Cost-Effective Parenting: Free Activities and Resources for Saving Even More

It’s no secret that raising a child can carve a serious dent out of your checking account. The newest appalling figure is $233,610, which is almost $14,000 a year, and although that number may depress you I really think it’s worth qualifying with an asterisk: Many of the the “essential” expenses that account for that number are either optional, completely unnecessary, or more about the adult than the kid. And though we’ve already shared how to outfit your life for a new baby on the cheap, saving money goes far beyond the initial requisite stuff-gathering.

Take for instance, outings with your little ones. We in the Twin Cities have a ton of fun places for toddlers and babies to play, but many of them can run you $15-$30 each time, and this is an expense that, in our long miserable winters (wasn’t this last one just the worst?!), can readily account for $200 per month of disappearing funds. The coming of spring improves the landscape in more ways than one, however, and opens the door for lots of activities that won’t bleed your accounts dry. And when the winter comes back to make us miserable once again, there are other free options too. 

The Tot Lot and other toddler-friendly playgrounds. Sure, you can take your toddler to any playground and they’ll likely enjoy themselves, but did you know there’s a park in St Paul for toddlers only? At the Tot Lot they can run around like maniacs without getting run over by a pack of 8-year-olds, and the equipment is just the right size for little people. Minnehaha is wonderful too (it's fenced! no more escaping children!) and Rosland Park in Edina gets rave reviews from my parent pals in the West Metro.

Free wading pools and splash pads. My absolute favorite is Wabun Park Wading Pool, just off Minnehaha. It’s free, it’s shaded, and there’s a castle! There’s another nice one by Lake Hiawatha as well. 

Tot Times and Open Gyms. These are a smash when the weather is unfavorable, all year round, and since they’re run by Parks and Recreation across the Cities, there will rarely be a day when you can’t find one in operation somewhere close to you (click here for Minneapolis, here for St Paul). It’s a free space; kids and tots and crawling babies zoom around on little cars and shoot hoops to their heart’s content, all while you take a break on the bleachers and spend not a dime. Downright life-saving in the winter. 

Library Storytimes. Most locations have two sessions weekly, one for babies and toddlers, and another for slightly older children who are ready to enjoy a more challenging read-along. You’ll sing and dance together too, and at the end of the class there is usually an unstructured playtime to burn off extra wiggles.

Blooma. Let me be the first to introduce you to the wonder that is Blooma. With locations in both Minneapolis and St Paul, it is a mecca for new parents looking for support (their free new mama groups saved me during the first few months) or for a yoga class to enjoy with their babies. Oh what a gift Blooma is! 

Here are some other resources in the Twin Cities to help you save even more money:

WIC. Minnesota’s Women, Infants, and Children program is an excellent grocery budget-fixer, and you might be surprised how generous the income limits are. There are no embarrassing paper vouchers, either; you just swipe your WIC card at checkout and get about enjoying tons free produce, dairy, whole grain breads and cereals. Pregnant and breastfeeding women can get up to $140 in groceries every month. 

Everyday Miracles. If you buy your health insurance through MNSure or have a state-funded plan, the angels at Everyday Miracles will work with your providers to get you a free car seat. They’ll even bring it to your home and show you how to install it; they essentially take the financial burden and new-parent anxiety surrounding car seats and just, well, fix it. An undisputed gem of a program. 

The Diaper Bank. When you need diapers, you need diapers, and if the expense of them is stressing you out or putting your family at risk, the Diaper Bank can put you in touch with an agency in your area that will deliver a big stack of them to your home, for free. This is also a great place to donate all those unused diapers your baby has outgrown. 

And there you have it, all the ways you don’t need to spend $30 every time you go out with your kiddos and a few more tips to make that shocking $233,610 more of a myth than fact. If you’d like more information, here’s a great blog post from my friend over at Not a Blob with the most extensive list of Twin Cities baby/toddler activities I’ve seen so far.

Shelley DeWees is a three-time Willow client who spends her days chasing her toddler son and eighteen-month-old daughter around her home in South St Paul. She’s currently expecting her third baby, another boy, and loves reading books and going to workout classes.