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Movie nights and dinners on the town are costly, but when you’re springing for a family of four, prices can be downright prohibitive. We say don’t stop the fun just because the budget’s tight. We’ve asked six social moms to provide free (and practically free) ideas bound to add some zip to your social schedule and break up the monotony of family time.

Road Trip
“Most of us have no idea how many fun activities are just a short trip from our homes. We basically take the afternoon and a map and go for scenic drives. We’ve uncovered everything from touristy spots to quaint towns with fun Main streets to areas filled with antiques. Or if it’s a really gorgeous day and we want to be outside, we’ll take our bikes to neighboring towns to explore. It’s a great way to spend time with each other and get some exercise.”
— Alya, 43, Marietta, Ga.

Clean the Garage
“A few times a year, we clean out the garage and let the kids transform it into a theater, a haunted house, a life-size playhouse, whatever their imagination lets them go. They invite the neighborhood kids to join in and the moms usually donate old costume jewelry, clothes and shoes so they can make costumes and put on a performance. It’s a great way for us to build a sense of community and let the kids get creative. Plus the garage gets clean!”
— Betty, 40, Highland, Ind.

Other People’s Stuff
“Flea markets are the perfect place to let everyone get out their need to shop. My husband and I set limits on our spending. We enjoy each other, spend time in the outdoors and have fun in the thrill of the hunt. Often we don’t find anything to buy, but love digging through junk to find the treasures.”
— Kris, 33, Rochester, N.Y.

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Showcase Your Skills
“Our favorite thing to do is host a family talent show. We actually don’t have tons of singing or dancing skills (that probably is why it’s so fun), but we love to get friends and family together to laugh and be silly. It puts a different spin on your typical dinner party. And making a fool out of yourself in front of people you love helps keep life in perspective.”
— Jane, 34, New York, N.Y.

Amateur Iron Chef
“We make family dinners a total surprise with a trick I learned from cooking school. I put a few mystery ingredients in different containers. Each person grabs a container and has to prepare a dish from what’s inside. My younger kids get easy ingredients like stuff for salads and my older ones get more challenging foods. Everyone loves to play along and we often end up with crazy meals that don’t always go together, but it’s always a laugh.”
— Karen, 41, Kansas City, Mo.

Back to School
“Even though my kids aren’t in high school yet, we’ve started following our town’s high school athletes. We love supporting the community, the events are usually free and it gives our family a built-in weekly activity. Plus, it’s fun for us to track the games and root for our favorite players.”
— Nicole, 36, Phoenix, Ariz.

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