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Shoestring Cottage: 20 frugal family activities for autumn

Isobel Lawrance 27th Sep 2023 No Comments

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The summer holidays are a distant memory and the children have settled back to school. However, Autumn brings a host of potential pastimes, and here are 20 ideas for frugal family activities. Just because summer is over, it doesn’t mean you have to hibernate yet!

Autumn is by far my favourite season. John Keats described it as the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. The trees give us a display of beautiful colour, the mornings are fresher (but hopefully still sunny) and we can cosy up as the nights begin to draw in.

But even if the weather turns grey, there are plenty of fun things to do as a family, many of them free or at least low cost. Check out my ideas below.


1. Go for a walk in the woods

The trees are at their best, the shrubs are full of berries and the dappled sun coming through the leaves is very calming walking through an Autumn woodland. If the weather is cold, wrap up warm and go anyway. It’s good to get some fresh air and burn off some energy.

2. Do some leaf art

Whilst you are in the woods, collect some interesting leaves and make leaf pictures back at home. You can either paint the leaves for leaf printing, or make a collage.

3. Head to the beach

Now that the holidaying hoards have gone home, the beaches are much quieter. Wrap up and take a walk, collect some shells, take your sketchbook or do some rock pooling.

A flask of hot chocolate and some sandwiches are a good idea for a trip to the beach in Autumn.

4. Make an apple cake

You often come across free windfall apples at this time of year, but even if you have to buy them they are cheaper when they are in season. This delicious spiced apple cake recipe makes good use of them. The children can help!

5. Embrace the rain

Don’t run inside the minute it rains. Get your wellies and raincoats on and go splash in the puddles. You might even spot a rainbow.

You can come in a snuggle up on the sofa to read or watch some TV.

6. Go pumpkin picking

Visit a pumpkin patch. There are many open during the October half term holiday. Watch out for the entrance fees, though, as they vary a lot. Many start from £2-3 per person, and you pay extra for what you pick. There is a list of some of the best pumpkin patches here.

7. Make some soup

Make pumpkin or squash soup. Even if you don’t visit a pumpkin patch, they are in season during October and cheap to buy. I have a recipe here.

You don’t need any special equipment, but a blender is useful.

8. Carve a pumpkin

Still on the pumpkin theme, get practising with your carving skills for Halloween. Obviously children should be carefully supervised when using sharp implements. 

You will find loads of inspiration for pumpkin carving designs on Pinterest.

9. Hand printing

Do some hand printing and make some Autumn tree scenes. The Romanian Mum blog has  good instructions for how to do this.

10. Find local activities

Check out your council and tourist information websites for half term entertainment. Events are often free, or at least low cost, with activities such as craft sessions, story telling, festivals and open days.

11. Do your own reading challenge

Set your children an Autumn reading challenge – a bit like the summer reading challenges most libraries run. Maybe they can read one book a week for six weeks? Make them a certificate for when they have completed the challenge.

Your local library is the obvious place to go to borrow books for your challenge, but you will also find films and games whilst you are there. In addition, some larger libraries run activities such as craft sessions for children.

12. Write and illustrate your own books

Encourage your children’s creativity by getting them to write a story to make into a book. They can use facts from their own lives, base the story on a book or a film, or make up their own tale. They will enjoy illustrating their books, making a cover page and writing a blurb for the back.

13. Make a family tree

A frugal fun activity you can do together is to map out your family tree. You can find a free downloadable family tree for kids here.

14. Have an indoor picnic

If the weather is too wet or cold to eat outside, make an indoor picnic. Pack up some sandwiches, cakes, drinks and little treats, lay out your blanket and tuck in!

15. Camp indoors

Children love camping, so create a tent indoors. Tie some old sheets over the furniture to make a den, put some duvets or sleeping bags inside, along with a torch, then sing songs and tell stories as if you were round the campfire. 

16. Go for a bike ride

If you don’t have bikes, see if you can borrow some for a day (or find them for free on Freecycle or Freegle). Plan your route using this online resource from Sustrans.

Find a safe and suitable route for you and your tribe, pack your raincoats and some refreshments, and discover your local area by bike.

17. Get out the board games

Have a day of board games – see how many you can play! 

18. Make a time capsule

Make a time capsule with photos, letters, mementoes, etc from each of your family members and bury it in the garden. This post will give you some more guidance on creating your time capsule.

19. Have a pyjama day

Watch some of your favourite films, play games, sing and chill in your pyjamas for a few hours. Smaller children will probably get restless after a while, so it’s a good idea to have some other activities at hand as well.

20. Make a photo collage

I miss having tons of printed photos in albums! Now that photography has been digitised, I find I don’t look at old photos as much.

A nice, frugal family activity to rectify this is to print out some of your photos and make a collage to display. Alternatively, give each of your children a scrapbook to stick some photos in.


Whatever frugal family activities you prefer, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make fun times and happy memories.


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Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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