Frugal Life

Keeping Your Family Happy When Doing a No Spend Challenge

Doing a no spend challenge when you're single or with a partner is pretty easy. Your schedule is your own and you can spend the time binge watching your favorite shows or catching up on chores. But when you have kids, you need to find ways to keep them happy and engaged while still doing your challenge. I've come up with over forty fun and free activities to keep the entire family happy. #nospendchallenge #nospendweekend #savemoney #frugal #kids

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The Spending to Save household is going on a budgetary diet! Between the holidays, car expenses, and finding out our tenant isn’t renewing his lease, we are ready to scale back and save money! Fortunately, we have a healthy emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses. Still, I’m planning for the worst case scenario that we may need to carry our condo for a few months while we look for a new renter. I’m hopeful that won’t happen, but I’d rather be prepared than scramble a few months from now!

Time for a No Spend Challenge

If you haven’t heard of a no spend challenge before, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. You don’t spend any money for a certain amount of time: a weekend, a week, a month, etc. Of course, you should still pay any bills coming due, but the idea is to cut out all of the discretionary spending: eating out, clothes shopping, going to the movies…you get the idea.

If you search Pinterest or the web, you can find tons of activities to do during a no spend challenge. Some of the examples I’ve seen include:

  • Cleaning out your kitchen cabinets
  • Meal planning
  • Couponing
  • Making a budget

That’s all well and good, but if you have young kids, you know that’s not gonna fly. I have two active little boys and I need to keep them moving and engaged to avoid them (and us!) going completely crazy. If you’re doing a no spend challenge with kids, you need to do a bit of advanced planning to keep their crazies at bay, while still allowing you to do your challenge. Below, I’ve come up with over forty fun and frugal activities to keep both your kids and your wallet happy!

Outdoor Activities

If the weather is nice, going outside is the easiest way to pass time during a no spend challenge.

Energy Expending

  1. Go to the park/playground
  2. Go on a hike
  3. Neighborhood scavenger hunt (e.g., can you find a blue front door? Can you find someone washing their car in their driveway, etc. Get creative, or check out Pinterest for more ideas!)
  4. Ride bikes, roller skate, scooter (if you have little kids, the Fisher-Price Grow with Me 1,2,3, Inline Skates are a great beginner skate…to consider AFTER your no spend challenge!)
  5. Schoolyard games: Tag; Red Light, Green Light; What Time is it, Mr. Fox?
  6. Water play: My kids love their water table, but you don’t need anything fancy for water play. Buckets, a hose, pots…anything that can hold water and let them splash around will do the trick!
  7. Sports: soccer, t-ball, basketball…whatever equipment you have, use it!
  8. Put them to work! Have them help you pull weeds, paint the fence, wash the car, etc.

Get Creative

  1. Make masterpieces with sidewalk chalk
  2. Find shapes in clouds
  3. Bubbles!
  4. Make elf houses! (my sister and I spent HOURS doing this as kids. Have your kids gather rocks, moss, sticks, etc. and build houses for all the elves, garden gnomes, and fairies)

Build Those Brains!

  1. Garden, and teach kids about flowers, how plants grow, bugs, photosynthesis – whatever is age appropriate
  2. Go star gazing and point out constellations to your kids
  3. Talk about types of clouds, and then try to identify what you see in the sky

Together Time

  1. If you have an outdoor fire pit, build a fire and make s’mores
  2. Have a picnic
  3. Go camping in your backyard!

Indoor Activities

If the weather is poor or if you can’t otherwise go outside, it can be a bit more challenging to keep the kid crazies at bay. Fortunately, I can help with that too.

Energy Expending

  1. Calmer schoolyard games: Simon Says; Mother May I?; etc.
  2. Dance party!
  3. Indoor bowling: the boys both received bowling sets for a gift, but you can make your own with plastic bottles, paper towel tubes, or whatever you have handy
  4. DIY “Skee Ball”
  5. Bat around a balloon or lightweight ball and see how long you can go without it touching the ground
  6. Make an indoor obstacle course
  7. Hopscotch: My boys got an indoor hopscotch mat for Christmas, but you can make your own with masking tape or painters tape
  8. Spend time at the indoor playground at the mall, but only if you can avoid the temptation to visit the food court or go shopping!
  9. What Moms Love has 87 more ideas to keep kids moving and get their crazies out!

