Affordable Teen Activities for Families on a Tight Budget (+ Tips)

by Reader Contributors

Affordable Teen Activities for a Family on Tight Budget photo

You don’t want your kids to grow up thinking frugality means deprivation. Show them frugal can be fun with these affordable teen activities.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
My family has been working very hard towards becoming debt free, and I think it is starting to weigh on my kids, especially the two oldest who are in their early teens. I hope what they are learning now about family debt and spending choices will help them as adults. The last thing I want to happen is for them to associate frugal living or living on a budget with denying themselves any fun or treats.

I am looking for suggestions for affordable activities that kids ages 12 to 15 might think is fun to do with friends. Often the things their friends invite them to cost more than what we can afford (or what they can often afford even on their allowance!). I am open to things they can do with friends both here at home and out.

I don’t care as much about family activities since we have been pretty good about thinking up frugal family outings and activities. Also, I would love any advice on making a frugal lifestyle more appealing to kids in general. Thanks in advance for any suggestions and ideas.

Frugal Activities for Teens

We asked our frugal families to submit their advice and ideas for affordable teen activities, as well as any tips they’ve learned on raising frugal kids. Read on for the many responses we received.

Pool, Anyone?

The most affordable and useful thing we owned when my sons were teens was a billiards or pool table. You may be able to find a used one. It is not expensive to replace felt if it needs it. The big advantage is that it is pretty much a one-time expense and the kids are at your house where you can keep an eye on them.

After 15 years I sold the table and accessories for about $100, about 25% of what I had paid for it. If you don’t have room for a full-sized table, consider a seven-foot table.

Movie and Pizza Night

One thing that is fun (especially if you have Netflix or a stash of movies) is to invite some kids over for movie night and let them all make homemade pizza. It is relatively cheap and feeds a crowd.

Just have all the toppings in bowls, make up the dough, and let each kid make their own pizza. You will hear a lot of laughter as the kids come together to make their pizzas and then watch movies together. You can even have unfrosted cupcakes for later and let them frost/decorate their own.
Debbie in Ohio

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Most Teens Just Want to Hang Out

My teenage son and his friends love to have evening bonfires. If you are zoned to have backyard bonfires, start a burn pile with all the tree trimmings you can, and once it gets big enough, let them have a bonfire. We usually just get a bag of marshmallows and the kids find their own sticks. Even though he has started college now, we are planning a bonfire for him and his friends when they are home for spring break.

Let them hold a weekend movie marathon with their friends. Have them chip in for the frozen pizzas and chips.

Host a scavenger hunt for them to play with their friends. I’ve never done this myself, but I know other parents who have organized them. Just check the popular websites like Pinterest and I’m sure you’ll get ideas on how to run one.

Teenagers really just want to be with their friends. Inviting other teens to hang out with your kids is enough.

Teen Fun Is About Food

For teens, a lot of their fun seems to be about the food! When the weather is nice, my 15-year-old loves to have friends over to roast marshmallows and make s’mores out in the backyard. We set up a fire pit and used some chairs we had and made a nice little area for them.

Ice cream sundaes are great. You can go all out and buy a few different flavors of ice cream, chocolate sauce, nuts, whipped cream, and even cherries to top it off for a fraction of the cost of taking a few kids out for sundaes. They have fun making their own creations.

Instead of going out for pizza, my 12- and 15-year-old make pizzas at home. I buy pizza crusts at the bread outlet, but you could even make them less expensive if you make homemade crust.

Making cookies is fun, too. At least in my area, kids are so used to going out all of time that it is something new for them to actually stay in and make something themselves. You are teaching your kids valuable skills about managing money.

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Let Them “Shop” at Home

A great activity that my teenage daughter has participated in once a year is a clothing swap. Her friends get together on a set date and everyone brings their cast-off clothing, shoes and even jewelry and purses. They all go shopping.

It does take a little prep work, as it is good to get at least some of the items for swapping ahead of time so a room can be set up like a store. Garment racks are helpful, but you can also just empty out a closet and dresser drawers and shelves. Use what you have. Besides time for setting up, your only expense is some cookies and beverages to snack on. Everyone ends up with at least a few “new” items.
Jen in Aptos, California

Include Teens in Decisions

I also do not want my kids to feel being frugal equates with deprivation. We have an indoor trampoline park here that offers half off to friends and family of employees. Or the teen can get a job there! Since we didn’t always know when our friend would be on shift, we bought a 10-punch card (which is already discounted) for half price, making it very affordable. I have my kids pay half for things like that.

The local Y offers very affordable teen memberships for and kids can use facilities on their own at age 13.

We save money by bringing our own food/drink if the activity costs money (such as sporting event) or buying food/drink if the activity isn’t much money (like a school football game or bike ride). Baseball games at school are free. Sometimes the fun is getting food at a concession stand, but you can bring your own drinks. Feeling they have a choice where to spend fun dollars is important, so include them in the decisions.

Get Their Game On

Invest in some sports equipment or game gear that can be used at home. Friends can be invited over for a volleyball game or a nerf gun war.

Photo Scavenger Hunts Are Fun

Our church youth group held a photo scavenger hunt. They handed out lists of things to take a photo of and the first person to return to the church with photos of all the list items won a prize. If no one got all of them, the one with the most who arrived first won. (Each list had a time put on it as they came back.) You could tailor this to your own kids. Apparently, they had a blast!

If you have the room and the equipment, a video game or Wii tournament could also be fun. Cooking lessons might be fun, too; teens love to eat!

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Make It a Frugal Road Trip

Do you have a state park nearby? What activities/amenities do they offer? Or do you live near a big city that offers affordable activities? They should have some type of “city guide” with fun outings listed.

Try Geocaching

I have heard that geocaching is fun. It’s done mostly at state parks and other public places. Everyone could do it. If you have a roller skating rink, that is great exercise. Call and ask them for their cheapest times. I bet many of their friends also want to do cheap things. I have two girls, ages 14 and 16. We are always looking for free movies and other cheap fun things to do.

Reviewed March 2023

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