How to Have fun as a Family for Free or Cheap
Every week we have an activity as a family. It’s been a tradition for some time now and my daughters look forward to it all week. Their friends are jealous of this specific time set aside for family and about our relationship in general.
It’s varied depending on where I lived, my budget, my relationship and what was available. At times, I spent more and did things such as ice-skating but for the most part, our family nights are free.
Here are 21 frugal family activity ideas for you. Disclosure, this post may contain affiliate links for products or services we use and love.
1. Beach Night
My daughters favourite thing right now is to go to the beach at sunset, have dinner and snacks until midnight. Especially, when there is a full moon. We live in the Noosa area so have a beautiful beach which we can access.
Dinner is usually homemade pizzas, wraps, leftovers or similar. Something they like or occasionally we get $10 worth of hot chips to share. The treats are sometimes an ice cream but usually a packet of lollies and chips they can split. Since we don’t do ice cream or desserts usually nor any junk food through the week, those items are enjoyed all the more.
Lay down a few towels, look at the stars, talk about your dreams or even do some night fishing.
2. Games Night
We have a selection of board and card games we play together. My daughters often play these with each other but games nights as a family are even more fun. They also have a few they play together with their friends groups where adults hang out while the kids play. It’s a great family dynamic and the kids love it.
3. Scavenger Hunt
Print a list off and go searching. Split into teams and see who can finish it first or compete purely against each other. There are various free lists online or you can create a list yourself. We did this at one of their birthday parties too and all the kids loved it.
4. Master Chef or Similar
Pick a recipe to cook together or let the kids have at it with whatever you have. You could pick a theme, an ingredient they must include or a specific meal such as entree or dessert they need to make. Or you could do it with them watching, helping and being ‘judges’.
5. Obstacle Course
Head to your local park or look for an outdoor fitness ground to use as an obstacle course. Set your own rules then compete.
6. Bike Ride
Go for a bike ride as a family. This does require everyone to own a bike but if you don’t, you might be able to borrow from friends or family.
7. Movie Night
It can be as simple as Netflix and popcorn. Choose a movie to watch or start a series where you watch a few episode each week as something special to do as a family.
8. Cultural Night
My Oma and stepmother are German, my partner is from Vanuatu, my kids father is part Tongan, part Maori but born in Hawaii. We have a lot of culture in our family. Sometimes, we pick a recipe to make together or another tradition from a culture connected to them or one they are interested in and do it.
A fire pit is a great addition to a backyard and so enjoyable for the kids. Whether you are telling stories, roasting marshmallows or cooking dinner over the fire, I am yet to meet a kid who doesn’t love it.
Either buy a puzzle to do as a family or check out the many online options. Personally, we prefer doing puzzles together on the table rather than online.
11. Festivals and Events
Keep an eye out in your local area to see what events are happening. There are loads of festivals and events for the whole family which are free or super cheap. My kids have enjoyed some expos as well, especially if they get a giant pretzel or other treat.
12. Chase Waterfalls
Google where waterfalls are near you. Having lived in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, overseas and now in Noosa, there have been waterfalls within driving distance everywhere. Some require a bit of a hike in, such as Tenaru Falls in the Solomon Islands, others are easily accessible with a boardwalk such as Buderim Falls here on the Sunshine Coast.
Not everyone’s idea of fun but it is something we have enjoyed. Find out where the good fishing spots are in your area and give it a shot. It costs a bit to set up if you don’t already have the gear but you might be able to borrow from other people instead.
14. Play Spotlight
Head out at night to find the many amazing animals near you. I loved doing this as a kid in Tasmania, there was so much wildlife.
15. Volunteer Somewhere
Soup kitchens, youth centres, refuges, animal shelters, numerous places are looking for volunteers. Depending on the age of your kids you could do this. Or arrange a fundraiser to help your chosen charity.
For example, one year my daughters and I baked and sold cookies to raise money. They loved doing it as a family and the cookies were super popular.
16. Free Camping
Look up free camping spots in your area and head out for a weekend. My daughters and I have done a few with very basic camping equipment. Most will not have amenities other than maybe a drop toilet and possibly some water.
