budget-friendly activities for kids :: thrifty thursday


Did you love having an extra 24 hours yesterday? :D

I’d never thought of it as being “extra” until I read this post by Patti {I met her at the MomHeart conference two weeks ago!}.

We only get one more day every four years, and by the time the next one rolls around my little ones will be 12, 10, 8, and 6! Not so little then, huh? Wow! :(

After we did our schoolwork, I was excited to see what fun things we could do with the free hours we were given. We didn’t want to spend much money with all the eating out we’ve been doing lately with the trips, so our challenge was to find a few budget-friendly activities the kids would love.

1. “eating out” at the specialty grocery store

We decided we’d visit our local version of Central Market/Trader Joe’s for a little shopping and eating! The kids actually cheered when we told them. Heehee. It was one of those little moments of happiness for me. They don’t normally cheer about going to the store. ;)

Instead of spending money to eat out at a restaurant, we walked around the store and picked out our lunch and a few other special food items in the grocery section.

We paid a little more for meat, fresh bakery bread, and tortilla chips {and chocolate milk!} than we would have at Wal-Mart, but it was worth it when we got to enjoy eating our meal out on their beautiful breezy patio!


Adding it all up, we bought an all-you-can-eat meal for five big eaters for less than $10, and still brought home at least 1/3 of it!


And I had sushi made just for me and a salad too! So, so good! I’ve become a sushi addict! ahhh…my mouth is watering as we speak…


2. enjoying the great outdoors {including business landscaping *wink*}

After enjoying our lunch outside, we headed to work with Rob for a little while…


Luckily his office has a stocked pond with fountains! :D The kids played outside the entire time we were there.

3. going for after-dinner desserts and games at Chuck E. Cheese

Oh, and did I tell you that Ava {2.5} is potty-trained! Hallelujah! {the angels are singing!}

It’s been a full week now- my first week without changing a diaper in almost 8.5 years.

It’s surreal. I still can’t believe it!

So we have a little “poopy party” for every child that goes three times without accidents. {That could go so wrong, couldn’t it? :) I’m afraid to search Pinterest for ideas for that one!}

We just go to Chuck E. Cheese’s for our party. ;) We had our party last night as part of our Leap Day fun.


I’m definitely not against spending more money for sweet little {awesome} occasions like that! :)

We like to go to Chuck E.’s for our birthday and poopy parties{!} after dinner and order a couple of dessert pizzas and drinks. Going after dinner on a weeknight not only saves us money, it pretty much means we have the place all to ourselves.

We love it, and the staff is always friendly and kind to us. {I actually kind of think they’re happy when we don’t buy a huge pizza and salad- that means less work for them too at that time of night.. :P}


The apple pizza and cinnamon sticks were $3 each:


{they were pretty good, but I’ve never met a streusel dessert I didn’t like, so take that recommendation with a grain of salt…}

The girls loved the roller coaster the most! My dad came along and helped the girls ride. Love him!


We all had a sweet “extra” day. We had fun, enjoyed our time together, and we didn’t even have to spend lots of money to enjoy going to special places!

I just love days like that, don’t you?

What do you like to do that’s fun for the kids but not too expensive? Leave me a comment with your idea! I’d love to compile a list for everyone to share!


  1. Great ideas! and apparently we totally wasted our extra day by just treating it like any other Wednesday;)
    We love to head out for bike rides or to go roller blading when we need to get out of the house and want some free fun!

  2. We had a day just like that today! We go to the library. There's a small play area with tons of stuff my toddler can play in and explore. She burned off some energy and checked out a couple books and videos, then we went to the frozen yogurt place and used some gift cards to get a treat. Even without the gift cards it would have been around $7 for the 3 of us.

  3. Oh, love those! We will have to try the stay up late one soon too! How awesome!

  4. Using what's around you is such a great idea!!

  5. We usually have an internet coupon but we couldn't find this week. :
    ( It's really high though! We paid for $20 tokens, and since we've been late at night we've had several different instances of people giving us their coins and tickets b/c they were leaving! Like last night- a couple gave us several dollars worth of coins and 672 tickets! It was a huge blessing since we had only 160 to show for our $20. We play a lot of games that don't have tickets too. :D

  6. Oh I'm thinking we will know each other right then and there and give each other a huge hug that day in Heaven! Let's remember to do that, okay? :DD

    I'm entirely blown away by your list! You give me so much to aspire to!! I love, love, love your ideas!! You sound like the best mama!! Thank you so much for sharing your ideas with us!! We love Sams {our version of Costco) too! I am totally using the project dinner idea. I think now that the kids are getting older they really understand motivation and get doing projects!

