Save money AND have fun!

Hudson Valley mom shares tips for keeping kids entertained on a budget

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about our economic future. Parents are tightening their purse strings and sticking closer to home. The economic forecast may be bleak, but there are common sense ways to survive an economic crisis while raising happy children. I’ve compiled a simple list of ideas for entertaining toddlers & babies on a dime.


Dining out is still doable

I still dine out once in awhile with the kids. It’s a necessity for me. I’ve found that children’s menus are often affordable, but they include soda, not juice. The restaurants usually charge $2 for juice! I bring my own juice boxes for the kids. In most places, I can order one kids menu item and feed both my one-year-old and two-year old. I also try to feed them off my plate or off a side dish. This technique saves about $10 off the bill.


Get crafty at home

We enjoy a multitude of crafts in our home. We’ll color anything that doesn’t move! There are fantastic websites that offer free coloring pages. The dollar store is also a great resource for coloring books, foam, pom-poms and paper. You can spend less than half of what you would spend in a big box craft store. We also love to use recycled materials for crafts. There are some great websites to give you tons of ideas: Free Coloring Pages, Kaboose, and Free Kids Crafts.


Discover all kinds of local activities

We love finding something fun to do. I’ve found many wonderful things in my own county. Adam’s Fairacre Farms in Newburgh has toddler sized shopping carts to entertain small shoppers. While we are shopping, we spend some time in the greenhouse enjoying the koi pond. It’s simple, free, and very entertaining. 


We also love visiting the local farm. Lawrence Farms in Newburgh has animals and a wonderful children’s village. I do like to buy some homemade doughnuts to enjoy in the children’s village, since the farmers offer their wonderful land to the public to enjoy for free. In the nicer weather, it is a U-Pick farm as well. The views are breathtaking, the animals are healthy, and the children’s village provides hours of fun.


The local library is often a very under-utilized resource in our towns. Libraries have wonderful books, newly released movies, and often great children’s areas. My local library has toys for the kids and crafts on the tables. Most local libraries offer free reading programs during the week too! To find your local library, visit the Ramapo Catskill Library System or Mid-Hudson Library System websites.


Make staying home fun!

Staying home doesn’t have to mean “doing nothing.” Keep old toys exciting by packing them away while the kids play with other toys. Occasionally rotate the toys to keep them new and exciting.


Organize play dates with other children at their homes. There’s nothing more exciting than a new house filled with different toys.


Create forts with cushions and blankets for a new place to play and hide. Take lunch out of the kitchen and into a picnic somewhere in the house or the yard. Explore that old CD collection, or your i-Pod to discover what kind of music your child enjoys. We spend hours dancing and singing in our house.


Make chores fun by filling a spray bottle with water so your toddler can “dust” with you. I enjoy my two little helpers when it comes to chores! Laundry baskets are fun for riding and climbing.           


Get back to nature

Children delight in the things we often take for granted. My daughter finds rocks of all shapes and sizes fascinating. She even loves broken pieces of concrete! Kids love exploring the natural world. Go on a nature hike at a local park or in your own yard. You’d be surprised at all the things there are to collect outside. Sticks, rocks, leaves, acorns, pinecones and flowers are very entertaining for little people. Observing an animal or insect is fun too. Don’t forget to look up to observe the clouds and the weather. 

Having fun doesn't have to equal spending money. WIth a little thought, research and creativity, you'll be sure to have fun and save money!

Jennifer Wiegert is a freelance writer and mother of two living in the Hudson Valley.