Thrifty Tips for Indoor Winter Fun

Planning & Saving
on January 6, 2011

The economic downturn hasn’t affected the fun factor in Brandi Briscoe’s family in the least, says the mother of four children in Washington, Okla. (pop. 520).

“Living in a small town void of amusement parks and malls, we’ve learned to appreciate activities that don’t cost a thing,” says Briscoe, 39. When winter’s arrival puts an end to lemonade stands, herb gardens, downtown strolls and other fair-weather outdoor activities, the family enjoys working together on a variety of homemade arts and crafts.

One of their favorite projects is creating puzzles from wooden ice cream sticks. They wash and dry 10 sticks, lay them side-by-side, and secure them with tape on one side. Then they glue magazine pictures on the other side and, when the glue dries, separate the sticks with a knife. Finally, they mix up the sticks and piece the picture back together. “He made ‘Spuzzles’ for some of his friends,” Briscoe says of her 13-year-old son, Andrew. “They were a big hit!”

The Briscoes aren’t alone. Many families are finding that the upside to the financial downturn is the opportunity to change spending routines that had gotten out of hand and to focus instead on building relationships with family and friends by doing simple activities together.

Here are more low-cost or no-cost ideas for creative family fun:

Salt sculptures. Mix together 4 cups flour, 1 cup water and 1 cup salt. Sculpt the doughy mixture into shapes—animals, flowers, rockets or whatever your imagination inspires. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Cool and paint with acrylic paint, if desired.

Creative caps. Decorate old baseball caps by gluing on beads, ribbons, sequins, feathers, fabric scraps, pipe cleaners, buttons, artificial flowers or anything else on hand. Have a contest for the prettiest or craziest cap creation.

Rice art. Draw a simple picture on cardboard. In empty butter tubs or other small containers, use food coloring to dye uncooked rice different colors. Dip a toothpick in school glue, then pick up one grain of rice. Dip it into the glue again and place the rice grain on the picture. When the picture is completely covered with rice, brush a coat of glue over the entire surface and allow to dry.

Shiny pennies. Kids love to make pennies look like new. Mix 4 tablespoons vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Drop pennies into the solution. If the pennies don’t instantly become clean, stir them for a minute with a wooden spoon, then polish them with a soft cloth and a drop of vegetable oil to make them shine.

Magazine scavenger hunt. Grab a stack of old magazines. Make a list of 25 images to look for, such as a boy, girl, flowers, car or horse. Set a timer for 20 minutes, and have children tear out the images. The one who finds the most items on the list in the allotted time wins. Recycle the magazines when finished.

Quick pillowcase costumes. Put old pillowcases to good use. Cut holes for the neck and arms. Use markers, acrylic paints, scrap fringe or lace to decorate the pillowcase. Ribbon or heavy yarn can be used for a belt.

Refrigerator magnets. Remove the metal lids from frozen juice cans. Cut a round piece of white paper to fit inside the rimmed edge of each lid. Have kids draw a design or self-portrait on the paper and glue it to the lid. Glue a magnet to the back. Family members will have their own magnets to hold papers or pictures on the refrigerator.

This article was originally published as Thrifty Tips for Indoor Winter Fun on

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