Nowadays, frugality isn’t a life choice for most of us. It’s a necessity born out of hard times and too little money. The first thing to go for most families is a recreational budget — money you used to have for movies, sports and hobbies is suddenly needed in more important areas like food and shelter. Although, you might be accustomed to thinking you have to spend money to spend time together and/or to be entertained, you’d be amazed by the bevy of free family activities available right in our own community. Let’s start with these three.
Make the public library your family’s regular hang out. Most folks don’t realize that they own the library. It’s true. Our tax dollars pay for every single thing there. The library is open to any citizen who has the desire to use it and (here’s the best part) has a plethora of items for those citizens to use. Of course, there are rules for using the library. It wouldn’t do much good if we all just went in there willy-nilly, destroying the wide range of magazines, books and DVDs now, would it? And libraries have a bunch of cool stuff to engage any interest. In other words, this is not the library you grew up with in the '70s and '80s.
What libraries have happening nowadays goes way, way beyond a cool collection of stuff for our entertainment and use. The Newton County Library System offers programs and activities designed to engage all age groups and guess what? They are absolutely FREE. Adults can play bridge, knit and discuss books. Teens and kids can pretty much do the same plus there’s a weekly story time and a summer reading program that’ll knock your socks off. Plus, you can take all kinds of interesting classes and enjoy special showings of films. All of that fun and entertainment is available right now for your family in your own community.
Exercise together. You may have read those two words and winced, friends, but I assure you the family that exercises together stays in shape and is entertained together. Being active often translates into simply having fun for most kids. My daughters and I like to Zumba at home or simply have a dance party. If you need something more structured, try checking out an exercise DVD from the library or creating your own boot camp just for your family complete with pushups, squats and good old jumping jacks. You could make an early morning or after dinner walk a part of your family routine. An all time favorite activity is kick ball and our family games usually bring out the neighbors as well. Flag football, badminton, freeze tag and hand ball are all high energy, fun games that will get you moving and entertained.
Don’t forget we have some pretty impressive parks in our county. If you haven’t been out to Denny Dobbs on Ga. Highway 212, then you are really missing something special. Not only are there incredible play structures, but you can walk or run a track and play basketball. Newton County has several parks and most have a play structure or two and a track. The benefit of going to a park for fitness and fun is that, odds are, you’ll meet another family or two who are there for the same reasons. With the weather unseasonably warm, your whole family can still get outside and get moving.
Volunteer together. You get all the benefits of doing something enriching for your community as well as spending time together as a family. Bonus: the kids get to meet new people, develop new relationships and engage in activities they enjoy. Once, my middle schooler said, “We were volunteering today? I thought we were just having some fun!” Kids really don’t feel like helping others is a big deal, especially when it’s a family affair.
Hands on Newton is a nonprofit organization in our community that matches projects and volunteers. Recently, they placed volunteers for painting houses. Ongoing projects include helpers in community gardens, Chimney Park (located right behind the Covington Branch Library) and the Great American Clean Up. You can contact Hands on Newton at (770) 786-0807. There are tutoring opportunities, food banks, working with animals and just cleaning up your own neighborhood to be done and you don’t need a volunteer matching service for that. Just use Google and get busy doing good works with your family.
If you stop and think about it, you’ll realize that fun family time doesn’t have to end with just these three ideas. Playing board games together is still free. Reading aloud together is as well. Making a night at the movies something you do on the small screen, right in the comfort of your own home. Remember — cutting back doesn’t mean cutting out. Your family can be entertained, engaged and together without spending a dime.
Beth McAfee-Hallman lives in Covington and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.