Military Life on a Budget

Ten Affordable Adventures for the Whole Family

It’s no secret that one of the challenges military families face is frequent moves. When you know you’ll be packing up an moving every two to four years, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out ways to make the most of those “in between” times. School, work, and other responsibilities can easily get in the way. To complicate matters further, deployments, training, and other events are likely to separate you and your spouse from each other at every new duty station.

Many military families...MORE operate on a moderate budget, and can’t always take long family vacations to exotic locations or Disneyland-like attractions. However, it’s important to remember that these are the years your children are growing up, and those memories will last them a lifetime.

That’s why it’s important that you try not to let lifestyle and budget challenges keep you from creating those memories.

The best way to take advantage of all those moves is to jump right in and start getting to know the area around each duty station you visit. You’ll be amazed at the unique activities in each community. Here are just a few of the many affordable family adventures that you may enjoy close to home.

  • 01 of 10

    Local Zoos or Aquariums

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    Get to know your local area and what attractions are nearby. Many zoos, aquariums, and museums have military discounts or family days where you can attend for an affordable price. Visit the websites and read up on the rules for bringing a picnic. Check out the maps ahead of time and make a whole day out of it. 

  • 02 of 10

    Fruit Orchards

    Getty Images/Stefanie Senholdt

    This isn’t going to be available everywhere you go, but if you can find an orchard within a reasonable driving distance, take the family out to pick some fresh fruit. This is a great activity for everyone in your family, from toddlers to grandparents. You can turn an afternoon of harvesting into a weekend adventure by making pies, jellies, and jams together from the goodies you brought home.

  • 03 of 10

    Get Crafty

    Finding it hard to get out of the house? Find a fun craft for the whole family to participate in. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

    • Quilting or Tie Blankets. Donate your work to a local senior center or hospital.
    • Research and create a family tree collage. It’s a great opportunity to teach kids about their heritage.
    • Scrapbooking. Have every family member pick their favorite memories from your travels and start a unique scrapbook that everyone can add to.

    If you need some inspiration, you’ll...MORE find a ton of ideas on Pinterest. Pick a few options that fit your family’s interests and the ages of your children. 

  • 04 of 10

    Christmas Light Tours

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    Getty Images/Matt Cardy

    The holiday season is a great opportunity to take a mini-adventure with your family. Most towns and cities have some sort of Christmas tree lighting or light festival to enjoy. Botanical Gardens, local zoos, and similar attractions are all great resources to help you find your local winter lights fun. Pack up the hot cocoa and your most festive mittens, and you’re on your way. 

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  • 05 of 10

    Bowling or Arcades

    If you’re living near a military base, you can take advantage of low-cost bowling, movies, and arcade activities. Do a little research on your current or future location to determine what options are available to you. Even if you’re not near a base, chances are there’s an arcade nearby that your whole family will enjoy. 

  • 06 of 10

    Drive-Ins and Dollar Movies

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    Getty Images/Joe Raedle

    If you’re lucky, you may be stationed near a drive-in movie theater. These blasts from the past are making a comeback for budget-conscious families. Pack up an air mattress, blankets, or beach chairs and enjoy the evening with an outdoor movie.

    Can’t find a drive-in? Check to see if your local movie theater offers a dollar movie day (or night). Plan a bike ride, trip to the park, or other activity to round out your afternoon. Many of these days are likely to fall on school days, so this may be a...MORE better summer option.

  • 07 of 10

    Local Festivals

    Again, it’s important to get to know the area around post to make the most of each change in duty station. What local festivals are available? Is there a county fair nearby? Even just a weekly trip to the local farmer’s market can become an event the whole family can look forward to.

  • 08 of 10

    Take a Hike (and a Picnic)

    Getty Images/Cultura RM Exclusive/JAG IMAGES

    If you’re looking for a healthy and active adventure, just take a hike. Make packing a picnic and exploring the great outdoors.

    Visit your branch’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) office for information on safe hiking options nearby.  Your MWR will also have information on summer camps, hospitality programs, fitness programs, and local tours. Find your MWR here:

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  • 09 of 10


    Who doesn’t love a good snow day? This fun activity can make for an exciting afternoon for the whole family. Plan for a hearty dinner and fun family movie at home to warm up after your day of fun. 

  • 10 of 10


    This activity offers a lot of options. Camping with your family can mean anything from setting up a tent in your backyard and sleeping under the stars to taking a fully loaded motorhome out for an adventure. Whatever your version of camping, it’s a great option for families looking to make memories without breaking the bank. Just remember to plan ahead, pack the appropriate gear, and tell someone where you’ll be (just in case…) 

Part of the fun of planning family activities is finding something unique that fits your family. Don't be afraid to think outside of the box to make your own adventure. The key is to get a feel for what is available in your current surroundings. With a little bit of research, you can create many happy memories of your time as a military family.