Family of Four Taking Flight to Financial Independence

Financial Update: August 2018

We plan on presenting our monthly financial update so that you can ride along on our trip to financial independence.

August Monthly Income: $8,344

Nothing fancy to report here.  This is simply our two salaries lumped together for the month (our take home pay).  Note, this amount will increase in March 2019 due to my annual salary adjustment and bonus (and in September 2018 due to Tara’s annual salary adjustment).  

August Monthly Expenses: (-$4,445.23)

Our expenses are broken down between variable and fixed.  Let's take a closer look:

August Variable Monthly Expenses: (-$1,370.50)

We typically allocate $800 per month for variable spending, so we went over this month, but that’s because August is typically a crazy month with back to school, Brooklyn's regular vet visit, and the semi-annual dentist visit for the kids.  Our kids have two sets of very generous Grandparents that also helped with back to school expenses (otherwise yes, our spending on school clothes and supplies would have been higher).

We will make up for this overage in September when things settle down.  As you can see from the charts below, the Dog Boarding / Vet made up 47% of our monthly variable expenses in August.  The boarding was due to a trip we took to New York City in late July (which was unexpectedly extended for several days due to a cancelled flight), and the vet visit was for a regular checkup.  If you take one or both of these out (which would be more in line with a typical month for us) our spending for August would have been great!

August Fixed Monthly Expenses: (-$3,074.73)

These are the expenses that are (for the most part) fixed from month to month.  We budget these expenses to be $3,237.25 per month, but usually we are able to stay under budget over all because I tend to purposefully over budget for certain things such as utilities.  This month represents $162.53 under budget (thank you $31 electric bill!).  

We have $3,898.77 left once we deduct our monthly variable and fixed spending from our monthly income.  We are now going to divide this up between our Vanguard account and our cash cushion (you could leave this in your regular bank account for the cash cushion portion).

August Monthly Investments (Taxable): $2,955

We deposit $2,955 in our taxable Vanguard Account.  I typically make a deposit on the 15th and one on the 30th of every month.  This account had market gains of $10,663.54 in August. 

August Monthly Investments (Pre-Tax): $1,880

$1,880 is deposited to my 401k (which obviously is taken out of each paycheck before tax).  This account increased by $9,962.92 in August (market gains).  

Note, total increase in August investments = $20,626.46  (Thank you Stock Market / Compound Interest!)

August Cash Cushion: $943.77

This amount comes from the difference of our leftover $3,898.77 (shown above) and the $2,955 that we deposit to Vanguard each month.  For most of the year I like to keep this amount in our regular checking / savings account just in case an unexpected expense pops up.  At the end of the year I will move this to our Vanguard Money Market Account which will eventually be part of our cash cushion in early retirement. 

How did your budget look in August (or September (our September is coming soon!))?  Is August a higher month for you like it was for us?  Are you watching your budget closely?


Take Me Out To The (Cheaper) Ball Game

Do you enjoy going to sporting events?  Do you enjoy going to sporting events with your family?  How much does it typically cost you?

As much as we love our professional sports teams in Houston (Houston Texans, Houston Rockets, Houston Dynamo, Houston Dash ... and of course our 2017 World Series Champions - Houston Astros), it is also fun (and often cheaper!) to go check out a local Minor League Baseball team like our Sugarland Skeeters.

I mentioned I will be bringing you a series of posts that relate to saving money even WITH kids: Financial Independence With Kids?  But Kids Are So Expensive!  This will include (but not limited to) free or cheap entertainment (even with kids) such as going to the Sugarland Skeeters game.

Our youngest was not pleased with being the mascot.  Hah!

We went to a Skeeters game a few weeks ago with the kids for the cost of $55.50 Total.  If we (me and the kids!) didn't eat, it would have been cheaper, but isn't that half the fun of going to a baseball game?

4 Tickets = $36
Parking = $5 Cash Only
Food = $14.50 (4 Hotdogs / Fries)
Water = Free Water Fountains

Tickets: We purchased the Grassland tickets for only $9 each.  No, you don't have an actual seat, but one of the big highlights for the kids was running up and down the hill / grassland area.  (There are benches available at the bottom of the grassland area.  These were also a highlight because you could watch the pitchers practicing up close and personal!).

Parking: $5.  You really can't beat $5 parking for an event in the Houston area (in this case, Sugarland).

Food: We purchased four hotdogs (one for me, one and half for the kids) and fries to share (they were crispy and delicious) for $14.50.  Yes, one can argue that you can make that at home for much cheaper, but like I mentioned above, part of the fun of going to a ball game is enjoying some grub (plus it was dinner time and the kids were hungry).  At most large sporting events (like our Houston area professional teams mentioned above) the prices would be much higher.

Now this outing wasn't as cheap as say our art trip to The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Art Thursdays), but like we mentioned recently (What Do You Mean I Can Still Buy Starbucks?), yes you can still spend money and save for financial independence.

And what about the priceless parts of our Skeeters evening?  A Skeeters game is super family friendly.  Besides the Grassland area, they also have a splash pad and a playground.  Our kids spent hours on the playground (they thought the splash pad was too cold!  Below 100 in Houston so brrrrrr!  Hah!).

