Family Fun Nights With A Frugal Twist

Tonight begins a new tradition in the frugal household – Family Fun Nights. My wife and I agreed a while back we were spending too little quality time together as a family, and too much time parked in front of the television. We have scaled back to basic cable which leaves few viewing options, particularly on Friday nights. Here is how we plan to boost our quality time together over the next four Fridays without emptying the entertainment envelope.

Create a family fun jar. Having fun together as a family doesn’t have to be expensive.  I enjoy the annual trip to Six Flags as much as anyone, but anything more frequent takes a toll on the wallet.  The kids plan to decorate a large mason jar using stickers, paint and some stick-on jewelry. Inside the jar we will place strips of paper with all of our ideas for things to do on Family Fun Night. On Thursday evening the kids will randomly select an idea from the family fun jar and the selection becomes the theme of Friday evening’s family fun night. The kids have already come up with some great ideas:

    1. “Power’s Out!” This one might be my personal favorite. The idea is to simulate a night without power. Turn off all the lights, computers, and televisions in the house and pretend you are without power. Light some candles and gather around the kitchen table for a night of boardgames and playing cards (remember the safety rules regarding candle usage).
    2. Have a luau. As the weather warms up this is one we will definitely enjoy doing. Transform your backyard into a Hawaiian luau setting, complete with tiki torches, some inexpensive leis and a couple whole pineapples from your local grocer. While out of season many of these items can be purchased relatively cheap at a party store, or larger discount stores. Light the tiki torches, fire up the grill and enjoy your favorite grilled cuisine along with some sliced pineapple for dessert.

  1. Movie night. Another crowd favorite, movie nights simulate a theater experience in your own living room. With the lights down low gather around your family room television and watch a favorite DVD. In our fun jar each family member has a vote for “movie night,” so the name drawn gets to pick the movie. This saves dad from having to endure endless weekends of High School Musical 2! My wife makes homemade popcorn and we share a movie-sized box of candy bought for $1.00 at Target or a local pharmacy (purchased outside of a theater these “movie boxes” of candy cost about 1/3 of the price at theaters).
  2. Game Night. Similar to “Power’s Out,” but with lights. Game nights offer an opportunity to play together as a family. I like to play something with an educational twist so the kids learn something while having fun. If you are interested in teaching kids about money there are several good Monopoly Jr. editions out. Be careful, some of these Monopoly games have move away from using Monopoly money have partnered with Visa to let kids “electronically” manage their monopoly balance. What a dumb idea. When I was a kid Yahtzee reinforced my multiplication tables, while Battleship helped develop strategic planning and thinking.

Does your family have a “fun night?” I’d like to hear from you what frugal ideas your family might put in a family fun jar.


  1. Family fun jars are a great idea!

    Not only is it cool to the kids, it’s cool for the parents too – hey, everyone likes to see piles of money! It must be an inherent human trait. 🙂

    Family fun jars also teach your kids the basics on how to save and the rewards of saving.

    Great idea dad!

  2. Wow, I want to have a ‘power’s out’ night, sounds like fun! The jar is a great idea, it makes sure everyone gets a fair say.

    If we had a ‘fun night’, my suggestions would be:
    – Girl’s night in: everyone (including the male members of the family!) gets a manicure and face mask, and we watch a girly film like Legally Blonde or Pretty Woman. My brother would HATE it! Haha.
    – Drama night: The family splits into two groups (this only works if there’s 4 or more of you) and each group has to make up a 5-minute play, to be performed to the others. You can use props, costumes and makeup, and be as silly as you like!

  3. We frequently do movie night on Friday’s around my house. We usually combine this with a fun food that the whole family loves like tacos, pizza, or nachos. It is a great way to wind up the week especially since mom and dad are usually ready for a little break just to chill at home. This approach is a lot less expensive than a restaurant and theater plus for us it is better quality time.

  4. This approach to family time was done by my family – my parents limited us to watching TV only six hours per week (we each got to pick one, one hour show to watch each week). Mine was always Nature – just in case you were wondering.

    Anyways, we had lots of no-cost family night ideas, although we didn’t use a jar to pick them. I remember that we did more of a round robin selection (youngest to oldest).

