The warm weather faded dramatically fast in typical Midwestern fall fashion. Overnight temperatures are already flirting with freezing, and the days aren’t nearly as warm as they were even a week ago. While there are many things I adore about the change in seasons, there’s no doubt that it’s easier to have free & frugal fun in the summer.
Still, I’m undeterred. I want to fill up fall with as many fun adventures and memories as possible. But I’m also looking to balance fun with frugality, so I’ve started planning my frugal fall fun ideas already.
A lot of our favorite spaces–like the bounce house play place and children’s museum–are still closed. But there’s still plenty of fun to be had in the cooler weather, even with masks and social distancing.
Here’s what we’ve been up to recently:
Visit an apple orchard
We go apple picking every year, and this year was no exception. We masked up, brought lots of hand sanitizer, and hit the orchard 15 minutes before they officially opened.
Perhaps because it was early in the season, the orchard was not crowded. The trees overflowed with some of our favorite apple varieties, including Honeycrisp. A certain someone could not get enough, walking up and down the rows with an apple in each hand.
We agreed to pay $30 for a peck of Honeycrip apples, estimating that it would be $3/pound. When we took the apples home and weighed them, we realized that we had nearly 16 pounds of apples in the bag.
We also bought a dozen apple cider donuts to share with grandparents, and it was a very happy $9.
If you don’t have an apple orchard nearby, there are plenty of pumpkin patches and garden centers with fall décor. We’ve even had fun exploring the outdoor area of Lowe’s recently. It might not make for an Instagram photoshoot, but it kept HP busy.
As an added bonus, we scored a great deal on mums. Since he picked them out from the store, he’s been tending to them like it’s his job. My fall planters have never been watered so well!
RELATED POST: Fall Family Fun: Is Apple Picking Worth It?
Let me just say this upfront. I am not a fan of fishing. The only thing I really used to enjoy about spending hours on the boat with my husband while he fished was reading a book.
I have made enough trips to Bass Pro and other stores, though, to know that fishing can be an expensive hobby. However, it’s perfect frugal fun with a toddler. You’re almost guaranteed to find a family member, friend, or neighbor who will lend you a pole.
And if you’re like us, you can catch bluegill with just about anything. We mostly use leftover turkey hotdogs or corn. On a recent expedition, my husband bought bait to the tune of $3 for 12 nightcrawlers. (Side note: I think I know what HP’s first side hustle will be–digging up and selling worms!)
If you’re thinking that you don’t have anywhere fit for fishing, it’s probably helpful to dial back your expectations. A pond or stream will work just fine. Toddlers don’t have much attention span and get as much a kick of out casting and reeling as anything else. Bonus points if you can fish at a forest preserve with a park or playground nearby!
Throw a party
When we started lockdown, we celebrated constantly. HP would continually request us to sing happy birthday to him, knowing full well his big day was months away.
The baking and celebrating tapered down. And not a moment too soon according to my pants! But the other day, HP had an idea. One of his beloved PAW Patrol stuffed animals was about to turn 4, according to HP. That meant that we needed to prepare a party.
So we spent the morning making birthday cards complete with stickers. He also helped me mix the “migredients” for the cake. It baked while he napped. I wasn’t brave enough to ask him to help with the frosting. But I did leave him in charge of the rainbow sprinkles, which he added right before dinner…and dessert!
It only cost a few dollars but it was almost an entire day of fun.
Take a hike
Our favorite part of our hikes is a carry-over from the spring. We do scavenger hunts for a prize like fruit snacks or a yogurt pouch. Happily, I have gotten much better at designing these.
Remember the hour+ walk around three neighborhoods because we couldn’t find a green car?
Now, I stick to things I know we will find, such as squirrels, cattails, hawks, and more. Another part of fall that makes this extra fun is that we can now collect red, green, yellow, and purple leaves as we go. We might even try naming the leaves…eventually!
Set up a dig
Our beloved Miss Anne is the inspiration behind this activity. My mom put together a miniature version of the giant dig box at HP’s preschool with a single stop at Dollar Tree. The bin is only slightly larger than a piece of paper. It pales in comparison to the giant dig box that Miss Anne set up at his preschool. But it’s perfectly portable and really easy to put away.
My mom filled up this bin with decorative rocks and then added a few Lego-like construction workers and their construction vehicles. HP’s favorite thing to do is to dig around in the bin and cause rock slides. The trapped workers require hours of rescue missions, of course!
The cost of a dig bin can add up, but it’s well worth it considering how long it keeps his attention. Plus, I know exactly what we will be doing on rainy days when playing outside is off the table.
Our Year Round Free & Frugal Toddler Fun Favorites
We still spend as much time as possible outdoors. Whether it’s puddle jumping or exploring parks near and far, our toddler is happiest outdoors. Knowing this, I’ve already stocked up on winter gear. It feels especially prudent considering we swapped his Halloween costume for snow pants last year!
Library visits are still on hold. We only use our library’s drive thru window. Still, it’s a fantastic way to stay connected with all sorts of books and DVDs for free. Our most recent find and current favorite is UmiZoomi!
Overall, I feel like we have a pretty solid start on creating some free and frugal fun this fall.
With cooler weather on the way, what are some of the ways that you and your family are planning for some frugal fun?