They can be located in the most beautiful areas though, close to rivers, lakes or creeks, great bushwalking and historical sites.
17. Go on a Picnic
As a kid, I loved getting outdoors and having a picnic on the rug as a family. It was always exciting to see what food was packed as it was different to what we would have had at home.
Make it a little special and cut the food into shapes or buy some of the favourite treats for everyone.
18. Visit a Farm
Even in the middle of Melbourne there is a little farm you can go to. My kids always loved visiting farms, feeding the animals, grooming them, learning to milk cows etc. It’s educational and fun for them.
19. Fruit Picking
Each fruit season, many fruit farms offer tours and fruit picking. It can be a great way for kids to learn where their food comes from, how hard farm work can be and appreciate fresh produce. Plus there are usually interesting foods such as jams, preserves and wine made from the produce you can try.
20. Factory Tour
Look up factories in your area such as chocolate factories, cheese and similar. Most offer a tour of some sorts with various activities for kids and samples along the way. Some have special events in school holidays too.
Check out what’s on at your museum. Some offer free entry or free days and you just have to pay for special visits. Otherwise, it might be worth getting an annual pass and visiting regularly with the different activities and exhibits throughout the year.
Some annual passes include entry to other museums and attractions.
22. Arts and Crafts
Pinterest has millions of ideas for art and craft activities you can do. Create box robots, a box car track, mini rollercoasters for toys etc. Paint on butchers paper attached to the fence for big artwork. Let the kids draw with chalk on the driveway etc.
We live in Noosa, Queensland which has lots of hiking tracks nearby. Check out ones available in your area and the reviews. Some are friendly for younger kids, others require more effort. The views, waterfalls and animals we’ve seen on our trips have been wonderful.
24. Build a Fort
Easy to do with sheets, blankets, pegs, rope and whatever furniture you have. My kids loved to build forts or cubby houses and read in them or have their lunch. You can create a fort kit with a pillow case, some sheets, rope and pegs.
This classic game was something we used to play heaps as kids. I haven’t done it as much with mine but it can be hilarious and so much fun.
26. Hopscotch and Chalk Art
Get outside with chalk to create some art or draw hopscotch and do it. Another option, if it is wet outside, use masking tape to create hopscotch inside.
Head to your nearest playground for some fun. Or look up interesting and alternative playgrounds in your area. We have come across some unique gems in our travels.
28. Fly Kites
Make or buy a kite and head out for the day to fly them. Learning how to build one and doing it is a lot of fun. The kids can see and learn about what makes a kite fly higher or faster and then compete.
Using a GPS (usually your phone) you can participate in this international fun. Geocaches or caches are little items left in specific spots you find with your GPS. There are millions hidden around the world.
30. Do a Class
Some classes are free, others have a fee. See what is available in your area through Facebook, Meetup, community centres and similar then join ones you are interested in.
31. Photo walk
Take your camera, phone or any device with a camera on your walk. Look for specific things to photograph or go at a time you know will be great such as sunset.
32. Sandcastle Competition
Living near the beach, we build sandcastles still. You can make them as big or elaborate as you like. We’ve also turned each other into mermaids and created fun sculptures.
33. Sleep Outside
Set up a tent in the backyard for a family camping night. Or use a tarp and trampoline. In Vanuatu, we had a little marquee and slept under the stars on a beach my partner’s family own. My kids loved being completely out in the open.
Soccer, basketball, netball, darts, any sport you can do together can be fun. When it is just the family and no pressure from peers, it’s easier to learn and enjoy it.
35. Memory Night
My kids love hearing stories from my childhood and theirs. Take out the photos, let them pick and tell a story from it.
One of our favourite activities, along with scuba diving and free diving (but free diving takes practice as you are holding your breath). We’ve done this all over the world with one of my favourites being Bonegi in the Solomon Islands.
As we were experienced with snorkelling and my daughters had improved with diving, this WWII wreck they had studied came to life because they got to experience it. Snorkelling around the wreck, diving down for a closer look, along with the marine life and coral was amazing as a family.
37. Nerf or Water Guns
Nerf gun and water gun fights have always been popular with my kids. Buy a few and randomly bust them out for an afternoon of fun.