Winter Break on a Budget

Let’s be honest…we all totally blew through our budget for the holidays this year. I mean, if you were able to leave Target without spending at least $100, you are my personal hero. But for us mere mortals who spent way too much on eating out and last minute gifts the past couple of weeks, the bills are piling up…and winter break just started! So if you are looking for a way to stretch your dollar this winter break, here are my top picks for how to spend your winter break in Chicago on a budget with these free and discounted activities:


There are so many delicious restaurants that are not only family friendly, but also cater to kids through unique children’s menus and “kids eat free” programs like this. My personal favorite? Enjoy a relaxing and delicious Sunday brunch at this hot spot since kids eat free and are easily entertained with the bowling and bocce options! City and Suburbs



Kill two birds with one stone and bring the kids along when you grocery shop at both Whole Foods and Mariano’s. These retailers offer free kids’ crafts so you have a way to keep them in line while you are pushing that massive taxi cart up and down every aisle. Other great options are the free craft workshops hosted by well known crafting companies such as Lakeshore Learning and Joanne’s Fabrics. You can learn about their free offerings hereCity and Suburbs


The Home Depot and offers kids’ construction activities the first Saturday of each month at no cost. Simply sign up online to be enrolled in the program and your child will not only receive a work apron, but also commemorative pins and a unique construction project to bring home once completed. City and Suburbs



Libraries are so often overlooked as being simply a place to pick up books. Man oh man have things changed. There are now library programs such as interactive story times, performances by local artists, craft sessions, and some of the coolest toys you have ever seen. I mean, a GIANT LITE BRITE? Yes please!!! Here are our favorite libraries in the Chicagoland area.


Nature centers are such a great way to escape the house and see how the local wildlife adapts to winter. Our favorite spots to bond with a furry friend are the Wildwood Nature Center in Park Ridge (Wednesday mornings you can help feed the animals!), the River Trails Nature Center in Northbrook, and the Spring Valley Nature Center (check out the adjacent Bison’s Bluff Nature Playground if the weather allows, too!). For other awesome and free nature center options, check out this list.


Lastly, don’t forget that there are always opportunities for discounted play at some of your favorite local play spaces and museums! And if you need any ideas for a “Special Day Out with Mom,” here are our tried and true favorite ways to make wonderful memories.

Stay warm and have fun!
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  1. robin rue says

    Keeping the kids entertained can sure add up. We are heading up to our condo in New Hampshire at the end of the week and there is a lot of free stuff to do up there 🙂

  2. Jenny Finney says

    Where have I been!! I am very familiar with Home Depot & Lowes, but never knew they offered kids construction activities! This is something I will have to remember, when shopping at these two spots with my grandson! He would love it!

  3. Mellissa says

    These are amazing! My friend and I are always looking for free things to do. I love that there are so many family oriented things available in every city.

  4. Marysa says

    It can add up so fast with kids! And of course my kids want to do expensive things like Billy Beez and Dave & Busters, so it is nice to have some options that are not crazy expensive! We do a lot of library programs and visits to nature centers.

  5. Liz @ Yes/No Detroit says

    I’m a huge fan of libraries in general (and I worked at one from when I was age 14 to age 20, so I’m probably biased, ha). I think Chicago has some free museums too, right? I used to live there as a kid … I know Shedd and those require an admission fee though.

    • Amanda says

      All of the museums offer some free days for Illinois residents, but typically that isn’t during winter break. I think that’s when they make their money since the kids are off of school!

  6. Natalie says

    Such great budget-friendly activities! I have to look into the free activities around my city. I personally always enjoy ice skating on the outdoor local rink!

    • Amanda says

      My kids just tried skating for the first time this winter and they are OBSESSED, which makes this former figure skater VERY happy! 😉

  7. Amber Myers says

    Thank you for these ideas! I always love saving money. I usually go to places where kids eat free. Or if I have a good coupon, we’ll go out to eat. Libraries are also fabulous.

    • Amanda says

      So do we, but they are crazy madhouses during winter break so we are avoiding them until school is back in session. I can’t stand all of the “school break” chaos!

    • Amanda says

      Same here, but cabin fever is setting in so we are getting ready to head to a library and bring home some great books and movies!

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