School is almost out for summer, and those of us with young kids are about to be faced with the job of providing more entertainment than normal.  Even those of us without young kids will be outside more, and looking for fun things to do.

As somebody who is often on the go, I’ve discovered a lot of different ways to have fun without breaking the bank.  When I am out and about talking to people, I share a lot of these tips, so putting them all in one place seems like a great idea.

Free or Nearly Free Activities

There are always classic free activities like hiking, biking, fishing, walking, picnics/playing in the park.  But don’t forget to take a look at free festivals around your town. These can be hit or miss in terms of quality, but one thing that almost never fails at festivals is the people watching.  You can find pretty much every kind of entertainment available in Facebook events.


Two years ago my parents and sister were in town visiting me.  We decided to go to a haunted house. I almost didn’t go in because it was something like $15.  Pretty pricey. I heard somebody ahead of me talking about a groupon they had purchased. I figured it was probably a huge pain and not much savings.  I was WRONG. Groupon is so easy if you have a smart phone. It’s an app, you can search, you don’t need to print anything. A few entertainment purchases I have since made using Groupon:

Mini Golf

Golf (not mini)

Paint Your Own Pottery


Go City Pass (multiple attraction pass for a designated city)

Trampoline Park Passes

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live! Tickets

A great thing about Groupon?  You can launch the app through Ebates (now called Rakuten) or Ibotta and get a rebate on your purchase.  So you are stacking savings upon savings. It may sound complicated, but you are literally launching an app, then searching for Groupon through that app, then launching the Groupon app and shopping.  Two clicks and you’re good to go.

If you don’t use Ibotta or Rakuten (formerly Ebates) yet, use my referral code (included in the links) for extra cash back the first time you use each.

Memberships and Reciprocal Use

Memberships are almost a no-brainer.  If there is a place you enjoy and you know you will go there more than enough times to save money on admission with a membership, buy one.  Then make sure you go often and take advantage of everything your membership has to offer; admission, merchandise discounts and classes are the most common.

One benefit that isn’t as well known is the reciprocal membership.  Most zoos and museums are part of a reciprocal program. You can sometimes find a list on the venue’s website of the reciprocal locations, but if not, you can call your home membership venue and ask where to find a list.  It’s a wonderful thing.

Punch Cards, Rewards Programs and Apps

Punch cards can be rare, but they do exist.  Our local pool has a deal where you can buy 10 entries on a punch card for $30.  Regular entry is $4/person. We like going, so I buy it. A couple of kids gyms we go to have punch card deals.  If there is no expiration date, I buy them.

Rewards programs are great, too.  I always think of Dave and Buster’s.  We go there occasionally, and I downloaded the app.  Every time we go I load my son’s game play card with $20 and get another $20 free through the app.  I’ve never seen this deal available in the physical location. It’s an app deal only and it’s not advertised.  There are so many other things out there that are the same way. You never know until you check!

Putting It All Together

Do you have a vacation planned?  Great! Put a little extra planning into your trip and use some of these money saving strategies.  We went on vacation to Chicago last year and I used all of these. I purchased Go City passes from Groupon through Rakuten (Ebates) for 5 activities.  We had 2 adults and 2 children along for the ride and I estimated we saved about $300 in admission to these places by using Groupon/Rakuten between the four of us.

My Omaha Children’s Museum membership got us in free to the Field Museum and half off to the Chicago Children’s Museum on Navy Pier.  We chose to visit Lincoln Park Zoo instead of Brookfield Zoo because admission is free. We stayed in a fairly far out suburb and took the train into the city every day which saved us hundreds of dollars on hotel cost and parking fees.

I booked the hotel through, launched through Ibotta and earned Hotel night stays (1 free night earned after 10 stays) and got a rebate on the stay at the same time.

You get the picture here.  Yes, it’s a little extra work to take these steps.  But we were in Chicago for 5 days. That is an expensive vacation no matter how you shake it.  By taking a few extra hours to research and plan, I was able to knock off over $600 from the cost.  And to that I say – it’s worth it.