Let's face it: A lot of us have reached different points during the pandemic when the whole stay-at-home routine has gotten old. I hit that wall over the winter lockdown, when harsh weather made it difficult to get outdoors and spend time outside the confines of our house. But for the most part, I think I've been doing a good job of helping my kids stay busy. And best of all, I haven't been spending a small fortune to pull that off.
Quite the contrary -- normally, I spend a decent chunk of money on activities to keep my kids entertained, like movie outings, museum visits, and theme parks. These days, those things are off the table, so I've had to revert to alternate options that happen to be free or inexpensive at the same time. The result? A little extra money for my savings account.
Here are some of the more frugal activities my family has engaged in during these trying, interesting times.
My family has always been big on hiking, and thankfully, that's one activity that's been pretty safe to do even with the coronavirus pandemic raging. Most of the trails we like to visit don't charge an entry fee, so the only cost we incur to hike for the day is a gas tank fill-up and, in some cases, highway tolls if we decide to visit other parts of the state. All in, it's not a very expensive day, but it's one that gets us out of the house and into the woods.
2. Movie nights
Before the pandemic, we would only take our kids to the movies on occasion as a treat since it's not a cheap activity. Now, we've instead started having more movie nights at home. To make it more fun, I let my kids make a snack mix by raiding my pantry, which, to me, is a step up from just popcorn. They enjoy the variety, and this way, we get to watch a movie huddled on a comfortable couch taking turns cuddling our dog -- something that clearly isn't possible in an actual theater.
3. Baking sessions
Like me, my kids have a sweet tooth, so baking is something we would do together outside of the pandemic. The difference, however, is that previously, baking together meant me asking my kids what they were in the mood for, having them stir one ingredient, and me doing the rest of the work. Now that I'm using baking as a means of entertainment, the kids are more hands-on. In some cases, I'll have my third-grader look online for recipes, which keeps him busy. Then, I'll have my kids take turns doing more of the actual whisking, mixing, and stirring so they feel like they're part of the process. The best part? We get to enjoy the fruits of our labor for days afterward -- or however long our goodies last.
4. Dance parties
Normally, I make a point to take my kids outdoors to run around or play sports every day, even when it's cold. But February was a brutal month in the Northeast, and we had several weeks where it snowed and temperatures refused to surpass the 20-degree mark. As such, we had a period when we were even more cooped up inside our home. And since my kids still needed to get their energy out, we decided to blast music and have dance parties in our living room. Surprisingly, some of those parties lasted hours. My kids had fun and, just as importantly, got a chance to move around. And we didn't spend a dime in the process.
I'll admit that saving money hasn't actually been my priority over the past 12 months. Rather, my primary objective has been to maintain my sanity, all the while making sure my kids are busy and content. But it just so happens that a lot of the things we've been doing haven't cost a lot of money, and so we've been able to bank some cash that we'd normally spend elsewhere. My hope is that once things improve on the pandemic front, we'll be able to take that extra savings and put it toward a summer vacation because, while we've managed okay over the past year, at some point, I know we'll all be itching to escape the confines of our home state and get back out there.
Photo: Getty Images