Is Affordable Family Fun Going Out of Style?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

It seems almost everything costs money these days. So many kids’ school activities come with fees, and most summer activities have costs too, especially camps and events. While many parents still try to find activities that are affordable to enjoy with their families, it seems like the need to spend is increasing.

Whether children are becoming more demanding or parents are feeling the need to compete with other busy families who pay to enroll their kids in constant entertaining activities (or just buy them electronics to keep them busy at home), the culture does seem to be changing. Many kids would probably be happy going to the park and playing ball with their mom or dad, or even their siblings, but the fact that so many other kids are constantly involved in activities or playing on their tablets can throw kids and parents into the state of competition. The result is that affordable family fun, like going to a park, or playing games, is being overshadowed by more expensive choices, or by choices that involve self-play instead of family interaction.

According to a study done by Mintel in 2012 and reported last year, many Millennial parents are spending more money on entertainment. Forty-two percent of parents surveyed were spending less on family entertainment than they did a year before, but 36 percent of Millennial parents were spending more (as compared to only 17 percent of non-Millennials.)

Young dads (18-24 years old) were particularly relaxed with entertainment spending. Seventy-nine percent of these dates spent less than $300 on family entertainment each month (which seems expensive already), but the other 21 percent spent more than $300 each month (whereas only 11 percent of men over 35, and 7 percent of women 18-34 did the same.) Dads, particularly in this age group, seem to be more relaxed than moms, and according to Mintel, often spend more money and more time on entertainment.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual expenditure for entertainment in 2012 was $2,605, which was only a 1.3 percent increase from 2011. However, this statistic doesn’t compare family entertainment spending. Also, since 1995, household entertainment spending has actually gone up an incredible 58 percent (from 1995 to 2011, inflation-adjusted). Interestingly, the data suggests that the growth has actually come from in-home and mobile electronic entertainment, not location-based or entertainment or sporting events. Household spending at out-of-home venues actually decreased by an average of 12 percent since 1995.

Today’s parents are busy, and this explains why so many kids are in summer camps (since 2002 the number of ACA day camps has increased by 69 percent, and resident camps have increased by 21 percent; more than 11 million children and adults attend camps each year) or stuck at home playing on their electronic devices while their parents scramble to catch up on work or housework.

Mintel’s study suggests that this isn’t necessarily the way that kids want to spend their time, though. Seventy-seven percent of kids ages 6-11 said they like spending time with their family, and 73 percent of 12-17 year-olds said they really like to be with their family. These statistics might surprise some parents, especially those with preteens or teenagers. Kids want to have family time, and as much as they enjoy camps, and they love video and tablet games, they also need time actually interacting with other family members.

Many parents work during the day, and kids do enjoy camps and activities. You don’t have to completely take them out of child care, summer activities, sports, or other organizations at school; these opportunities are important for their growth.

However, when you are home, take the time to go outside with them, or play a game with them (one that doesn’t involve electronics.) Camping is a great way to encourage kids to be outside, and to grow together as a family. Camping is usually a popular activity with the whole family and is generally affordable.

According to the American Camper Report, 38 million Americans enjoyed camping in 2012 (down slightly from 42.5 million Americans in 2011.) This seems like an activity that should be on the rise, and a great place to start for a family fun weekend away from electronic devices.

More from Wall St. Cheat Sheet: