Mission (im)possible: how to make it through the school holidays on a budget

These days it’s tough to keep kids occupied, even with the assistance of tablets and online games. But rather than sticking your kids in front of a screen to get them off your back (and sending your energy bill through the roof), we’ve devised a list of budget-friendly ideas that will not only keep your kids entertained, but will let you keep your sanity too.

Stage an imaginary vacation

Kids spend all day pretending to be things, like animals or superheros, so why not let them pretend they’re on vacation! This can be done in your backyard or even a nearby park. All you need are a few lawn chairs, a packed lunch and some sunscreen if you’re going on a hot day. But if your kids are explorers with a love for discovery, take them to some of the free attractions around your city - you are on vacation after all. And if you’re unsure of what’s available in your city, check out the website ‘What’s On’!

Build your own cinema

When it comes to treating your kids to a movie, it often feels like you have to take out a personal loan just to pay for the tickets and (overpriced) snacks! So to keep your savings intact, bring the cinema to your own lounge room by taking the time to set up a huge fort. This will give it that enclosed ‘theatre’ feeling. Then, take one for the team and let them pick the movie, grab some snacks, pop some popcorn and you’ve got yourself a DIY theatre!

Create some footpath art

This summer, do something a little different with your kids drawing skills by getting them to display their works of art on the sidewalk with some colourful chalk. However, this activity does require supervision, especially if your kids start to take their inspiration onto the road. Then when the sun starts to go down, grab the hose, and simply wash it away to bring back the blank canvas ready for tomorrow.  

Design a treasure hunt

Get their adrenaline going with a classic treasure hunt around your home. Keep your kids on their feet with suspense building clues and some little knick-knacks along the way - all leading up to the ‘golden chest’ at the end. While this will take a bit of time to set up, it’ll be worth it as soon as you see the look of determination on their faces.

Go to the beach

Because why pay to swim in a public pool when you can go to the biggest pool of them all for free? Cut the cost of your beach trip by taking the train or bus down (if you can) as well as packing your own food and snacks. It’s also a good idea to pack more water than you think you need, as the beach tends to make us a little more dehydrated than normal. Oh and don’t forget the sunscreen!

Turn them into a spy...

Picture this: it’s a blazing day, your kids are showing no excitement for the outdoors and they haven’t even made it through breakfast before you hear ‘I’m bored!’. Grab some red yarn and create ‘laser beams’ on your staircase, hallway or spare room by tieing them from posts to stands. You can even turn this into a points system, where your child starts with a number of points and every time they touch a ‘beam’, they lose a point. The first person who gets to zero loses.

...or a fashion designer

If your child takes pride in their appearance and loves to dress themselves, take their love for style one step further by asking them to design their own shirts! Head to your local Kmart or Big W and pick up a few cheap, white tees and some crayons. Of course, this doesn’t have to be a competition, but to commend their hard work have them strut their designs on the ‘catwalk’.

Free events in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne

But at the end of the day, craft and treasure hunts can only do so much, so if you notice the early signs of ‘cabin fever’, here are few free activities on during the school holidays:


  •  Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) - the MCA is Australia’s leading museum that collects contemporary art from all over the world. Located in Circular Quay, the museum often rotates ‘themes, so there’ll always something new, quirky and kid-friendly when you pop by.
  • Chinese Garden of Friendship - while this activity isn’t exactly free, general admission tickets for children under the age 12 are $3 and $6 for adults, so unless your household looks like a scene from Cheaper By The Dozen, this won’t blow the bank too much.


  • National Portrait Gallery -  sitting on King Edward Terrace is the National Portrait Gallery. Admission to the permanent collection is free and there are also a number of exhibitions that are free on charge. For instance, the family-friendly event ‘Studio Starstruck’ features activities inspired by the film, Starstruck and is on until the 4 February 2018.
  • Australian War Memorial - take your children on a walk through history at the Australian War Memorial. You’ll find a number of galleries, like the Anzac Hall, exhibitions and building features.


  • Clock Tower Tours - give your kids a bird’s-eye view in the heart of the city at the Brisbane City Hall Clock Tower. Since the start of its operation in 1930, the tower’s hand-operated lift will take you up 87.47 metres high onto the observation deck. Just be sure to go early to avoid the queue!
  • The Howl Gaming Guild - open to gamers of every skill level is The Howl Gaming Guild. This event features board, party and trading card games and even the occasional dragon.


  • Play Pod - held at the Victorian State Library is Play Pod - a program designed for kids 8 years and under. There’s a new theme with every session where kids can create, play and read.
  • Street Art - it’s safe to say that Melbourne is known for its street art and if your family hasn’t had the street art experience, now is the time to venture out. You can find a handy map , which has a list of all the themed lanes and places with street art.

Now that you've got the kids sorted, we've got heaps more tips and tricks to help you have a frugal summer in our Life & Money Hub.