finance

Think school holidays are expensive? Not with these handy tips.

Fun still included.

A fun day out with the kids can be worth its weight in gold: the look on their faces as they whizz around a carousel, meet their favourite characters or encounter roaming elephants is priceless. And so is the look on your face when you view the credit card bill and see just how much it has cost you!

Between the transport, the entry fees, the food, treats, and the glowing spinning wand that plays music that you HAD to buy to avoid a tantrum, a day out can leave you feeling a little ripped off. But there are plenty of ways to save money on family outings.

Here are 11 ways to seek out discounts and find free kids activities – so you can focus on the fun, not the hole it’s leaving in your wallet.

1. Movie Tuesdays.

Many of us love going to the movies; mums, dads and kids alike. But these days, taking a family trip to the movies is likely to cost you an absolute fortune. For instance, if you’re a family of four heading to the flicks on a Friday night, your average tickets will set you back a whopping $74.50! That’s madness!

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Going to the movies (on a cheaper day)!

Check out your local cinema discount days and organise a bit of mid-week entertainment. Some theatres slash up to$7 off their average adult ticket prices on their discount days (often a Tuesday) and some cinemas offer adults at kids prices for children’s flicks. And if you’re lucky enough to live in Melbourne, head to Cinema Nova on a Monday where all ticket prices are $6 before 4pm and only $9 after!

2. Annual passes.

A yearly pass to a children’s attraction (zoo, museum, aquarium or amusement park) can be a great investment for year-round fun. By paying upfront, the more you go, the more you ‘save’. Some attractions also build in other savings, like discount parking, for annual members, as well as reciprocal arrangements with venues in other states – so you might even score a free zoo visit while on holiday. Annual passes also make a great family Christmas presents (hint: request one as a gift from the Grandparents).

3. Cut the junk.

It’s a no brainer: bring your own lunch and avoid the junky, overpriced offerings at the kiosk. Take away food at some events and attractions can sometimes cost more than the outing itself! Don’t forget the treats, either. Have some cupcakes, chips or bickies in your bag so you won’t get stuck paying for a $7 ice-cream to keep the peace. We’re not suggesting becoming the fun police: we know treats are part of a special day out … but do your kids care whether the biscuit they’re eating is from the packet you bought from Woolies, or from the cafe at $4 a pop? Nope.

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Make your own cookies!

4. Carpool it.

Save on parking costs and petrol by getting together with another mum and bundling all the kids in to one car (making sure everyone has a safe car seat, of course). Or take public transport: kids under school age are usually free.

5. Scour for specials.

If you prepare in advance, you can get great deals. Subscribe to newsletters or follow the Facebook pages of your favourite attractions, and keep your eyes out for holiday specials, two for one deals or discount open days. It also pays to investigate which places offer the best value for money on family passes. Some places will even let you get a family pass for two adults and two or three kids even if you’re not technically a ‘family’ – so you can get together with another parent and save money.

6. Free fun.

In every city, there are loads of free kids activities out there waiting for you … you just have to find them! Check with your local council to find out what programs are on offer: most libraries offer free story time and many municipalities run free kids’ events during the year. Local shopping centres also run free kids’ workshops, entertainment and shows during the school holidays to attract visitors, and there are street festivals, fetes and farmers markets on every weekend of the year. Once again, subscribing to local newsletters or Facebook pages will help you stay on top of what’s on. And remember: the park, the beach and your local botanic gardens are free every day of the year.

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Go to the beach (it's free!)
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7. Party trick.

Kids’ birthday parties at play centres or venues can cost a fortune, especially if you have to pay per head for the venue’s food. Find out what it costs to have a party on a weekday (after school or kinder) – it’s often much cheaper. And if your child’s birthday happens to fall on a curriculum day, snap that spot up!

8. Kids eat free.

Canvas your local restaurants and cafes to find out if they have a special ‘kids eat free’ night or a meal deal (often midweek). Some hotels and RSLs will also offer free children’s entertainment on certain nights to attract families: kids can get their faces painted or have a sing-a-long while you kick pack with dinner and dessert. Fab!

9. Group discount.

Get together with other parents at your school, daycare or kinder to score some group discounts. Approach your local play centre to see if they will offer a special discount or some introductory vouchers to your members – most will jump at the chance to attract a group of new customers.

10. Say NO to the merch.

If you’re going to a show or event where the glittering, overpriced offerings at the shop are likely to cause tension, then agree upfront: NO merchandise. Set expectations with your children about what they will and won’t get when you are on a special outing, so there are no tantrums or begging at the end. If you’re going with other families, talk to the other parents before hand about setting a consistent rule. It’s much easier to say, “No, you cannot have that $25 princess balloon” when none of their friends are getting one either.

11. Do it for a good cause.

If you’re going to spend money on an outing, why not make sure it goes to a good cause? Populate your calendar with charity fundraisers, school discos and trivia nights. They’re usually run by volunteers so they’re not expensive to attend, and the money you do fork out will go to making your school a better place or supporting a not-for-profit group. Win win.

How do you save money on family outings? Where do you take the kids on school holidays?

This article was originally published on Mum's Grapevine and has been republished here with full permission.

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8 ways to save money when you have kids.

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