Family Activities & Game Ideas

Activities & Game Savings - 9 awesome ideas for fun on the cheap!

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This Activities & Game Ideas Page contains a growing list of money-saving tips to help you save on Family Recreation & Entertainment! 

This Activities & Game Savings page contains a few of our favorite, inexpensive group games including Telephone Pictionary, Dice Madness (aka Mennonite Madness), and the Cup Game. Also a great tip for huge savings on bowling.

Discount or Free Days at Museums

Buy a membership to a museum or aquarium. The total cost depends on how many you want to put on the membership. But, you’ll save money for several uses. It also gives you places to take visitors when you have company. There are discounts and clearance items even at their gift shops. But one of the best things is that some memberships are honored at related museums in other states.   Clare – Tampa, Florida

Many museums have several free days a year, check out their website for details.

Also many public libraries have something called a “Culture Pass” that allows someone to checkout a pass allowing 2 people to visit a museum, or zoo or botanical garden. Check with your nearby library for the details.

Save money on museum memberships with this tip.

Telephone/Pictionary Game

We learned this game from a college-aged friend a few years ago. Every time we play it we laugh until we cry. For Activities & Game Savings, you can’t beat this one!

Materials for Telephone Pictionary:

  • 1 pencil for each person
  • Paper, either 1 piece per person (accordion folded so each person only sees one section of the paper) or each player gets between 4 and 9 pieces of paper (1 piece of paper per person playing- stapled into little pads). Watch the video below to see the pad example.
  • Number of players: between 4 and 9
  • Ages: between 6 and 100

This was the first time we ever played Telephone Pictionary—we loved it. We each used one sheet of paper that was accordion folded (purple sheets).

A group of people sitting around a table playing Telephone Pictionary Game

Here’s how we played Telephone Pictionary:

  1. Everyone writes a phrase on the first piece of paper.
    All of the pads of paper get passed to the right.
  1. The second person reads the phrase and draws a picture depicting the phrase on the second piece of paper.
    All of the pads of paper get passed to the right.
  1. The third person writes a phrase based on the second person’s drawing.
    All of the pads of paper get passed to the right.

The game continues until the pads of paper return to the person who wrote the first phrase. We take turns reading the cards and showing the pictures. It’s a simple game that can bring you hours of fun.

In this video, we explain how to play Telephone Pictionary.

Steve & Annette Economides – Scottsdale, AZ

Dice Madness/Simple Numbers Game

Another Activites & Game Savings amazing game! This is an awesome, fun, fast-paced and simple Dice and Numbers game.

Materials Needed:

  • 1 pencil or pen
  • A pair of dice
  • 1 sheet of paper for each participant.

That’s it. You’ll laugh, you’ll scream, you’ll lose your good manners and have a ton of fun.

Who said fun times require spending lots of money! Watch this video to see the game being played.

The Cup Game/Inexpensive Fun

How to play The Cup Game - it's easy with red plastic cups.

The Cup Game is a  simple, fast-paced and laughter-filled game.

Materials Needed:

  • One cup for each person (paper, styrofoam, plastic, but don’t use a glass cup)
  • People (at least 3)

You can play around a table or on the floor. It’s easy to learn and fun to play.

As you play, you sing: “You pass the cup from left to right like this, you pass the cup and you never, never miss.”

The game starts at a slow pace and then speeds up as you continue. You play until the cups pile up in front of one or more players.

Watch this video to see the game in action.

This is one of the games we play around the dinner table (after we clear dishes). Read this article about making dinnertime fun.


How to Host a Pirate PartyCartoon of a peg-legged pirate with a sword and a parrot on his shoulder.

For my son’s 7th birthday I had a pirate party. I found the cake idea in Family Fun magazine as well as some game ideas.

Walk the Plank:  

  • We put a wide plank of wood over our Little Tykes swimming pool and floated plastic alligators in the water. The kids all enjoyed walking the plank.
  • Swords: They also enjoyed the foil wrapped cardboard swords that I gave them as a prize for walking the plank.
  • Treasure Hunt: Then we had a treasure hunt with clues. This resulted in the kids finding a cache of gold candy coins that we divided evenly among all the pirates. They took their “booty” home with them in their little wooden treasure chests.

Other Pirate Games:

  • I also did an internet search and found the Boardman Website ( with lots of pirate theme suggestions.
  • Pirate Hats for Free: I got free pirate hats from Long John Silver’s restaurants.
  • Gold Coins and Candy: I also learned to shop for the theme idea a few months ahead to get the best deals. I did find some gold coins at the 99-cent store, but the quality wasn’t very good. Later I discovered that See’s Candies had delicious gold coins.   Susan T. – Torrance, CA 

The Ha Ha Game

To play The Ha Ha Game, everyone lies in a circle with each person’s head on their neighbor’s stomach.

  1. The first person says Ha.
  2. The second person says Ha Ha.
  3. The third person says Ha Ha Ha.

You keep going around taking turns, adding one Ha with each person. It’s not as easy as it sounds, as fake laughs turn into real ones.  Families with younger children will especially love this game.

