20 Frugal Family Winter Activities

by Vered DeLeeuw · 10 comments


Let’s face it – winter can get boring fast. By the end of February, cabin fever is a likely scenario, especially if you have young kids. But winter is also a great time to engage in family activities that will bring your family together without costing you a fortune. Here are a few ideas to get you started, with the goal is to avoid hitting the mall!

1. Bake together. Cookies, cupcakes, even elaborate frosted cakes – I have found over the years that kids are not a hindrance in the kitchen. On the contrary, as long as you are willing to let go of perfectionism, they can be a lot of help, and needless to say, they love to bake, at least as much as they love eating the results.

2. Cook together. Just the same as baking, but even more fun, because when cooking you can be a lot more flexible when changing up the ingredients and just using what you happen to have in the kitchen. (Stay tuned for a fabulous frugal winter recipe in a blog post coming soon)!

3. Declutter and reorganize. I hate clutter and love order. What better time than a long, boring weekend afternoon to reorganize the house and make those three big piles of stuff – one for keeping, one for donating, and one for throwing out?

4. Go to the library. I don’t know if our grandchildren will still read books. I’m guessing that printed books, just like print news papers, are on their way out – which is not a bad thing, as it just means the world is changing and advancing. For now though, we can still enjoy going to the local library, going to the kids’ section and browsing through books. If your library offers Story Time, take advantage of that. It’s a wonderful way to pass an afternoon.

5. Picnic indoors. Indoor picnics are weirdly exciting. Basically you do exactly what you would do for a picnic outdoors, but you then have it in the living room. Kids LOVE it.

6. Rent a movie. I love taking my kids to the movies, but it can get expensive, especially when we add popcorn and a drink. Of course, the tickets themselves are not exactly cheap for a family of four. When we don’t feel like going to the movies, we declare a movie night at home, rent a movie, pop some popcorn and settle down to watch together.

7. Write letters to the grandparents. Real, old-fashioned letters. They are fun to write, fun to mail, and fun to receive!

8. Play in the snow or splash in puddles, then head back inside for hot cocoa. It’s a classic winter sensory pleasure – get cold and wet, then head back inside to get warm and dry.

9. Curl together in front of the fireplace and read. When your kids watch you reading and enjoying it, they are more likely to read too. No fireplace? No problem. A warm blanket and a plush carpet or sofa are prefect too.

10. Jump rope. Not all winter activities need to be sedentary. Jumping rope is a fabulous exercise and is so much fun.

11. Snow painting. Fill a few quirt bottles with water, each with a different food coloring, then head outside. Use your imagination to create fabulous snow art.

12. Build an indoor fort. Use chairs, empty boxes and blankets and just have fun with it. This activity is great for preschool-age kids.

13. Tell a story together. Each family member continues where the previous had left off. This can get seriously funny!

14. Make real, thick, creamy hot chocolate. Simmer 1-cup whole milk and 1/4 cup sugar together until just boiling. Remove from heat. Stir in 5oz semisweet chocolate, chopped, until melted.

15. Bake bread. Real yeast bread that you need to knead and punch down and let rise a few times is perfect for winter. The process is time-consuming, but lots of fun. Enjoying a slice of still warm, lightly buttered, crusty homemade bread is so, so good.

16. Visit an indoor pool. Our local YMCA offers a very affordable membership for the entire family.

17. Go ice-skating. While not exactly cheap, at about $10 per person for skating and skate rental at our local ice skating rink, this is still cheaper – and more active! – than going to a movie, since you won’t be tempted to buy junk to eat.

18. Look at photo albums and share memories. We rarely look at our family photo albums during the summer – we’re too busy doing stuff – but winter is a great time for looking back, reflecting and sharing memories.

19. Stand next to a big window and paint a still-life winter picture. Great for younger kids, especially if you can give them an easel.

20. Declare a “Make your own Pizza Night.” Use prepared pizza dough, or make it yourself. Set up a “topping buffet” on the kitchen table with sauces, cheeses and veggies, and allow each member of the family to make their own pizza.

