Cheap Thrills – Frugal Fun for the School Holidays

I had an epiphany recently – you can make kids happy without spending a lot of money. This epiphany did happen to coincide with the payment of a large credit card bill, invoices from several tradesmen and the onset of the school holidays.

A few weeks ago we went out to dinner then to Disney on Ice. Total cost about $250. The following weekend we met my brother’s family at a McDonalds halfway between our houses – 30 minutes away. We spent a couple of hours there having dinner and letting the kids go hyperactive, dominating the recently renovated three level playground. Total cost about $40. I asked my kids which evening they enjoyed more. Although they loved Disney on Ice, they unequivocally said Maccas with their cousins. My suspicions were correct –  kids can have a great time without a big spend. I now have permission to give them a fun-filled school holiday on the cheap! Historically, paying for shows, cafes and play/trampoline type centres means I can relax while they’re amused and relatively confined. I’m essentially paying for a break from parenting them so I’m giving up that luxury for this money-saving scheme. The ‘cheap thrills’ strategy will involve having to spend more quality time with them, supervise more and be more active myself but I can suck that up for two weeks 😉

Behold some tightwad ideas for your school holidays:

1. Board games

My older kids are at an age where they can play games I enjoy too, like the Game of Life, Cluedo, Monopoly, family Trivial Pursuit etc. Miss 4 can be a problem as she loiters around whining and often asks to be ‘on my team’ which is painful but we push past it.

2. Home ‘Movies’

For my daughter’s 11th birthday recently I told her I’d take her to the movies but on the day there was nothing on we wanted to see. We decided to get some treats from Coles and hire a movie online for a movie night. We watched ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ for much less than the cost of movie tickets and a box of $47 popcorn.

3. The Library

Get on board with free library activities. Check out the website for your local library to see what’s happening and take advantage of activities, such as craft, that you don’t have to pay for or even assist with. Or simply go and browse, borrow and then have mandatory reading time at home. My kids protest for the first ten minutes but after that are completely lost in their personal book world, which means I can get lost in my Netflix world 😉

4. The Beach

Our local dog beach has a big sand dune hill with bushes at the top. We’ve gone there many times with different friends. The kids run around like crazy, running up and down the hill and building cubbies in the bushes. We bring snacks and I relax on the beach while the kids and dog tire themselves out. Often I will get bored before they do but they beg to stay longer. Find your own beach happy place and enjoy some free fun.

5. DIY Treats

As a kid, we went to the Big Pineapple on a family holiday. At the cafe, they had amazing sundaes in tall glasses with ice cream, nuts, fruit salad, chocolate topping and whipped cream. My parents thought it was too expensive to buy all seven of us a sundae. On the way home, we went to the local grocery store, bought the ingredients and Mum made us sundaes at our holiday house. I remember them being incredible. I’m sure they were rubbish compared to the ones at the Big Pineapple but I was a naive child and enjoyed in ignorant bliss. My mother claimed then and still now that her sundaes were superior. Take inspiration from her and really commit to the illusion to get the kids on board. As George Costanza says “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

The vision for your kids…
6. Park Crawls

There are some pretty cool parks out there these days. We love epic ones like Stuart Park and the Botanic Gardens but little local parks can be fun too. If you pack balls, scooters, frisbees and snacks, you can kill several hours at a park for $0. You may even get to lie on a picnic rug with your coffee and an audiobook if you’re lucky (I’m really into audiobooks at the moment – get the ‘Borrowbox’ app and borrow from the library.) You can listen and supervise, indulging them when they constantly call out ‘watch me Mum’ and then proceed to do something unremarkable like simply sliding down the slide. Everyone wins. BTW Check out the best parks in NSW here.

7. Playdates

Get some friends over. With the right combination, an extra kid or two can actually be easier.  Miss 4 has a friend who she plays with so nicely that it feels like they’re not even there. It’s reverse synergy: 1 + 1 = 0. This is the kind of maths I like! Of course, you may occasionally encounter them hanging skipping ropes in the shape of nooses in the backyard tree or rifling through your underwear drawer with their friends to find the perfect stretchy bra for catapulting oranges into the neighbour’s pool. But that’s the price you pay for an afternoon of free fun.

8. Silly Stuff

I saw Cadbury chocolate on sale the other day, so we played ‘the chocolate game’ for dessert. You remember the chocolate game, right? The block sits in the middle of the table with a knife and fork. You need a beanie, scarf and a die. Roll the die. If you get a 6, you put the clothes on and start cutting the chocolate. You can only eat 1 piece at a time and you keep eating until the next person gets a 6. The suspense, the chocolate and the mad rushing make it an epic experience for kids. Total bill – $2.50.

9. The McDonalds Cone

Ah, the frugal parent’s dream. Forget Cold Rock. The Maccas soft serve cone is where it’s at. If you play your cards right and keep your kids’ standards low, you may get away with this 60 cent treat until they’re 18.

Good luck and may your cash stay with you. 




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