As much joy as parenthood brings, it also requires parents to shell out big bucks for childcare. In the United States, the average cost of Monday-through-Friday daycare adds up to a staggering $11,666 per year, or about $972 each month. Remember, that’s the average price tag — some parents will pay even more to have someone look after their child while they work.
Surprisingly, there’s another option, and it’s one that’s just as reputable as the local daycare center or a well-reviewed nanny. On top of that, it doesn’t cost nearly as much as traditional avenues — and your family might get a bit of a cultural experience out of it to boot.
What Is It?
Since World War II, Europeans have been enlisting the help of au pairs to help raise their children. The program started as women began coming into their own and seeking ways to make a living. At the same time, middle-class families struggled to find help because the number of available domestic workers decreased at the time. As such, the idea of an au pair came to be, and it helped both groups to get on their feet.
Nowadays, the idea of the au pair has made its way from Europe to the United States and beyond. Typically, families hire a childminder from another country who can provide great care while teaching the little ones another language or the culture of another country.
Saving Money with An Au Pair
What Does an Au Pair Do?
An au pair might, at first, seem comparable to a nanny, but they’ll come to your home through a government-regulated agency to ensure both you and the au pair are well taken care of throughout their stay.
For starters, an au pair is tasked with sharing his or her culture and language with the family with whom they stay. Let’s say you want your children to learn Spanish — hiring an au pair from Spain would be a great way to make sure. These assets are the most valuable that an au pair provides, and they separate them from a typical nanny. Of course, you can hire a nanny who speaks another language, but an au pair makes it part of their mission to enlighten little ones about other parts of the world while providing care.
To that end, the rest of an au pair’s to-dos look a lot like a traditional nanny’s. In most agreements, the au pair will work for 45 hours a week, during which they can helm the childcare services you need — everything from infant care to cooking to light cleaning can be included. Don’t expect your au pair to do full-on house cleaning, however, as their contract will ensure that they’re only handling child-related cleaning. This duty list can include laundry and toy pick-up, for example, but they won’t be deep-cleaning any of the spaces in your home.
Au pairs are great resources for families on the go too. Since they’ll live with you — more on that later — they can come with you on trips to help you take care of your brood. All of these services come with a longer commitment than what you can get from some nannies. Your au pair will likely sign a one-year contract, so you can rest easy knowing that your employee won’t just quit and leave you in the lurch.
How Do I Get an Au Pair?
As previously mentioned, the state department regulates au pair programs to ensure that both families and hired childcare providers are safe. You’ll have to make sure your home has the potential to accommodate an in-house childcare provider. Au pairs will move in with your family for the duration of their contract, so they should have their own bedroom with a window and closet as well as access to a bathroom.
You’ll also have to provide him or her with a weekly stipend of about $200, full board and at least 1.5 days off per week. Some au pairs will come to America to learn English while they provide childcare — if your contract requires it, you might have to drive your au pair to and from such lessons as well.
Meet with an Agency
A slew of agencies exist to connect families with the right au pair. Most of the time, you’ll post online and share a bit about you and your family. Then, you can peruse available childcare providers — and they can search for your profile too. Once you find one with whom you connect, you can suss out the details of your contract with the agency. Usually, they charge application fees, and you’ll have to pay a bit more once you find the right person for the job.
Even with the agency costs, application fees and weekly stipend, hiring an au pair can be a much more cost-effective option than nannies or daycare centers. Plus, you and your children will benefit from the cultural experience — and you might just make a lifelong connection with the young man or woman who comes to care for your children. It’s a wonder that au pairs are so often overlooked as a way to care for children — now that you know the secret, you might just be ready to find a foreign caretaker to look after your little ones.
Jennifer Landis is the Mindful Mama behind the blog of (almost) the same name – Mindfulness Mama. She hopes to help other mamas make more out of mom life by sharing her expertise in parenting, budgeting basics, and healthy living. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.
The dreaded rush to get the kids prepped for back-to-school time is upon us. New clothes, new backpacks, new pencils – new, new, new. It all costs money and you might end up in an argument or two before the end of it.
Serious question – is wine an acceptable addition to a back-to-school list (for me, I mean)?
