Our favorite FREE kid-friendly activities (and the challenge you should take this week)

When we started budgeting and saving, I thought it would be hard. It’s not like it’s the first time we’ve ever tried to get serious about our finances. There was that time a few years ago when we tried the “envelope system.” Spoiler alert: we did it for a total of one month and never actually followed through again. For a while I was using our online banking tool to track spending. The endeavor was short-lived. Our feeble attempts in previous years weren’t successful because our hearts weren’t in it. We were different then, with different goals and values.

My values have changed significantly since having kids. Shocking, I know.

I view resources differently, allocate time more effectively in order to spend more of it with them, and now we spend our money differently too. One of the great things about making it this far in our financial freedom journey is that I’ve started to fundamentally shift how I perceive money, spending, and budgeting. I now find it challenging and rewarding to seek out new things to do that are free or cost very little. And let me tell you, a funny thing happens when there’s no money involved.

You start to find small joys around every little corner. You start to live more meaningfully.

Two months ago, you would have found us planning a weekend that involved dining out, travel to some other town or city, buying books or souvenirs for the kids, or shopping somewhere. Lately, my favorite things to do involve little planning, packing, or spending.

A lot of fun, free activities are right outside your front door. 

For those of you who don’t know, Hubs is a library director. Prior to that, he worked for about eight years at a public library in another city. We’re a library family. So I’m a little ashamed to admit this, buuut…I rarely go to the library.

Now, before you get your panties in a bundle, hear me out. A perk of having a librarian husband is that he just brings you the books you want to read. I can be like, “Hey, you know that book, oh, it’s by a lady…I can’t think of her name…you know, she has brown hair and she writes about, you know, that thing? Know what I’m talking about?”

And a few days later he’ll bring me the book.

Can I tell you a secret about public libraries though? Psssst…a little closer…

PUBLIC LIBRARIES HAVE MORE THAN JUST BOOKS.

I hope I don’t go to library jail for whistle blowing.

Your local library has the following items to check out or use for free (unless you don’t live in a township, in which case you have to pay a fee for membership):

  • Magazines
  • Graphic novels (or “comic books” if you’re a fine philistine like me)
  • Movies
  • Music
  • Wifi
  • Computers
  • Games (both computer and board)
  • Puzzles
  • Apps for downloading FREE e-books, music, movies, etc.
  • State Park passes that give you FREE entrance to any state park
  • Genealogical and historical resources specific to your area
  • A public space that is open to all and is clean, quiet, comfortable, and free of charge (Hubs says you might be surprised to hear that this is actually the top answer when surveys ask people what they want most from a public library.)
  • Book clubs that might actually force you to read that classic that you’ve been meaning to read all these years (and you’ll probably end up loving it)
  • Librarians who will soon know you by first name and be able to recommend books that they just know you’ll love

This does not include all of the great programming and services that libraries provide that you probably wouldn’t even think of (seminars, workshops, programming, faxing, you name it).

More importantly, they have incredible programming for kids, which is usually at NO COST to you. 

Games, crafts, activities, clubs, movies…I mean….I can’t even…just. Whoah.

Living with a librarian, I obviously knew all of this. Yet there I was every weekend, planning a trip to Barnes & Noble for funsies (because brownies and lattes) instead of looking at what was going on just down the street at our local library.

Last weekend we ventured out and walked down to the library.

They had three really nifty crafts for kids. Sadly, few people were there to take advantage of them, which is why I’m doing you all a solid letting you in on this really-not-so-secret secret about libraries.

The boy did all three crafts with the help of two friendly (and immeasurably patient) library assistants while the little lady and I played in the kid’s area with books, blocks, and lots of other fun stuff.

Trust me when I say that libraries today are not your mother’s library.

Your kids will not get bored there. Cross my heart. Doesn’t matter if they’re 1 year old or 17 years old, they will find something there to read, listen to, check out, do, write, color, or build. And you know what? It’s meaningful. Kids have the opportunity to explore and interact with new people of all ages. They use their minds to solve problems and their hands to make things, including memories!

When we left the library that day, we came home with a baggie of blue slime that the boy got to make himself, a “firefly” made out of a water bottle and glow stick, and even a pink bandana bag that he decided would be a great gift for little sis (God bless the library assistants for basically doing that craft for him – it required tying about 6,000 little knots around the edges of the fabric).

Fast forward to this weekend when it was the end of September, and I was pigheadedly determined to not go a penny over budget. In fact, I wanted to come in under (and we did!). So Friday night we loaded the kids into the car and descended upon my poor parents who naively thought they could have a peaceful evening of rest without grandkids barging in to hang from the curtains while simultaneously asking for hot cocoa and ice cream.

We’re really lucky. My folks live in the country, so there is ample opportunity for outdoor play and discovery. It was a gorgeous fall evening, and we wanted to take full advantage of it. We took the kids out for a walk in the woods and looped out into the freshly-picked bean field. Complain about the Midwest all you want, but there’s nothing like the sun setting over a field on a clear fall day.

Just because you don’t have a forest or field of your own doesn’t mean you can’t find one nearby. Google “nature preserves near me” and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. This is the perfect time of year to get outside and let your kids get dirty. The miserable effing mosquitos are finally gone, the evenings are cool…Fall is in the  air!

Most nature preserves are free – many just ask that you make donation of a couple of bucks at the trail head and sign the registry book, but donating isn’t mandatory.

I love family walks because, unlike at home in front of the television, or in the car after school, little kids tend to open up. The pool of thoughts in their little brains just floods out of their mouths when you spend time with them away from it all.

sunset 2sunset 1

The next day, we took advantage of a great family fun day sponsored by my employer where they supplied free food, face painting, balloon animals, and bounce houses. The old me would have probably passed. The new me is all like, “Free? Put me in, Coach!”

I’m glad we went. It was fun and we met friends there so the boy had a playdate. Also, I had a chili-cheese dog. When in Rome.

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My challenge for you this week is twofold…

  1. Visit your local library. That’s it. Just stop in to peruse and check out their calendar of events. If you want to take it a step further, pick one and attend! If you have kids, the library is an amazing resource even if you don’t have a library card. I’ve never known a library to turn a child away because they didn’t have a card. Don’t forget to ask if they have an app for downloading books and media directly to your tablet or phone – most of them do!
  2. Find the nearest nature preserve and go there in the next week. Maybe visit two! All you need is a good pair of shoes and maybe a bottle of water. Gandalf-style walking sticks optional.

Complete the challenge. Your soul and your wallet will thank you for both.

Then tell me all about it in the comments!

Stay cool, folks! (And by cool, I mean frugal, obvs.)

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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