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Entertaining Your Kids On a Budget

Parent and child cooking.

We love them, but in general, raising kids can be a very expensive proposition. And when you want to entertain them, it can be even pricier since companies in the entertainment business see families as a lucrative market. When a day pass to Disney World is almost $100, military families need to get creative about how their children will be amused.

There are many things you can do to entertain the kids without breaking the bank. Here are a few tips for family-friendly activities that won't blow your entertainment budget.

Military-Oriented Programs

As you undoubtedly already know, many places offer discounts to military families. Make sure you check to see if your venue of choice offers a discount.

In addition, some organizations have teamed up with the USO to provide experiences directly aimed at military families. These take into account the special challenges military families and children face: from being separated from parents for long periods of time to regular moves to grief. One such program is the long-running Sesame Street tour. Another one is the United Through Reading program for military children, which allows deployed parents to share reading a bedtime story, even if they aren't actually there.

Give Them Learning Opportunities

What better way to save money than giving your kids projects that are not only low-cost but extremely educational. For example, if you have a young child, buy some of the cheapest "arts and crafts" materials you can find and round up some leftover wrapping paper or paper towel rolls and let their imagination run wild. You can allow them to create whatever interesting art their heart desires (this can also be a great bonding time).

If your kids are older, you can have them do more time-intensive projects, like figuring out how to build a mock volcano, how to build a website, or any other question that will spark their imagination and their curiosity. You could even teach them to learn computer programming -- often this kind of learning is easier at young age because kids' brains are like sponges, absorbing the new information rapidly.

You and your family could even work to create a website yourself. I myself was 16 when I first learned to code and create my own website, in the early days of the internet. Learning front-end coding languages (HTML, CSS, PHP, etc.) is a valuable skill these days, one that could even help boost your child's career later in life.

Make Some Food Together

You have to cook meals anyway, right? You can help your kids learn skills that will come in handy later by teaching them how to cook and bake now--while also teaching them how to save money on food. As long as you make it fun and don't get upset if they make a mistake, kids will love this activity because it allows for creativity and because they get to do it with you. Added bonus: they're likely to eat things that they would normally shy away from. Try looking at the website Instructables, which is a gold mine for recipes (and many other projects you can do with your kids).

What's Free in Your Area?

Your town is very likely to offer many free activities for kids. In the U.S., libraries are a great source of many free things. All you need is a library card and you can check out books, DVDs, use the Internet, and attend family-friendly events. Many major museums also offer a free day once a month—just be prepared for long lines.

Abroad, ask your fellow military families, and check the local English-language media if any are available. They'll be the best resource for finding out what's happening for free. For instance, you might find family-oriented events around holidays in your town. Of course, one of the best things you can do for free while living abroad is to simply explore.

One important thing to remember is that entertaining your kids doesn't mean you have to spend money, especially if the funds to do so don't exist in your budget in the first place. Even if you spent absolutely nothing, your kids are far more likely to remember the experience and how it made them feel.  

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Contributor

Fiona Lee is a personal finance writer for ReadyForZero, a website that helps people get out of debt faster on their own. She is a frugalista who loves discovering new ways to save money, especially in expensive cities. After living in New York and Beijing, she now makes her home in San Francisco. You can follow @ReadyForZero and @moderntime on Twitter.

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