Get Creative

  1. Color or paint
  2. Craft scavenger hunt: Make a list of possible craft items (paper towel tubes, buttons, pipe cleaners, paper plates, etc.) and have your kids create a masterpiece with what they can find
  3. Have fun with playdoh
  4. Goop! (mix cornstarch and water until it turns into a sticky, goopy substance)

Build Those Brains!

  1. Make a lemon volcano! (from Babble Dabble Do)
  2. Fireworks in a Jar (from I Can Teach My Child)
  3. Explore how clouds make rain (from the Happy Housewife)
  4. Make an exploding rainbow (from Smart School House)
  5. Experiment with oil and water (from Growing a Jeweled Rose)
  6. Get your kids thinking like engineers by building a fort with pillows and blankets
  7. Go to the library to for story time or other activities, or check out new books or movies to take home
  8. Check out local museums to see if they have free days

Together Time

  1. Get a stack of your family’s favorite books and snuggle in for reading time. Bonus: have your children make up a sequel to their favorite story, or draw/paint their favorite character
  2. Movie time! I try not to let my kids watch too much TV, but sometimes when we’re all a bit tired, it’s nice to snuggle in on the couch and watch a favorite show or movie
  3. Take turns telling a story, seeing how silly you can be
  4. Indoor picnic
  5. Board game extravaganza
  6. Bake your favorite goodies and enjoy a sweet treat together

Need more ideas for a no spend challenge? Check out my Cheap/Free Kids Activities board on Pinterest.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

To help round out your no spend challenge, you’re going to need to rely on your kids’ toys to keep them happy and engaged. When choosing toys for our kids, we look for ones that encourage creativity and will allow them to play in multiple ways. We find we get a lot more bang for our buck with toys that allow the kids to build and create, than with toys meant for one thing.

Now of course you shouldn’t be buying new toys during your no spend challenge, but as birthdays and other gift-bearing occasions approach, think about including toys like the below. As an added bonus, none of these make noise!

Mega Bloks: You can’t go wrong with a classic!

Playdoh: Speaking of classics…. I know you can make homemade versions for cheaper, but sometimes, spending a few bucks is worth your time!

Learning Resources Gears! Gears! Gears! Deluxe Building Set: I cannot describe how much I love this gear set. It’s educational and my boys (and my husband!) have spent hours playing with them. This is a great frugal toy because it’s only limited by a child’s imagination; every time they play with them there is the potential for new discoveries and fun.

 Educational Insights Design & Drill Activity Center: I don’t know what it is about this simple toy but my kids love it. It comes with an electric drill, screwdriver, wrench, and dozens of screws. It also comes with pattern cards so kids can create a design, but mine haven’t even gotten to those yet. They just love screwing and unscrewing the screws and using the different tools. It’s a great toy to keep them occupied when you need to do things like cook dinner.

Magnaformers: By no means are these a frugal toy (which makes them great toys to put on wishlists for family members to get them!), but they are a lot of fun. The boys (and the parents) enjoy building structures with these, and they’re a great introduction to magnetic properties.

 Thames & Kosmos Kids First Automobile Engineer: This was the first gift in the Amazon STEM Club Toy Subscription that my sister got the boys, and it was a fast favorite. It’s essentially a kit with various pieces that they can use to create a plethora of fun vehicles. Both my husband and I have had fun working with the boys to design new cars. My four year old can’t quite do this on his own yet, but I suspect in another couple of months he will be the lead engineer.

Mindware Pattern Play: This is just a touch on the advanced side for my four year old, but he still enjoys it. The goal is to use the colored blocks to create the design on the cards. It’s a bit more advanced than a regular tangram set because the blocks can be arranged both vertically and horizontally.

Ready to Start Saving?

I hope this post has given you some ideas to keep the kids, and you, happy during a no spend challenge. And of course, these activities are great for any time, from a regular weekend, to a snow day. Whether you’re doing a no spend challenge or not, adding a few of these activities into your week will build great memories. Happy no spending!

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  1. Keeping kids content during a no spend challenge would be an additional challenge in itself! I don’t have any kids but I can definitely imagine what it would be like to go on a no spend challenge with them, and I think your tips are great. Preparation is key!

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