Fortunately, with a little preparation and planning, you can get everything your kids need, some of the things they want, and still have cash left in your wallet. And maybe a little sanity left in your mind!
Budget-Friendly Back to School Tips
Start by planning
At this point you should have a list of things your kids need from their school. It may be tempting to just run to Target or wherever and pick it all up and be done. This is the worst thing you can do. A tiny bit of planning, forethought, and restraint can save you a tremendous amount of stress and money.
Scour your house first
Your kids have random school supplies all over your house; it’s their nature. You very rarely will need to buy crayons, pens, pencils, markers, or cases year-to-year unless your child is an avid artist. This alone could save you $10 or more.
Create a detailed list
Once you know what you need, make a list and stick to it. The smartest way to go about this is to schedule an in-store pick-up. This will help you avoid impulse buys, especially at places like Target where they layout is designed to make you impulse-buy. Go in with blinders on, buy only what you need and get out. Not today, Satan!
You can also shop online
Shopping online is a fantastic way to avoid impulse purchases. No silly little things to buy near the register if there are no registers!
Involve your kids
Kids love new stuff; honestly, we all do. It’s not reasonable that you can buy every new and designer thing they want, but if you talk to them about what they want the most you can come to a reasonable agreement that leaves you both happy.
Starting as soon as the weather gets nice, start hitting up garage sales to get gently used clothes at a bargain price. Kids grow up quickly and nobody wants totes of old clothes lying around. You can typically even find designer kids’ clothes at insanely low prices just because nobody wants them once they’ve been outgrown.
Cutting coupons and running across town because markers are .25c cheaper at Walmart than Target is not worth it, especially with gas being expensive. Instead, plan on comparison shopping for your bigger ticket items; laptops, shoes, backpacks, uniforms, etc.
So now that you have your plan of attack established, you can save money in a ton of different ways. There are sites that give you money back, some that save you money, and a few others in-between.
Buy discounted gift cards
We all get gift cards we don’t want sometimes. Did you know there are places online where you can sell those cards at a discount for cash you can use anywhere? It’s true, and these places naturally allow you to buy discounted cards as well. Check out Raise.com to learn more!
All of these sites function the same way, allowing you to pick up gift cards below their market value, which basically means free cash for you just for shopping at a specific place.
Buy online through Ebates (Rakuten)
We use Rakuten (what used to be Ebates) for virtually everything we buy online and we’ve covered that a few times in other articles. The premise is that they offer you discount codes and cash back when you buy from major online retailers through the Rakuten link. You can save quite a bit of money this way and then you get some cash back, too. Sign up through our link and you’ll get $10 in your Rakuten account after your first $25 transaction through a Rakuten link! We bought our most recent laptop through a Rakuten Dell link and earned about $80 back, in addition to the discount code provided. It’s a huge deal, so take advantage of it!
Along the same lines as thredUP, Schoola is a site that offers clothing at a discounted rate. The greatest part of Schoola however is the fact that 40% of their sales go to a local school of your choice. There’s no downside here, and our link will also net you $10 off your first purchase!
Don’t shy away from dollar stores
Especially when your kids are younger, they’re not going to care if their Spiderman lunchbox came from Target or if it came from Dollar Tree. Use this to your advantage as long as you can, but also remember that you can get basic school supplies that are good quality from these places all the time.
Basic is best
When I was a kid, Lisa Frank stuff was what everyone wanted. The markup on those folders (through my adult eyes) is absurd when just a few folders in my favorite colors would have been fine. Get your kids in the habit of expressing themselves not through what they buy but just being themselves. A life lesson and savings all rolled into one! If your kid is a doodler, some basic notebooks and folders will be covered in their own artistic expression in no time, and it will have more personality than an expensive notebook ever could.
Plan for next year now
If you’ve got kids in school, you have an idea what they’ll need for next year. They might need some specific things going from one grade to another, but the notebooks, pencils, and art supplies remain the same. Here are some tips to help you for the next back-to-school season.
