Joanna Gailbraith outlines cost-effective ways to entertain the kiddos during the frigid days of winter.

Snow is great and magical around the holidays, but for us the wintry days after Christmas and New Year’s Eve are just a big countdown to spring and warmer weather. Our girls are bouncing off the walls (literally) from all the sugar and excitement in December. As much as we’d like to just keep them inside the house watching Dora the Explorer on repeat, we won’t—because that’s a special form of torture in and of itself. For our sanity as well as theirs, we need to get out and about during the winter.

Parents of young children know all too well the sacredness of naptime and the desire to preserve those two blessed hours of peace each afternoon at all costs. When kids aren’t able to get at least a little exercise, naptime usually suffers—and so do we. Here are some of the best ways we’ve found to get out of the house without buying expensive museum memberships or other indoor activity passes.


Libraries are a weekly trip for our family during the winter months. Story time picks back up in January after a holiday hiatus, and for exactly zero dollars you can have a fun, active, and educational activity out of the house. Our local library offers story time several times a week, usually in the morning, so we can head home and take naps afterward. Most libraries also have a small play area in the children’s section for kids to explore and burn off some energy, too. Grab some books on your way out, and you’ve just spent an hour not only killing time, but also doing something positive for you and your kids. Total score! We love you, library.


Now, hear me out on this one. I can practically see your eye roll through the screen because malls are the worst place to bring children, right? Wrong. If you’ve got the willpower to avoid Nordstrom and Banana Republic, you can head straight for the free children’s play area. Many malls include great indoor activity centers where your kids can burn off steam in the comfort of a warm building. Our nearest mall houses an indoor train and carousel, and while they’re not completely free, they’re only a couple bucks per ticket. We’ve even used our kids’ cuteness to woo the train conductor into giving us a free ticket once. It’s an entertaining, easy, and inexpensive way to put smiles on our children’s faces and let them have some fun without blowing our budget.


Local children’s museums are really beautiful, but also really expensive. At $15+ per person, a day at the aquarium or discovery museum can mean a day you blow almost $100. If you go with a friend or relative who has an annual pass, however, this usually means you can get a hefty discount. Almost as good is looking into an annual pass of your own. Many passes include entry to not just one museum, but a few different options in the local area. With just a few visits, you’ll have gotten your money back, and you have a year’s worth of go-to options for poor-weather days. And if you have a pass, you can be the cool friend who helps your friends get hefty discounts. It’s a win-win.

Free Days

Many activities become cheaper in the winter to draw more crowds, so check your local activities calendar for when these events occur. Our city zoo, for example, offers free Wednesdays once a month from November to February. It may be more crowded on those days, but our kids love it just the same. We get to learn about wild animals and get our kids out of the house for the day without going broke.

Snow Day

If you live in a cold climate, at some point you’re going to have to buy your kids boots, snow pants, jackets, mittens, scarves, hats, and a partridge in a pear tree. And our go-to store for these items has been our local thrift store, where we’ve been able to find really inexpensive, yet good quality, winter items. When temperatures aren’t dipping too far below freezing, we’ll venture outside and play in the snow. Crafting snowmen, plopping down for snow angels, racing down a hill on a sled, and making snow forts are what childhood is all about. Aside from what you spend on the clothing, Mother Nature doesn’t charge a dime. Another plus? After just half an hour of running around outdoors in the cold and snow, our kids are ready to be calm(ish) indoors.

Wintertime doesn’t have to equal months of suffering silently indoors on a budget, so get out of the house and have some fun. And, more importantly, get your kids nice and tired so they’ll take a good, long nap. The winter months are what you make of them. As for our household, however, we’re still counting down the days to spring.

Joanna and Johnny are the writing duo behind Our Freaking Budget,
a personal finance documenting the joys, pains, and realities of living on a budget.
From the basics of saving and getting out of debt, to venturing into the wild world
of basic investing, they document their journey through young adulthood
while exploring their love-hate relationship with their “freaking budget.”

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