get out of the house without breaking the budget

snack ideasThis post was inspired by a reader question I received oh, nearly six months ago now (sorry about the tardiness) but as it is summer and school holidays I thought it would be a good time to cover the topic: how to save money on family outings.

The key to saving money on family outings is to be organised. That means having the things ready that you need to take and having easily packed snack or lunch options available in the house, ready to grab.

It just so happens I’ve created a little printable checklist to give you some ideas on what you might need to pack on outings (you can download it below).

But what about spontaneous decisions to go out and have fun? How can you be organised and spontaneous? The way to prepare for spontaneous fun is to have a kit in the car of things you might need (picnic blanket, towels, spare kid’s clothes, sunscreen) as well as having things organised at home so that they are easy to grab.

For instance, in the summer months, you might consider storing all beach stuff – towels, swimmers, kickboards etc., together in the one bag or place so that everything is quick and easy to find when the urge to swim hits. That means you’re out the door with little fuss and spending more time having fun. To make things easier on you (always a priority!), older children can have their own bag with their stuff in it, that they can carry themselves.

When it comes to saving money on food and snacks there are several options. The first is to pack your snacks and lunch before you go. The photo above is a sample of what we might pack for our little fella a day trip: there’s sultanas (much cheaper to buy a large packet and decant them yourself into containers rather than buy individual boxes), some cut up apple (I have found that it doesn’t tend to go brown in the container – I don’t know why), some cheese and crackers and a vegemite sandwich. I also pack a bottle of water for each person (but not bottled water, if you know what I mean) and maybe some snacks for me that the little fella doesn’t eat, but I didn’t photograph these. The sandwich sized containers, by the way, are great. DH takes his lunch in them and we haven’t used cling-wrap in years.

Alternatively, you can pack an easy picnic with things like bread rolls and salad that you can make up during lunch time. For the super prepared, there’s always cold quiche or leftover chicken, but I’m generally not that organised. In a pinch, you can pick up some rolls and ham from the supermarket, which is much cheaper and healthier than junk food. If you store your picnic set in the boot of your car it makes these spontaneous picnics easier.

Lately we’ve been having dinner down at the river where it’s much cooler. We generally eat dinner around 5:30pm, so we’re not changing our routine to cook earlier and make it down before nightfall. These picnic dinners are often spontaneous and again, having picnic gear already packed and ready to go makes spontaneous decisions easy to execute.

Many dinner dishes lend themselves to being packed as a picnic instead. We’ve eaten honey roasted pumpkin risotto by the river (beats KFC any day), stir fries and curries (just pack the rice and the curry separately like they do when you get takeaway), and the other night I cooked a chook in the slow cooker and we bought a couple of dollars worth of chips to go with it.

One day I might make some insulated carriers for these meals, but for now I find wrapping the containers in tea towels keeps dinner warm and we have the tea towels for hand washing if we need.

You can download the checklist here (pdf format), and I’ve included blank spots so that it can be customised.


Now it’s over to you. What are your tips for saving money on family outings? How do you get out the door with minimum fuss and without forgetting the things you need? What easy food / snack ideas do you have on standby for when you’re out of the house?

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  1. says

    With 3 daughters (primary school age), packing food is essential when going on outings. If not, it could cost you up to $50.00 to feed them! We went ice-skating on Sunday and to cut costs I brought along snacks for the girls to eat. I did buy a box of popcorn there for a treat ($4.00). This year, we are going to utilize bike paths, parks and free council activities to try and save some money in the entertaining budget. Thanks for the pdf download and thanks for a wonderful blog. Its on my daily read list.

  2. says

    Thanks Melissa for the tip about leaving the picnic basket in the car. (Not sure about leaving the sunscreen in the car though as it might go off in really hot weather.)

  3. says

    I always keep some plastic bottles with cordial half full in the freezer. Just top them up with water and put them in your insulated container. They help keep the food cold and you have a cold drink 4-5 hours later when its lunch time.

    The trick is not to put the top on the bottles until they freeze otherwise the shrinkage deforms the bottles.

  4. says

    I keep all the swimming related stuff in a plastic tub. So easy enough to grab and have a quick sort through for what we want to take. If need be we can chuck the whole thing into the boot and take out what we need when we get there.

  5. Rachel says

    Love this. Some great ideas, thanks Melissa and everyone else. Swimming gear in tub, brilliant! (and so simple).

    We have sunscreen in the car and it has handled over a year of hot and cold weather very well, still does the job. (It is a bulk pump pack.) Decanting to “roll on” is something I will consider, as it has been “pressed” x2 now :(

    This is an area I really need to focus a whole arvo on!

  6. says

    I have a summer box and a winter box ready for outings. Towels, floaties, goggles and sunscreen in the summer box. Scarves, gloves, beanies, jackets and raincoats in the winter box. They swap places from the bottom shelf to the top shelf of my storage shelf depending on the season.

    I do like the idea of a list. I could really do with that. I am also in the process of using 4litre Decor containers that slide into the supermarket cooler bags to store a set of cutlery, plastic cups and a set of plates and bowls along with a small chopping board, a sharp knife, paper towel, tongs and a table cloth. Even if something is really spur of the moment I can get sausages, salad stuff and bread rolls at the supermarket for a barbecue dinner.

    With my family of 6 it is necessary to be organised. Fish and chips is no longer the cheap option, unless you can persuade everyone to share burgers, which has happened on occasion.

    Thanks for the ideas,

    Best wishes
    Jen in NSW