Take advantage of the post-season
Walgreens is one of my favorite places to shop, especially after a seasonal sale has ended (looking at you, Halloween candy). The same is true for back-to-school sales, where in the weeks after you’ll find stores scrambling to get rid of merchandise. This means savings up to 70% or more on things you will absolutely need again. You can always use spiral-bound notebooks, pencils, pens, folders, crayons, markers – the list is endless. The same 3-subject notebooks that are $2.99 at the start of BTS season are .45 cents after. They’re not going to spoil or go bad, so why not buy them now and keep them in a designated spot until next year?
Have a designated homework spot
Create a quiet, organized place for your kids to do homework, study, read and write. This not only builds consistently good study habits, but it also helps you keep track of all your school supplies. Make sure that all your notebooks, books, and writing instruments go back to this spot and you won’t need to scramble around your house for next year’s BTS rush.
Set up swaps
If you go to a school with a uniform – an increasingly popular prospect – see if you can swap your gently used uniforms with those of other families. Your 6th grader might have outgrown their clothes but the family down the street could have an 8th grader who doesn’t need their uniform anymore, and their 5th grader needs new outfits. Nobody likes having to buy new uniforms, so see what you can set up with your friends and neighbors.
Like with most things, planning is key to ensure that you don’t waste time or money. While back-to-school shopping with your kids can be a great bonding experience, be careful you don’t end up getting coerced into buying hundreds of dollars more than you intended. Plan ahead, set boundaries, opt for simplicity, shop online when you can, and go through websites that reward you for spending smartly. You’ll earn your degree in savings in no time flat!
What are some of your favorite back-to-school season savings tips?
If you’ve got an incoming freshman to college this fall, understand that you’ll be crying. You’ll miss them, sure, but college is also one of the most expensive endeavors we engage in. Between books, dorms, computers, food and everything else, your little scholar will rack up a tidy sum.
That’s why it helps to save money in every little nook and cranny you can find. From saving money on textbooks to utilizing student programs, we’ve got a list that will help save your sanity (and wallet).
Money Saving Tips For College Students
Never pay full price for textbooks
Textbooks are one of the most expensive parts of your college experience, after classes and housing of course. Who wants to buy a math book for $400 and sell it back to the bookstore for $25? Wouldn’t you rather get them at a drastically cheaper price and in turn help other students get them cheaply?
In addition to textbooks for college students, they also have books for K-12 students, college prep guides, and ACT/SAT study materials. Finally, as we’ll explain further along, students get massive discounts on signing up for Amazon Prime, which gives you free 2-day shipping on nearly anything.
Another popular place to buy and sell textbooks, eBay will often get you the best price. There’s no MSRP when you’re a student trying to recoup some of your costs, so books are often severely marked down. In addition, if you know what books you’ll need in advance, you can avoid competing on auctions with other students who waited to buy their books.
Textbooks are often enormous and heavy, so carrying around a bag full of them will destroy your posture AND your wallet. Digital copies are usually available for most books now, and are almost always cheaper. In fact, if you’re in say an English class and a lot of your textbooks are novels, you can often find digital novels for sale on the author’s website for a drastic markdown. Always looks for digital options first and save yourself a pain in the back later on.
Visit the library
The library isn’t just for sleeping between classes – who knew? Not only can you check out books, but many libraries now offer downloadable digital copies of books. In addition, most college libraries rent out more than just books, from e-readers to basic dormlife things like blenders. Libraries have evolved with the times, proving they’re still a wonderful resource for a cash-strapped college student.
Renting textbooks from the bookstore has become far more commonplace in the last 5 years or so. Renting works in a way that you pay far less than cover price for a book. If you return it in reasonable condition, you don’t owe any more money. Sure you can’t resell it, but you don’t have to shell out hundreds for a new copy and renting can even be cheaper than buying secondhand in some cases.
Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and LetGo are all online marketplaces that allow you to buy and sell pretty much anything. Check often to see if anyone has books you need. These are also great places to resell your books when you’re done with them.
The wait-and-see method
Lastly, you can always wait until your classes start to see if you really will need EVERY book on your list. Sometimes professors include books that just aren’t used that much in the class. Other times, they’re ones that you can find cheap or free access to online. Why spend $30 dollars on a book if you can find the same information in your library for free?
