I’m a parent…four times over. Like anyone else, I love seeing my kids enjoy themselves. And I’ve spent a lot of money the past 12 years in an effort to create plenty of fun and lasting memories for each one of them.
We’ve done Disney and Sea World – several times. We’ve rented the condo at the beach. We’ve booked the Royal Caribbean cruise. We’ve done the day trips to the Georgia Aquarium, the Atlanta Zoo, and the Coca-Cola museum.
All were awesome experiences with great memories. However, they all required major budget planning sessions. The vacations forced us to save for months.
Recently my oldest son reminded me in an interesting way, memories don’t have to bust the bank. They can be created with very little money leaving our wallets.
Each summer, a town near us holds a 4th of July parade. It’s what you would expect from a typical small town parade. Fire trucks and police cars, some veterans driving military vehicles and dozens of floats created by local businesses and civic organizations. Oh…and all the candy being thrown from the people on the floats into the crowd.
It’s a big tradition for which thousands turn out. People actually stake tarps into the ground the night before to reserve their spot. We do something a little different.
Each year I get up before sunrise with our two oldest children. We load up all of our supplies – cooler for drinks, blankets, lawn chairs, pop-up canopy, card games and sunscreen. We drive to the parade route, unload our stuff to mark our space and then head off to Waffle House for breakfast.
After breakfast, we head back to the parade route and await the arrival of Mrs. Luke1428, the two youngest kids and the grandparents. We have a great family time all morning sitting around, enjoying the parade – sharing in the spirit of the holiday.
The kids love doing this. All it costs me is my time, a little gas and about $15 for the three of us to enjoy waffles for breakfast (with a side order of hash browns – smothered, covered and chunked).
Last year though, me missed the parade. We were invited to visit a family farm in northwest Missouri. It’s a long trip to just north of Kansas City, so we decided to make it a week long vacation. On our way to the farm, we spent a few days in St. Louis over July 4th. We did fireworks at the Arch, Grant Farm and the St. Louis Children’s Museum. All three were incredibly fun!
As fate would have it, we are going to busy this July 4th as well. We’ve been invited to share a beach house in North Carolina with some family members over those days. Interestingly enough, when we told the kids what we were doing and when it was, I noticed my oldest son slumped his shoulders and got a sad look on his face.
“Hey buddy, what’s the matter?” I said. “Don’t you want to go to the beach? It’s gonna be a blast!” His initial response took me aback.
“Dad, we are going to miss the parade again.”
What do you say to that? I couldn’t think of an intelligent response. I just told him I was sorry and then tried to explain again how much fun the beach would be. (I’m not sure he bought it initially but has come around and is now excited for the trip.)
When I read between the lines of his statement though, he is really reminding me of two things I sometimes forget:
a) I don’t have to spend extraordinary amounts of money to build special memories with my children
b) All my kids really want is me. By “me” I mean my time – fully engaged and focused in their world.
It’s easy to whip out the credit card and drop $125 on parking, admission and food for a day trip to the Georgia Aquarium. Or we could drive a few miles east to Stone Mountain where we can pay a parking fee of $10 and enjoy a day of hiking, all topped off by a spectacular laser and fireworks show after dark.
There is nothing inherently wrong with either choice. It’s a $115 decision. Just don’t assume your kids will have 10 times better memories because you spent 10 times more money. I don’t think it works that way.
What is your favorite, inexpensive family activity?
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