Get Your Family Outside…and save money!

GYFO can be inexpensive, and much of the time it’s free. If you live in a house, apartment, or condo, you likely have available greenery nearby, in the form of a yard or courtyard. It doesn’t cost anything to venture there.

Our property doesn’t have a large back yard; our house sits on a modest 1/4-acre lot. We make do with what we have though and over the course of four years put a large swing set and small sand box out there. Those along with our miscellaneous collection of balls, bubble-mowers, tricycles, and other outdoor toys have turned our small back yard into our very own convenient playground.

We’re not saying you need to go to this extreme (please keep in mind most of these toys were second-hand items, things left out by the road in front of somebody’s house, or gifts from others), and we’re not assuming that you even have available lawn space for outdoor activities and structures (we’ve lived in an apartment too and can relate), but this is another reason why our boys love going outside: simplicity.

If you have a box of toys that are just for the outdoors or a soccer ball or baseball and gloves, you can also take advantage of your apartment or condo’s outdoors. In the grand scheme of things, you don’t necessarily need your own private space or yard. Activities like hop-scotch, jump-roping, and skating can all take place on a sidewalk or empty parking lot, so the lack of grass is by no means a deal-breaker.

Then there are parks, with and without playgrounds. Most of them don’t cost anything to enter; others are on a donation honor system, while some do charge admission (especially larger state and national parks). You don’t need toys, but most of those are inexpensive enough to pack and bring along.

Regardless, going to any city, county, state, national, or non-profit park is going to be cheaper (and cleaner, although that’s another topic) than amusement parks and indoor playgrounds. Our boys have yet to visit Disney or Sea World, although we live in Florida and less than 2 hours from them. It really doesn’t matter to them either; parents and media ingrain brands and characters into our children’s heads.

For instance, our oldest son loves trains, not Thomas or Chuggington; those names make no difference to him at all, so long as there are trains, with or without bells and tracks. He likes Thomas and Chugginton because they’re trains, not because it’s Thomas and Chuggington. He really has no preference. If trains have no brand, like those generic wooden trains that attach via magnets that Target sells, he’d be just as happy. It probably really makes no difference to your kids either. It all depends on what you put your focus on. Again, all they want is to play and be with you. Parents need to spend more time and less money.

As far as outdoor toys are concerned, you don’t need to spend a fortune on those. Our family shops thrift stores (we love Goodwill), yard and rummage sales, and consignment stores (namely Once Upon A Child) for most toys, especially those that will be used outside and will get ruined or dirty anyway. We wipe things clean with soap and water or some all-purpose cleaner (just wipe it down with a wet rag afterward), spray them down with something like Lysol (again following up with a wet rag), or soaking them in a tub of warm soapy water or warm water and bleach (just rinse well).

If you insist on new play items, request them as gifts or check out the clearance/sales sections of stores and end-of-the-season sales. Target, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Toys-R-Us, and Sports Authority have sales and clearance sections, usually clearly marked, and Big Lots, Ross, and Marshall’s sell toys at very inexpensive prices. When shopping new, we always search for the marked-downs.

This may sound a little extreme, but here’s something else that we do: We keep a small canvas bag in our vehicle at all times that is stocked with outdoor toys, including a couple of toy cars, a small soccer ball, a small football, two flying disks, a pale and shovel, and some sidewalk chalk. It doesn’t matter where we are, we have stuff they can play with outside. If we’ve been running errands all day and we want to give the boys a little break, then one of us will run into a store and take care of some shopping while the other takes the boys and that bag of toys to the far end of the parking lot, the sidewalk, or a small grassy null so they can play just play and take a break. It’s a win-win for everybody and there’s no stress; after all, shopping isn’t fun for anybody, especially kids.

So when you GYFO, you’re saving money as well. We need to spend more time with and less money on our children and family. In the end, the money doesn’t matter, but experiences do.

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