    – Scrabble developed all of our vocabularies, and was a great Saturday night game. We often teamed up siblings to help even out the skill levels.
    – Backyard Camp-outs: complete with smores on the BBQ and two tents, one for parents, one for the kids. We’d sing camping songs, hike our neighborhood, and basically pretend we were at camp. When we were all a little older we actually went camping…alot! It’s a really fun low-cost experience.
    – Old fashioned street games: My mom had a book from the 1940’s of ‘games to play when you’re young’ and we’d always look through that book when we were bored and pick one to play. Kick the can, races, rolling our hula hoops down the road, etc. There were lots of inside games too, I remember one of our favorites was the memory game, where mom would put ten to fifteen things on a tray, let us look at it for one minute, and we’d compete to see who could remember the most.
    – Charades was always really fun for us.
    – In college we also like the game Cranium a lot because it had four different games in one (pictionary, trivial pursuit, and so on)
    – Building a fort. When I was twelve my dad cleaned out his shop and gave all of us kids a bunch of scrap lumbar, a bucket of nails and four hammers (one for each of us). We spent the whole summer turning one end of our yard into our ‘fort’ and happily hammering and asking him to cut pieces to size for us.
    – Craft night: my mom would get us started on different projects, like learning to cross stitch, crochet, knitting, and quilting. Even my brother learned to sew on the sewing machine. These were fun, and later in life turned out to be great skills to have.

    Those are some of my fonder memories of growing up on a TV diet – hope they help someone out there!

  5. We do a jar for the holidays and do a countdown to Christmas. On Friday nights we do a pizza and movie night. My son & I go to the library and pick a kid’s movie and a movie for my husband & I. We do a fun dinner (complete with homemade cheesy bread and dipping sauce) and then we watch a movie together. I look forward to doing some board games together when my kids have the attention span to do those more often 🙂

    I love the Powers Out idea- so cool! Great tips!

  6. When my son’s were young, we loved to do science experiments. There are many fun and simple do-it-at-home project ideas, from the “erupting volcano” to making homemade fossils. The public library always has books on easy science projects for children. This is a super thing to spark kids interest in!

  7. Just found your site through Lifehacker, and now I’m an RSS subscriber. I was reading this article, and I have to say it doesn’t just apply to families. My friends and I were going out to dinner on Friday nights, spending $15-$20 each for 2 hours of yelling at each other just to be heard. We decided, since we all like board games, to get together for ‘pizza and games’ at each other’s houses. We take advantage of the “buy 3 or more for $5 each” specials that some of the delivery places offer, and we each bring a favorite game to play, plus something to drink and something to snack on. Our cost each runs around $5 or $6 for the night, and we spend about 4 or 5 hours together, and have much, much more fun!

  8. We have a game night every Monday night in our house. We all take turns picking what game we want to play. Things come up on Fridays plus the kids don’t get to play electronics during the week so they like to play on Fridays.

  9. When my kids were little we had “Friday Night Freak Out” I would put on some thumpin’ music and we would all bust a move in the living room.

    They still talk about it. 😀

  10. I love those ideas! We also do a pizza night – where we but the pizza crusts, cheese, sauce & toppings and make our own personal pizzas….the kids love it! Follow it with making your own ice cream sundaes. It’s just a fun relaxing night 🙂

  11. Here’s an idea-
    Camp out….in your LIVING ROOM!
    It’s fun.
    I like to do this in the winter with my kids, I think partly because it’s something my mom would NEVER have allowed.
    We set up a tent inside, sleeping bags and everything. We roast marshmallows in the woodstove (could be done over a flame on the stove top too). And sing songs or tell stories I remember from when I was a kid. It’s one of those things my kids will remember forever.

  12. Every night at dinnertime we do not answer the phone or the door. Some people are not happy if they know we are home but we have to protect our family time every night.

  13. These are great ideas!!! We have “Sunday Movie Nights.” The kids take turns picking the movie, and we make hommeade pizzas…I’ve taken to go menus from California Pizza Kitchen and other fun pizza places and duplicate the recipes so we’re always trying new kinds of pizza. We make popcorn or eat ice cream sundaes during the movie and turn the lights off. The kids get to stay up a little later than usual and absolutely love it!!!