17 Activities Your Family Will Love (that cost less than $17)

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By Guest Blogger Wendy Burt-Thomas

iStock_000041041392_MediumAccording to Value Penguin, the average American family spends more than $200/month on entertainment. Of course, that’s based on an average income of $63,784. If you’ve got an extra large family or make less than the average household, you might really feel the pinch when it comes to taking your family to say, a carnival.

Instead of focusing on what we can’t afford, let’s focus on all the things we can do for next to nothing. We’re talking $20 or less for my family of four, although many of these activities are free, thanks to things you have around the house. Plenty of them even work on rainy days when you don’t feel like splashing in puddles.

  1. Geocaching. My best friend has four kids and she swears this is one of their favorite things to do as a family. Assuming you’re one of the 7 in 10 Americans who own a smartphone, you’ve already got everything you need for your outdoor hunt for clues—and maybe a prize! (If you don’t own a smartphone but do own a GPS, you’re in luck too.)

Simple go to www.Geocaching.com and create a free account. Type in your address and you’ll see all the nearby geocaches. (There are 2 million geocaches in the world and the U.S. has nearly half.) Just choose the one you want and enter the coordinates into your GPS or smartphone. Once you find the geocache, sign the log book, return the geocache to its original location and share your stories and photos online.

There are lots of different kinds of geocaches, from traditional to mystery caches (e.g., that make you solve puzzles) to multi-caches that provide a chain of clues to your next stop. Some geocaches encourage you to exchange toys or trinkets, so feel free to bring fun stuff to swap. You may even decide to create your own geocache!

  1. Have a Box Bonanza. My son is 8 and obsessed with building things: Legos, pseudo go-carts on his skateboard, survival huts out of sticks, you name it! When I see rain in the forecast, I simply head to our nearby Lowe’s and buy a bunch of extra-large moving boxes. At only $2.27 each, I can get more than enough for him and his sister to spend a couple hours building cars, pretend kitchens, rocket ships, and boats. Plus, it’s the perfect time for me to mop because they’re stuck in their boxes thanks to the floors being hot lava and all.
  1. Mark your calendar with all the Deal Days. If you’re a committed penny pincher, you may already know a lot of these in your area. But for those who don’t know, many zoos host several free days each year. Likewise, many movie theaters offer a discounted ticket price on one day (often Tuesday) of the week. Regal Cinemas offers the Summer Movie Express, which offers tickets to certain children’s movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for just $1.

Many museums and aquariums offer free family nights or days that kids can get in at no charge with an adult. Programs like Kids Bowl Free let you sign your child up for two free games of bowling every day all summer long. Certain holidays and recognition days tie in freebies for kids. One example is National Fishing and Boating Week, when most states offer free fishing days for kids (meaning no license is required).

If you’re lucky enough to live near a national park, activity duty military and their dependents, as well fourth-graders can get in free all year thanks to a program giving them free annual passes.

  1. Make a time capsule. Just imagine a family 200 years from now unearthing your family’s time capsule! You can include photos, a newspaper or magazine, a handwritten letter talking about what life is like today, a movie ticket stub, a few inexpensive toys or pieces of memorabilia, and some coins or a dollar bill. Maybe it’s not 200 years before it’s opened. Perhaps your family will open it together 50 years from now!
  1. Go on a nature scavenger hunt. I created one of these for all the neighborhood kids and they had a blast! Basically, it’s just a list of items they might find in your yard: a red leaf, a dandelion, a stick shaped like the letter Y, a pink rock, a four-leaf clover, etc. You can set a time limit (since not everyone will find a four-leaf clover!) and give everyone a small paper bag to carry their list and hold everything they find.

You can also use a checklist of things to look for, but not touch. This is good for parks or nature hikes where you don’t want nature disturbed.

  1. Host your own carnival. Designing the games is half the fun! Stack tin cans in a pyramid and let everyone try to knock them down with a rice-filled sock. Try to get a Frisbee in a hamper or hit ping pong balls off the tops of bottles with a Nerf gun. Be creative! There are countless ideas that you can create with things you already have around your home.
  1. Tour a fire station. Many fire stations hold open houses for the community, but some also let you schedule private tours! Kids usually get to touch the equipment, see where the fireman eat and sleep, climb on the fire trucks and maybe even slide down the pole!
  1. Play an active game to keep everyone moving. Hide and Seek, Kick the Can, Freeze Tag or even Charades on a rainy day will keep everyone off the couch. Some websites offer printable cards or random idea generators for Charades phrases.
  1. Set up a backyard campsite. A tent, s’mores and a (code compliant) campfire—it’s just like the real thing with the convenience of indoor plumbing!
  1. Create an indoor treasure hunt. I like to write rhyming clues for my kids. Here’s an example:

“Ready to start? Here’s your first clue:

A bright yellow book holds Clue number 2!”

