Warm weather and long days are upon us, and many families are looking forward to the extra time spent together, reconnecting after a long school year, making memories, and enjoying summer fun. Summer can also be a time when budgets seem to fly out the window, and many favorite summer activities are also increasingly expensive, from amusement park visits and pool passes to faraway vacations.

If you’ve been wanting to spend more time together as a family but are struggling to find things to do that fit into your budget, this post is for you. It’s full of local and adaptable family activities that won’t “break the bank”—giving you the quality experiences that you want without having to spend a lot.

There are a multitude of benefits found in spending time together as a family. The activities you do together don't have to drain your wallet. It's easy to have fun on a budget.

Regular Family Time has Many Benefits

Any parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle knows from experience that children shine when they have positive attention and quality time with their family. These positive results aren’t just evident to us, they have been widely documented and studied. As the article “The Benefits Of Family Time” by Nourish Interactive points out, regular family time can contribute to:

  • Stronger emotional bonds,
  • Better communication among family members and children,
  • Improved performance at school, and 
  • Fewer behavioral issues in teens

However, quality time means more than watching a show together or driving between one afterschool activity and another. It means actively engaging and interacting with each other—talking, having fun, and building memories. While going on expensive trips or bonding over a nice meal at your favorite restaurant can be great ways to connect, there are numerous simple and affordable ways to create meaningful experiences with your family.

Spending family time together and enjoying fun activities is associated with kids and parents having a stronger emotional bond.

Cheap or Free Family Activities in the St. Louis Illinois Area

Finding affordable activities that the whole family can enjoy can be challenging, whether you have younger children, older children, or a mix of ages in your group. We’ve gathered some of our favorite local options with low or no admission fees. 

Boo Castle Park: Got younger children? At Boo Castle Park your kids can explore the beautiful landscapes, climb on the sleeping dragon, or wind their way through the castle maze. A privately-owned park named after Jeremy “Boo” Rochman, this space is free and open to the public.

Illinois State Museum: A great educational experience for people of all ages, the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, headquarters of the Illinois State Museum System, features impressive natural history exhibits, cultural installations about the rich social history of our state, and a fun-filled “play museum” for small children. Best of all, admission is free.

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge: Whether your lot includes avid hikers and outdoor explorers, or low-key nature enthusiasts, the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is a great option for families with a diverse range of ages. Go canoeing, pack a picnic, or bring your binoculars to catch a glimpse of one of the many native Illinois birds that call this 44,000 acre sanctuary home. From oak hickory upland forest to grasslands and wetlands, the refuge contains a variety of landscapes and wildlife. And admission is only $2 per car.

Henson Robinson Zoo: Home to animals native to Australia, Africa, Asia, and North and South America and over 80 species of native and exotic animals, the Henson Robinson Zoo is fun for the whole family. Admission is $5.50 for children 3-12 and Seniors 62+, $7.50 for ages 13-61, with lower rates available for groups of 10 or more. 

From cook-offs to obstacle courses, there are many at-home activities that are fun for the whole family.

More Family Fun Around Town

Choosing a fun destination can be a quick, simple way to create a family-friendly plan. If you’re looking for something more exciting or more involved, here are some great one-time or ongoing ideas to engage the whole family.

Volunteering: Why not get the family out of the house and also do some good in the community? Volunteering doesn’t just help families bond, and helps build and emphasize your family values. You can help an elderly neighbor with yard work, clean up a local park, volunteer at an animal rescue, or find a myriad of other volunteer opportunities at Serve Indiana.

Do a Taste-Off: Wondering who has the best french fries, tacos, or milkshake in town? Create a “Family Taste-Off” by purchasing 3-5 items from different establishments, take them to a local park for a picnic or back home for a night in, and have a blind taste test. Give each family member a paper with the number of items you are trying and have them score them on a scale of 1-5. Tally up the points and make a plan to visit the winner on a future family date night.

Visit Parks and Do a Family Review: Looking for an engaging activity that can last the whole summer long? Why not pretend you are elite “Park Reviewers”  and take a month or two to visit various parks nearby as a family. After each visit rate the park in categories such as “Best Playground”, “Shadiest Trees”, “Best Open Spaces for a Foot Race”, or any other categories your family can think of. Take pictures and at the end of the park tour, have the family write a review to put in the family scrapbook. Better yet, plan an end-of-summer picnic there and invite the whole crew. 

Assist an elderly neighbor with yard work, clean up a local park, or volunteer at an animal rescue. Help your family by helping others.

Cheap or Free Family Activities You Can Do at Home

While our region is home to a number of outdoor and cultural activities, sometimes you just need an evening at home with the family. Here are some quick, easy ideas you can do at home, 

Family Cook Off: Using ingredients already found at home, divide the family into two groups and have a friendly Chopped-style competition. Choose recipes as simple or complex as you need for your family. Consider inviting over grandparents or friends to be your taste-testers at the end.

Family Movie Night: Movie nights are classic family activities, but there are many ways to spice them up to make them feel unique and memorable. Fargo Mom has lots of great suggestions, from taking old boxes and decorating them to look like cars for a drive-in movie night, to watching Lady and the Tramp while feasting on spaghetti. Fire up the printer and create invitations, popcorn boxes, and other fun movie-themed printables like these found at The Beehive Connection.  

Family Obstacle Course Games: From spy school courses to old-fashioned hopscotch, you can create a wide variety of active indoor or outdoor obstacle style activities. Mom Junction has gathered ideas with options suitable for the whole family.

Family Game Night: Many Americans—28 percent—already enjoy weekly family board games for their entertainment and enriching qualities. If you haven’t played a family game in awhile, consider putting a regular board game night on the calendar. Spend the evening gathered around the table competing for Boardwalk and Park Place with a classic game like Monopoly, or try out a new family-friendly card game

Dieterich Bank is Here for the Whole Family 

At Dieterich Bank, we pride ourselves in being a community-owned bank, and we’re invested in the success of your family. From community events like our KidPreneur Pop-Up Shops to our free end-of-summer Pool Takeovers, we work hard to provide affordable and enriching opportunities for children and families in our community.

We also know that building strong financial skills from a young age is an important part of offering your children a lifetime of stability, whether it’s managing your Monopoly bank account or finding creative ways to enjoy each other’s company without spending a fortune. 

Stop by one of our branches in and around St. Louis to open a Super Green Savers kids savings account or a first checking account for your teen, invest in your children’s future with a CD, or explore our Financial Literacy Tips for Young Adults to learn more about how to help the kids in your life work toward a strong financial future.