How to Keep Your Kids Busy on a Budget: 5 Year-Round Tips

Try volunteering, staycations, the great outdoors and more.

Movies. Summer camps. Amusement parks. You’re familiar with all of the ways to keep your kids busy while spending a fair amount of money. But what can you do to keep your kids busy on a budget? If only there were inexpensive ways to keep your kids busy year-round that could be just as fun as the oh-so-popular budget-busters…

Enter the experts. To help you build a cost-savings toolbox for activity time, two parenting experts share their thoughts on how to keep kids busy on a budget while encouraging both creativity and family bonding. Danielle Smith, author and founder of the lifestyle website Pretty Extraordinary, and Margaret Rice, founder of Growing Play, which offers free and low-cost children’s activities online, have come up with some cure-alls for lulls in activity while keeping wallets in check.

Get started with these five inexpensive ways to keep your kids busy:

1. Do some good

For over a decade, Smith, a mother of two, has been sharing her best real-world advice for parents online. One tip that always comes to the forefront for inexpensive ways to keep your kids busy is finding fun and fulfilling ways to help others.

“I’ve always believed one of my primary responsibilities as a parent is to raise good citizens of the world,” Smith says. “Keeping kids busy doesn’t always mean they are the beneficiaries of full-time entertainment, but rather they are learning to help others.”

For inexpensive ways to keep your kids busy, consider doing good deeds as a family.

For Smith, doing good is as simple as having kids clean out their closets and toy bins to donate less-used or outgrown items to a neighborhood drive or charitable organization. If you’re looking for other ideas to get your family involved in doing good for the community, consider spending time volunteering at a local animal shelter or devoting a half-day to a charitable cause your kids find interesting.

2. Look beyond typical toys

Rice, a mother of six, loves to look beyond what you might typically consider toys to find ways to keep kids busy on a budget. Why? Imaginations are limitless—and bank accounts are not.

“It still surprises me what children play with for hours at a time, and they are not traditional toys,” Rice says. “The next time your kids are bored, encourage them to create playthings from household items.” This could be as simple as making art or musical instruments out of odds and ends they find in the garage. Parents can lead the way by grabbing an object and laying out the rules of the game.

When it comes to how to keep your kids busy on a budget, a little imagination goes a long way.

Remember that game when you were young, where you had to climb around on furniture and avoid the floor or you would melt in “hot lava”? Parents can also pick a room of the house and encourage kids to reimagine everything in it. Maybe the sofa becomes a car, or a bed becomes a raft on the Amazon River. When you’re pondering how to keep your kids busy on a budget, never underestimate the power of their imaginations.

“It still surprises me what children play with for hours at a time, and they are not traditional toys. The next time your kids are bored, encourage them to create playthings from household items.”

– Margaret Rice, founder of Growing Play

3. Choose staycations

“Taking a far-away trip always sounds like a good time, but flights, hotels and food can be pricey,” Smith says. “Consider a staycation instead.”

While it might not seem like a brag-worthy vacation, an adventure in your local area can end up being the best find of all. Start by making a list of all the things your family could experience in or close to your town, Smith says. You may be surprised by the number of ways to have fun without spending money that can keep your kids busy on a budget while sticking close to home. Think historical monuments, zoos and botanical gardens. When you’re thinking about how to keep your kids busy on a budget, be sure to also explore your park and museum districts, as they typically have special deals for locals and seasonal offers. Plus, when there is an admission charge, tickets for kids may be free or come with a steep discount.

4. Go outside

“As parents we constantly say ‘go play with your toys’ but find our kids wandering around begging for screen time,” Rice says. Instead of buying the latest video game or a new tablet, get the kids out the door and into wide open spaces. Talk about inexpensive ways to keep your kids busy on a budget—Mother Nature is ready and waiting.

“Most children will entertain themselves for longer periods of time when they are outside versus inside,” Rice says. “Whether they toss a ball, blow bubbles or play tag, kids can increase their physical activity, get fresh air and play independently.”

5. Embrace boredom

When you’re at your wit’s end trying to keep your kids busy on a budget, Smith thinks parents can turn to boredom as a cost- and sanity-saving resource.

“I truly think teaching children to embrace boredom is a gift. From that gift springs imagination, creativity and the ability to slow down and appreciate their surroundings,” Smith says.

To kick-start the “embrace boredom” idea, try making each of your children “captain” of a theme—like the outdoors, water, food, downtime, game playing, the family room—and ask them to come up with an idea for an activity in that category the family could do together. Endeavors like art projects (downtime) and family hikes (the outdoors) are perfect ways to add to your list of how to keep kids busy on a budget and introduce kids to the power of decision-making.

“Keeping kids busy doesn’t always mean they are the beneficiaries of full-time entertainment, but rather they are learning to help others.”

– Danielle Smith, author and founder of Pretty Extraordinary

Smith also suggests having “yes days” where the kids are in charge. Letting the kids make the decisions for the day turns their thinking around and shifts focus from the expected to the unexpected. Maybe this means saying yes to breakfast for dinner or transforming the living room into a fort and inviting the family to hunker underneath to read by flashlight. Whatever it is, it’s a day filled with, yes, inexpensive ways to keep your kids busy.

Keeping kids busy doesn’t have to be expensive

Just because you’re giving your wallet a break doesn’t mean adventure has to dwindle. The tips above will help you keep your kids busy on a budget and encourage your family to kick the creative process into high gear—saving on entertainment along the way.

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