School Holidays on a budget

school holidays on a budget6 tips to doing these school holidays on a budget

We were about to sign our daughters up to a school holiday event when we started thinking “hey this is $70+ for 90mins of play”; hang on $70 for 90mins is pretty expensive!  Do that a few times over the school holidays and you’d be out of pocket $1000 or more in no time.  It got me to thinking that our kids and probably most other kids would be just as happy doing lower cost activities and it prompted me to create this list.  I hope you like it.


  1. Play Centres
  2. Movies
  3. Skating Rinks
  4. Pools/Water Parks
  5. Video Game Arcades
  6. Geocaching (Bonus activity)

1. Play Centres

This is the activity that sparked this article.  $70+ for 90 mins of play is outrageous when our kids and probably every other kid on the face of the planet would be just as happy at their local park.  Or you could go one better and check out one of your local area’s super parks.  They’re just like a normal park, but on steroids.  Brisbane has Moora Park, The Rocks & New Farm Park to name a few, but there would be similar parks all around the country I’m sure.  It’s free like your local park, but there’s heaps more to do, see and explore and it’s special because you are travelling there.

Added bonus: Many super-parks offer free wi-fi. If you’re a teleworker like me, you can take the kids and still get some work done, just make sure they understand that you aren’t participating in the play if this is your plan and always keep a regular eye out on them (I set an alarm to remind myself – sad hey :-()

Extra Added Bonus: Fresh air, outdoors, exercise and the ability to take packed lunch, it wins on so many levels

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2. Movies

Here’s another activity that can see a family of 4 lighten their wallets by $60 – $100 for 90 or so minutes of enjoyment.  While movies are great fun, they are quite expensive and becoming out of the reach of many families.  But don’t despair, there are plenty of ways to reduce costs here.  If you absolutely have to go to the cinema, lookout for discounts, Tuesdays are normally cheaper, kids movies often have family specials, but there are shop-a-dockets, Groupon, The Entertainment Book and other discount options that will reduce the ticket cost.  Finally given one of the most expensive aspects of the movies is food, you could consider taking along some of your own*.

If that’s still too much, why not make a big deal of watching a movie at home.  Get a rental movie from the local DVD store or look at what companies like Stan, Presto and Netflix offer or devices like Apple TV offer.  Make it a more memorable (or enticing) experience by trying some of the ideas listed below

  • Dress up and have a nice fun dinner (think homemade hamburgers/hotdogs and chips) before watching
  • Dress down (think PJs) and roll out mattresses and blankets and comfort food
  • Have the kids earn the tickets through good behaviour or they could even make them to gain entry
  • Get your nibbles from the supermarket or even better make something special (think fudge, biscuits, popcorn, slushies, spiders and sundaes)
  • Open your home “candy store” before the movie and let the kids buy items using a family currency i.e. good behaviour stars or behaviour bucks

Added Bonus: The reduced cost of staying home may allow you to screen a double feature.  This could serve as an added incentive for good behaviour leading up to the event or a softener for it not being “quite the same” as a real movie.

Extra Added Bonus: If you’ve got children that span a range of ages, if one gets bored, they can move off to something else without disrupting others, which is typically harder to achieve in a cinema.

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3. Skating Rinks

Skating is at least a bit easier on the hip pocket than the options above, but if your family is on a tight budget, it’s good to know there are low or no cost options.  Yes you could go to a skating rink, however your local park has plenty of areas to skate.  Some parks have special areas to skate and ride with road signs.  If you don’t already own skates, try eBay, Gumtree or Amazon for well-priced options or borrow some from a friend to find out if your kids even like it before forking out the money.

Added Bonus: No parks have rules about taking your own food, which of course is standard at skating rinks, so you and the kids don’t have to eat the stuff these establishments pass off as food while you there!

Extra Added Bonus: Fresh air, outdoors and exercise, need I say more.

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4. Heated Pools/Water Parks

Like skating, swimming at pools and water parks are activities that at least start to represent better value than the first few options, but once you add in food, which you’re often obligated to buy, your bill for the outing can skyrocket.  I know it’s winter and borderline freezing, but going to the beach can still be option.  It may not be a parent’s idea of fun, but to a child the beach can be just as fun in winter as it is summer, it’s just a different type of fun. Instead of going to a beach with crystal clear water and swimming in mind, think of beaches with a view finding stuff to explore – a bluff, sandhills, rocks, shells or a point; this will keep the kids (and you) entertained for hours.

