Exploring on a Budget – 6 Tips and Tricks to Save You Money

We spend a significant amount of time perusing far away lands and, as a family of seven, we need to do so on the cheap.   By saving dollars everywhere we can, we’re able to do more of what we love.  So, here are 6 great ways to go exploring on a budget.

Reciprocal Memberships

Da Vinci Science Center – Allentown, PA

I can’t say enough great things about these.  We use ours weekly, at least.  There are:

ASTC (free admission to science and technology museums) info
ACM (half off admission to children’s museums) info
AZA (free or reduced admission to zoos and botanical gardens) info
Time Travelers (free or reduced admission to historical museums and societies) info
NARM (free or reduced admission to art museums) info
CAMM (free admission to maritime museums) info
AHS (free or reduced admission to gardens and horticultural societies) info

If you’re just looking for an ASTC membership, which is a must for us, the cheapest place around to pick one up is at the Kopernik Observatory up in Vestal, New York.  It’s $60/year for a family membership and includes all of the local museums that would otherwise be excluded because they’re so close together.

You can grab an ASTC, ACM, and AZA combo for the lowest price, that I know of, at the Boonshoft Museum out in Dayton, Ohio for $135 for the year.  That would be the Adventurer level membership.  For both of those places, it’s quick and easy to get signed up online.  If you decide to join through a local museum, be sure to check the benefits that are offered outside of just the reciprocal.  Many offer free or discounted admission to other local attractions or percent-off discounts at nearby merchants.

Another great combination of reciprocals can be picked up at the State Museum of Pennsylvania.  The family level membership, for $75/year includes the ASTC, AHS, and Time Travelers.

Each of the reciprocals have their own stipulations, so be sure to take a minute to read them over before signing up.  Most top out at 6 free admissions and must include the card holder.  So, if you have a larger family with older children, it might be a good idea to grab a membership for your spouse as well if you plan on using them often.

National Parks

Weir Farm NHS – Wilton, Connecticut

Our national parks are an amazing resource!  There are so many great museums, vast wildernesses, and fascinating ranger-led lectures and exhibitions all around the country.  They are inexpensive to get into (most topping out around $20 for a day or several days, and for as many people as you can pack into your car).  There’s also the Junior Ranger program that offers a free badge (or badge and iron-on patch) for having completed a fun workbook and a few simple tasks.  You can even follow up at home with their WebRangers online program that also comes with a patch they’ll send you when you finish.

You can save on admission by snagging an annual pass (for just $60/year) or if you have a 4th grader, the Every Kid in a Park pass will get you in for FREE and will even give you free admission to some of the museums that are extensions of the parks which aren’t covered by the annual pass.  You can sign up for your Every Kid in a Park pass here.  It’s valid until the end of August 2017.

State Parks

Chimney Bluffs State Park – Wolcott, New York

Here in Pennsylvania, our state parks are free to explore.  Yep.  FREE!  Some states charge a nominal fee to park (generally between $5-$10 for the day) but also offer an annual rate as well.  We’ve had so many amazing experiences playing around in our state parks.  They are an excellent, inexpensive way to get out and get to know the terrain around you.  In addition to hiking/biking trails, swimming pools, and water areas for boating/kayaking, many have a visitor’s center set up with lots of great, local information as well.  State parks provide some pretty amazing, ranger-led activities throughout the year too.

Libraries

Abington Community Library – Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania

When is the last time you checked into your local library?  Most offer so much more than just something good to read. There are generally free movie rentals and internet-equipped computers in a peaceful, air conditioned environment as well.  Some, like several near to us, offer free passes to local museums, a plethora of free classes for both adults and children, and free/inexpensive copy and fax services.  We were even able to enjoy a 3 hour, antique train ride from Steamtown National Park to a festival a few towns away for our crew of seven for a grand total of just $10 through a special festival that was advertised at the library.  It was such a great time and something that we wouldn’t have known about otherwise.  So, don’t neglect your libraries.  You just never know what you’ll find when you walk in.

YMCA

YMCA – Scranton, Pennsylvania

Did you know that your YMCA membership can be used all across the country?  Always call ahead first to be sure the Y you’re planning on visiting participates in the reciprocal.  The vast majority do but there are a few scattered around out that there don’t.  The reciprocal doesn’t generally give member discounts on classes but everything else is fair game.  As a traveling tribe, we use our YMCA member status often.  When we’re feeling like a swim or the weather is lousy and I need a place to let the kids rip, the YMCA is our go-to spot.

Dining

Our Trusty Lunch Bin (nothing fancy here) – Braum’s Ice Cream – Salina, Kansas

All of our adventuring is done as a group of at least six.  We are out of town checking out the world around us several times a week when we live at home and practically daily when work has moved us away from here.  So, how do I feed an army like that without breaking the bank?

My go-to option is packing a lunch.  Simple enough, right?  I put together 50 sandwiches over the weekend and toss them in the freezer.  Then, in the mornings, I throw a bunch of them in the lunch bin, pile in some fruits, veggies and something salty, and I have a quick, low-cost meal for an army ready to go.  With so many mouths to feed, bringing lunch with us saves a small fortune.  If the weather is decent, we’ll hunt down a local park, munch our lunch at a picnic table, and play for a while.  If it’s not so nice, we’ll just find a quiet spot in a parking lot and do our lunch thing in the car.  Many museums have a café or dining area that you’re welcomed to bring a bagged lunch into as well.