Get Free Stuff
We’re not talking about getting free ice cream on your birthday. No, there is a wealth of free (or cheap), extremely useful products and services available for college students.
Again with Amazon and for good reason – Amazon provides free 2-day shipping on everything with their Prime program. In addition, it’s pretty cheap and you can find just about everything you need on Amazon. The problem is that Prime costs about $115/year, which can be hard to swing as a college student.
The Prime Student is a free 6-month trial period for college students. After the free trial is up, you’re given Prime at a discounted rate for the 4 years of your college career. There’s not much to say other than go sign up now!
There are few programs that are as necessary for a college student or professional as Microsoft Office. Unfortunately, it’s also a very expensive program, running upwards of $250 or more depending on what version you buy. Luckily, college students have the option of getting the basic version for free.
Once Microsoft verifies your status (through a college email), you can download Office completely for free. Check it out and use it to write a thank-you to us later.
Deep discounts on hardware
If you need a new computer and let’s face it, you probably do, a lot of online retailers offer discounts to students. Newegg.com has great prices on high quality refurbished and new laptops for students. Dell.com also has “Dell University” which offers highly competitive pricing, free delivery, and loyalty rewards for college students.
Use Lynda to learn
Many instructors are using Lynda.com (which apparently has been bought out by LinkedIn) for teaching specifics on programs like Photoshop or CAD. While in most cases your fees will include Lynda, they offer a deep discount and free trial for students. It’s worth mentioning because Lynda has courses on virtually everything, so you can learn everything from coding to cooking for free.
Flex that student ID muscle
You would be surprised at the sheer amount of discounts your student ID will get you. Check with your school and see, but in most cases nearly every restaurant near a college campus will offer deals, free drinks, and discounts for students.
Open a student account
Many banks will offer some manner of free checking with incentives for college students. Even if it means setting up a new account, it’s worth it in the long run. Often if you have a job that uses direct deposit while you’re taking classes, you can find a bank running a deal where they’ll pay you to switch.
The same goes with student credit cards. Student lines of credit through your bank are great for building credit and often offer incentives for signing up.
One last thing, never pay for a checking account. If the bank you’re working with wants to charge you a monthly or yearly fee, or they have lots of little fees for withdrawals, avoid them. There are so many places that want to pay you for your business; it’s not worth your time to pay even $5 for a student checking account.
Call your insurance agent
You should get renters insurance if you have anything of value, and while you’re talking to your insurer, get signed up with their student discount plan. Nearly all major insurers – Geico, Nationwide, Farmers, etc – all offer student discount programs for good grades. In some cases it can mean a drastic discount on your rate. It’s worth checking if yours offers it, and it’s worth switching if they don’t.
Figure out your fees
College comes with lots of fees. Some of those fees, however, will benefit you and you might not even be aware. Most colleges have on-campus gyms that are included. In addition, most campuses follow a great wellness model, including things like:
– campus counseling and mental health
– nurse’s station or clinic
– career planning and job finding assistance
– tutoring assistance
– printing and copying plans
– computer lab access
Talk to your school and find out what you’re paying for and make the most of it. A gym membership alone will run you $20+ dollars a month, whereas your health fee on campus is probably $70/semester and will give you access to a far better health center than the random Planet Fitness or whatever is in your town.
Public transportation is your friend
The literal worst part of using the bus is paying – tokens suck and carrying around loose cash is annoying, too. Otherwise the bus is clean, convenient, and will take you all over your city. The biggest benefit as a student is the incredible discount for a transportation pass that is available to you.
Most large cities have a “ride as much as you want” pass for a flat rate. As a student, you can expect to pay a fraction of that rate and the pass is usually good for a whole semester. For instance in Chicago, a 30-day unlimited ride pass is $105 but Ventra passes through the various city colleges are often less than that per semester.
Get a degree in being money savvy
College is expensive, that’s a known fact. It doesn’t need to be more expensive than it is, though. Through proper application of the methods above, and simply asking around about local discounts and special offers for students, you can save literally thousands of dollars a year.
