The Winter Holiday Season often eats up a lot of our budget. And when the Holiday Season is over? We still have several weeks of Winter to experience before Spring arrives.
Although it may not sound like an expensive time of year, Winter months can sometimes result in more spending as we’re often cooped up inside and dealing with the winter blues, which sometimes leads to overspending in the form of online shopping or even taking tropical vacations you can’t quite afford.
“Winter is a tricky time for budgeting because it starts during the busy holiday season,” says shopping and trends expert Sara Skirboll. Between buying gifts, attending (or hosting) holiday parties, and traveling to see friends and family, your budget may already be stretched.
Colder months can also bring unexpected expenses, Skirboll says. For example, you may spend more time (and money) at the doctor’s office if you’re fighting the flu or a winter bug, or you may need to spend money on getting your car, and home prepped for winter weather. And, of course, your utility bills may be higher during the coldest months.
Luckily when it comes to finances and the Winter months, there is a slew of fun activities you can enjoy for little to no money out of your pocket, perhaps allowing you a chance to spend a little less and save a little more.
10 Budget-Friendly Winter Activities
1. Tubing or Sledding
Other than the cost of buying a new sled or snow tube, one age-friendly way to have fun in the snowy winter months is to go tubing or sledding. Although some ski resorts offer runs exclusively for sledding and/or tubing, they often charge a pretty heavy admittance fee. Instead of paying ski fees when sledding, you can often find the perfect bunny hill at a nearby public park.
“We always have a blast sledding at local hills for free or sometimes even in our yard. We have sleds that have lasted for a few years now that our kids love,” says Alice Anderson, founder of the pregnancy and parenting website Mommy to Mom. “We each fill a thermos with hot chocolate made from home and grab some snacks for when we take a break.”
If you live in a warmer climate, there may not be a way to escape heading to a ski resort or an area where fake snow is available. In this case, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they offer discounts online or in person.
2. Ice Skating
If you live in a warmer climate, there may not be any other way to go ice skating than heading to an ice rink and paying the cover charge. But if you live in a colder climate, especially in a place like Minnesota where there are 10,000+ lakes, there’s a good chance you can find a frozen pond, or perhaps someone in your neighborhood has made a backyard ice rink you can skate for free on instead.
If any of your outdoor plans require special equipment, such as skis or ice skates, “rent or trade, don’t buy,” recommends Erin K. Kirkland, author of an Alaska travel blog.
Caution: If you decide to skate anywhere other than an ice rink, ensure safety is your number one priority, and do not go out on the ice if it’s unsafe.
3. Build a Snowman
For those who live in a snowy winter wonderland, making a snowman or a snow fort can be a lot of fun.
“We like to use plastic storage bins to make the bricks. We fill them with snow and pat the snow down really well, then flip them over to release the brick,” says Anderson. “You complete a row at the bottom and then continue another row on top of that until you get your desired height. If you want to get really creative, you can decorate it using squirt bottles filled with food coloring and water.”
You can also take this activity up a notch and build what budget lifestyle expert Andrea Woroch calls “snow castles.”
“Dust off your beach toys and build your own snow castle in your backyard,” says Woroch. “These classic sand toys are great after a blizzard. And the best part? The castles actually last, unlike those on the beach that can get pummeled by the incoming tide.”
4. Hot Chocolate & Homemade Cookies
Comfort food always hits the spot – especially when it’s warm and chocolatey during the cold winter. So why not treat yourself to warm winter delicacies like hot cocoa, homemade cookies, or even smores with marshmallows roasted on the stovetop?
5. Home Movie Night
Popcorn, snacks, maybe even staying up a little past bedtime? These are ways to turn watching a movie at home into an at-home movie night. If you subscribe to Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu, or one of the many dozens of other streaming services, there’s no need to rent a movie – you have tons of options to choose from – including new releases right at your fingerprints.
6. Museums, Zoos, Aquariums
Popular tourist destinations like museums, zoos, and aquariums are often packed during the summer months. But during the winter? It may be relatively quiet, allowing you to see the different exhibits at your leisure and with a better view.
Another bonus? Some locations may offer discounted admittance fees or even offer free admittance on certain days during the winter months.
“Never leave money on the table when you can take advantage of savings,” shopping and trends expert Skirboll says. “Look for days when activities might be discounted, and triple-check for coupons and discount codes before making any purchases.”
7. Arts and Crafts
Stuck inside? Why not get creative? There are thousands of budget-friendly and age-appropriate arts and crafts ideas on Pinterest. Some arts and crafts supply stores also offer free or low-cost classes on various topics, from cake decorating and baking to origami.
You can also check out holiday craft fairs or winter festivals for ideas or to do a little shopping. Set a firm budget beforehand to lessen the temptation to overspend on all the artisanal goodies.
Another tip: Look and see if any of the festivals happening in your area also provide a variety of family-friendly entertainment. “I love to keep an eye out for local festivals and events that offer free sleigh rides,” says Brooke Frederick, founder of Minimalist Mama.
8. Pajama-Themed Potluck
True, you can have a potluck any time of year. But to make it a little more interesting during the winter, you can have a themed potluck and require attendees to wear flannel pajamas or even onesies – yes, even the adults. The food can follow a similar comfort-winter theme with hearty chilis, soups, casseroles, and pasta.
And get the kids involved in cooking too!
“There has been plenty of research to show that kids develop many different skills when they get involved with preparing meals early on,” says Frederick”Try a brand new soup, stew, or chili recipe, and have your kids help do things like wash vegetables, tear kale, or peel carrots. If you’re really feeling it, you could even make some homemade bread or buns and get your kids involved in kneading or rolling the dough.”
Not only is volunteering completely free, other than costing you a bit of time, but it’s a feel-good activity for all ages. If you have young children, volunteering as a family may help teach young ones about the importance of giving back.
Check your local community for volunteer opportunities. Some popular options include serving food at a local soup kitchen, playing with animals at a shelter, and organizing a winter clothes drive.
10. Board Games & Video Games
On a cold winter day, why not turn up the competitive heat with a friendly board game or family-friendly video game? You probably have several games at home collecting dust in your closet, so why not play a round or two with family or friends?
“When it comes to the game, assembling puzzles is a great choice,” says Fo Alexander, certified personal finance educator (CFEI) and founder of Mama & Money, a personal finance platform for moms. “There are puzzles for every age group, and they are extremely inexpensive to buy. You can assemble them on baking sheets while drinking some hot chocolate.”
Bonus: Certain video games and board games like monopoly can help teach young ones personal finance lessons.
What are your favorite budget-friendly Winter activities? Share with us in the comments below!