This past year has been one of the most financially challenging years we have had in our 13 years of marriage and yet many elements of this year have been the most fun. We have had to overcome what wasn’t in the budget with a lot of creativity.
I have been determined not to let our sub par income this past year keep us from squeezing every ounce out of what this city has to offer. We have only lived here a little over a year. My husband grew up here but has not lived here since he was a teenager.
Immediately upon arrival I began researching what was unique to this area and I will tell you how we financed several highlights this year by giving you a few examples.
Adventures from gifts (Birthday, Mother’s Day,.. etc)
*Luge – Only track in the US open to the public
*Hula hoop drop in class
*Aerial Silks and Hoop Wookshop
Adventures from Groupon or Deal Chicken
*SUP- Stand up paddle boarding
*Nelis Dutch Village
*Boulder Ridge Animal Park
*Guinness book of World Records largest rubber chicken toss (part of Laughfest)
*Murder Mystery Show (a part of Laughfest)
*Bert the Conqueror Extras on The Travel Channel ( received free tickets to HolidayWorld and meals while taking and had a friend to stay with )
*Michigan Football Game (won 4 tickets off a sports radio station having a live remote at Meijer)
*Shrek on Broadway (won 2 tickets from local news station)
*The Oprah Show (got free tickets and my bff’s mom treated our hotel room)
*Roller Derby practice
So my tips for creative FUNancing would be the following:
*Search local website for upcoming events in your community. There are tons of discounted or free events geared toward families that can make very unique and diverse experiences.
Ex.) I took my kids to an event called Site:Lab at Blandford Nature Center. It was basically like viewing an art show made up of mostly natural materials while hiking in the woods. It also included carriage rides and activities for free.
*Find a local website in your area with listings of events for kids. I have found that you do not always find the same events on both the general sites for the community and the specific kid’s sites.
Ex.) I have taken my kids to events at the library that included everything from portable petting zoos to pro frisbee shows.
I have also found community nights and church carnivals for kids where businesses and public servants have fire trucks, giveaways, and free food, in an attempt to bring the community together.
*Sign up for deals through multiple discount sites in any city you might visit in the future. I am constantly looking at my emails for adventures in cities I might want to try or to use as possible gifts for someone who lives near that area. Local coupon style savings websites are also helpful because they typically post daily about local deals at stores and deals and discounts for events in your area.
Ex.) I recently purchased a deal off of Deal Chicken for my nephews who have a birthday coming up next month. It was $12 and included 4 passes for 4 people that included laser tag, bowling and roller skating. I contacted their mom to make sure it would be something they would like.
Because I purchased two of them, they can each bring a friend and have the rest of their family members go too. This saved me money on their gift and allowed me to give them something that was normally priced $80 for 8 people for $24.
*Sign up for emails for places you specifically want to visit. They can offer you discounts and also make you aware of special unique events that you don’t want to miss out on.
Ex.) I am signed up for emails from Double J Ranch. I haven’t been there yet and they can be a little pricey. By getting their site’s emails, I am made aware of special events and discounts coming up.
*Check out what events are going on at your local parks. There are many events that are free or discounted.
Ex.) We recently went to an event for families at Outdoor Nature Preserve in Holland, Michigan. The cost was $5 per car and included candy for kids, games, smores, hayrides, and illuminated trails with animals in exhibits. That’s a steal for a family of 4 or more.
*Check your local newspaper. I find out about places or events that peak my curiosity that I add to my list and keep them on my radar for the future to try.
Ex.) I took my boys to a Civil War Muster that we had heard about in Holland, MI. We arrived as the huge battle scene was just ending. We did get to participate in many of the other activities still going on during the rest of the day but now we REALLY want to see a battle scene reenactment. I’m on the lookout for another event like that in the surrounding areas for the future.
*Take advantage of what special events your city has to offer during the different seasons.
Ex.) Art prize is an annual event unique to our area. There was a local photographer asking the community to take pictures of local landmarks while standing on marked footprints all over town. We went to the bridge landmark and I took a picture of my husband and our boys.
We then had our boys stand on the marked footprints and take a picture of my husband and I kissing on the bridge.
All of the images of the entries that were received were then laid over top of each other to make one picture at each of the landmarks. The final picture was then submitted as a piece for Art Prize. By participating in a simple gesture we were apart of something bigger that was displayed for tens of thousands to see.
*Enter local contests whenever you can
Ex.) This past year I have won 2 tickets to Shrek on Broadway, Air Zoo, a cornmaze, $10 movie gift card, 4 $70 University of Michigan Tickets and 12 tickets to the local comedy club just to name a few. Someone has to win. It might as well be you.
*Sometimes you need to “rob Peter to pay Paul”– Sometimes financing your fun comes down to choosing something that’s awesome over something that’s average.
Ex.) When we took our day trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes we didn’t have a ton of extra money for meals on the road so we brought breakfast, lunch and snacks with us, then we ate dinner out as the treat. Saving on breakfast and lunch created the extra give for the fee to get into the park.
Sometimes it can be as simple as choosing to not eat a fast food meal out and using that money instead on an activity you want to do. Sometimes the activity you want to do is a good meal out, so skip the money you could spend on the average food that week and splurge on the good one.
*Explore your city like you are a tourist. From google I have found MANY parks and unique sites that most locals have never heard of.
The advantage I have is that I’m not from here so I have no point of reference of good neighborhood/ bad neighborhood. Now I don’t put my family in situations of unnecessary risk but I have found that many people’s perceptions of parts of town aren’t always as bad as they make them out to be.
I’m not totally comfortable. By that I mean I haven’t lived here all my life so I don’t have the “been there/done that” mentality. I haven’t established all of my favorite hangouts yet but I have found ones I like. I’m very curious of the different varieties of culture this city and the neighboring cities have to offer.
Ex.) I found a unique park listed as “one of Grand Rapids’s best kept secrets for outdoor enthusiast” from a google search. It has wetland trails in the middle of a neighborhood in the city. I had a conversation with a GR native who loved hiking, he said he never knew this treasure existed and he had lived here his whole life.
*Take advantage of promotions by businesses.
Ex.) This past summer our local 5/3 Bank had a baseball glove drive where you would receive 4 tickets to a West Michigan Whitecaps baseball game along with a free Wendy’s combo meal in exchange for a gently used glove. I turned in a great glove that didn’t fit my son and then I purchased 2 other gloves in great shape at a yard sale for $4 total. We received 12 tickets and three combo meals with a $4 investment. We were then able to bring another family to the special Star Wars theme baseball game for free with us and also go another time with my son’s school field trip.
I understand the struggle so hopefully these resources will be helpful to fund your fun!
Here are some of my “go to” resources
restaurants.com (sign up for their emails. They always have codes for $2-$4 for a $25 gift certificates promotions going on each month)
urbanspoon for the recommendations of where to eat in almost every city to by the locals
mykidseatfree (can stretch your dollar more if you have multiples)
*Deals for just about anything
(Make sure you check when the offer for the deal expires. I have missed several deals that were offered only for one day because I thought I had more time to decide. I have also missed out on great deals that sold out really fast because I waited to purchase them that night.)
Event Resources for locals near Grand Rapids, Michigan