There's so much to love about Westchester: easy access to New York City, tons of libraries, dining, play, and shopping options galore. With so many things to do, especially for kids, it's hard to imagine living anywhere else.
All that fun adds up: the county pool on Monday, Rockin' Jump on Tuesday, the Children’s Museum on Wednesday... It's easy to spend all your mad money on experiences your little one might be too young to even remember. And it's especially painful to spend $25 on one hour of excitement at a play spot when they can have much fun at home with an empty Amazon box.
But you shouldn't have to choose between stay home and spend nothing or go out for big bucks. There are plenty of free or inexpensive kid-friendly experiences around town. Here's my list of the best cheapskate spots, updated for 2018.
The Cheap Mom's Guide to Westchester
EAT FOR CHEAP
If you haven’t familiarized yourself with my list of places kids eat free, click here and commit it to memory. Otherwise, big chains and diners are great places to feed kids for less. When we get breakfast with our toddler at the diner, instead of getting a plate of eggs, bacon and toast, we order a scrambled egg sandwich. It’s about half the price and has all the same elements. The amounts will be a bit smaller, but it’s the perfect amount for a tiny tummy.
PLAY FOR CHEAP
If you haven’t done a free trial at every baby gym in Westchester, you’re missing out on about three months of weekly free play sessions. Every gym I’ve contacted offers a free trial for prospective members. Once you try them all, it might surprise you which gym your little one prefers. Don’t think there are that many? When we were shopping around with a 1-year-old, we tried, Gymboree, Great Play, Gymtime Place, Kids U, World Cup, Little Gym, My Gym, and Kidville. There’s also Central Park Dance, Kids In Sports, Scribble Art Studio, and all types of dance, martial arts studios, art studios, and music classes to try out. Have fun with it and you might find a new favorite spot!
Once you burn through all those, there are still more deals to be had:
- World Cup Gymnastics in Chappaqua offers a free 55-minute Mommy and Daddy Meetup on Wednesdays in their Romperee (3 and under) gym. This class is for moms and dads to meet and learn about childcare and wellness topics while their little ones (ages 4 and under) play in the large romperee gym. They have featured speakers on topics such as "The Rollercoaster of Motherhood" and "Exploring Your Child's Emotional Life Through Reading." It's free for you, baby, and any toddler siblings to attend. If you haven't been to this baby gym, it's one of the best for the under-3 set. Check their website for dates and times.
- We all know the Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesdays, and it can get crazy busy, but with a little planning you can go without the usual swarms of students. Head there on Wednesday during the first month of school when class field trips are less likely. First thing in the morning tends to be emptiest.
- Lil Chameleon in Tuckahoe is a resale boutique with a cafe and playroom with a great collection of toys. Show up between programs and enjoy free range of the cafe and your pick of the toy bins. It's the perfect place for a play date when neither mom wants to tidy up her house. Or check their event schedule for a range of programming, some of it free or under $10. BabyGotChat hosted a Mommy Meetup every Monday from 10am to 12pm and admission was just $5 per family. Meetups start again in the fall. Details available on their website.
- If you can get to The Play Place in Elmsford before 9:30 am with kids under 4, you can play for two hours for $6, and a sibling under a year old is free. Click here for more info.
- The Palisades Center has some fun activities that are pretty cheap. It’s about $3 each for kids to ride the carousel and indoor ferris wheel at the mall, and the operators let parents go free.
- The Westchester Mall has a play area on the top floor that will only cost you the price of parking ($3). Click here for my review.
- The Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown has a small play area and is the location of several free programs in the KidX club. Click here for more info.
- And, of course, you could visit a different playground in Westchester every day for months and not retrace your steps. Check out the Facebook page Playgrounds in Westchester for reviews, photos, and recommendations.
- You all know by now to check out our list of Weekly Library Programs, but if you haven’t, these are the best free ways to entertain and socialize your child (and yourself!). My personal favorites are Scarsdale Library, Crestwood Library in Yonkers, Irvington Library, Harrison Library, and Warner Library in Tarrytown. You don’t have to be a resident of a particular town to attend most library events. In addition to weekly story times, there are also tons of special programs like kiddie concerts, truck day, free play, meet-a-service dog, movies, and so on, so be sure to check out the library's event calendar. Some programs require advance registration.
- When you’re at the library, inquire about their free museum passes. You can only check out passes from your town’s library, but odds are they have tickets to places like the Guggenheim, the Intrepid, Stone Barns Center, The Katonah Museum of Art, and the Hudson River Museum. Borrowing passes could turn a $100 day on the town into a $30 day. Just go easy in the museum shop.
- There are also cheap ways for parents to play. A lot of gyms offer Parents Night Out that can start as early as 2 years old. This drop-off program is typically three hours long and costs around $35. Kids get to have fun and hang out, and you get a night out (albeit one with an early curfew). Cheaper than the average rate of a babysitter and with a lot less stress, some of the gyms that offer this are Little Gym in Scarsdale, My Gym in Mamaroneck and Dobbs Ferry, and World Cup in Chappaqua.
SHOP FOR CHEAP
- If you have something specific you are looking for and don’t need it to be brand new, it’s worth checking out Lil Chameleon in Tuckahoe, Once Upon a Child in Scarsdale, or Affordables in Dobbs Ferry. They have a selection of strollers, walkers, bouncers, swings, plastic toys, and outdoor toys all at about ¼ of the price you’d pay new. Lil Chameleon is our favorite because it even sells some stuff new in box! Perfect for birthday present scores on the cheap.
- My favorite finds at Once Upon a Child are fancy dresses. I’ve never seen any formalwear over $10. I got a gorgeous pink Disney dress and a blue sequined dress with the original tags for $5 each. The selection is always changing, but if you have a wedding or special event your little one is attending and they’ll only need to wear it once, this is a great place to look before you plunk down $50 at Lord & Taylor.
- Facebook has tons of local kids’-stuff tag sale groups that are fun to browse around on. Just a few of the ones you can join are Westchester Moms Tag Sales, Westchester County Kids and Baby Drama-Free Tag Sale, and Westchester Tag Sale: Babies/Kids
- Our dollar stores have a big selection of toys, but I’m wary about how safe the plastic is on these super-cheap playthings. I’d pass over anything a child might put in his mouth, but these shops are a great place to find stickers, school supplies, party supplies, and accessories (I got a big box of rainbow elastic hairbands for $1). This is my go-to place for “car toys”, (small stuff to play with in the car that you don’t care if it gets lost or thrown out the window on the Bronx River Parkway.) I’m close to Dollar Dream in Yonkers, but there’s many others like Amazing Savings in Scarsdale and Dollar Tree in New Rochelle.
That’s it for this week. I hope this list has inspired you to get more bang for your buck. Got a tip not featured here? Let us know on our Facebook page! As always, check our website for events and weekly library programs.
And don't forget to join us on the Official BAD Moms of Westchester Wine & Cider Tour scheduled for October 14. A busload of lovely ladies will experience tastings, nibbles, raffles, grape stomping, light bites. There will be goody bags and a souvenir wine glass! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
See you next time!