Added Bonus: The water is pretty icy right now, so even your kids aren’t likely to do any more than paddle up to their ankles. This means less stress because they’re not going to get washed away to New Zealand by a rip or something!

Extra added Bonus: This is a more hands on activity, so you’ll more than likely have to participate to ensure what the kids are getting up to is safe, but this is the type of activity they’ll remember for a long time to come, perhaps forever and you’ll be in this memory as an active participant.

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5. Video Game Arcades

Video game arcades will always hold some interest for most kids – the lights, sounds, laughter and wall-to-wall electronica is a big drawcard and likely to invoke curiosity.  Now I know from experience of all the activities on this list, this can remove more money from your wallet than all of the other activities and in less time, so think long and hard before giving into their pleas to go in.  If they want arcade time, by all means give it to them, but do it at your home on your devices. Give them “arcade time” for a few hours a week, even an hour a day, like anything in moderation, this was not harmful to their development.  Some ideas for

  • Devices
    • If you don’t a device, the cheaper entry options are Playstation, XBox, Wii, etc and are available, often with games, relatively inexpensively from ebay, Gumtree, Trading Post and the like
    • EB sells refurbished consoles and games and accepts trade-ins of older systems
    • iPads, iPods and tablet options are always available via these outlets as well, but you might be better holding out for a super-special from reputable source where you get warranty and peace-of-mind
  • Software
    • eBay, Gumtree and EB are good options for console games
    •  Allow kids to get or earn a new game for the holidays.  If it’s for an iPad, Pod, Android, the $1 – $10 you’ll spend will be worth it given an actual arcade visit will set you back this much in the first 5 minutes!
    • Look at educational or semi-educational options.  Many games have a “learning by stealth” component, which is even better for their development.

Added Bonus: Arcades attract a interesting collection of people and I’m personally not a fan of having my children in those environments, even if I am supervising.  Home “Arcade Time” provides a much more wholesome environment that be easier to control.  Try adding in a friend or two and have an “arcade day” for extra fun and buy in on the child’s behalf.

Extra Added Bonus: If your kids are anything like mine, “arcade time” will deliver you the equivalent amount of time in peace and quiet.  They can be like zombies staring into that screen, which gives me time to catch up on work or whatever.  Just make sure you don’t take advantage of it as excessive screen time has been linked to all kinds of nasty outcomes.

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6. Bonus Activity – Geocaching (The endless treasure hunt)

I don’t of an equivalent paid activity, other than you as a parent setting up a treasure hunt for the kids.  Well someone, in fact many people have done the work for you.  Geocaching is a real-world treasure hunt game that can be done for free by anyone with a smartphone.   Never heard of it, well that’s not surprising.  Part of the game is to not reveal that you’re doing the game and that appears to add to the appeal.  Players have been hiding treasures or geocaches throughout the world for the past 15 years and there are currently 2.5m+ active treasures/geocaches for you to find!  If your kids dig it, you could literally keep them busy for a lifetime.  You simply download the app and away you go.

Added Bonus: Fresh air, outdoors and exercise, need I say more, but wait there is more – it also incorporates technology as an added hook to entice your kiddies.

Extra Added Bonus: While it’s fun, its also helping your child learn about mapping skills, directions and spatial orientation.

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Well there you have it, economical spins on popular kids holiday activities.  Make it even more memorable by allowing them to invite a friend or two along, pack a little extra junk food, etc; it will make them forget this is not the real thing, but turn it into a pretty good alternative and in some cases a better option.


* this may be frowned upon by some/all movie cinemas, so please do so at your own risk.  We have a daughter who is coeliac (no wheat), so most movie food is basically poison for her and this is often/always used to our advantage when going to movies (hint, hint).  In saying that, we’re pretty discreet about it and have yet to be asked, so we’ve never actually used the excuse, however valid it may be.

Leigh Grigaliunas

Leigh is an owner and co-founder of School Hours Pty Ltd.Leigh's passion for helping others coupled with his desire to achieve a balance between raising children and earning a living, lead him to create School Hours Pty Ltd with his wife Yasmin.School Hours will be the place to go for Australian parents wanting to connect with progressive thinking, family friendly employers.

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