What are your favorite winter activities?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Stacy Gordon January 13, 2011 at 6:28 am

These are such nice tips. You never remember this simple things when you are at home and your children feel bored. I will do a lot of those things. But I would like to give a good advice to all of you parents who would like to save money and show your kids how to. I barter old toys for new ones. I show my children that they have to give something for a new toy. I think it’s a good way to teach them that nothing is for free.

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marci January 13, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Scrapbooking – I save extra family photos or trip photos and let the Grands make their own pages and do their own journaling. They get to play with Grammi’s scraps stamps and all that.

Make Wrapping Paper – Take butcher paper – let the kids paint or stamp on it for a very personalized gift paper for use later on.

Sewing – Crochet – Knit – Embroider: These are the days I help the grands learn new skills and improve their old ones. They are avid learners.

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Jenna January 14, 2011 at 10:02 am

21. Do a huge puzzle. The kind that sits out on your dinning room table for a week while everyone pitches in.

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CreditShout January 15, 2011 at 9:34 pm

These are all great wintery fun ideas. I don’t think they should be limited to young children–especially the fort one. My college roommates and I would definitely love doing this in our living room with all our linens. Thanks for the other tips.

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Jacob @ My Personal Finance Journey January 16, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Make Your Own Pizza Night sounds wonderful. One of my best memories of a meal when I was a young child was making a home-made pizza with my Dad.

Also – the library idea is good. The library also has movies that the family can rent for free as well. :)

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Marnie January 17, 2011 at 7:47 pm

I’m leaving this window open to remind of the wonderful hot chocolate recipe. Too good to not try.

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Gail O January 19, 2011 at 5:18 am

Thank you for the tips. Another fun activity that we do is just to bundle up, put the dogs on a leash and go for a long walk in a park or in the woods. It is good to get outside even for a little while and get some fresh air.

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Kyle January 24, 2011 at 10:43 am

Great list. love the library idea. We did this with our kids a couple weeks ago and they could use the library computers, and checked out great kids books. We even rented some childrens DVDs for free.

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DC December 22, 2011 at 11:22 am

Thanks for the great tips! Even if you don’t have a fireplace, (something I have missed terribly in this house), one can also buy a DVD that shows a roaring fireplace, either with crackling embers, music or without. Playing this particular DVD is one of our favorite activities, cuddled up, on a cold evening, along with a mug of freshly made hot chocolate. (I do add a dash of vanilla extract to our hot chocolate. While in Poland earlier this year I was served hot chocolate – not hot cocoa – crowned with whipped cream and a light dusting of allspice. YUM!)
For those who don’t know your local libraries, do look in. Libraries are an opportunity to “travel” while staying home. I love libraries!!!!

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wkr January 27, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Great tips! Definitely not just for kids =) Really loved the hot chocolate suggestion. Here in Spain, when people talk about chocolate in a cup, it’s thick, almost like pudding. My husband, who’s Spanish, whipped us up some last Sunday morning after our early weekend morning exercise session (swimming lessons, our answer to our mid-life crisis ;)). Warmed milk and a chopped up bar of chocolate with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Vanilla is a good idea!

Why not have a “non-holiday” party? Only homemade gifts allowed (if any), in a secret Santa style. Play traditional party games like charades, have a budding magician put on a show, budding actors could put on a skit or two, budding musicians can sing or play, have a treasure hunt with prizes like cards saying “Get out of doing the dishes today” or “Good for a free session of I’ll-listen-to-you-talk-about-whatever-you-want-for-half-an-hour.” (You’ll have to tailor the cards to the situation!)

Something I did once as a teen, with a friend, was making fortune cookies. We lived in a very small community, and made cookies for everyone (about 25 people). We tailor-made the fortunes (boy was that fun!) and made sure not to mix the cookies up, so the right people got the right fortune. It was time-intensive, but what a memory.

Spending some time volunteering… there are so many opportunities, for all tastes and ages. Visit the pound and offer to walk a dog, join a big brother/sister group, teach people your language or how to read, go with a small group and sing/play instruments at an extended care facility/hospital (magicians and clowns are also often welcome). These take some planning ahead.

Happy Winter everybody!

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