We do enjoy a meal out sometimes too and when we do, I try to always have a coupon.  My go-to websites for some pretty impressive savings are Groupon, Local Flavor, and Restaurant.com .  Before you finish checking out, be sure to do a quick google search for any current coupons to stack with whatever fabulous deal you’ve found to give it a little extra goodness.

If you’re looking for a quick meal, tons of fast food restaurants and the larger gas stations (like a Sheetz or a Wawa here in the east) offer full meals for under $5.  Most have either a rewards program or an app with juicy coupons to sweeten the deal and to help your dollars stretch a little further.

These are some of the many tactics we employ to keep costs down.  What do you do to save money on the go?  Leave us a comment below and let us know!

 

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29 thoughts on “Exploring on a Budget – 6 Tips and Tricks to Save You Money

  • May 19, 2017 at 4:13 pm
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    Ironically, my latest blog post was about saving money on travel as well. I love to travel but I’m always looking for ways to save. Great tips here that I pinned for later!!

    Reply
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  • August 10, 2017 at 3:12 pm
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    I live in Eastern Pennsylvania, so thank you for the great post on things that I can do in our area! I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of packing 50 sandwiches over the weekend. What a great tip! Thank you!

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    • August 11, 2017 at 1:51 pm
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      The packing of 50 sandwiches only sounds ridiculous, trust me. It’s SO much easier to just grab and go in the mornings. 🙂

      Reply
  • August 10, 2017 at 3:39 pm
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    This is awesome! I knew about the AZA reciprocal membership but not about the others. This will save us so much money because we travel often.

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  • August 10, 2017 at 7:13 pm
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    Great tips! Thank you!

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  • August 10, 2017 at 9:05 pm
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    These are great tips! You are right; you never know what you will find. I always check Groupon for attractions. We saved money on a couple of our museum stops this summer. We like to stop at parks, too. It’s a good way to let some pent-up energy out, for sure. I’ve never looked into YMCA. We have one near us, but I’ve never used it. Ours costs quite a bit more than just going to the local pool a few times. Of course, the pool at the Y is indoors! I will have to learn more about it!

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    • August 11, 2017 at 1:46 pm
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      The YMCA offers discount programs that can help with the cost. I have noticed a BIG difference in price between Y’s though and the more expensive facilities don’t necessarily have more stuff. Our home Y tops out around $60/month, full price for a family but I’ve seen some for double that. For $60, we’ll use it. I don’t think I’d do it for double that though.

      Reply
  • August 10, 2017 at 10:49 pm
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    I love libraries! They are great even when you are on vacation…you might not be able to check anything out, but you can still go in and read and have a great time!

    Reply
    • August 11, 2017 at 1:43 pm
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      So do we! A lot of libraries have a used magazine bin that you’re free to take from…in case you’d like some reading material to take with you. 🙂

      Reply
  • August 10, 2017 at 11:25 pm
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    This is great. Too many times you don’t even realize that local spots/attractions etc. offer deals and money-saving options. I’m in Canada and super lucky to have free admission to all Historic Parks this year.

    Reply
    • August 11, 2017 at 1:42 pm
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      We were just up in Canada! I didn’t realize when I ordered it that the free pass excluded so many sites. The US National Parks pass in all-inclusive so I was kind of bummed to get to the parks we’d chosen and not be able to use that pass. It was my fault for not researching it better but still a bummer. We did enjoy a couple of your sites up there though. 🙂

      Reply
  • August 10, 2017 at 11:28 pm
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    Great tips, I also pinned it for reference. Thanks!

    Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 12:12 am
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    The library! YES! I grew up enjoying summers at the library and did the same for my own kiddos. It’s something most people overlook but it’s so valuable. Great tips!

    Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 1:00 am
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    Great article. I was thinking of taking my boys on a tour of SC state parks.

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    • August 11, 2017 at 1:39 pm
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      You should do it! I’ve never been to SC state parks but you guys have some beautiful territory down there. I bet they’re amazing! 🙂

      Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 4:49 am
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    Those are some good tips! I never knew you could use a YMCA membership across the country!

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    • August 11, 2017 at 1:39 pm
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      It’s reciprocal to most of the Y locations but you should always call ahead before you go to be sure. We use ours often. When it’s too cold to play outside, we can almost always hunt down a Y to let the kids run off some steam. 🙂

      Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 5:14 am
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    Great tips! We have a membership to our local zoo and it saves us a lot when we visit other zoos. We also pack lunches when we travel.

    Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 5:36 am
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    These were great. I’ll have to check out my state and see what they offer. Bringing food is a must though. I have four kids with friends most of the time so I get that.

    Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 10:28 am
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    Great suggestions! With 4 kids I can always use some $$ saving tips! Especially when it comes to travel!!

    Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 10:42 am
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    Great tips! We don’t travel much because of the expense so we will have to try some of these. Also, I’m in the middle of rewatching the office so the pic of the Y in Scranton made me smile.

    Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 7:05 pm
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    These are great money saving tips! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 11:47 pm
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    These are great tips!! Definitely pinning this one for reference.

    Reply
  • August 12, 2017 at 3:00 am
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    What great ideas for saving $$ on trips! Making notes!

    Reply

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