I don’t know about you, but every January, I get the winter blues big time. For a while the dreary, rainy weather we were having was getting me down, but this week we’ve gotten some snow and things are looking up a bit—or at least looking a little brighter, with the sun bouncing off the white drifts paralleling every driveway in our neighborhood. While I mostly want to hibernate in the winter, sunny or not, I’m thankful for friends who convince me that it’s OK to get out once in a while. Given our budget goals, I wanted to share a couple of ideas to have fun with your kids while being conscious of your spending. I partnered with Personal Capital for this post, as they have some free financial tools to help you get on track this winter.
1. Dial back your play date
The kids had a day off this week and my first idea for how to spend our free time was to take a day trip to the nearest Chuck E. Cheese, about an hour away. Sure they would have loved it, but I would have used half a tank of gas, spent money on tokens, eaten a not-so-great pizza, and let’s be honest, bought a Starbucks as we were heading back home. Not that day trips aren’t great—they’re definitely a less expensive alternative to staying overnight in a hotel—but it wasn’t something we absolutely needed to do. Instead I called a friend, asked her to meet us at a local indoor playground, and invited her back to our house for lunch.
I had to think about what I wanted to get out of the day and what I actually needed. What I wanted was for the kids to have a great time. What I needed was to get a little break from our day-to-day monotony. For me, being budget-conscious involves thinking a little bit more about my priorities, and also, being willing to let some of my past behaviors go. I realized we didn’t have to make a trip out of town to have a great day. Just doing something we don’t normally do—even if it’s going to a playground five minutes from our house—is enough to keep the kids happy and me feeling refreshed and ready to start another week.
3. Embrace casual
Speaking of play dates, my three-year-old and I were recently invited to the home of one of his preschool friends for a morning play date. There were going to be other moms with kids of similar ages, and the playdate had a start time but the end time was open. I was supposed to bring a snack for Sam, and she would supply coffee for the moms. That was it! I was so surprised about how laid-back everything was. Not that play dates need to be carefully orchestrated in order to be fun, but I always assumed that with a group of mothers, someone would bring the snack for the kids, someone would bring the snack for the moms, and the host house would rotate. Or something! (I actually have never participated in a moms’ group or group play date or anything of the sort.) It was just so nice to pack a quick snack for Sam and be on our way. Once we got there, train tracks and other toys were set up in the playroom, and there was tons of comfortable seating for the moms. I sipped my coffee and chatted while Sam played grocery store with his friends.
I had been apprehensive before the play date, but it was so casual and laid back I found myself enjoying it right away. I feel like there’s a push these days to “open your home” and “gather your friends” but to do that, I’m realizing, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. The comforts of home are often underrated. Embrace casual, invite a friend or two over, and let go.
What kinds of things do you do to keep your kids occupied in the winter?