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Cheap thrills: Save money this summer

Published on: June 01, 2010

coinsA few months ago, my husband and I were looking for a place to eat that was close to the theater where we were volunteer ushers. We ended up in a pricey spot, but since we were saving money by volunteering — seeing the show for free — we thought we’d make an exception. As we walked in, an employee mentioned it was happy hour in the bar with a reduced-price menu. What a deal! We found a seat and were surprised to see families with kids happily eating away.

“Did we end up in the dining room by mistake?” I asked my husband.

“Nope, I think this is still the bar.”

“Isn’t it against the law to have minors in a bar?”

A woman sitting next to us with her husband and their busy preschooler leaned over and said, “This is the best secret in town. Since it’s a lounge and not officially a bar, we can go to happy hour with our son and eat for a fraction of the cost.”

The key to successful scrimping and saving is feeling as though you’re still getting a great value for your not-so-mighty dollar. With some good inside info — and a little planning — your family can eat and play in style this summer, for a fraction of the cost.

Start with these strategies:

Pay cash whenever you can. More and more retailers are giving discounts to folks who pay cash for their goods.

Ask about frequent-buyer programs and perks. My daughter and I love going to Plato’s Closet, a chain of designer consignment shops. We trade in clothes for store credit and use a frequent-shopper card to receive 20 percent off “full-price” items — a great deal since these are all resale items. You can find clothes at consignment shops for everyone in the family, including baby. A plus: Used kids’ clothes are generally in good condition, since kids outgrow clothes long before they outwear them.

Goodwill warehouses sell clothes and other items by the pound. On a recent trip, I found three pairs of designer pants, one sweater, a jacket, a springform cake pan, two bestseller books and a belt — all for less than $10! The downside: You have to dig for deals. And there’s competition: Last week, firefighters were shopping for clothes to outfit their training dummies. The upside: Sometimes there are firefighters there!

Use local resources. Check out events at the Seattle Convention & Visitor Bureau. This is a resource for out-of-town visitors, but there’s no law against locals using it, too. Check out the Super Saver Value Guide here.

Leave the car at home. Take the bus, train or ferry to your destination. It’s liberating to leave that big hunk of metal behind. Buy a booklet of bus passes for you and one for the kids. If you’re serious about saving more money, visit the Seattle Climate Action Now program to find out how local museums and attractions hand out discounts to folks who take the bus to their door.

Consider discount books or family passes. The downside: You have to remember to take the books and passes with you whenever you go. It takes a little planning, but you’ll save. The Go Seattle Card is a prepaid card to many local attractions, including the Experience Music Project and the Woodland Park Zoo. You’ll get 45 percent off most of the regular admission prices as well as perks such as skipping the line at the most popular attractions. Explain to your kids why it’s not taking cuts!

Both the EcoMetro guide (Web site) and the Chinook Book (a print booklet) support local businesses and organizations that focus on sustainability. Visit the Web site for info as well as details on where you can buy the booklet.

Seattle CityPass has its limitations; it’s only good for nine days. But the ticket booklet helps you bypass the lines, provides helpful tips and gets you into Woodland Park Zoo, the Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Aquarium, an Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour and the Museum of Flight.

Depending on what you love to do as a family and what’s available at the time, you should always be able to find something affordable to enjoy. Try a picnic on a gorgeous day. Bike to the library and listen to story time. Enjoy a visit to a university campus to look at where the big kids go to school. Share your stories with us and we’ll share a new kind of wealth with each other.

Tracy Romoser is a Seattle-based writer, mother and hopeful frugalite. You can email her at

This article originally appeared in the Summer, 2009 issue of SummerMap.

Great deals and steals on the arts

Free movies:

Getting too hot outside? Take the family indoors to a free movie at AMC or Regal theaters. G- and PG-rated movies are shown on special summer days and are first-come, first-served. To get started, click here.

Other freebies:

Nordic Heritage Museum: Free , 10 a.m.–4 p.m. first Tuesday; 3014 NW 67th St., Seattle; 206-789-5707.

Seattle Asian Art Museum: Free , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. first Saturday “Family Day” with arts activities; Volunteer Park, 1400 E. Prospect St., Seattle; 206-654-3100.

Wing Luke Asian Museum: Free , 10 a.m.–8 p.m. third Saturday “Family Day” with arts activities; 719 S. King St., Seattle; 206-623-5124.

Always free:

The Seattle Parks Department : Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m., during summer. Free, supervised drop-in program for elementary-school and middle-school children, featuring arts and other activities incorporating the customs and cultures of the Pacific Northwest.

Center for Wooden Boats: 10 a.m.–8 p.m. during summer, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. in fall, winter and spring; 1010 Valley St., Seattle; 206-382-2628.

Frye Art Museum: Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sunday, noon–5 p.m.; 704 Terry Ave., Seattle; 206-622-9250.

Olympic Sculpture Park: 30 minutes prior to sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset; 2901 Western Ave., Seattle; 206-654-3100.

The Lake Washington Ship Canal visitor center: daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m., summer hours (daily, May 1 through September 30). Free, guided tours are provided from March 1 through November 30. Call the visitor center at 206-783-7059 for tour times and additional information.

Web sites for special coupons and offers:

Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitor Bureau

Snohomish County Tourism Bureau

Seattle Southside Visitor Information printable coupon book

Free First Thursdays

The following are cultural experiences and resources that offer free admittance for the whole family on the first Thursday of each month:

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture: 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; University of Washington, Seattle; 206-543-5590.

Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum (EMP/SFM): Free 5–8 p.m.; 325 Fifth Ave. N., Seattle; 206-770-2700.

Henry Art Gallery: “Pay as you wish” (or free) 11 a.m.–8 p.m.; University of Washington, Seattle; 206-543-2280.

Museum of Flight: 5–9 p.m.; 9404 E. Marginal Way S., Seattle; 206-764-5720.

Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI): 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; 2700 24th Ave. E., Seattle; 206-324-1126.

Northwest African American Museum: 11 a.m.–7 p.m.; 2300 S. Massachusetts St., Seattle; 206-518-6000.

Seattle Art Museum (SAM): 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; 100 University St., Seattle; 206-654-3100.

Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM): 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Volunteer Park, 1400 E. Prospect St., Seattle; 206-654-3100.

Wing Luke Asian Museum: 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; 719 S. King St., Seattle; 206-623-5124.



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