The fall, and soon winter, is fast upon us. Gone is the hubbub of the summer and, before we know it, we'll be ringing in the New Year. In this special season between Halloween and New Year’s lies many fun traditions and activities. The holidays are a big part of those activities, and it's easy to suffer a sucker punch in the pocketbook after enjoying them, possibly resulting in nasty debt come January.
Don't trick yourself into thinking that you need to spend a lot of money to have an enjoyable time this season. In fact, there are many budget-friendly family outings you can do this fall or winter that cost little but are big on the fun and memories. Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
Spend time showing gratitude
We live in a society of full of opportunity. We have many things to be thankful for, from freedom to loving families. As such, it’s important to spend time showing gratitude for all our blessings.
This can take shape in many different ways, but the point is to spend time together, possibly over a special meal prepared together as friends or family. Discuss things you’re grateful for and what certain people mean to you. Thanksgiving may be over, but an activity like this doesn’t have to rot away with the turkey carcass.
You can do it throughout the holiday season. You can even spend time volunteering as a family to help take the focus off yourselves. Such activities remove the focus from materialistic gifts and put it on the things you’re thankful for – which doesn’t cost a dime.
Giving presence, not presents
We hear a lot about giving presents this time of year. Giving and receiving presents are fun, but they often break, aren’t always liked, or are outgrown after a short period of time. Giving presence, on the other hand, never goes out of style.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give gifts this year. On the contrary, it means to give one of the most meaningful gifts you can give – time. Spend time with those near and dear to you as that creates something much better than another sweater or coffee mug – memories.
Look for ways to spice up your gift giving by turning them into exchanges where you spend the evening together with friends or family. Invite friends over for dessert or go to your favorite coffee shop with that dear friend. The time spent together will mean much more than that gift you receive.
Give back to your community
We regularly hear about giving to charity during the holidays, and with good reason. They may have year-end needs to cover, and those that serve individuals, in particular, will have increased need. Does this mean the only thing they want is our money? No. In many cases, a charity will gladly accept your time just as happily as a financial donation.
There are many ways you can give to your favorite charity this time of year, with the only cost being your time. A few examples:
Serving in a local soup kitchen for an afternoon
Going to a nursing home to sing Christmas carols
Donating blood to a local blood bank
The best part of many of these activities is that you can do them as a family or group of friends. You can even start a tradition of adopting a particular charity to give time to each year as a family.
Want to give to your favorite charity, but want it to be more impactful than serving a meal? Some charities accept professional services as a donation. If you have several family members or friends with certain skill sets like graphic design, coding or writing, you can work together to give something tangible that charity might otherwise not be able to afford.
Go look at Christmas lights
Going to look at Christmas lights is a pastime as old as Saint Nick himself, but that doesn’t mean it has to be stale, boring or unenjoyable. In fact, some families spend big money -- as much as six figures -- to light up their homes and yards for all to see.
You can enjoy their crazy spending for next to nothing. Check your local newspaper for listings of popular lighting displays, pack up the car and bring your favorite winter-themed snacks for little more than the cost of gas.
If you have young children, you can make the evening even more fun with a theme. Take the movie Polar Express, for example. Make up special tickets for them, let them get in their favorite warm pajamas and bring some hot chocolate. With your car as the train coach, it’ll create fun memories they’ll take with them for days and years to come.
Go Goodwill shopping
Buying Christmas gifts can get expensive, especially if you have a larger family or a lot of friends on your list. A great way to combine saving money on shopping and family outings is to go shopping together at secondhand stores. Spend a morning scouring the best secondhand stores in town for gifts for everyone on your list. Celebrate your spoils with a lunch at your favorite affordable restaurant.
While there are many items you can buy used and still give as a great gift, just remember to be sensitive to the preferences of your recipients. Some people might take offense to a used gift; others may love the creativity. Also make sure only to buy items that are gently used; no one wants to get a piece designer clothing with a bad stain on it.
Go apple picking
Apple picking is another traditional fall activity, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun. There's nothing like going to the country and picking your fruit directly from the source. If you don't like apples, there may be other types of fruit you can pick depending on where you live, but if apples are your thing, here’s a list of some of the top apple orchards in the country where you can pick your own.
As with some of the other budget friendly activities, make a day out of it. Pack the family in the car, bring a lunch and snacks to share and decide what you’ll do with your harvest – apple pie anyone?
Fall and winter are a great time to create and celebrate family traditions. Just remember you don't need to spend a fortune to make those memories.