Cheap vs Expensive: Which is More Fun? comments (2)

Guest Post by Melissa Ren | January 22, 2011

This weekend was a good lesson in contrasts.

With out-of-town visitors come trips to local attractions. At the expense of our expenses, we wanted to make sure they had a good time. Saturday and Monday, we went out on the town, ate out, and bought souvenirs at one of the stops (which is just ludicrous, since we actually live here…). On Sunday, we were home and resting. The following provides an overall picture of how this went.

We took a trip to the zoo. Fortunately, we had 3 free adult passes. Unfortunately, there were 4 adults and 2 kids. Fortunately, one of the kids was only 2 years old.

Expense: $44.00 admission for one adult and one child.

Our zoo is a massive display of fauna that represents, at the very least, 5 miles of walking if you want to see everything (and for those admission prices, you really, really do). At the halfway point, there was a small café, so we decided to buy some Icee drinks (we are in Phoenix) and rest for a bit.

Expense: $4.50 for 2 large Icees. $2.00 ATM surcharge fee because the café does not take debit cards and my husband was too lazy to walk outside and ask me for cash.

The kids must feed the animals. I mean, Heaven forbid those poor creatures not get pellets tossed at them every 5 minutes by virus-encrusted booger-eaters. The zoo cleverly places food pellet dispensers every 10 feet or so to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to partake in the excitement. These dispensers, of course, cost money.

Expense: $1.00 took care of the ducks, $.50 is all we invested in the swans and $1.50 went for the giraffes. We clearly have our favorites.

At the end of the zoo trip, we all rummaged through the gift shop, where my daughter decided she couldn’t live without a souvenir alligator toy.

Expense: There goes $5.00 on a toy she only played with for an hour.

After the zoo, we all went out to dinner. Fajitas for four adults, cheese crisp for 2 kids, two sodas, two Margaritas (only one was mine, I swear) and one 15% tip.

Expense: A very delicious $95.00.

Total expenses for this trip: $153.50.

Did we have fun? Yes. Was it worth the expense? Yes. The zoo trip is one that we make 2 or 3 times every year. The kids have an amazing time looking at the animals and we take the opportunity to teach them new information. My 4-year old knows a meerkat by sight and she’s one visit away from calling an eel by its proper name instead of referring to it as, “Oooh! Snake!” This was directly the opposite experience from….


Monday’s trip was to the Desert Botanical Garden. When you live in the Midwest, a desert garden may be an exotic, fascinating excursion. When you live in the desert, however, you find yourself looking at plants that you have in your front yard, or see on the side of the road every day. So, how much does one pay to see over 100 different kinds of cacti?

Expense: $50.00 for three adults and one child. I spent the trip trying not to be too snarky when I explained all of the different places around town that they could see each of the plants. For free.

After the garden, we wrestled with the kids through another dinner out. The waiter was attempting to be helpful by asking if we would like a high chair or a booster seat. We asked if they had strait jackets available. I was disappointed to discover that they were ill prepared in that area.

Expense: $75.00 for 4 terrific burro combo plates, 2 sodas, 2 Margaritas (see disclaimer above) and the half gallon of catsup my kids devoured.

Did we have fun? No. I would rather have more casually visited my friends in a place where there wasn’t a sharp, stabby thing trying to puncture my kids around every corner. We were sun burned, we inhaled a pound of dust, and there was nothing of any informational value to pass along to the kids. “That’s a cactus, honey.” “That’s a different colored cactus.” “That’s a smaller cactus.” The conversations were not rewarding for either of us. The experiences both Saturday and Monday were a stark contrast to the fun we had on Sunday.


This was a day we spent at home resting. Our tourist friends decided to take a trip down to Tucson to visit a Saguaro farm. More cacti. We teasingly pointed out that they would pass more saguaro cacti on their way to the farm than they would actually see there. No wonder they didn’t want to hang out with us. How did we choose to spend our day?

  • We sang along with Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches.
  • The kids pushed each other around the living room in a box.
  • They also took turns stomping around the house in my husband’s and my shoes.
  • My daughter spent 3 minutes licking a comb. (Don’t ask.)
  • I gave the kids temporary tattoos.
  • My daughter and I played Sims 3 for a little while. The character we were playing is a stylist, so she helped me give makeovers to half the town. “How ‘bout this shirt?” “No. It’s too bratty.”

Did we have fun this day? We absolutely had a blast.

The lesson I try to keep in mind, is that kids will find imaginative and cost effective ways to entertain themselves. While it is worthwhile to get out to the attractions every now and again, what they need is quality time interacting with their parents. These times build the foundation for a solid relationship with your kids. The best part: most of these moments are completely free.

Melissa Ryan is located in Phoenix, Arizona.  Or, if she owes you money, she’s located in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  Wherever she happens to be, she’s never far from her husband, her daughter Caidyn and her son Ronin.  In her spare time, she enjoys the 3 r’s: reading, writing and running away from her kids.  You can read more about her family’s shenanigans at her blog,
Take My Monsters. Please.


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Comments for Cheap vs Expensive: Which is More Fun?
By Nurse M on January 23, 2011

Great blog. I agree staying home can save you money but sometimes you got to get out of the house!!!! Can’t believe the zoo cost that much with passes. I suggest you become a member of the zoo. Usually it pays for itself after the second visit. We probably go 15 times a year. Sometimes just for a few hours. Plus with membership you don’t have to wait in line!

By Melissa Ryan on January 24, 2011

Thank you!

You’re very right, you have to get out of the house, especially when you’ve got young kids.  The weekend was more about the differences between a good excursion and one that was not worth the money.

We have spent the money in a previous year on annual passes for the zoo, but the never arrived.  When we complained, they treated us like we were trying to scam them out of free tickets.  We decided that, since we only make the trip twice a year otherwise, that it’s best just to pay at the gate.

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