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With Americans’ financial woes and stress levels mounting, finding activities that are both engaging and affordable can be a challenge. Here are five budget friendly ways to entertain your brood, without resorting to fast food, television reruns, and cabin fever–inducing staycations.

The average cost of a movie ticket in the United States is roughly $7, which makes a trip to the big screen remain an affordable family outing. If you’re looking to shave off a couple bucks, go during matinee hours when ticket prices are often slashed by as much as 50%. Otherwise, some movie houses, such as AMC and Regal Cinemas (STOCK QUOTE: RGC), offer discounted bulk tickets (plus popcorn and soda vouchers) that can be used 10 to 12 days after a film’s release. Think about this way: Once the opening week crowds thin out, you’ll be able to claim an entire row of seats all for yourselves.


Going to the theater doesn’t have to be a pricey white glove affair. In New York, organizations such as Audience Extras and Play by Play, are desperate to fill unsold seats. The circumstances vary - they want to generate buzz for a new show or pack the house when a critic or celebrity is in attendance - but the price is always low ($3.50 per ticket with yearly membership). If you live far from Broadway’s bright marquees, Theater Mania sells discount tickets for performances in Philadelphia, Florida, San Francisco as well as a host of other cities.


No matter how many times you visit the same museum, you can always come up with a different take on a familiar work of art or find a new exhibit to explore. Luckily, most institutions offer free admission on certain nights of the week. The Children’s Museums in Chicago and Houston host families on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and even organize special events (puppet shows, dance performances and craft demonstrations) that cater to kids of all ages. For another interactive experience, science centers around the country like those in Phoenix, Orlando and Maryland, offer annual family memberships that pay for themselves after just a few visits — same goes for some zoos, aquariums, and amusement parks.


Chances are you want to broaden your offspring’s culinary horizons by exposing them to a wide range of foods, but can’t afford to eat out all the time. Try Restaurant Week, when budding gourmets can chow down on three-course meals at some of the best restaurants in town (whether you live in Boston, New York, Atlanta or elsewhere) for the price of an entrée. Austin Restaurant Week (October 12–15, 19–22), Denver’s International Restaurant Week (October 12-18), and Brooklyn Goes Veg! (October 19–25) are up next. Alternatively, you can make a home-cooked meal, which costs about $5 per person, according to Good Housekeeping, and doesn’t require tipping.

Football fans planning to attend an NFL game this season will pay an average of $396.36 for a family of four, according to Team Marketing Report’s Fan Cost Index (FCI). What do you get for that sum? Four tickets, two small beers, four soft drinks, four hot dogs, parking for one car, two programs, and two caps. Better to watch the game at home, or head to your local high school or college for some live action. You won’t pay more than $50, including grub for the entire clan, and perhaps you’ll even see tomorrow’s star quarterbacks before they’re discovered.