If you have a recurring subscription, check to see if they offer a discount. If you’re paying for cable, stop paying for cable and just use a streaming service on WiFi.
Every bill you pay, every subscription you have, every place you shop, check to see if there are student discounts. It might feel awkward at first but if college is nothing else, it’s awkward, so get used to it and save yourself some cash in the meantime.
Oh and for the parents reading this (because – duh!) don’t forget to use Raise.com to score some discounted gift cards for things like gas.
You know your “little ones” will be calling home and asking, might as well load up now so you don’t have to pay full price later! Plus if you sign up today, you can get an extra $10 back on your first order – $10 that can then be used to pick up some tissues for that hard goodbye.
Did you implement any of these when YOU were in college?
There are so many places that incentivize kids getting good grades, especially once school has ended. I don’t know about how summer is going at your place, but wow — did the days just get longer? Well, why not make the most of it by rewarding all their hard work this last school year?
There are probably plenty of hometown places that will reward kids for doing well in school and you should check them out! We’ve compiled a list of national chains that will reward your offspring for their reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic skills this summer.
While we have tried to make this list based on nationwide chains, you should still call before you go to ensure that your local chains are participating in these programs. Also, don’t forget the report cards!
Oh, and don’t forget the kids. Kids, report card, call ahead – that’s the list!
Places That Offer Report Card Rewards
Sweet treats for Straight As
Anyone who doesn’t like ice cream – assuming they can eat it of course – might be a spy or robot. Double your suspicions if they don’t like free ice cream. Participating Baskin Robbins stores will give your little scholar a little scoop for doing great in school. Check this website to find your local BR and give them a call to ensure they’re participating.
Breakfast is literally always delicious, and it’s even better when it’s free! Well, in this case, it’s a free kids meal, but it’s still delicious. Find your local Robert Evans here.
If your kids are like mine, nuggets are a food group. If you have a Chick-fil-A in your town, report card As can mean a free order of nuggets, which is a reasonable return on investment if you ask me.
Look up two spots and you’ll see that we really love breakfast. Bring your kids (and their report card) to your local IHOP and get a free kids meal. Nothing says “good job, buddy!” like a bread circle covered in sugar.
Pizza Hut has been bribing us to get good grades for decades and they’re not stopping yet. In addition to the Book-It program we were delighted to find out still exists, if your child has 3 As or more on their report card, they can get a personal pan pizza and a drink for free. Find your Pizza Hut and make sure they’re participating and then go eat pizza!
Applebees (sort of)
This one requires a little bit of work. The “A” is for Applebee’s program is one where your child’s teacher must apply to get these reward coupons to give out to students who excel. The nice thing is that they’re not necessarily just for good grades; the teacher can choose the criteria, so it can be improving social skills, artistic abilities, or really anything where the student has shown improvement. Still, it’s a great way to snag a free kids meal while mommy has a well-deserved margarita.
Wendy’s has offered a report card reward program in the past, and our local one still does, but it’s worth checking ahead. A little research online suggests some are offering kids meals and some don’t do the program at all. Always check first!
For little ones in kindergarten through 5th grade, a straight-A report card will nab them a free Happy Meal. Older kids (6-12th) get a value meal, so that’s pretty awesome. Call your local McDonald’s and see if you can McCashin on your kids’ McGoodGrades!
Ugh, that was awful.
A free one-topping pizza is your reward for solid school work at Marco’s Pizza. Check and see if yours is participating. If you live in an area where Marco’s is attached to Family Video, read on to see how you can get some free rentals while you’re there.
Obviously kids K-5th love ice cream because as established before, everyone but spies and robots love ice cream. Coldstone is offering free ice cream for good grades so now you don’t have any excuse; go get Coldstone right now and bring your kids!
While not exactly a report card scenario in the strictest sense, the Read to Succeed program rewards students who complete 6 hours of recreational reading with free admission. Check it out here.
If you recall from our segment on Marco’s Pizza, you were promised potentially free movies if you have a nearby Family Video. Fam Vid is offering up to 5 free rental vouchers for each A in a core subject (math, language, reading, history, geography, science, and spelling). They’ve had this program for years; I remember participating when I was a kid and it’s a great little reward.