Teen Disco Party?

My daughter recently had her 12th birthday party. We cleared out all the furniture, purchased an inexpensive disco ball and strobe lights and had a “Groovy” dance party. We found that if you plug an iPod, cell phone or laptop into a sound system or Blu-tooth speaker it sounds just like a club sound system.

Red disco ball hanging from a black ceiling.

I had Sydney download her favorite current songs from iTunes and for under $20 plus the cost of food and lights we had a unique experience without a huge expense.

The girls loved having my middle son DJ their favorite songs, and we had a singing and dance contest. Every girl received a little gift bag.

Bagged Up Treats

We filled the bag with peanuts (shelled) and movie theater style candy (Gummy Worms, Skittles Hershey bars, gumdrops) purchased at The Dollar Store.

I took skewers that you would use for kebabs and made a candy bouquet out of them. The girls loved the bouquet and I am now going to make them for the endless upcoming parties my daughter will be going to.

The best part is that everything is edible! A few weeks later I made a cookie bouquet using Oreo cookies and candy bars. My 19-year loved receiving that for his birthday.   Cheri K. – Eagle River, WI

Baseball & Spring Training

Oakland A Souvenir baseball.

We love to go the see the Oakland A’s play, but don’t like to pay the high ballpark prices. So, we freeze plastic bottles full of water and take them with us. There are also discounted tickets for $7.50 each, so we ride public transportation (BART) with a senior discount for $4 (instead of $16) and pack our own lunch.

The food in the ballpark is so expensive and not very healthy. We have seen kids with their trays of nachos or adults that are willing to shell out $7.50 for a beer. We have a great time and for much less.   John & Patricia McBain – Soquel, CA 

Family Game Nights

“For years we have done a monthly game night with friends and their kids. It usually consists of a host couple and two other families, preferably with kids the same age. Little kids can be put down to sleep and you don’t need a babysitter. Everyone brings “substantial hors d’oeuvres” which become dinner for the night.”  Doreen Hallman – Phoenix, AZ 

Related Article: Family Game Night Games

Bowling for Way Less

I am a professor at the local University. My children and I have bowled every Friday night for the past 6 years (here and previously at Kansas State University). We don’t travel to the local bowling alley, paying its high rates and bowling in a smoke-filled environment. Instead, we bowl here on campus where shoe rental is $1.00 and bowling is $1.00 a game (versus $2.50+ at the local alley), and smoking is not allowed.

Bowling During the Holidays

This last holiday season, the campus recreation organization allowed anyone to rent the entire facility for two hours for $50.00 (16 bowling lanes and 8 pool tables) with bowling and pool at no additional cost (even bowling shoes were free). The kids invited all of their school friends. Over 40 children had a wonderful time (we had the children bring canned goods to be donated to the local food pantry as admission to the fun holiday event.)

I’m always amazed at how many people think that University bowling alleys are only for students — wrong! The reduced costs are made available by student recreation fees, but the facilities are there as a benefit to the local community.   Greg Luttrell – Edwardsville, IL 

Retirement Socialization

We live in a retirement community and a number of activities are overwhelming – emotionally and financially. The pressure to participate is constant. Resist it. We’ve come to realize that we don’t have to take part in all the activities. Ask yourself, “Am I living beyond my means financially,” and “Am I allowing time for family and community service.”   Sally – Gilbert, AZ 

Making the State Fair Affordable

A state fair ferris wheel with a sign "A Fair Deal"

Several readers have asked us to describe our system for evaluating and procuring great deals—a sort of checklist or procedure manual for saving money. Unfortunately, there is not one way to do it. Occasionally we will stumble onto a great deal, but usually, it takes time, research and patience. We’ll share a story of one of our recent deals as an illustration of these principles in action.

Take Me to the Fair   

It was fall and time for our annual excursion to the Arizona State Fair to see the exhibits, ride the Ferris wheel and roller coasters, eat overpriced food and generally have a great time.

Normally admission to our state fair is $9.50 for adults and $4.50 for kids. It would cost our group of four “adults” — Annette, Steve, Becky and Roy — and two kids — Joseph and Abbey — $47 just to go through the gate. Add to that another $8 for parking and $25 for each of the four kids to have a special unlimited-ride wristband and we’ve created a spending binge of epic proportions —more than $150 — not including food. All this for a few hours of “fun in the sun.” Aware of the “retail cost,” we made the decision to go to the fair. But we were convinced we could do it for less!

Know the Playing Field   

One of the first keys to finding a great deal is to gather data—learn the rules, restrictions, and secrets of the field you’re playing on. In this case, visiting the state fair Web site and calling their main office provided most of the information we needed. We discovered that a multitude of admission and ride discounts were available.