Depending on your kids’ ages, you can keep it short and simple or make it much harder with more clues. The last clue should help them find a fun treat or prize.

  1. Host the Silly Olympics. Here’s another fun way to get your family outside on a beautiful day. Create an obstacle course or individual events (like the backwards crab crawl or carrying an egg on a spoon). Unless your kids are about the same age, games of speed don’t often feel as fair as games of balance or accuracy. Feel free to choose events that you know the younger children could win—such as somersaults or making farm animal noises while jumping on the trampoline.
  1. Build a massive fort. Buy a couple bags of clothespins the next time you’re at the store. (They’ve got a million uses so you won’t be wasting your $3.80 for 100.) Give everyone five minutes to gather every blanket, sheet and tablecloth in the house while you rearrange chairs for maximum awesomeness!
  1. Break out the indoor games. From board games and puzzles to card houses and paper airplane competitions, you can create a lasting memory without opening your wallet!
  1. Plant a garden. Everyone feels good when they touch soil and even if you live in a tiny apartment you can grow something! Try growing basil, mint or cilantro to use in your cooking, grow a lemon tree or plant your avocado pit and watch it grow into some pre-guacamole yumminess!
  1. Volunteer at an animal shelter. With the exception of a good dander allergy, there’s no reason not to spend the day living out your childhood dream! Yes, shelters and rescues need people to pet the puppies, cuddle the kittens and maybe even rub a rabbit or two! Many shelters post their volunteer opportunities on their websites, but you can always call to find out when to bring your brood.
  1. Create a family video for a faraway loved one. If Grandma is homebound recovering from a fall or cousin Cathy is living abroad, why not make a funny family video to share a slice of life? Take them on a tour of your town or let your kids pretend to be news reporters.
  1. Sign up for a free (or very cheap!) class.

Many stores offer free classes in hopes that you’ll spend money while you’re there. Michael’s has an extensive calendar of arts and crafts workshops (e.g., jewelry, drawing, mixed media, etc.) for as little as $2. (There are also free classes but some require you to bring or buy supplies, which vary in price.)

Home Depot always has free classes. Granted, some are about installing a toilet, but there are also ones on landscaping, kids’ projects, and even how to build a football toss game!

Sometimes you’ll find free CPR classes (usually for ages 9 and up), self-defense courses, art or dance classes, and even cooking classes. Just do a Google search for “free classes” followed by the name of your city. Many places will offer a sliding scale or waive the fee for military families. It can’t hurt to ask!

Don’t cave in to the pressure of spending a lot of money when your kids complain that they’re bored. There’s plenty of fun to be had without feeling guilty about being over-budget. Your word for the year is “CREATIVE!”

Do you have a favorite free or low-cost activity your family enjoys? Please share it in the comments for others to try!

Five of the Easiest Dinner Recipes in the World

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You’re stressed. We get it, because we are too. It’s one of the reasons we love the Organic Valley ad that reminds us we’re not alone in our chaos. Plus, we get to laugh at the caricatures of moms who try just a little too hard.

At this point, most of us would just be happy to go to the bathroom without an audience, or not spend two hours a night helping our 10-year-old do Common Core math. We’re too tired to be “smarter than a fifth-grader.”

In the spirit of (over-worked, over-scheduled) sisterhood, we’ve put together a list of five of the easiest dinner recipes that ever existed in the world of culinary shortcuts. We think even Martha Stewart would be proud, despite the fact that you bought the cheese at the grocery store. (Yes, people make their own cheese. They’re the same people who get 10 hours of sleep and grow their own basil.)

The following main dish recipes should take less than 10 minutes of prep time. Serve with a bagged salad, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers in balsamic vinegar, diced bell peppers or a bowl of M&Ms. (Hey, research says chocolate is good for you now!)

Impossibly Easy Broccoli Pie

1 cup chopped broccoli

10 slices of pre-cooked bacon, crumbled or diced

1 cup shredded cheese (any flavor)

¾ cup baking mix (like Bisquick)

1 ½ cups milk

3 eggs


  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a pie plate.
  2. Sprinkle the broccoli, bacon and cheese into the pie plate.
  3. Mix the remaining three ingredients and pour over everything in the pie plate
  4. Cook for about 35 minutes. (Feeds 4-5.)