    I hope your Oregon spring blooms soon! :D

  7. small town, nothing to do so creativity is a must.....in staying around here....smores around fire pit with guitar and we will jump on trampoline in the dark, sometimes campout on the trampoline. We have moved all the furniture out of the living room and set up our huge tent and camped out for a few nights, we make our own pizzas and have popcorn/movie night, creative coloring night (no coloring books, blank paper everyone colors their own ideas), we spotlight/predator hunt a lot as a family...if driving elsewhere...well, we don't do that much!!! :) picnics, park, library, ice cream. movies normally matinee if all of us going.

  8. Okay, that's so cool! you guys sound like you have such a good time! we might just need a trampoline- I think mommy would even enjoy that!

  9. What a fun day! Wish I would have thought about yesterday being a 'bonus' day before now! Oh well. It reminds me that I saw an interview of George Lucas recently and he said that his perspective changed after he was in a car crash as a young man that he 'should not' have lived through. From then on, he thought, "I shouldn't be alive. So everything I do from here on out is BONUS". Of course, from there he created a little thing called Star Wars . . .
    Makes me wonder what we might accomplish for God's glory if we changed our perspective to think that every day we're here is a bonus from Him?

    Love the free fun ideas! (We are SO going to be neighbors in Heaven someday, I hope! :))
    Around here in the winter in cold, wet Oregon, it's definately more challenging. The free or cheap fun is almost limitless in summer/fall (berry picking, hiking, water fountains, boat racing in creek, ice sledding on 7-11 ice cube blocks at the local hill at the park . . .). But this time of year? We like to go to Costco, believe it or not, and eat our way through their samples. Also like to visit the humane society and love on their kitties. We have a local toy store that is so nice. They let the kids play with the toys they have out to try. That's loads of fun. Sometimes, we put grubbies and boots on and brave the cold to go on a walk with the intent to jump into puddles and get as muddy as possible. Then we come home, throw all muddy clothes into the laundry, throw on swimming suits and 'swim' in the bathtub. (By 'we', I mean our 4 kids). And the already wet clothes do a great job sopping up the wet bathroom floor before heading into the washer, too. ;)
    I keep intending to just bring a puzzle or art activity and set it up for me and the kids to play at a nursing home lobby someday. Maybe bring a little home-style joy to someone else.
    My husband works at a university and sometimes, we bring a treat to him at work and mosey our way to and from his office. So many interesting things to look at on campus.
    A great money saver and super fun? A year long museum pass that has recipricol priveledges (gets you into partner museums for free, too). Sometimes, for a special weekend treat, we drive the big drive to the big city and go to the big museum, then to IKEA for cheap food and to watch the planes take off and land from the nearby airport.
    We also homeschool, and this winter, I've been giving the kids an assignment and a due date about once each month when we'll have a special dinner and they can share their finished project. That's been a great motivator and a lot of fun.
    In March every year, we hike through the woods and look for leprechans! (It's amazing how many mossy leprachan homes you can see when you're looking ;).
    I love to make 'special days' out of any ol' day (pet's birthdays, Lego night, rollar skate in the house night, movie day, book-a-thon in P.J.'s day . . .) Can't wait for your collection of more ideas!

  10. Cute ideas! I celebrated Leap Day with a colonoscopy, yay (yuck). We NEVER eat at Chuck E. Cheese. We did once and realized it was prefrozen pizza crust--like baking a frozen pizza at home, but with a high price! So now we just go after dinner too. Maybe we'll have to try the desserts though. How do you deal with craziness of tickets and prizes? It seems like it cost 1,000 points/tickets just for a bite sized tootsie roll

  11. We live out in the boonies so we have to get pretty creative sometimes! However we are very fortunate and live literally right next door to an amazing trail that has some great animal habitats off the path. Also we have a small zoo 7 minutes down the road that we plan on getting memberships to. We also will drive around and look for animals and talk about what they are, etc. (The other day we saw a big herd of deer - over 20 - and then HUNDREDS of geese by a pond down the road. Absolutely breath taking!)

  12. With 5 little ones, we have to get creative with our fun, too. :-)

    We love family movie night-- buy a few "new" snacks and get a movie from Redbox or the library...and the kids are thrilled!

    We also take turns letting each child stay up about an hour later than the rest and doing something special ( a game, Wii time, etc.) with Dad or Mom or both.

    On of the most fun days ever was the day my husband let our kids slide down the backyard slide while he spayed it (and them) with a hose. It was a slippery, at-home water slide.


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