Since becoming a single mom I am routinely asked for advice on how to travel with kids on a budget or how to stretch your dollars when you are entertaining children. Well, to be frank, I always hear… how can you even afford to travel being a single mom?
I always cheerfully share my tips and tricks with anyone who asks, simply because I know that single parents have to guard every single penny in their budget. Every penny that is misspent literally takes resources away from our children.
First and foremost, I cannot take any credit for anything good that has happened to me or my daughters. God provides for us continuously. I stay in constant prayer that God shows us favor, wisdom and mercy. Aside from this, I was raised by very wise parents who were masters at stretching dollars and cents to provide for their children.
I hope these practical tips can be translated through the ages of your children. They are basic, helpful and truly become second nature once you incorporate them into your life.
1.) The grocery store is your friend. When we travel anywhere we always have a small cooler for sandwiches, drinks and snacks. Eating out and convenient store snacks can eat away at your memory making dollars. My daughters have always enjoyed a roadside picnic at a random roadside park or rest stop. (Safety first, if it feels creepy don’t stop!)
2.) When you eat out, you do not have to order appetizers and desserts. Or even cokes. You can drink water, it is free and it is healthy. (My daughters are cringing right now but I am adamant about these savings. A family of three can save upwards of $10 just by cutting costly drinks.) Also, entrees are so huge, there is no shame in sharing a meal with your child. If you choose to eat out please always remember to tip your server. It is not their fault that your budget is tighter than your pants after a big meal!
3.) Most people have a debit card that they routinely use. Choose one that makes your money work for you. I choose to use my BOM Rewards Checking Account debit card. I save the points until there is enough to purchase a hotel stay or two. The points add up quickly when you use it for all of your normal expenses and bills that allow credit card payments. Right after my divorce this was the sole reason we were able to take a few trips.
4.) When you choose a hotel, choose one that offers a free breakfast. Most of them do, it is normally very tasty, and they are all kid friendly. I love sitting in a crowded hotel lobby eating breakfast with dozens of screaming kids while the parents knowingly smile at each other boasting that it was a free meal.
5.) If you choose a destination months in advance you may want to take advantage of opening a Christmas Club account. You can dedicate a small amount each month that you will deposit into your account. Typically you cannot pull the money out until later in the Fall. This money can be used for gas, food or attractions. This is another method that I have used on numerous occasions to enjoy a small getaway with my daughters.
Sometimes out of town travel is just not in your plan. Don’t let that deter you from enjoying time well spent with your children.
6.) You can always take advantage of staying local to make memories. One of our favorite things to do is bring our boring supper to the River Bank and enjoy the view of the River while we dodge the scary geese.
7.) Local libraries and churches are always a haven with numerous programs that focus on the family. Typically each of them have free or low cost educational opportunities and group activities that children love.
8.) Make it a habit to take a daily stroll with your children. It is truly a great way to unwind and let them share the details of their day. Some of our best memories are from sitting on our porch or walking down the street. You can also take advantage of local parks and playground equipment. Again, this is a great place to bring your supper for a change of scenery. No one is ever too old to enjoy swings and a jungle gym!
9.) Go visit family out of town. When I was growing up my parents would always visit family on the weekends with me and my siblings in tow. Every so often we would even spend the night. These days people are spending less and less time face to face because of social media and other distractions. Nothing replaces family time.
10.) Take advantage of local walking trails. Most towns are expanding their outdoor walking spaces. Let your children research the trails and chances are they will have more fun than you!
Last and definitely not least, your children just want to spend uninterrupted time with you and typically they do not care how you do it, they just want you. Whether you spend money on travel or just taking long walks together… as long as it involves you, they are happy. They may not realize it until many years later but time invested in family is never wasted.
“Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
1 Peter 4:8-11
Depending on the age of your children, there are always many local opportunities that are free or very low cost to the parents. Our local libraries are always the go-to for programs and activities that are fun and educational. Our churches always have a variety of youth groups, children’s classes, and a safe place for children to hang out.
At the end of the day, your children just want to spend time with you. Whether it is walking the dog in the neighborhood, sitting together in church or eating supper with you at the family dinner table. They just want your presence.