Variations could include yellow, red or green peppers, spinach, tomatoes, precooked sausage or chicken.


Set-It-And-Forget-It Slow Cooker Sausage Hoagies

8 links of fresh Italian sausage

1 (26 oz) jar of spaghetti sauce

1 green bell pepper sliced into strips

1 sliced onion

6 hoagie rolls


  1. Put the sausage, sauce, peppers and onion in a slow cooker and mix to coat.
  2. Cook on low for 6 hours. Serve on hoagie rolls. (Feeds 6.)


Six-Can Chicken Pot Pie

1 (15 oz.) can of diced potatoes (drained)

1 (15 oz) can of mixed veggies (drained)

1 (10.75 oz.) can of cream of mushroom soup

2 (10 oz) cans of chicken (drained)

1 (8 oz.) can of refrigerated crescent rolls



  1. Heat oven to 375.
  2. Combine the first four ingredients and pour into a pie dish.
  3. Unroll the dough and lay it across the mixture in the pie dish. Press dough to seal edges. Poke a few holes with a fork to allow for ventilation.
  4. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes. (Feeds 4 to 5.)


Simple Shrimp Linguine

 8 oz. linguine

4 cloves of garlic (HINT: Buy a jar of minced onion to keep in your fridge.)

4 Tbsp. butter

1 lb. peeled, deveined shrimp with tail off

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

½ cup white wine (You’re welcome!)


  1. Cook linguine as per directions on box.
  2. In the meantime, heat the butter and garlic for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the shrimp to the butter and garlic mixture and cook for about 5 minutes, or until shrimp turns pink.
  4. Add the white wine and lemon juice to the shrimp mixture and cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Mix linguine and sauce in a big bowl and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. (Feeds 4.)

Variations: Add diced tomatoes, black olives or fresh parsley.


Fast Fiesta Chicken Tortillas

4 chicken breasts (raw or frozen)

1 packet Fiesta Ranch dip (dry mix by the salad dressings)

1 can drained black beans

1 can of Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies

1 can of corn (not drained)

1 block of cream cheese


Cook everything in a crockpot/slow cooker for 4 to 6 hours (on low). Shred and serve in tortillas or over rice. (Feeds 4 or 5.)

Do you have a “go-to” recipe that fits the bill when time is tight? Share it here for other moms to benefit.


UPDATE: For the herbivores among us, we wanted to update this blog with five-ingredient VEGETARIAN recipes. EatingWell.com has some simple but absolutely delicious options! Check out the Black Bean Quesadillas, Southwestern Cheese Panini, Chipotle-Orange Broccoli & Tofu, Spaghetti Genovese, Florentine Ravioli, and Grilled Pizza with Pesto, Tomatoes & Feta.

Sand Art Activities to Help Children Cope with Feelings

Sand Image1By Guest Blogger Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Understanding feelings, being able to identify our feelings, and sharing our feelings are important for a person’s emotional and psychological wellness. Happy, sad, angry, proud, afraid… these are all normal feelings. As a psychotherapist, I spend most of my day helping others sort out and cope with these feelings, and as a mom, I take time to teach these skills to my children as well. I’ve written before about the impact of sand play in a child’s life, but I especially love the idea of using colored sand as a tool for teaching and coping with feelings.

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5 Ways Keeping a Journal Can Help You Be a Better Parent

Blog1 By Guest Blogger Karen Linamen Bouchard

You want to be the best parent that you can be. What if something as simple as keeping a journal could help you be a more effective parent?

I happen to be a writer, so it makes sense that I’m enamored with the power of the pen. But it’s not just me! In fact, the myriad benefits of journaling have been well documented by study after study.

Let’s take a look at a few of the perks of journaling, starting with something every parent can appreciate.

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Are Daily Homework Battles Driving You Crazy?

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HiResDoes your child struggle with homework?

Kids who struggle with learning can find homework frustrating and exhausting (as in “tears, excuses, and tantrums” kind of frustrating and exhausting). And of course it only makes things worse when, for struggling students, assignments meant to take twenty minutes can take up to several hours.

Kids who struggle with learning can find homework frustrating and exhausting (as in “tears, excuses, and tantrums” kind of frustrating and exhausting). And of course it only makes things worse when, for struggling students, assignments meant to take twenty minutes can take up to several hours.

Whether you and your child tackle homework immediately after school or a couple hours before bedtime, this kind of recurring routine is exhausting for kids and exhausting for parents, too.

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