How to make half-term twice as fun at half the price: From free meals for children to joyous days out on a shoestring, the final part of our ingenious squeeze busting series
As the cost of living rises, we have less to spend on the little luxuries that make life more fun, and entertaining children during the school holidays can be expensive.
So, in the last part of our money-saving series, Money Magpie Jasmine Birtles reveals ways you can have fun time together — without spending a fortune.
Entertain the children for free
If you are a parent or grandparent you will know how costly it can be to keep the kids occupied. However, you don’t have to shell out for a trip to Disneyland to keep them happy and active.
With younger children in particular, the main thing is that they are with family enjoying some fun time together. Often the very simplest activities, such as playing a board game, are their favourites.
Children under a certain age are entitled to free or discounted entry at many events. Find what is available in your area. For example, Legoland Windsor Resort in Berkshire offers free entry for one child with each adult ticket bought, with a free entry voucher.
Over-65s often get discounted tickets, so you can make double the savings if you are going with the whole family.
Membership of the National Trust — and access to its hundreds of paid-for attractions — comes at a 25 per cent discount for seniors. If you are aged 60 or over and you’ve held an individual or joint membership for at least five of the past ten years, you’ll be eligible.
Children under five go free at the National Trust, and there’s a £10-a-year junior membership for the rest, up to the age of 18.
If you are a parent or grandparent you will know how costly it can be to keep the kids occupied. However, you don’t have to shell out for a trip to Disneyland to keep them happy and active
Go on a nature walk and learn forest craft
Most of us have a park or some woodland locally. Make exploring them with your children a regular activity.
Let them wander the paths, jump in puddles and collect colourful leaves. And plan activities to make it even more fun.
Look at the Wild Forest School Project website (wildforestschool.org.uk/wild-activities) for ideas, from building a stick tower to see who can build the tallest in ten minutes, to making a raft from twigs to float on a big puddle.
Scan council websites for free events
Free family friendly events will be listed by your local council. Find your local authority’s website through the Local Government Association at local.gov.uk.
And sites like Free-events.co.uk list festivals, parades, carnivals and community events planned for all of the UK.
It’s amazing how much is happening around the country for free.
Scrapbooking and artwork
Buy a cheap A3 scrapbook and let your children get creative.
Let them collect leaves and flowers and cut out pictures from newspapers and magazines to glue in.
Pompoms and pipe cleaners also go down a treat, as do old greetings cards for pictures and shapes to cut around.
Provide stickers, stencils and colourful pens from your local pound shop for drawing and writing. You could also do some finger painting, create hand and footprints on paper or make potato stamps.
Grow some plants from seed
From cress on the windowsill to planting herbs or flowers, The Royal Horticultural Society has lots of ideas on its website rhs.org.uk for activities that can be enjoyed at home or school. They currently have a campaign to get gardens in schools, which is worth supporting.
From cress on the windowsill to planting herbs or flowers, The Royal Horticultural Society has lots of ideas on its website rhs.org.uk for activities that can be enjoyed at home or school
Write a story together
Create a simple template ‘Once upon a time there was a…’, and let your children dictate the story to you. It is an enjoyable way to explore their creativity and get their brains ticking at the same time.
The website teachingideas.co.uk has lots of suggestions for stories from ‘The Box of Secrets’ to ‘The Magic Door’.
‘Paint’ the garden with water
Mum-of-three Jane from popular YouTube Channel Shoestring Cottage suggests giving your children a pot of water and paintbrush and letting them ‘paint’.
This will go down a treat. The patio, fences and even big stones can be decorated with water and when it dries, the pattern disappears and there’s no clean-up required.
The patio, fences and even big stones can be decorated with water and when it dries, the pattern disappears
Pick up stones to decorate
Collecting stones from beaches and parks provides a new canvas for your kids to paint on.
Get the cheapest paint you can find from the supermarket, craft or pound shop and let your children get to work.
There is something about painting a stone which feels novel and exciting compared to the usual paper. Any really good ones can be varnished and used as paper-weights or to brighten up the garden.
Get the cheapest paint you can find from the supermarket, craft or pound shop and let your children get to work
Collecting stones from beaches and parks provides a new canvas for your kids to paint on
Do your research to eat out for less
The price of food is rocketing but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat out every now and then. There are ways to make it an affordable treat.
Taking the family out for a meal is expensive but many restaurants and cafes offer free or discounted dining for children under a certain age.
At Bella Italia and Toby Carvery, for example, kids can eat for £1 over half-term with the purchase of every adult main course.
