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Weekends on a Budget

Your Fun-Finding Guide

Working full-time and being a mom is hectic, to say the least. It leaves very little time to bond as a family during the workweek. If one of the kids has an extracurricular activity, I’m usually the one showing up out of breath and looking disheveled. No matter how exhausted I may feel, the weekends are always reserved for family. Those two days mean more to me than I can put into words. I wholeheartedly prepare for a fun-filled weekend ahead of time because putting smiles on my two school-age kids’ faces is my number one priority. Their idea of excitement? Anything that gets us out of the house.

That said, paying a lot for weekend recreation isn’t always in the budget, and no family should have to sacrifice fun because of high costs. For years now, I have been exploring and gathering ideas so our family has a weekend plan. An important factor for me is to keep the fun within a certain budget – if not free. Here are some of the outlets I have used to line up weekend entertainment for my two young children. 

Local Governments, Recreation Centers, and Libraries

Henrico Recreation and Parks (in my neck of the woods) is extremely good at scheduling activities for kids and families months in advance and at no cost to families. Their seasonal program guide offers free family get-togethers at area parks, such as creative art nights and kite-flying events. There are also weekly camps throughout the summer at no cost. The recreation centers and facilities host a heap of seasonal events all year long. During the warmer months, my children have a blast on the playgrounds and then cool off at the splash pads. Many parks offer freshwater fishing, bike trails, sports complexes, and dog parks. 

The library systems across our region offer amazing programming for kids and families. There are several new-ish libraries in the area that are completely worth a family visit, even if you live on the other side of town. I’m looking at you, Libbie Mill and Varina! If your kids do not have library cards, this should be at the top of your summer must-do list. 

Events and Business Promotions on Social Media

Almost everyone is connected to some kind of social media. For me, Facebook offers a wealth of information. If you’ve never used the events option, you are missing out on a great way to find free fun. Restaurants, stores, churches, malls, nonprofits, and almost everyone you can think of advertises on Facebook and will likely host some kind of event at some point. I have found Easter egg hunts, fall festivals, arts and crafts shows, food truck events, character meet-and-greets, and more. During the summer, you’ll see different vendors and food trucks at many of these events. Likewise, there are many guides on Instagram.

Programming at Local Businesses 

It’s widely known that some restaurants will give you a free treat on your birthday if you’re signed up with their rewards program. Well, there are other places that have free fun for families just for signing up. Funnville at The Diamond – with baseball-inspired trivia, contests, and more – is a perfect example. Kids also have the option to run the bases prior to Sunday’s home games for no additional fee. At Bowl America, the Summer Blast Pass offers two free games for kids twelve and under and one free game for each parent every week, including weekends. Families only have to pay a small fee for shoe rental. You’ll also want to check with local hardware stores and greenhouses for family-friendly programming like building and planting projects for kids. 

Neighborhoods, Local Schools, and Little Leagues

This category is one of the lesser-known secrets to enjoying the weekend on a budget. For families that don’t live in a community with a homeowner’s association (HOA), ask family members and friends about theirs. Many HOAs put together events for their residents, and friends are usually welcome. Activities can include face painting, fun with balloon animals, and sidewalk chalk drawing. 

If you have friends with kids at schools other than your own, you can look into functions such as fall festivals, spring carnivals, 5Ks, and other fundraising events. These activities might require an admission fee to support the school, but what your kids get out of it beats that price any day.

Our boys have been playing baseball for years, and the little league holds events that are open to the public, so we gather other families to come join the fun. Opening day festivities, trunk-or-treating, and outdoor movie nights are just some of the many activities we enjoy that are totally free. 

Richmond-Area Museums

Life in Richmond means an abundance of museums to explore while improving your understanding of the arts, history, and culture. One of our favorites is VMFA, which is open every day year-round and free for all. 

The Virginia Capitol and Executive Mansion also provide a great learning opportunity for history-loving families. There are guided one-hour tours to see historical statuary and paintings and the restored legislative chambers. The Virginia Holocaust Museum and the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU are also free for the public. If you have a child with special needs, the Children’s Museum reserves special times for you on the third Friday of each month. Families do not have to pay, although registration is required. 

When you’re busy and running around all week, museums are the perfect place to slow down and reflect. 

Local Media – Like Richmond Family Magazine!

Last and definitely not least, I find lots of free fun in every issue of RFM, through their social media, and in their events newsletter which arrives in my inbox every Thursday for weekend planning. This is how I learned about Anthem LemonAid – the fundraising event that’s free to participate in. This year, we’ll visit the RFM family stand at the West End Farmer’s Market on July 23, and next year, we might do a LemonAid stand of our own.  

Everyone knows having kids is expensive. Despite the way it seems sometimes, there isn’t a need to break the bank for your kids to have a good time. Your time and attention are all kids really need on weekends or any day. Now good luck finding all the free fun this summer! 

Photography: Scott Schwartzkopf

“Real Mom” Nikki Brown lives in Glen Allen with her family, including two sons who are eight and four. Nikki works full-time and volunteers as a room parent at school, team mom for little league, and currently serves on the Henrico Citizen Advisory Board.
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