smart spending

Frugal ways to entertain your kids

Each day of camp, children can bring sack lunches while the host family provides drinks and dessert.

If the prospect of hosting a camp seems overwhelming, consider hiring a high school or college student for a modest fee to help supervise.

These students can set up play dates and playground and pool times. They can also plan snacks and schedule activities, such as arts and crafts.

"This may cost $50 a day, which is a cheaper alternative than many private camps," says Alicia Rockmore of Buttoned Up Inc., a company whose mission is to give women the tools to live a more organized life.

Plan theme days

If the idea of a full-blown backyard camp is too much, scale back and schedule special events for various days during the week. Plan each day so that it minimizes expense but maximizes fun.

Rob Frankel did this. A branding expert who has appeared on NBC and Fox, Frankel purchased notebooks before setting out on adventure with his three children.

"Every Wednesday, we planned a day-long field trip to various places -- everything from free to cheap museums and parks, to courthouses to watch a real trial, to art galleries," Frankel says.

The condition for going to these places was that each child had to write about the day in his or her notebook.

Frankel's wife told him his inexpensive but wacky idea would never work, but he proved her wrong.

"To this day, they still recall that summer as being special and have the notebooks to prove it," he says of his now-grown children.

Another option for frugal fun is to assign a special "theme" to each day of the week.

Victoria Pericon, editor of, suggests taking your children to the movies each week on the day when the films are offered for free. Many movie theaters across the country schedule free family-friendly films on certain days of the week, including chains such as AMC Theatres and Regal Entertainment Group. To find these offers, call your local movie complex.

Another economical theme is a weekly "outdoor day." Stacy DeBroff, author of "The Mom Book," recommends planning a hike. Fill a backpack with drinks and snacks and go on a nature walk. Talk about everything you see, and bring a plastic bag to collect outdoor treasures such as leaves, acorns, rocks, flowers, sticks and stones.

Free local parks and playgrounds offer another way to pursue the "outdoor" theme at minimal expense. After visiting these places, let your children vote on their favorites. Then, return to favorite parks and playgrounds at the end of the summer.

If you prefer, set up "theme weeks" as an alternative to "theme days." Stephen Jones, a national educator and author, suggests outlining a fun project for children to work on for one week. For example, a child might work on an art project.

"You may even want to spend two weeks on pottery," Jones says. "Visit an art museum, visit a local pottery shop and talk to college professors who are in the arts department."

Just make sure these activities come with a small price tag.


Jones also suggests teaching your children to appreciate the arts by attending free or low-cost concerts, plays and puppet shows. Or, teach your children about local history by visiting historic sites in your city.

Start a kindness club

Nine years ago, Debby Sandroff, of Buffalo Grove, Ill., had an idea that children needed to be kind to each other and to do good deeds for others.

Her philosophy was, "we need to spread kindness wherever we think there is a need."

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