Asda, meanwhile, allows children to eat for free in their cafes if you spend at least £4 Monday to Friday from 3pm.
Youngsters can eat for free from 3pm in Morrisons on weekdays, you just need to spend £4.50.
If you dine out regularly, it might be worth paying £4.99 for a monthly Kids Pass which gives discounts and free dining for all of your children at lots of places in the UK (kidspass.co.uk/join).
The price of food is rocketing but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat out every now and then. There are ways to make it an affordable treat
Sign up to earn coupons
Many restaurants offer coupons and money off in their newsletters, mailing lists and apps. Get signed up to those of your favourites and never miss a discount.
It’s a good idea to create a separate email address specifically for these deals, to avoid your general inbox becoming clogged.
Greggs and Taco Bell offer freebies when you sign up to their mobile apps. McDonald’s offers 20 per cent off your first order on theirs.
Don’t forget special discounts
Hundreds of restaurants offer student, senior and blue-light discounts — so remember to claim when you visit if eligible. Frankie & Benny’s currently offers 20 per cent off food for those who work in the NHS or Armed Forces.
If you happen to work in a restaurant, don’t forget to apply your staff discount.
Go for pre-theatre meal deals
If you happen to be going to watch a show or film, research neighbouring restaurants to see if any of these offer pre-theatre dining offers. You can get amazing deals such as money off, two or three courses for a set price, free drinks and more.
A huge list of London restaurants with pre-show menus can be found at theatresmart.com.
In fact, even if you’re not going somewhere afterwards and are willing to dine early, you can still make the most of special deals.
Website 5pm.co.uk was set up specifically to cater to people who plan to dine early.
Get lunch instead of dinner
To encourage footfall, restaurants regularly offer tempting lunchtime deals where you get the same food that is served in the evening and for far less.
Harvester restaurants offer a two- or three-course set lunch from £10.49, for example.
Don’t be shy, ask for a doggy bag
If you can’t eat everything, don’t waste it. Ask to take it home in a takeaway box. Don’t be shy! You have paid for the food and deserve to get your money’s worth. You’ll end up with an extra meal for later.
Some restaurants are now refusing to give diners doggy bags. If that’s the case then complain to the owner (there is usually a contact form on their website) as this may help change the policy. It will be helpful for customers in future to make the most of the food for which they’ve paid.
Join loyalty schemes
Loyalty cards are worth it if you visit a particular restaurant often. You are rewarded with free starters, desserts, sides and drinks when you visit the location a certain number of times.
A free treat never goes amiss!
Nando’s, for example, has a great reward scheme. You collect a chilli point every time you spend over £7. When you reach three chilli points, you can start claiming free food.
Not bad if you are a Nando’s fiend.
Money tricks for raising children
According to figures out this week from the life insurance broker Reassured, it costs an average of £225,521 to bring up a child to the age of 18 — that’s more than £12,000 a year. So, with the rising cost of living, parents need all the help they can get.
Claim the benefits to which you’re entitled: It’s possible there are benefits and tax credits you’re owed that you don’t know about. Use the calculator at turn2Us.org.uk or at entitledto.co.uk to see if there is extra help you could get. And check out Workingfamilies.org.uk too.
Make the most of free and discounted transport: Children can often get free travel on buses, trains and trams. Young children and teenagers can also get bus passes that allow them to get discounted travel up to the age of 18. Contact your local travel provider to see what is available.
If you travel by train even just a few times a year as a family, it’s worth getting the Family and Friends Railcard which gives you 30 per cent off travel on off-peak fares and 60 per cent for the children. It costs £30 for a year or £70 for three years at Railcard.co.uk and they say that the cards save an average of £114 a year.
Join parenting groups online: Social media sites like Facebook, Telegram, WhatsApp and Nextdoor.com have groups specially for parents where users can sell or exchange kids’ items, get advice and even share babysitting. Most schools offer forums for parents to sell or swap school uniforms to save having to buy things new. You can also swap children’s clothes for free at websites such as rehashclothes.com.
Free travel to school and apprenticeships: If your child is of school age or undertaking an apprenticeship, you can get free transport for them if you are on a low income. Find out more at gov.uk. Apprentices can get a year of free travel to and from their placement. Contact your local council to see what they offer.
Free childcare: If you have a young child, you may be able to claim for up to 30 hours of free childcare per week during term time, or for a full year, should you use less than 30 hours a week. Visit gov.uk.
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