Once you have kids, it’s often hard to imagine spending money on yourself—for a new pair of jeans, a blowout vacation, a month of spin classes.
Junior’s needs, whether for diapers, crayons or a college education, almost always surpass your own.
Your kid might have carved a big, dollar-bill shaped dent in your savings, but during this season of gratitude, take heart in the stuff of child-rearing that won’t cost you a dime.
Here, our roundup of the totally free things every kid (and mom) needs to thrive.
1. Fresh Air
Running around outside. It’s the age-old antidote to boredom, illness and obesity. You don’t need a room full of expensive toys when Mother Nature (and all that free, common cold-fighting vitamin D) is calling. To get your kids jazzed about the great outdoors, try planning fun trips so they don’t have to rely on just your backyard. Think: local playground, a nearby lake or even a drive out to a nature center. Other ways to engage them? Plant a family garden. Even as the weather gets cooler, root vegetables make for fun digging in the dirt. And don’t forget to encourage them to run around while they’re out there!
Of course, additional fitness is a boon to you, too, not least because studies have shown that more exercise can actually lead to higher pay. So, if you want to get in on the act yourself, here are eight free and easy ways to get a workout outside.
2. A Good (Non-Digital) Book
Shut down your Kindle, hide the $500 iPad you bought for Little One’s first plane ride and get thee to your local public library. Yes, many libraries offer free e-books for download, but why not give your kid the gift of paper and glue? Tablet devices may be convenient, but who has time to read with all of those distracting Dora the Explorer games?
3. A Healthy Dose of Downtime
You’ve enrolled her in dance class, piano lessons and after-school Spanish—all important, tuition-based activities. But according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, unstructured, independent, free play (fort-building in the basement, a game of tag in the backyard, a self-styled puppet show before dinner) goes a long way toward developing creative, well-adjusted, confident kids. If you fear you might be overbooking them, or allowing them to overbook themselves, read these ten signs your kid is too busy.
4. The Richness of Ritual
Family traditions foster a sense of warmth, togetherness and identity for children, and with a little imagination you can develop cherished customs for your brood on the cheap. Maybe you play board games every Friday night, pose for a family photo in the same place each year or share the highs and lows of your day at the dinner table.
5. A Love of Music
Before you download the latest Jack Johnson or They Might Be Giants children’s album from iTunes, do your wallet a favor and shop your decades-old music library, AKA your old CD and vinyl collection, for timeless gems. Even if you don’t have a huge collection of old Nat King Cole, you can have musical fun with the kids by inventing your own songs or making up new lyrics to favorite standbys. For more timeless holiday traditions, check out our guide to creating a retro Christmas.
6. A Financial Role Model
No matter how often you take advantage of all that is gratis for your growing girl or boy, eventually (maybe even while you’re reading this) they’ll need you to shell out for something. So make your next trip to the grocery store a teachable moment. For money teaching moments you can work into regular life and activities for your kids, check out these money milestones. (And to find out if you’re doing a good job as a financial role model so far, take this quiz.)
Above all else, the best free gift you can give your kids is that priceless parental wisdom of yours.