Family-time activities don’t have to break the bank to be meaningful; quite the opposite is true. Time is one of those things that you simply cannot buy.

Here are a few ways to have fun with your family while spending nothing more than that most precious of gifts – your time.

Explore the Great Outdoors

  • Pile everyone in the car, hop on your bikes and stroll, skate or run to your neighborhood park to enjoy a picnic lunch, swing, climb and slide, fly a kite or rake up a pile of leaves for jumping.
  • Who needs a water park when you can enjoy the same rides in nature? Float down your local stream or river in a canoe or inner tubes, ride the waves at the beach, build sand castles and explore tidal pools.
  • Swim or go fishing in a nearby pond or lake. Head to the woods for a family hike in the fall or take a nature walk through a meadow in the spring. Skip rocks on the water, grab a pair of binoculars or go bird watching.

The list goes on, even when the weather turns cold. Wintertime brings plenty of free, family-oriented activities.

  • Build a snowman – or better yet, a snow family.
  • Head to the nearest hill for sledding.
  • Go ice skating, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing at your local park.
  • Make snow angels, build a fort or have a snowball fight.
  • Take a walk in the snow while sipping on hot chocolate.

Visit Your Public Library

Your local library holds a veritable treasure trove of freebies for your family to enjoy. Not only can you take the family “shopping” for a pile of books to bring home, but you’ll also be able to snag movies, music, puzzles and activities.

From themed story times to movie nights, visiting artists and even sleepovers, your library may offer a lot more for your family than you know. In San Francisco, for example, you need only your library card to check out a family pass that grants free admission for up to two adults and four children to over 24 participating attractions, including museums, the aquarium, the zoo, pools and more.

Community Events

Check your community calendar and the local paper for free community events that your family will enjoy. Look for fairs and festivals that don’t charge admission – or that will take a donation of canned goods or some other item.

Also, be on the lookout for parades and free fireworks shows. Most communities hold free days for swimming pools and skating rinks, and often fishing or camping gear can be “borrowed” from local and state parks in much the same way as one borrows books from the library.


Some of the most satisfying family events can be spending time together volunteering to help others. Spend an afternoon helping out at a food bank, volunteer at an animal-shelter or join in on clean-up efforts at local parks and waterways. Bake cookies as a family and deliver them to a neighbor, or make cards or pick flowers to take to someone in a nursing home.

Museums and Zoos

Most zoos, museums, aquariums and other public venues offer a few free days each month. Check the website or call to find out when those dates are. For some venues, admission is free if you arrive within a given time frame. Some attractions offer free admission year-round, like Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo or The National Zoo and The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

Stage and Screen

Broadway is expensive and tickets to your community’s theater or opera house can cost a pretty penny, but with a bit of sleuthing, frugal parents can often score reduced-priced – even free – tickets to spectacular stage productions.

The Muny, America’s oldest and largest outdoor theatre located in St. Louis, Missouri, offers 1,500 free seats to every show. Many community parks offer free shows and concerts. Families need only bring along lawn chairs, blankets and a picnic lunch or dinner. In Atlanta Georgia, families don’t pay a dime to enjoy live orchestral performances by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra every summer in Piedmont Park.

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