Treasure-hunting and ice cream are on the menu for frugal family fun

Item photo by Kolleen Long Once you find a geocache, be sure to log your find with your name and the date found. Many caches include a small assortment of trinkets. Bring along your own set of items and you can trade.
Item photo by Kolleen Long Once you find a geocache, be sure to log your find with your name and the date found. Many caches include a small assortment of trinkets. Bring along your own set of items and you can trade.

Can an average family spend an afternoon doing a fun activity and enjoying a treat for $20 or less? Challenge accepted!

Summers can get long and, dare we say, boring. Most families have the added challenge of watching their pennies. In our family of four, we’ve found a good way to keep everyone motivated: if the kids keep up with chores and get along while the parents meet their responsibilities, we celebrate with Fun Fridays: a creative outing for all to enjoy each Friday afternoon.

It’s important, of course, to keep the price tag for Fun Fridays low. Even the cost of gas becomes a consideration. So our activities are generally local (15 miles or less from home) and must come under our total budget of $20.

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My husband came up with our first Fun Friday idea of the summer: geocaching. If you’ve never heard of it, geocaching is a kind of treasure hunt. Using coordinates, you find a small container hidden by someone else. Once you find it, you can log your name and the date on a paper tucked inside. Many “caches” also have a small stash of trinkets inside. If you bring your own mini-baubles along, you can trade one out.

For our family, geocaching is a perfect fit. My husband and our middle-school son enjoy the technology aspect of it. Our elementary daughter loves the idea of trading trinkets. We all enjoy outdoor activities, as well as some healthy competition: who would spot the cache first?

My techie husband found a great free website, geocaching.com. Enter your zip code, then click on the map view to find caches in your area. We found many, many options within a 15-mile radius. The site includes helpful information such as difficulty level of each cache, type of terrain and the size of the hidden container. Also included are hints, the day the cache was planted and the last date someone found it. (Once you find a cache, you can go back to the geocache.com and log your find.)

We selected one easy, one medium and one hard cache for our first venture. Fortunately, our family owns a hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) device. If your family does not have one, ask around. Many friends are willing to lend theirs out. Another option is plugging the coordinate numbers into Google maps or another online program and printing out directions.

We also made a quick stop at the dollar store. Each child was able to choose some kind of trinket to leave at our cache sites. Total spent: $2.12.

Then we were off. It’s important to note that good geocachers do not give away the exact location of a find. I can tell you that the “easy” one was fairly obvious – a large, decorated container not far from a main path. The next site was a little trickier as the container was a small, elongated pillbox tucked into a niche. The most challenging, of course, was the last one which featured a “micromagnetic” container. Finally, we found it – a tiny metal container roughly the size of two stacked watch batteries.

To our surprise, our daughter had the best eye for the caches, spotting two out of three. Her reward? Deciding where to spend the remainder of our money. For her, the choice was obvious: Candy’s.

Candy’s Homemade Ice Cream, in Shoemakersville, is a favorite stop for many locals. The line sometimes snakes outside, but for our family it’s worth the wait. Candy’s offers dozen of homemade hard ice creams and yogurts, plus soft serve and Italian ices. There’s even a select menu of hot foods like sandwiches and pretzels. The friendly staff is willing to hand out samples on request, and prices are more than reasonable. With our remaining funds, we all picked out favorite treats: one single scoop, two double-scoop cones (one on a large, homemade waffle cone) and a medium milkshake. Our total bill, with voluntary tip, was $15.14.

All in all, this outing was a successful foray into frugal, family fun. We spent time in the sunshine and enjoyed a rich, creamy treat, all for $17.26. Challenge met!