy space. Pretend it’s a cave and “explore.” Make up stories and play word games. My brothers and I used to love building and “living in” our basement fort and I still have the fondest memories of that time. I remember that one time, Mom and Dad even let us drag in a little TV inside the fort and watch LoveBoat and Fantasy Island—during which I quickly fell asleep.

5. Connect with a PenPal: The world is so small now with so much technology that it’s easier and easier to connect with others across the world. And remember—there are only 7 degrees of separation between you and many others! Ask your children the type of person they’d like to meet. Then, ask your friends, teachers and neighbors if they have connections with people in that area or in the specified age group. Encourage your children to write letters, ask questions, and send photos. My sister-in-law still has her German pen pal from 5th grade. What an amazing experience for little to no cost at all!

6. Plan a scavenger hunt: Invite the neighbors over to find the treasure in one of your backyards or at a neighborhood family-friendly store! Separate children into teams (each with an adult supervisor) and have each team wear a certain color for easy identification. Write clues that lead the teams around the neighborhood looking for the "treasure." Each neighbor can contribute something to the "pot" (or you can all go into it together) such as baked goods, a cool t-shirt, beaded necklaces or art supplies, a gift card, or whatever other low cost fun item that comes to mind.

7. Volunteer: What a wonderful way to contribute to your community and have fun at the same time! Donate time to the local animal shelter. Teach the children to sing or dance for the women and men at the nursing home in town. Allow the children to help out with after classes that cater to children with special needs. Volunteering gets children out of the house, doing something helpful, and having a great time.

8. Create your own power outage: When the power is out, the family tends to come together. Shut off the lights, the computer and the TV. Spread out a blanket on the floor or huddle up in bed, tell stories, play flashlight or word games, and have a special "power outage picnic."

9. Decorate old clothes: Get out the old jeans and t-shirts and decorate! Use acrylic paints, fabric remnants, stamps, dye, patches and rhinestones. These kinds of projects can breed new interest in forgotten clothes and can offer a different art medium besides paper.

10. Get outside and enjoy! It might be starting to cool down but that doesn't mean we have to stay inside. Go sledding! Have a snowball fight! Create snow sculptures and snow angels. And who can forget the hot cocoa that is a must after rolling around in the cold?

These ideas may not cost a lot of money but they are certainly big on fun. Some might say that these low cost ideas can be even more enjoyable than the expensive trips, costly games, and nights eating out. The important thing is that you are all together and creating memories. Don't forget the camera! Participation in these budget-friendly activities are certain to bring on smiles that should be saved forever in your family scrapbook!

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a child development specialist, success coach, and parenting expert who has won several awards for her tips-based articles. She speaks at conferences and businesses worldwide discussing topics such as creating positive limits for children, raising kids with character, and bringing out your child's inner leader. She also works with individuals and families on making their lives meaningful, successful, and powerful. For more information, please visit , for coaching go to or to take part in her Powerful Parenting Blog, visit Dr. Robyn lives in Weymouth with her family.

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