Family Day Trips Don’t Have to be Expensive

True story. They don’t. Apparently you can take the whole family to do something fun for a whole day without spending upwards of $50 on food and random unjustifiable purchases. Maybe you were already in on this little secret. We’ve had our fair share of day trips where we hike in a nature preserve, but that was our creative limit. Looking back, nearly all of our other family outings have involved spending money stupidly.

We had a great Labor Day weekend, and I wanted to write about it for the Financial Freedom series because [sniffle] I’m just so darn proud of us.

Have you ever endeavored to accomplish something new that requires a real lifestyle change? You know, like getting into shape, being more organized, swearing less…the kinds of goals that require small changes to occur over a period of time before they become habit?

It’s been a month since I proclaimed that I would no longer be a slave to my lazy spending habits. I’ve made a few small changes that I’m proud to say no longer make me feel deprived in any way. Could it be that they’ve become habit? A week ago, I would have been hesitant to celebrate our progress. But Labor Day weekend provided the boost I needed to forge ahead without looking back.

On Saturday, we loaded the kids into the car with the intention of visiting a playground in town, hitting our go-to walking trail, and grabbing groceries for the week. On our way to the park, we noticed traffic was heavy and lots of people were out. Then I remembered that Hoosier Momma Adventures had listed Canal Days at the Village of Winona as a local family-friendly event scheduled for the weekend. We spotted some colorful balloons bobbing on the horizon and decided to pull over and check it out.

I’m so glad we did! The festival offered some great kid-friendly activities, and a local photography studio provided a fun selfie booth with pirate props, in addition to free face painting! There was a boat race in the canal that required the boats to be made of nothing but cardboard and duct tape – adults paddling around in boats about to capsize – all for charity.


Here’s where it gets interesting…

There was, of course, a food truck peddling giant-tenderloins-that-hang-over-the-bun and a lemon shake-up stand. Did I mention the ice cream shop on the corner? I can’t tell you how many times Hubs and I walked longingly by the food truck pondering whether just sharing a tenderloin basket would really be all that bad. It was lunchtime, after all, and this was probably the last summer festival everrr. We could just maybe grab an ice cream to share. And the lemon shake-ups were only five bucks. They’re made with real lemons for God’s sake!

Somehow, some way, we steered clear of these would-be saboteurs. I had packed some snacks in my purse so we wouldn’t go to the grocery store hungry, knowing that we were, ya know, going to the grocery store.  (Stupidity side note: I can’t tell you how many times we have gone food shopping, right at lunchtime, and swung through a drive-thru just before because you’re never supposed to shop on an empty stomach – you’ll spend more if you do, don’t you know? Don’t judge us for this fallacy.)

I don’t expect you to understand this, but if you only knew how significant it was for my family to visit a festival without spending a dime on carny food, you’d be over here dabbing your cheeks too. I still can’t fully comprehend this achievement. The old us would have purchased, not only the giant tenderloin, but the shake-up and the ice cream. Lord knows what else. We did purchase one small bag of gummy Orange Crush flavored candy from Rocket Fizz. (And by “we,” I mean Hubs purchased them while I left him unattended for approximately three minutes.) All-in-all, it was a great day, spending $2.79 on candy versus the $25 it would have cost to buy carny food with ice cream for three-and-a-half people. Success!

When it was finally time to leave for the grocery store, we devoured the snacks I’d brought, got groceries, and headed home.  The breakdown:


Sunday was another amazing family and financial win. Some friends invited us to spend the day with their family at the Indiana Dunes, followed by a trip to the Albanese Candy Factory. I’m a little embarrassed to say that, despite our proximity to this beautiful beach and state park, we’ve never taken the kids. In fact, I’ve only been there once, and I was in college at the time [shame face]. I plan to visit our amazing state parks more often in the near future. Only $7 to get in? Yes please!

The boy had a spazz attack brought on by pure joy as we exited our vehicle in the beach parking lot; I realized that perhaps we’d been short-changing him. Maybe Barnes & Noble and walks to the school playground weren’t as spectacular as we’d convinced him. His little blonde head exploded when he saw the beach and dunes, and within five minutes, he and Hubs were off running down the beach and up the big sandy dunes. Bonus: the girl loved it too! In my experience, 1 year olds either love sand, hate sand, or eat it. Lucky for us, she was a natural beach comber (who did, ultimately, end up with plenty of sand in her mouth).

PicMonkey Image

In sum, it was a beautiful day that we’ll remember for a long time, and it was great to share it with good friends and their kids!

But guess what – there was a taco truck present. There were probably other things like ice cream and snow cones, but who cares because ohmygawdtacotruck. You guys…you guys, you guys, you guys, we did not purchase one thing at the beach, including tacos. I’m getting misty eyed just thinking about this accomplishment that just weeks ago seemed insurmountable. How did we manage this magnificent feat of financial strength?

I planned like a mofo. That’s how.

I had food ready for breakfast. I had food ready for the road trip. I had prepared lunch and packed it lovingly into a nice insulated backpack. I had snacks in my purse, snacks in my pockets. Okay, I overpacked. There were no excuses when I was done because I even packed capris salad – you know, those little mozzarella balls soaked in olive oil with basil and tomatoes. I packed pasta, eggs, and fruit, and snackies like puffs, goldfish, and granola bars. Juice pouches? Check. Water? Check. Forks and napkins? Check-check. Phew!

It took some planning and a lot of prep. We came home with a lot of dirty Tupperware (and sand in places where sand shouldn’t be) but, by golly, I had saved us another $25.

In two days we’d saved $50. Poof. Like that.

And that’s being conservative. I’m ashamed to admit that the old us could easily drop $100 on a day trip like this. The old us would have grabbed McDonald’s on the way, probably picked up a bottled drink at a gas station during the inevitable pee stop, bought lunch, located a store to buy sunscreen and found ten other things in that store that we “needed,” like a pair of flip-flops, a clearance picture frame, and a throw pillow for the couch. We most certainly would have searched for the nearest Starbucks or Panera for a coffee and treat on the way back home.

We didn’t do any of that craziness. High five, bruh.

The breakdown:


I’m not going to lie – planning can be a real drag. Some people dig this type of regimen, and I lurve a good itinerary, but planning this kind of thing when you work full time, come home to an overgrown lawn, dirty dishes and laundry, and a dog with muddy paws…let’s just say it wasn’t easy. Did I mention the two adorable children? They’re cute, but they also literally hang from every appendage after we get home from work because we’ve all about nearly died without being together all day. We often have to sacrifice something and it’s typically the lawn. It’s either that or the kids, and we deeply value our time with them. But I thought of all the prepping and packing like a fun challenge, and that really helped!

I wanted to prove to Hubs that we didn’t need tacos and prove to the whole family, myself included, that it is possible to have a great time without buying food. I wanted to prove to the world that I wasn’t buying its bologna anymore. Literally. Because I would totes buy bologna on impulse in the good ol’ days of stupid spending.

But that was the old me.

PicMonkey Image


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