It has always been me and my daughter since day one. She was always my mini me and we loved to hang out together. Being a single parent meant that I didn’t have the same financial resources as other families but I was determined to make that not matter. Growing up, my parents have always encouraged my sisters and I to immerse ourselves in other cultures and art. We went to ballets, art galleries, cultural events, and even traveling. I really wanted to instil this in my daughter as well, so I had to get very creative on how I made those things happen.
Most of my daughter’s life, I didn’t make much money but luckily I have always been good at budgeting and saving. I even put a down payment on my first car and house by myself! Even though I can well afford more vacations and shows with my daughter now that I have a new career, I thought it would be great to share some of the tips I used, and still sometimes do, to entertain your child for free or cheap.
I love to travel. When I worked a regular 9-5, I saved all of my PTO to try to explore the world as much as possible. Traveling with a child takes a lot of patience and research. I would try to keep track of free or inexpensive things to do that were close to where I lived so I could drive instead of fly. Where I live in Tennessee is pretty centrally located to a lot of amazing bigger cities. (Bigger cities tend to have a lot of free or inexpensive things to do with your kids). I am an hour from Nashville, three hours from Chattanooga, three hours from Memphis, three hours from St. Louis, and four hours from Atlanta. If you don’t want to spend a ton of money on hotels or Airbnbs, this is a great way to either leave early in the morning and do a few hours in a new city. If you aren’t great at driving a few hours each way the same day, you could go for a day and only spend a night. Pack some snacks or sandwiches to eat to save money on eating out. This is also why I like the option of an Airbnb because you can cook your own food and use their refrigerator for free. Staying for only one night can save a lot of money. Another travel hack I do is go to a city where you know somebody who wouldn’t mind you staying with them. I have quite a few military friends and family throughout the country that can make this possible. If you are driving. yourself, most of your travel expenses will be lodging or food.
When you go to these cities, research some things to do those days you will be visiting. Search for some festivals, free concerts, free museums, and art galleries for those days. Planning is key in a successful travel. If you are staying with a friend, ask them about free or inexpensive things to do. They live in that city, so they would be the best resource for this. They would even know the places to tour and may be excited to show you the city that they live in.
I am an absolute foodie and love to try new things when I travel. I often keep a list of places to eat when I know where my next destination is. I even keep some saved categories on my Tiktok on yummy restaurants that catch my eye. On my first visit to Chicago, I remember I had a friend that is married to a chef that lived there for several years. I asked her for some recommendations of where to eat, and that list did not disappoint! When my daughter was small, I knew of a bunch of places that had days of the week where kids “eat for free”. You are still paying for yourself, but it saves some money on feeding your kids. You will just have to read the fine print to see how many kids meals eat free. There is usually a ratio with kids to adults for these types of meals.
I also bought our local City Saver that is a school fundraiser. This book had hundreds of coupons for local activities and restaurants. This easy $25 investment saved so much money and you would get your money back, as long as you remember to use it. I would actually keep mine in the car so I wouldn’t ever have the excuse of forgetting it at home. I have ordered pizzas, got free frozen yogurts, free passes to museums and more. This book is a great resource to save money, but also try new places you may have never been or tried before. I also give these as gifts to my clients I know that have kids. It’s a great investment to share as well!
People ask me all the time how I know about so many community events and the answer is so simple. Social media. (I also teach this in my networking class) A lot of people despise social media, but it can be a great resource for anyone, especially people with kids. I follow the local library, museums, venues, and even my city’s page, I bet you didn’t know your city had a Facebook account! They are constantly advertising for free events in the area. If I see one I like I mark “interested” and if it doesn’t conflict with anything else I have going on that day, I add it to my ical on my phone. There is also and “events” tab, and you can see all of the local events in your area. It would only take a few minutes to explore and the algorithm usually shows you events that you may be interested in.
Another thing I did was sign up for newsletters. When my daughter was smaller, toddler age, we went to Nashville, A LOT. It was about an hour away, but the drive was worth it because of all of the free activities they offer. I follow Ford Ice Center because we did an open skate night at the Ice Rink, and the newsletter is where I found the Girls Learn to Play program. This was to encourage girls to learn to play hockey. It was taught by coaches from the Scott Hamilton Skating Academy, and if you don’t know who Scott Hamilton, you have to look him up. Between him and Michelle Kwan, they made my love of ice skating. This program was heavily discounted and included gear and skates you could rent. The newsletter also has the dates of open skate nights and any other events going on between their two skating rinks.
A great newsletter that can show you all events is the Nashville Downtown Partnership. This newsletter sends you all of the events going on every weekend in Downtown Nashville. I would scroll for any free events and plan my weekend accordingly. I would also keep in mind any restaurant that I would want to try in that area. There are also discounted events and information for free and inexpensive parking. Parking is a huge deal in Nashville because they hike up the parking rates for any “special events”. A few weekends ago, I paid $40 for parking where I would have normally paid $8 because of a special event, whereas my friend paid close to $10 for parking at the public library a few blocks away.
A few other newsletters I am subscribed to are: TPAC (Tennessee Performing Arts Center) Cheekwood, Nashville Ballet. I would highly recommend getting a membership to the Nashville Ballet if you go to the shows often. You get invited to free community events and they offer a children’s rate that is not available to the public for tickets for upcoming shows. There were several times that we got to see shows for a great rate and also got front row seats. Of course, to make the subscription worthwhile is to actually read them. These may not be the same interests that you have, but find something that you and your family enjoy that would be worthwhile.
I hope this post encourages you to explore the city, or surrounding cities, you live in. Money should not be a hindrance of you having new experiences for your family. Traveling and seeing new things are options you can do, but you have to plan accordingly and of course save for it.