As a single mother, my parenting goals are usually two fold: Make fun and lasting memories with my kids (yay!) and stick to a budget (nay!). Sometimes, these two goals can seem to conflict with each other: I would love to take my children on a world class cruise to make amazing memories, but unless there is a cruise line accepts Monopoly money, that won’t be in the cards for us this year.
One thing I have learned is that giving my children memories instead of physical gifts encourages bonding, love, and true joy. If you ask a child what toy he received for his birthday two years ago or even last year, he likely won’t remember. But if you give the gift of a great memory, he will remember for the rest of his life. And that’s what parents really want, right? We want to raise well-rounded children who appreciate all the beauties and experiences the world has to offer. Making these life changing memories doesn’t have to cause a fortune, however.
Is It Possible To Make Lasting Memories On A Budget?
Yes, yes, YES! As a single mother, I am always looking for ways to save on expenses overall. I have used couponing apps, worked a side hustle, and even bartered for goods and services. To save in this day and age, you must be willing to ask, research, and get creative. Here is a break-down of these budgeting basics:
Ask, ask, and ask again
It is amazing to me just how much it can help to ask for the best deal. Anytime you are booking airfare, hotel or lodging, or seats for the orchestra, call the ticketing office directly and speak to a live person. Ask if there are any deals going on, if there a coupon that is current, and ask about upcoming promotions that can save you money!
A personal connection is always beneficial. You do not have to give them your sob story, just be polite and courteous and genuine. I promise that a bit of kindness can be paid forward to translate into some good fortune that saves you the moo-lah!
Pro Tip: Always ask to be put on the waiting list, if there is an event you are wanting to attend, but that is sold out. Often times, prices are cut for tickets at the last minute.
Budgeting takes time, persistence, and research! There is a trade-off giving your time to save the bucks. In other words, put in the work and enjoy the pay off. When researching budgeting tips, it helps to learn about prime buying times and how variations on something like travel dates can impact price.
For example, if you are looking to take a weekend trip, you can bet that airfare flying out on Thursday and returning on Sunday is going to run you in the red! But flex those days a bit, by trying Wednesday to Saturday or even Friday to Monday and you’ll see a different in price that is worth the wait. Know when specific retailers mark down their inventory.
You can be sure travel will be more expensive around the holidays. If you are looking to travel for Thanksgiving or Christmas, check out the prices for traveling on the actual holiday itself. While it’s not always ideal to travel on a holiday, it can be the most budget friendly way to do it. You can celebrate the holiday the day before or after and enjoy the savings.
It’s also important to learn when the best sales of the year take place. You can often get a great travel deal on a Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal. Asking the airline or hotel when their best deals are offered is a great idea. You can also ask if they will price match their most recent deal if it has ended. They might decline, but you’re out nothing for asking!
If your child has a particular interest, check out deal websites or blogs. These often have discounts on local events and activities. Whether it’s rock climbing, attending a concert, or indoor skydiving, you can also call each location and see what deals they have and if they will honor competitors’ deals as well.
Pro Tip: Make friends with the sales associates at your favorite store and get even more of the insider scoop, like when sales are coming up and where the clearance items are stockpiled.
Ok, this may be the most important basic tip of all. Think outside the box when it comes to budgeting those dollars! Is there a way to trade a service you can provide for a service you are wanting from someone else? Bartering is a two-way street and you would be surprised at just how much it can benefit both parties equally. Remember to ask, offer, and get creative to find a solution that works. If it is a business that you frequent, offer to share and post about their services and do a social review for them.
If you have your sights set on taking a special vacation but lack those funds, clean out your closet and take your discarded items to a consignment sale or have a yard sale. There was even a time I gathered loose change from Wendy’s parking lot, which bought dinner for all of us with those lucky pennies. There is no limit on creativity!
Pro Tip: Work to partner with other like minds in your community to find ways to trade and barter services—this will build a network of savvy savers at your fingertips!
Memorable Moments Make Life Meaningful
Ok, so now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get to the bulk! Building memories with your family that are beloved and treasured can sometimes be a challenge, especially if you have a pre-teen and a toddler in tow. Finding budget friendly activities that sustain attention and offer enough stimulation for everyone at all ages is not always easy.
There are few of rules that I try to follow when planning for fun with my kids (whose ages range from tween to toddler by the way). Namely I try to aim for learning, incorporate sensory experiences, and strike while the iron is hot (don’t worry, I’ll explain below)!
Aim For Learning
Look for activities that enhance learning opportunities for kids. Learning takes place at any age, so age does not matter too much when it comes to this rule. A toddler can learn just as much as a tween at the same place, but what they learn will be different.
For example, I took my all kids to walk through the art museum recently. We saw sculptures, paintings, impressions, and drawings. My older kids were interested in reading the titles of the artwork and finding meaning in the expressions, while my younger kids liked to point out what they saw within the paintings themselves.
Pro Tip: Art museums often have free admission or discount days, find out when and plan ahead. Check out the art museums at local colleges, which are almost always free and offer art work that is beautiful and always very inventive!
Incorporate Sensory Experiences
I have an autistic child who has sensory processing challenges, but this is not the only reason why I focus our fun on things that provide sensory stimulation. My other kids also have sensory needs, in fact ALL kids have sensory needs. Kids can learn and engage best when their senses are stimulated……their minds wake up! This primes minds for perceiving and brains for retaining.
We routinely take nature walks around the beautiful sights we have here in Southwest Virginia. During nature walks, we engage our five senses by listening, seeing, smelling, and touching what nature has to offer around us. My kids enjoy the input that walking provides while learning about nature at the same time. You can do this at the beach, at arboretums, or even any neighborhood park.
Pro Tip: The library has children’s adventure packs that can be checked out, which include landmark info, guidebooks and even free admission to national and state parks. Happy hiking!
Strike While The Iron Is Hot
Have a kiddo that cannot stop doing cartwheels? Take them to open gym at the local gymnastics arena for Saturday afternoon! Have a kiddo that sings Disney songs to her stuffed animals? Get tickets to a performance by the local children’s choir. Have a kiddo that is slightly obsessed with planes, trains, and automobiles? Go to the library and check out books, movies, and audio-materials on this topic.
Have a kiddo that wants to be a vet? Go to the local animal shelter and talk to the vet techs and love on those cute and cuddly rescue animals. My point is that let your child lead the way when it comes to making memories together. When we as parents notice the interests of our children and provide opportunities to ignite that spark they already have, our kids feel special, loved, and cared for in a way that is as unique as they are!
Overall, you can see that family fun does not have to break the bank. No matter what your goals are this year, rest assured that you can have the best of both worlds and bargain that budget and make those memories!