Senior woman spending quality time with her grandchildren on a scenic walk.

Family bonding on a budget

While you were working, family time was likely relegated to weekends and holidays. Now that your calendar is finally free of team meetings and work conferences, you have more time to spend with your loved ones. As welcome and wonderful as this change to your life is, you might quickly realize just how costly it can be to get together with your nearest and dearest on a consistent basis.

Treating your grandchildren to a trip to Disneyland or a fancy meal is manageable once in a while. However, these activities might not be the most sustainable. Especially when you consider the toll they can take on your monthly budget. Without proper planning or restraint, you could see your retirement savings dwindle away faster than you can say 401(k)!

Fortunately, protecting your finances doesn’t mean you have to become a recluse or decline invitations from your family. What it will require, however, is a bit of creativity and an open mind. To help get your wheels turning, we’ve compiled a few of our favorite ideas for family bonding on a budget.

Set up a monthly picnic

If you get your loved ones involved in the process, planning your picnics can be just as enjoyable as the picnics themselves. Each month, give one of your attendees the honor of selecting a fun, new location for your event. Parks are always a great venue, but the beach or a loved one’s backyard can be just as nice. Put another person in charge of planning the afternoon’s entertainment. This can be anything from flying a kite to putting on an impromptu talent show. Decide whether you want the meal to have a theme or if you’d prefer a more eclectic experience. Then, assign each of the remaining members of the group a specific course in the meal to prepare and share. Each month, you can mix up the responsibilities to guarantee a new picnic experience. Never planned a picnic before? This article at the New York Times has some great tips to pull off your first without a hitch.

Host a dinner party

Enjoying a nice meal with your family shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. If you’re open to hosting a dinner party at home, it won’t! Using a similar process as outlined above, you can host regular dinner parties on a very manageable budget. If you treat the dinner like a potluck, you can enjoy an evening of fabulous food, delicious drinks, and great conversation for a fraction of the price your party would have to pay at a restaurant. To keep your dinner parties fresh and exciting, consider selecting a new theme for each event. This theme can serve as inspiration for the evening’s menu items, signature cocktails, music, and even decor. If your loved one’s are up for it, you can even encourage your guests to wear costumes. Concerned about proper etiquette or the challenges of creating a menu that will satisfy every member of your family? This article from Bon Appetit can help you avoid potential pitfalls as you plan.

Game night!

Gathering around the dinner table to play a game can be an excellent way to get everyone together for a night of good, old-fashioned family rivalry. You won’t need to purchase anything to play a few rounds of charades or a game of trivia. A single deck of cards can provide hours of entertainment. You can find the rules to many popular card games suitable for various skill levels here on the American Grandparent’s Association website. Even if you buy a new board game each month, you’ll still spend a lot less than you would on admission to a theme park or a night out. As an added bonus, you’ll have an impressive collection of games to choose from before you know it! If your family is particularly competitive, you might consider playing for prizes or making the losing team handle clean up. Make sure to set some ground rules before you start the game to keep shouting matches (and noise complaints from your neighbors) to a minimum!  

Skip the theme parks – try national and state parks

When you have a whole day (or a whole weekend) to spend with your family, consider taking a road trip to a national park. You can search for parks by state using this handy tool on the NPS website. As the retiree in your group, you’ll be able to enjoy senior discounts at some parks. If you’re looking for an especially good deal, you can purchase a lifetime pass to all Federal parks for just $80!

Experiment with DIY projects

Do you and your loved ones enjoy building, creating, or working with your hands? Taking on a group DIY project can be an incredibly fun (and productive) way to spend your time together. If you’re looking for a low cost activity that can be completed in a few hours, consider a group painting class or visiting a ceramics studio for an afternoon. Have more time to commit to the project? You can paint a mural in your garage, build a treehouse for the younger members of your family to enjoy, or start a family community garden where you can all plant your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The options are only as endless as your imagination, but this list from Country Living is a great place to find inspiration for your next project!  

Exercise together

Getting together to exercise is another great way to spend the time you share with your loved ones. Regular exercise can have a variety of positive impacts on both your physical and mental health. The benefits of this healthy habit range from reducing your blood pressure and the risk of heart disease to improving your mood and decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression. If you have enough people in your group, you can play an impromptu game of soccer, basketball, touch football, or baseball at a local park. Check the website of your local bowling alleys and roller rinks. Often, these venues will offer special deals during the weekdays or for larger parties. If your group is smaller, pick up some tennis rackets, unroll your yoga mats, or throw on your running shoes and map out your own race course through your neighborhood. In addition to getting to spend some quality time with your loved ones, you’ll easily meet you step goal for the day. Most importantly, demonstrating a regular commitment to exercise will set a great example for the younger members of your family.


Imagine taking part in a large scale scavenger hunt, using an app on your smartphone to track down treasures hidden across your city by strangers you’ll never meet. If that idea sounds appealing, your family would love geocaching. This tech-enabled activity has become an increasingly popular hobby over the last decade as smart phones have made GPS technology more easily accessible. Here’s how you and your loved ones can join in on the fun:

  • Create an account on the Geocaching app or another cache listing site.
  • Search for caches in your area.
  • Use the GPS and map functionality on your phone to locate the basic geolocation of the cache.
  • Some caches are more difficult than others to find; make sure to write down any clues that are provided. They may be the key to uncovering the treasure!
  • Once you find the geocache, you can replace the recovered item with one of your own. Or leave it for the next group of seekers to find!
  • Make sure to sign the logbook & report your success on the cache listing site or app to document your adventure!  

Have an idea you want to share?

What affordable activities do you and your family enjoy taking part in when you have extra time to spend together? Join our Renew Retirees group on Facebook to exchange ideas and tips!


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Not sure where to start?

Read our quick-start guide for help, including which questions you should be asking as you approach retirement.

Read our quick start guide