Chuck E Cheese
Login to the Chuck E Cheese More Cheese rewards program here and you can get a coupon for your little scholar to get 10 free game tokens with a food purchase. The coolest part of Chuck’s programs here is that you can give these “rewards” to your kids for virtually anything. It’s a great way to praise their efforts and improvement in any category.
While not strictly something to do per se, if you have a child who likes to shop at Justice, they can get $5 off their purchase with a good report card.
The same thing as with Justice, a $5 off discount can be yours if you bring in your report card. Please note that this one appears to be limited to the first 30 days after your grades go out, so keep that in mind.
Rewards for bigger kids
Most of these types of report card rewards are great for little kids and a nice end-of-year treat. If you have a high school or college student, there are some pretty impressive incentives for keeping their grades up out there, too.
If your driving-aged student maintains a B average, they you can save 5-10% off your insurance bill. That’s a big deal.
Honestly, these are just a few of the different programs offered by various insurers for good students. The logic is that a kid getting good grades is probably more responsible, and so rates can be lowered. If you don’t have one of these companies, check with your insurance agent to see if your company offers a good student discount. Chances are good they probably do, and it really could save you a bundle.
Banks and credit unions
Getting an exhaustive list of participating financial institutions would be nearly impossible, but you can and should call yours to see if they have good student reward programs. What they amount to typically is:
You open a student savings or checking account with your child.
Over the academic year they will be rewarded with deposits from the bank for their good report card.
Sometimes it’s a dollar a semester for each A, and sometimes it’s a lump sum when report cards go out. Check with your institution to see what they offer.
Opening a bank account is a big responsibility step itself, and coupling it with incentives can be a big help for kids to see how being responsible in one area of their life can affect others as well. A student getting good grades is probably a safer driver, and might become a fiscally responsible person in general. It’s all connected and these programs can help make your children understand that.
Again, this list isn’t exhaustive and you should definitely check with local businesses to see what kinds of rewards they offer for your kids’ good grades.
Do you know of any big chains we missed that reward kids for good grades?
Ideas for frugal summer fun activities for kids have to go beyond just browsing on Pinterest and setting yourself up for failure.
When you actually start that first week of summer break, the reality sets in that there are many days between June 1st and August 30th. How do you keep your kids occupied and not tearing down your house or terrorizing your neighborhood?
More importantly, how do you keep them occupied without spending your vacation money on activities? Luckily there are so many ways to entertain kids during the summer, and a sympathetic society has made many of them cheap. We’re going to take a look at the top ways you can keep your kid having fun and maybe learning over summer break without breaking your bank.
Frugal Summer Fun Activities for Kids
Head to the library
Libraries are not just places for princesses to spend time in-between not talking to their beast-captors. They have books, sure, but now libraries have so much more. You can check out movies, magazines, and even in some cases equipment.
Many libraries have something called a “library of things” where you can borrow appliances, sports gear, and more. Beyond that though, books are hugely important to neural development in kids. In fact, even adult brains show better ability to create new pathways when they read even 15 minutes a day.
Going to the library and picking up some books, reading them and returning the next week to get more was a HUGE part of my childhood and I still look back fondly on sitting in a quiet room reading, especially when it was raining outside. Your kids will benefit from it immensely.
Summer reading programs
Keeping in the vein of reading over the summer, there are tons of summer reading programs out there to encourage kids to read in various ways. As a kid there was the Book-It program that got you little pizzas and books and it was GLORIOUS and it STILL EXISTS!.
Now there are far more from many different companies and groups:
Chuck E Cheese Behavior Rewards – I have to admit, the mouse has some great motivators. Basically you track the behavior you want your kids to engage in – reading is just one – then you can print off coupons that they sign their name to and they get free play points with a food purchase. Pavlov’s mouse, amirite?
Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Challenge – Your kids download a journal and record the books they’ve read, and then once they’re done they can choose 1 free book from a curated selection at your local Barnes and Noble!
Six Flags Read To Succeed – When kids K-6 complete 6 hours of reading over the summer, they get a free ticket to Six Flags! Considering you might already be thinking about a Six Flags trip during summer break, this is a good way to encourage your kids to read before they get their brains jumbled up on a roller coaster.
