With summer holidays and festive parties aplenty, this time of year is one where you might be feeling like you’re overworking your bank card.
But with a little planning, it’s entirely possible to enjoy the holiday season without blowing your budget. We asked two frugal living experts on their best tips for holiday activities that won’t break the bank.
Plan an at-home staycation
Penina Petersen, writer and founder of money-saving website The Savings Room, recommends planning a “staycation” at home.
This is a relaxing option if your area is less crowded than usual due to others travelling over the summer break, says Penina: “You just have to plan ahead, create an itinerary and fill your days with free and fun activities.”
Your plans can include free local Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations, like carols in the park or fireworks, says Melissa Goodwin, Queensland-based author and creator of popular blog Frugal and Thriving.
The good news, Melissa says, is that “the summer holidays are great for low-cost local activities”.
She recommends checking out your local council website and popular ticketing websites for free activities in your area.
If you have kids, it’s also worth signing up for your local shopping centre’s newsletter, she adds.
“Many host free kids’ activities. One year ours did free cooking classes!” Melissa says.
Try DIY glamping
Camping, or even “glamping” (glamour camping), in your backyard is a low-cost alternative to a holiday .
“Make a trampoline into a tent or invest in a glamping tent. Your summer will be sorted at a fraction of the cost,” says Penina, who’s based on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
You can spruce things up bringing out some luxe cushions, camping chairs and puzzles, or by making up some special food platters (banana sandwiches or fairy bread is always a hit with kids, if you have them).
Music is essential to a successful glamping experience, Penina adds. You can even introduce a movie night into your glamping.
Take a road trip – minus the restaurant stops
Road trips are a summer holidays classic: You only need a car, a playlist, and a travel buddy for a great day (or weekend) out.
Penina suggests filling your car boot with non-perishable snacks and drinks before you head off, and preparing healthy lunchboxes in advance.
“When you stop at a servo, you’ll save a lot of money,” she says.
She recommends packing fresh sandwiches, veggie sticks with hummus, olives, fruit such as watermelon, and pretzels” — but adds that social media offers road-trip lunch-box inspiration aplenty.
“Take a look at ideas from Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest,” she says. “Use tech to your advantage and you will save big.”
Sports ovals, bike trails and more
There are so many benefits to getting active over the summer holidays by making time for bike rides, scooter rides, and skateboard rides, Penina says.
“You will save on petrol, get some exercise and use up leftovers with a picnic lunch everyone can enjoy,” she says.
If you’re more of a ball sports person, consider other forms of getting active: Melissa and her family particularly love “to visit a sports oval in the late afternoon when it’s cooler to kick a ball around, play some cricket or play basketball if there are hoops.”
Consider a ‘selfie journey’
Penina’s a big fan of photographic adventures, or “selfie journeys” — and while you can do this solo or with a grown-up friend, it’s a real winner with kids.
“These days, kids love taking photographs with their mobile phones,” says Penina, who sometimes takes selfie journeys with her daughter.
“Take the kids on day trips to interesting places, such as the laneways of Melbourne. Take pictures of each other in front of the interesting graffiti art walls [and] inspire creativity in the kids while having fun together and creating memories.”
She recommends looking up free events in your region or city to find your next day trip destination — then travelling by train to save on costs.
Get creative with a ‘restaurant’ at home
Eating out can add up, so Penina recommends recreating the restaurant experience at home using inexpensive knick-knacks from your local discount variety store.
“I once created a restaurant outside by covering our Hills Hoist with a large black stretch sheet,” she says.
“I added candles, music and a menu — filled with the same meals and wine, written up differently.”
Melissa says cooking itself can also become an activity for the whole family.
“A popular idea in our house is making gyoza (dumplings). It stretches a small amount of mince to make many, so they are fairly inexpensive,” she says.
“It’s fun to make and fold the gyoza — they’re easy once you’ve done one or two. You can find how-to videos [online]. The kids can make them, giving them something to do (although it’s nice to do it together).”
Gyoza are also easy to cook in a frying pan and can be eaten as a picnic at the park for a fun and easy dinner adventure, Melissa says.
… Or just fire up the barbie
If all else fails, Penina suggests “the humble Aussie barbie” as a foolproof way of bringing friends and family together.
For a varied and cost-effective meal for adults and kids alike, all you need is sausages, tomato sauce, bread, margarine, and potato salad ingredients, she says.
Bonus: “Barbecued budget meals and salad also make plenty of leftover serves for picnics the next day,” Penina says.
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