When money is tight, it is easy to fall into the no-fun trap. Stressed parents can create anxious children and anxious children often act out, either getting in trouble at school, or fighting at home. End the cycle and give yourself much needed relief by taking advantage of the many options available. There are many free and low-cost, simple ways to bring fun back to your home. Incorporate something simple at least once a week to reassure your children that even though you can't buy a new toy or take a big vacation, all is well with your family.
1. Start at Home. Turn off the TV and pull out a game. It sounds cheesy, but having a game night really does restore a sense of well-being to your family. If you don't have any appropriate games, try a game of cards, or hit the thrift store for possibilities. Apples to Apples is our go-to game, since it works well with a wide age span.
2. Go Outside. Take a walk. Shoot hoops. Toss a Frisbee. Go to a playground. Often the hardest part of playing outside when money is tight and you are stressed is just letting go and opening the door.
3. Take Advantage of Culture Centers. Look for free events in your local paper and online. Museums and zoos often have a day that is open to the public. Soak in some of the beauty and see what sparks an interest with your child. The gem room at the Natural History museum fascinated my daughter much to my surprise.
4. Free Entertainment. The library is more than just a place full of books. In addition to the movies and music, some libraries also have a toy library where kids can flip through a catalog and choose a toy to take home. We've borrowed everything from games to dollhouses and action figures.
5. Make Something. Even the non-crafty can find something to create with their kids. Consider building a not-messy card house or going all out and painting or play with clay. Craft paint can be purchased for around a dollar a color and clay can be made from flour, salt and water. This small investment can lead to a new hobby or just a fun diversion.
6. Practice Giving. Go through belongings with your children and fill a bag with things no longer needed. Take these items to a homeless shelter, thrift store or give to someone in particular. The very act of giving takes the focus off not having enough and helps clean up the house in the process.
7. Dance Dirt Away. Turn up the music and clean. It may not sound like a fun activity, and your kids probably won't think so at first either, but you have to show them. Tom Sawyer them into washing walls, vacuuming, dusting and cleaning out cupboards. A spotless house, even if money is tight, can make everyone feel better.
8. Reassess Needs. Remove some of the money strain by laying it out for your children. Let them know what is going on financially, imaginations can get the better of them. Work on cutting costs every possible way, from conserving water and electricity to recycling and eating simple meals.
9. Volunteer. Much like giving, volunteering can bring a sense of well-being. Consider making a standing date at a nursing home to visit to help transport residents to the dining hall or help with the activity department. Help at a soup kitchen, organize merchandise at a charity, or play with the animals at an animal shelter; whatever your family decides, the minimal amount of time spent makes a huge impression on children.
10. Throw a Party. Having friends over does not have to cost much money and it can do a lot for the family morale. Rent a movie, pop popcorn, play games or just talk while the kids play can help pull a family through a tough time.