Have some fun even on a tight budget

Financial times are tough — but kids still want (and need) to have fun. Jenna McCarthy, author of “The Parent Trip,” offers some suggestions:

Recycle your kids’ own toys. Periodically go through their toys and pull out a bunch you haven’t seen them play with recently. Stash them in the garage or attic and pull out as needed. The “new again” toy will be an instant favorite.

Rediscover the library. It’s free. It’s climate-controlled. Make it a standing (did I mention free?) weekly appointment.

Organize a book/toy swap. For every toy or book you bring, you get a coupon or ticket for another in exchange. Any extra or unwanted goods can be donated to charity.

Put them to work. No, really. Instead of paying to have someone else clean your car or your home’s windows, have a car-cleaning or window-washing party. The key is to call it a “party,” and maybe have cookies or another reward for a job well done. It’s all in the way you market it.

Get crafty. Homemade goodies are a double win: The process keeps kids busy for hours, and at the end, you’ve got a pile of (inexpensive) gifts. Bake several batches of cookies or peanut brittle, and let the kids wrap them into bundles for teachers, neighbors, mail carriers or grandparents.

Have a family night at home. A trip to the movies and a mid-price dinner for a family of four can cost upward of $70. A home-baked pizza and rented movie? About $15. That’s $55 you can put toward the college fund.

Buy wisely. Consider a toy’s long-term entertainment potential before forking over cash for it. A $10 DVD may get watched dozens of times — a substantial savings over hauling the entire family to a single movie. Invest in a few games, stacking or building toys or learning systems (like Leapsters) that can be used over and over for hours of thrifty fun.