Monday, November 25, 2013

Fun Times For Free

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Lee as a knight.
When parents want to do something nice for their kids, or when couples want something enjoyable for themselves, buying something is often what comes to mind. More and more people, though, are deciding that instead of accumulating stuff, they'd rather build memories and give the gift of beautiful experiences instead.
Too often, though, people are under the mistaken assumption that in order for something to be worthwhile, it has to cost a lot of money. People take their family on expensive trips, go on expensive dates, etc... all because they want to have an enjoyable time.

Fortunately, it is possible to have a terrific time even without spending a cent, other than maybe transportation. There are so many free things to do in most places, very often offered by the municipality. Tax dollars at work, and all that...

There are those free public places, open to everyone, on a regular basis, which can be great for entertainment purposes. This includes beaches, parks with nature trails, playgrounds, etc...
Then there are those places which may be free only on certain days and between certain hours, or they may be free always. In many cities, there are museums that are free, either every day or on some days, play areas, nature centers in various metro parks, etc...

While I do enjoy going to various places there are free, there is something nice about going to shows, concerts, and events that aren't there always- because they are entertaining on their own- you don't need to come prepared with ideas how to entertain yourselves, and they're special since they're not something you can go to just any day.

In my community growing up, there was a park nearby with an amphitheater, which hosted plays and performances on a regular basis. Some cost money, but then there were many shows that were completely free- you just needed to order your free tickets in advancce, since the space was limited. We got to see many great musicians and plays this way.

Many municipalities have websites with community calendars, containing event listings, many of which are entirely free. It is really worth looking at your municipalities to see what is available, and when.

My local town has quite a few free events for kids and families especially during vacation times- from moonwalks and crafts to demonstrations by visiting police and fire departments- which provide great memories and entertainment for kids. Occasionally there are lectures and concerts and parties geared towards adults.

Often there are also free events in the big city nearest to our house (between 20 minutes and an hour by bus from my home, depending on where in the city stuff are), which we also like to take advantage of.

I got inspired to write this post after taking my children to a Renaissance/middle ages style festival in the city. We paid nothing other than for the cheap public transportation there. While we were there, we were treated to many beautiful performances by all sorts of talented artists. Some people were playing medieval style instruments, making wonderful music. There were fire jugglers, and dancers who danced with fire. There were also court jesters and clowns, who put on shows that cracked up my kids. There were also plenty of people in all sorts of costumes walking around- from "peasant girls" to witches, scribes to knights, clowns to executioners- all happy to pose with festival goers who wanted to take pictures. There were also people making balloon swords for kids, and even jousting tournaments (which we missed, because the kids were tired and wanted to go home.)

There were also large pictures with holes cut out for the face, so you could pretend to be a knight. There was a short line to wait for your turn, but the pictures ended up being a nice keepsake from the outing.

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Ike as a knight.
Other events we've been to in the city have been shows and activities in parks, parades, and even one time there was a race/parade throughout the city streets of stunt cars and professional race cars. All free.

The thing about these free events is that, despite their being free, you may be tempted to spend money anyhow, either on souvenirs or on food. To keep down the costs, make sure to pack enough food and snacks to fill your belly the entire time you're out- any food or drink sold at the event is likely to be insanely overpriced. When it comes to souvenirs, photographs and brochures work just fine as souvenirs... but if your kids really do want toy souvenirs, it works cheapest to first buy related souvenirs from a dollar store or other cheap store, and then give it to them at the event. For example, buying cheap toy swords or bows and arrows from the dollar store and handing them out to your kids at the medieval event is cheaper- and for the race, toy cars can be purchased in advance and given out there as well.

Giving the gift of great memories is a great alternative to physical gifts, both because they take up less room, and because they separate us from the consumerism culture all around us. And best of all, great memories can be had for free, or for next to no money.

What types of events and outings can you go to for free with your family, or as a date? How do you usually find out about these free events? What free events/outings did your family enjoy the most?


  1. This is a great post, especially since I'm trying to minimize the things that make their way into my home. Do you have any ideas for the 18 month to 2-year range? I'm really stumped!!

  2. I work at Renaissance Festivals - so that's why I clicked on this when i saw the picture! It's great that you are building these experiences with your family and teaching your son at a young age to value experiences over money. :) That's good parenting right there!


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