Thursday, March 31, 2011

Family Closeness- Part 2: FREE days.

Getting out of the house as a family is important. Most of us would agree, you can be taken aback by the price tag on a day with your family. While family time is "Priceless" most of us have price tags on what we are willing or can afford. It's important to cut the cost of your outings and to budget them. When you factor in time, cost of the attraction, food while out, gas and the unfortunate gift shop encounters (How fun can toddlers be nearing nap time in a gift shop?)... You might be afraid to leave the house!

The next three parts in the Family Closeness Series will deal with cost cutting solutions. Today, I will focus on the importance of a FREE Day or Community Day.

What is a FREE day?

A FREE day, in short, is a community appreciation day. Most of your local attractions are funded partially by city, state and possibly federal dollars. The free days, in my opinion, are a great way to get back some of your tax dollars.

How do I know when they take place?

Most places list them on their website. We often Google, "Place name + Free Day." I write the days down on the calendar so I don't forget who offers what and when. I plan our outings around the FREE days.

Who offers FREE days?

*National Parks
*Some State Parks
*Zoo's (The Denver Zoo costs a family of three $26- $34 dollars!)
*Botanic Gardens (This saved us $34 for a family of three a few weeks ago!)
*Art Museums
*Natural History or Science Museums
*Children's Museum
*Target FREE days- look into the community sponsored days in your area. They sponsor a wide variety of museums one day a month!

Facts about FREE days:

*Admission is FREE.
*You may have to pay entry to a specific exhibit. Know the cost before you go and decide if the exhibit is worth the cost.
*Some places charge for parking or discount the normal rate on a FREE day, while some places never charge parking. Look into roadside parking or lots nearby which are free or are offered at a lower cost.

Tips for FREE days:

*Get there early! Parking and lines can become crazy in less than an hour after opening.
*Pack a lunch! It's often healthier and it keeps the costs down.
*Try to avoid the gift shops. I know, I know, they are located so conveniently near the entrances and exits. If you have a walking toddler, I suggest picking them up:)

Why are FREE days important?

* A FREE day can get you out of a rut. Recently, our family was in a rut running our daughter to gymnastics, the zoo, aquarium and children's museum. The FREE days have let us get a few days out of the house with only the cost of gas.
*Testing: 1,2,3! We use a FREE Day to test a location. You never know if your family will enjoy a particular place or if a young child will have a melt down (Most of us with imperfect children have been there!) They allow you to go home knowing you didn't waste money because of a temper or if you didn't enjoy the day.
*Pilot Programs for memberships! As a one child family, it's easy to know what our daughter will enjoy. A loves animals (all shapes, sizes, sliminess and smelliness, if you've ever been in a reptile or pachyderm house you know what I'm talking about.) If you have more than one child, can't afford or don't have time for multiple memberships, the FREE days allow you to take advantage of the places at no cost.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Family Closeness: Preparation

I've decided to do a small series on the closeness of family, it seems everyone asks us how we find time to get out of the house as a family. Simply put, we don't find the time, we make it! Here are a few tips which help get us out of the house each week.

* Know your calendar and schedules.
* No excuses- stick to your chore chart.
* Get it done- errands.
* Meal Planning.
* Enjoy.

1. Look at the calendar and find a day or half a day your family is available. Mark it as unavailable. This is difficult in our household, with Jay in graduate school we are constantly reevaluating plans due to group projects. Discuss your plans for the day out and what you need to know about your outing.

2. Make a chore chart and focus on what tasks need to be done prior to leaving the house. (I deep clean bathrooms on Mondays, kitchen on Tuesdays, floors on Wednesdays, the bedrooms on Thursday, closets and utility on Friday, family room and laundry on Saturday. I take Sundays off.) Sticking to my chore chart and straightening up before I leave allows me to leave without the burden of knowing what I need to do when I get home and focus on our family.

3. Make a list of errands and be sure to complete them prior to your day out. Map out the locations in your head to save time and gas. Know what time the businesses open and close. If you plan on starting your errands at 9 but a store doesn't open until 10, you've wasted an hour and if you have little ones, that hour can be the difference in a lunch stop.

4. Plan your meals! Depending on your outing you may be able to bring your own food in, saving $15+ and being able to pack a healthier meal for your family. If you plan to be gone for the day have a meal defrosting from the freezer (I will post ideas later), utilize your crock pot or double a recipe the night before.

5. Enjoy your day out!