For five years, I single parented my two young children while living below the poverty line.
I have to say, aside from the very real worries of paying the mortgage and putting food on the table, one of my biggest fears was that my financial situation would steal joy from my kids’ childhood. In my situation, I couldn’t justify spending money on something that wasn’t a necessity, but kids just want to have fun. Have you noticed how expensive family entertainment has gotten recently?
Sure, there are free things to do like visit to a playground or take a walk around town, but after doing that for a few years, I was left feeling guilty that I couldn’t provide my kids more experiences. So one night, in an attempt to find somewhere that I could take them that wouldn’t break the bank, I took to the internet and I was shocked by what I found.
Take a look at these fun activities available to low-income families:
1. Check out Museums for All.
Museums for All is a program that offers food stamp recipients discounted entrance fees to children’s museums all across the country. Fees range from free to $3, and allow up to four individuals per EBT card to enter the museum. The site lists a variety of museums across the country that participate, but I was surprised to discover that many museums have very similar programs even if they aren’t listed. I was pleased to learn that our local museum offered a $10 per year membership if I came in with a valid photo ID and EBT card.
2. Apply for a YMCA scholarship.
We’ve all heard of the YMCA, but what many people don’t know is that they are actually a 501c3 nonprofit. To keep their status, a good portion of their funding must go directly back into the community. They do that by offering low-cost programs and scholarships to financially needy families. All I had to do was fill out a form, submit a few proofs of residency, and attach a copy of my tax return. We were granted a scholarship that brought our membership fee down to $15 per month (fees vary by location).
The kids and I were able to participate in discounted or free classes, use the pool, sports courts, fitness center, computers, and family entertainment room. We were even able to participate in activities, such as an Easter egg hunt and breakfast with Santa. The single mom in me has to say that the free childcare center was a welcome break when I needed a few minutes to just breathe.
3. Learn more about scholarships available in your area.
This one may seem kind of vague, and it is, because you get to fill in the blanks. Once I started realizing how many places offered discounts to low-income families, I began to pick up the phone and call local facilities in my area to see if they had any assistance programs available and was pleasantly surprised.
A local dance studio offered free classes to eligible families and a local art center offered free art classes to local children enrolled in a food assistance program. The Park District had scholarships available for every single class, and even a family fun center was quick to offer us free admission for the day.
I never outright asked for anything, I just simply asked if they had any programs or opportunities for low-income children; most people were very helpful and friendly in assisting me.
4. Get to know Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
While this is another program that many have heard of, a lot of folks don’t have a genuine grasp on what they do. The Big Brothers Big Sisters program matches at risk youth with adult mentors. Once enrolled in the program, children are matched with a mentor, but even if they have not yet been matched, they have access to a multitude of donated community events.
My daughter went to a bowling party. My kids saw a play and were given tickets to a baseball game. My son was even offered free karate classes. There was an application and interview screening process, but it was definitely worth the effort.
5. Don’t forget about all those free days!
This one takes a bit of planning, but if you are willing to spend an hour or so of your time, you can fill every weekend with free fun. From a traveling exotic zoo at a garden center (we got to pet a sloth!), to family movie night in the park, I managed to get so many free things on the calendar that my poor children were begging to just stay home after a while.
Great places to find free events are community calendars, your local “mom” Facebook page, and even a quick call to your local township office or Chamber of Commerce can keep you in the know. I was able to find out which days were free at the zoo, learn about local festivals with free admission, and even worthy business promotions, like free movie rentals, free build-your-own sundaes, and free kids’ yoga class to keep us busy.
Being in a tough financial situation is stressful for everyone in a family, but when you find a way to get everyone smiling, you gain the opportunity to make the memories every family deserves, regardless of your economic status.