School holidays are a wonderful time for kids, who get to take a break from the monotonous school routine and get involved in all sorts of fun activities. But for parents, it can be an expensive time.
Working parents face the prospect of taking time off work or forking out for a holiday camp. Parents at home face many daylight hours to fill, and the endless cries of “I’m bored”.
A survey of Australians showed school holiday spending averages around $592 per family, and 40 per cent of those surveyed felt it was a financial burden. 
With the holidays over and kids back in school, now is the time to take stock and assess the financial impact. If your wallet took a bigger hit than it could handle, here are some ways to reduce your spend next holidays.
The ‘kids are back at school’ financial audit
1. Save, save, save
Pay off debts and sell unused items on Gumtree, getting kids involved if they’re old enough. Put aside what you can. A high-interest savings account is good way to give yourself a head start.
Teach your kids to manage money through pocket money or a savings jar and encourage them to take responsibility for some of their own holiday spending.
2. Do your research on holiday programs
If holiday programs and camps are your thing, do your research. Holiday programs vary in cost and requirements, including minimum days. Look for early enrolment offers ahead of time.
3. Plan a playdate roster
If staying home, split the duties with other parents. Many school classes offer parent email or phone lists. Check the class or school Facebook page to see if there is already a group and see if anyone is interested in a playdate roster for the holidays. Having a little time to yourself will be well worth the logistical effort.
4. Set up a toy trade
Parent networks are also useful for other things, like trading toys or equipment. Swap a scooter for a bike, a sprinkler for a waterslide, a kayak for a paddle board, video games, puzzles or board games. There’s nothing like the lure of other kids’ toys to hold a child’s interest.
5. Get outdoors
You’ll need to get out of the house. Take the kids to new playgrounds in suburbs you don’t usually visit.
If your kids are into scavenger hunts, try Geocaching. This is when people hide things, like notes or objects, in public places and put the clues online. You can place these items or search for them. There are many free Geocaching apps to try out.
6. Hunt down discounts
If there is an entry fee on your outing, don’t pay full price. Look for discount codes online or family pass deals. Many places offer incentives for buying tickets online, or early, and family meal deals.
7. Take your own food
Eating out during the holidays really adds up. Pack a box of emergency snacks in the car that won’t melt, and then pack snacks and lunch for each outing. Baking is a great activity to involve the kids in, and a way to stock up your snack supply. A staple is banana bread, but I heard of chocolate zucchini bread recently and it was a hit.
8. Check out free activities
Your local library or public recreation space usually has free school holiday activities. Check when holiday schedules are released and register early. Shopping centres often have free activities too.
If you’re at the library, check out their DVD collection. Most can order in titles if they don’t have the one you want. Check if your library connects with a public toy library.
9. Be creative at home
Plant a veggie garden, plan craft or construction projects or try a backyard camp-out. Even if they end up sleeping inside, planning and executing the activity is half the fun. You may not be able to have a roaring fire but you can pretend with a torch and coloured paper or cook an outdoor meal on a camp stove.
School holidays don’t have to break the bank. The kids might ask for expensive outings, but with a bit of planning and imagination, they can be entertained for much less. There is also research to indicate just staying at home inspires their own creativity and gives them some healthy downtime. Plan now to make the next school holidays memorable for your kids and easy on your hip pocket.Note this is general advice only and you should seek advice specific to your circumstances.