Amazon Retail Stores Book Challenge – This one is less accessible, simply because there aren’t that many retail Amazon stores yet. However, it’s a great program that encourages kids to read at least 8 books. When they’re done, you come back for a free book from a curated list.
Though this list isn’t exhaustive, these are some of the ones that are not regionally locked. There are plenty more and in fact, if you inquire at your local library they will likely have a list of all the programs in your area over the summer.
Investigate your local museum or zoo
Often a city museum or zoo isn’t very expensive to begin with, but most will offer discounts for groups. Call ahead to your local zoo and see if you can get a group rate for a bunch of mom’s and kids all going at the same time. Our local museum and zoo both offer free admission for kids 4 and under during the summer months.
I can’t guarantee yours will have free admission, but the admission will be cheap. With a lot of interesting exhibits and animals, it should keep your kids occupied for an afternoon. Bonus points if your zoo like ours has a picnic area and you can bring food in; spend the whole day getting to know wallabies and penguins!
Home Depot DIY Workshops
Home Depot has a schedule of workshops where they teach kids how to build various things. Your littles will need adult supervision, but the projects are completely free! What’s best is that your kids can keep their crafts. The link above has a spot to put your zip code in to find your nearest Home Depot. You’ll be given a schedule of events once you click through to your local store.
Bike and Hike Days
All of the parks in our city have these days when cars are not allowed. It makes for a near party atmosphere with people grilling, picnicking, and simply enjoying the park. Contact your local park district to find out when they’re having them. They should also have a schedule of events for the summer as well for all sorts of fun things.
Head to the big screen
Pretty much every movie theater has deeply discounted summer rates for kids. Some are as low as .50c, and especially if you have a local cinema, they probably have a summer movie program. These allow you to pay one flat rate for basically unlimited admission to movies all summer long.
A few of the more prominent chains offering summer kids’ pricing are:
Some are deeply discounted while some offer free movies for kids in a certain age range. AMC and Marcus actually include snacks with the admission price – $4 in the case of AMC! That’s a really good deal.
Not a fan of the theater? Set up a sheet and projector out back and have a family movie night under the stars. Check out what we recommend as the best movies for preschoolers (that the whole will love!)
Take your kids bowling
Bowling is still around in cities everywhere and thanks to Kidsbowlfree.com, you can introduce the game to your kids. Not all alleys are signed up with the program, but the ones that are offer 2 free games per day for kids all summer long. In addition to this program, most bowling alleys offer big discounts or free kids’ admission with an adult during the summer.
It’s air conditioned, it’s fun, and you get to wear fun shoes. Go see if your local alley offers the program and get to rolling balls towards pins!
Get crafty with Michael’s
Michael’s stores offer a workshop, teaching your kids to make some fun and creative crafts. It’s $3 per kid per session, and it runs from June 10 – July 26th, every Monday/Wednesday/Friday. Each day is a different theme, from whimsical craft tube unicorns to glittery slime that kids adore. Entertainment, learning, and a craft to take home is a steal at $3.
Paint some rocks
Okay so you’ll need tempura paint for this but rocks are free! Painting and hiding rocks is a fun way for kids to express their creativity and be part of a popular community, too. You can take your kids on a walk and look for rocks painted by other people. It’s always a good time finding them and swapping them out with your own.
A literal treasure hunt, geocaching is a popular activity that doesn’t really cost any money. The gist is that people hide boxes filled with knick-knacks and you use your GPS to find them. You’ll sign the log book you find, take something, leave something, and go on your next adventure.
There will be a list of known caches around your coordinates, and you simply hike to find them. Some will be difficult and well-hidden but others might be easier for little kids to get to. No matter what, it’s a good time.
There’s never a bad time to teach your kids about the importance of volunteering. It makes them better, stronger people with a greater connection to their cities and environment. There is also no time like summer to find plenty of volunteer activities.
These can be as simple as helping serve food at the local soup kitchen or making blessing bags for the homeless. Our city’s downtown is thriving during the summer and they’re always looking for help with events. There are dozens of ways to volunteer with children, and it’s such an important (and fun!) family activity.
While most summer camps cost money, many park districts have “day camps” that do not. Call your local district office and see what is offered at the parks around your house. You’d be surprised at what your kids can learn over the summer like archery, wood working, or gardening.
With that said…
Gardening on a budget is a favorite discussion topic, but it gets even better when you do it with others!
The idea of community gardens is taking over vacant, gross lots across the country. By transforming bare areas into thriving gardens, neighborhoods end up with a beautiful, green space. They also have a ton of fresh, delicious produce to share with the people who contributed.
Co-ops or CSAs are great, too. Usually a farmer will have a spot dedicated to people who either pay or volunteer their time. They then get a share of the harvest each week.
It’s like a subscription service that you have to kind of get dirty for!
Bonus: set up a worm farm and use their casings to better ensure a bountiful harvest. If your kids are like mine, this project is one they’ll love to help with!
Check out your local vacation Bible schools
Most churches offer free VBS over the summer to kids in the community. These are great places to learn crafts, play games, and spend some time with other kids. You can contact your local churches but I guarantee they will all have fliers and signs up right when school ends.
Call your local universities for kids’ summer events
Nearly all public universities will offer free or very low cost events for kids during the summer months. These are a great way to get your kids introduced to higher education, even if they’re a while from that.
They say “idle hands are the devil’s plaything” but have you ever seen a kid bored in the middle of July? Avoid that horror show by keeping them engaged and learning! Exercising your kids’ minds and bodies will make them better in the long run.
Being able to keep them entertained without having to spend a thousand dollars is a big perk, too.
What do you like to do during the summer with your kiddos?
Working as a single parent can be a trying experience, so you want to make sure that your finances are as streamlined as possible. When unexpected emergencies pop up, your schedule, finances, and life are thrown for a loop. Take a look at these tips to help you strategize your budget as a single parent.
7 Strategies to Help You Budget as a Single Parent
Make a roadmap
Whether you’re co-parenting or raising your child alone, make sure you have a roadmap for your new life—both for your schedule and your budget. This will allow you to be conscious of the ins and outs of your finances and help you plan accordingly. Getting prepared and organized will also help you discover areas of opportunity where you could pay off debt faster.
Create an emergency fund
As a single parent, it’s absolutely imperative to have an emergency fund ready for when something unexpected happens. The rule of thumb is to have at least three months’ worth of expenses saved up, but the more you have in your fund, the better.
Find the balance between budgeting and having fun
Just because you’re living as a single parent on a tight budget doesn’t mean you have to expel extra spending that you could use to have fun with your child. In fact, you should be analyzing your budget to add that into your spending. Work a set amount of money in your budget for fun and get creative. Plan around sales and large discounts and think of out-of-the-box ideas, such as enjoying a picnic in the park, having a pizza night at home, or exploring a free museum.
Study your financial documents
You’d be surprised at how much extra spending is wasted on things like utility bills, phone bills, cable, and internet. Take a look at your monthly utility bills, appliance plans, and other home-related costs and see where you could be saving money. This could be decreasing your data plan on your phone, getting rid of your cable and using television apps like Netflix and Hulu, or even decreasing your internet speed slightly. These tiny tweaks could save you hundreds every year.
Explore the tax breaks
As a single parent, you’re eligible for several tax breaks that you may be unaware of. If your income is less than $75,000 a year, you could earn up to $1,000 in tax credit for each child. If you have children in college, you may be eligible for higher education tax credits and tuition deductions.
Discover a new career
If you’re a newly single parent, there may be a learning curve in trying to take care of your family with one funnel of income. If you want to discover ways to make more money to provide for your family, consider if now is the time to explore new careers paths. Could you take advantage of an expedited technical college to find a new career? Consider speaking to a life coach or a career advisor about different avenues you could take.
Use your support system
Know that you’re not alone in taking care of your child. It’s OK to reach out for help when you need it. Independence is what we all strive for, but in order to take care of your child, you’ll want to use all avenues possible, and that includes your support system.
Kay Pascale is a writer from Durham, NC. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, spend time with her family, and travel.