Admission Discounts:

FREE for Schools    Public, private and homeschool field-trip groups are given free admission and parking. This option requires an extensive registration process. We belong to a homeschool co-op and in past years had used this option. School groups are also allowed to bring in their own food, which can be a major cost saving. However, this year, the restrictions regarding which days school groups may attend just didn’t work out with our schedule. 
Admission cost $0

Dollar Days   There were two days when admission to the fair was one dollar per person.
Admission cost $6

Free Admission   Macy’s department stores sponsored two special Monday admission deals. For the first 96 minutes that the gates were open, people could get in for free. Unfortunately, these specials didn’t fit into our schedule either. Admission cost $0

Ride Discounts 

Wristband Days   

The fair offered unlimited ride passes for $25 per person on five days of its run. In previous years, when the price was lower, the kids had paid for half the price of their wristbands and we paid the other half. We discovered that even if we arrived at the fair early, the large number of people standing in lines limited the maximum number of rides the kids could get. In an eight-hour period, they could ride 10 to 15 rides, including multiple times through fun houses that had no lines. The most desirable, dizzying, and stomach-churning rides always had the longest lines. We ruled out this option because we weren’t going to arrive at the fair until early evening.

Ten for $10    There were three days when the fair offered a ride special of 10 rides for 10 dollars. But this promotion fell on days when admission discounts weren’t offered. So the savings were a wash.

Read and Ride 

Each year kids five to 14 years old are offered three free ride tickets if they write three short book reports. Since we have two kids in that age category, they qualified to receive six free ride coupons — which they were “encouraged” to share with the rest of us. All six of us could ride one ride. We also had some tickets left over from last year that were honored as well. All for free.

Make your Game Plan   

Once we gathered all the data, we reviewed our schedule and the kids’ college class schedules, weighed the costs and number of hours we could spend at the fair . . . and promptly took two aspirin for a headache. Once that subsided, we made up a game plan.

We decided to go on opening day. It was a one-dollar admission day — cost $6. The two youngest kids wrote book reports — no-cost rides.  We also discovered free parking at a distant lot with a shuttle bus — savings $8. This sounded like a good plan so we gave it a try.

24, 12 Blue, Hut, Hut Hike!   We called the play. We packed our water bottles and snacks, loaded the van and headed to the fair. It was going to be a great time. Everything was calculated and planned. Or so we thought.

Broken Plays and Bonus Yardage

Even the best-laid plans can hit a snag. In our case, the night started badly because the shuttle-bus drivers, who had been flown in from out of state, got lost going from the fair to our distant parking lot. We stood in line for an hour waiting for the bus to arrive. When we finally arrived at the fairgrounds,  the place was wall-to-wall people. We eventually got the kids to the rides that they wanted. We even walked through several exhibition halls, but the best part of the fair was a totally serendipitous pleasure.

While walking from one exhibit hall to another, we came across a music pavilion with an excellent band playing music from the ’60s. They dressed in costumes of the bands they were imitating—Beatles, Stones, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humper-whatever. Their Beatles impersonation was hilarious. Our kids couldn’t stop laughing at their “Ringo Starr” drummer with a fake nose who bobbed and swayed his head as he played the drums. It was truly the highlight of the night.

In the End Zone

The night wasn’t a total bust. We spent only 6 dollars and experienced a few disappointments and one major highlight that we still speak of to this day. There could have spent much more money spent and had the same, or even a worse, experience.

We encourage you to gather data, evaluate the information and plan carefully. If you have the time, use it to your advantage to ask more questions, and you’re sure to find more ways to save. Whether it’s a day at the fair or a two-week vacation, there are wonderful deals to be discovered. If you know the rules and do a fair amount of planning, you’re sure to get a fair deal too!

Playing Spades
A hand of playing cards fanned out.

We spent a quiet night at home and played spades last night. Annette was losing and went “blind nil” (so she could catch up).

Imagine her surprise when she found the A, K, Q, and J of spades in her hand. There was no way she could “go nil.” She laughed until she cried. . . no, she didn’t win.

Final score Joe 101, Abbey 48, Steve 12, Annette -337. Becky was working so she couldn’t play.

We called it an early night and didn’t play to the usual 500 points because Abbey and Joe both had finals this morning.

The focus of this blog entry is to encourage you to turn off the TV and spend some time playing games, reading books or doing projects as a family. About twice each week we play a game together, it facilitates conversations and builds relationships. But most importantly (to the kids) it gives them an opportunity to see their parents lose with grace (most of the time).

Visit this page to learn how to play spades play-spades.htm

More Great Family Fun Resources

Click for More Great Game Ideas and Reviews. 

This section includes Card Games, Number Games, Word Games, Strategy Games and Board Games.

If you want to plan a movie night with your family, here is a link to all our pages of movie categories!

You will also love our blog on Family Game Nights.

If you are a website subscriber you can read a listing of our favorite board and family games in the article “Vacations without Debt Regret” here.

For more info on fun and frugal entertainment, consider the recreation chapter in our first book, America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money.

If you have a tip related to activities & game savings, please leave it in the comments below and we’ll review it for posting on this page.

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