Cheap Thrills... Finding Fun Things to Do for Little or No Dough

by Lila Quintiliani, AFC®

Military Saves Assistant Coordinator

My husband and I were just discussing how when we were younger and more foolish, we somehow managed to spend our weekends frittering away money on movies, restaurants, bars and coffee shops.  Fast forward and we have two kids, a mortgage and are trying to save for retirement and college at the same time.  Our “B.K.” (Before Kids) lifestyle has gone the way of the dinosaurs, and now I’m always looking for something that we can do that isn’t going to break the budget.

Fortunately for us, there are quite a few options out there for military folks to have some inexpensive fun, and this past week, the National Parks Service upped the ante by announcing that service members and their dependents can get a free military pass that allows entrance to not only national parks, but also sites managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Forest Service.

Here are some more ways to have thrifty fun:

-Act like a tourist in your local area and find out what nearby parks and recreation departments have to offer.  I recently found out that a nearby park has a mountain bike trail (perfect for my husband) and another park has a paved, closed access bike trail (good for my girls, who are just out of training wheels).  Other parks in the area feature a petting zoo, playground, beach, dog park and nature walks.

-Check out DVDs from your local library instead of renting them.  Our county library has an extensive collection of DVDs, audio books and e-books.  Many military libraries offer the same thing, and even have video game rentals.  If I can’t find what I want, sometimes I can get it on inter-library loan.  Just don’t do what I did – I forgot to return one of the kid’s videos and ended up with a fine. Oops!

-Visit a museum – for free. Blue Star Families’ 2012 Blue Star Museum initiative is set to launch any day now.  Last year, more than 1500 museums nationwide participated, giving free museum admission to more than 350,000 military members and their families.  We took advantage of this last summer when we travelled to Texas and Florida to visit family members.   And I’ll be sure to check the map before we head off on our summer trip up to New England.

-Get free entrance to an amusement park. For the past several years, Anheuser-Busch and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment have offered a free single-day admission to one of their parks to active duty service members, activated reservists, National Guardsmen and up to three dependents.  If you are going to be near Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego, Williamsburg or Langhorne, PA, it’s worth checking out (it’s a substantial savings, although it should be noted you will have to pay for parking).

-Get out in the great outdoors. If you have your new military National Parks pass in hand and want to travel on the cheap, see what your local installation’s Outdoor Recreation Center has to offer.  Most Outdoor Recreation Centers rent everything from mountain bikes to fishing gear to trailers.  Some even rent bounce houses, boats and tailgater grills.

Of course, last but not least, now that I’m a mom to two active young children, there’s my own personal favorite when it comes to low-cost thrills – I can take a nap.  It’s free, and it’s so rare that it’s truly something to be cherished!

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