They also enjoyed watching the pitchers practice from the Grassland area.  And of course there was the baseball game!  I think if our seats were closer, our son would have paid more attention to the game, but honestly we were there for the whole family experience and not just the game (but hey, they are good and headed to the playoffs!).

Another perk? Even though our other sports teams in Houston do offer family friendly areas, we were dealing with a much smaller crowd (not crowded at all) at the Skeeters game.

They also offered Fireworks at the end of the game, but we didn't end up staying since the game went to extra innings.  It was already after 9 pm before we left the game (and we live about an hour away).  But fireworks are another great family perk!

So have you been to a Skeeters game?  Or if you aren't in the Houston area, have you been to a minor league team game?  Or what about an even cheaper option ... high school sports?


What Do You Mean I Can Still Buy Starbucks?

Today we are flipping the script, and rather than focus on how much to save / invest, let’s talk about how to determine how much to spend.  This is a topic that is not discussed enough in the FI (financial independence) community.  But it’s important to take a step back from the flight to FI and remind ourselves that it’s okay to spend money. 

I’m not talking about reckless spending here.  

Striking the right balance between investing and spending is going to be the key to help you reach your financial goals.

We are going to assume you have already looked at your budget, so you know exactly how much money is left over after all of your expenses are paid each month (if you haven't done this yet, stop and do it now!).

Our example budget is $2,000 per month left over after all of the expenses have been paid.

How Do You Decide How Much To Save / Invest?

It has always been easiest for me to first set my saving / investing goals which will lead me to how much money needs to be allocated to reach these goals.  Then whatever is left over I allocate to spending (note, when we are talking about spending here, we are talking about what you spend money on that is NOT in your monthly budget.  It could be anything from getting a Starbucks to pursuing a hobby that has some expense (insert your interests here!)).  

My daughter and I (Tara) met some friends Friday evening, and we enjoyed some cupcakes at
Rise (Pumpkin Spiced Latte for me).  This expense would fall under our spending money.

For example, if you are aggressively pursuing FI and want to reach it as soon as possible then I recommend applying 50% - 70% of the $2,000 to your investments each month.  This would leave you with between $600 - $1,000 for spending per month.

Will This Level Of Spending Provide Balance In My Life?  

Once you have determined the allocation towards your savings / investments, you now need to determine if what is left is a realistic amount that can consistently cover your spending for a typical month.  The last thing you want to do is leave yourself with an amount for spending that is too low and brings added stress to your life.  Take some time to really evaluate the things you spend money on that truly add value and bring joy to your life (eliminate the ones that don’t). 

If your investing goal is to save 70% of your income, but after looking at the numbers you realize that the $600 left over is not a realistic amount for you to stay within on a monthly basis, then you need to make an adjustment.  Maybe instead of saving 70%, you drop your savings rate down to 60% (this is still great), thus increasing your spending from $600 to $800.  Find your balance while striving to stay within that 50% - 70% savings rate (if FIRE (financial independence retire early) is your focus). 

Eliminate The Guilt Of Spending

Our kids golf (an expensive sport), and their summer golf camp came from our spending budget.

What this post really boils down to is how to take the “guilt” out of spending when saving for FI.  In my experience, the best way to do it is to look at the numbers.  Once you go through the exercises above and see that you have covered all of your monthly expenses and made your investments that are on par with your saving / investing goals, then you’re good!  You can now enjoy your spending money and use it on things that bring you and your family happiness.

What is your spending amount?  What do you like to spend on? 


Start Spreading The News: FI (Financial Independence) and Travel

When we decided to take flight towards FIRE (financial independence retire early), we continued to make travel a priority for our family (among other things!).  Yes, we can live off one salary (a teacher’s salary), save over 60% of our take home money, and still be able to afford travel!

This year we’ve been able to budget a snow trip to Colorado (Snow Mountain Ranch), trip to New York City to see family / for my birthday, and we have a (surprise) trip for our kids to Disney World later this year.  (We also had a cruise gifted to us this past summer so that doesn’t really count).

But how can we make this work?  The key is to plan and budget for the expenses.

Travel hacking and sometimes even the small things help too!  I’m going to share a few key tips from our recent summer trip to New York City (one of the most expensive cities in the world).  (I will preface this with saying, I did spend five years living here after college so I do know some ins and outs more than most people.  My sister and her family also live there so we can save by cooking at her apt for some meals, etc.  But we still have some helpful tips regardless!).

For this post I will focus on a few things (not everything!) on travel, lodging, and food.  I can go on and on, and I have much to share so we will revisit NYC in future posts.

Milk and Cream Cereal Bar in NYC


One of the most exciting travel hacks for us was the transportation to and from the airport.  That may not seem like a big deal, but not only can this be a long adventure with kids (traffic! smelly car!), it can be expensive (a car service would have cost us at least $75 if not closer to $100 one way).  Yes, car services are maybe the most convenient, but that is definitely not the most affordable option.  Now I will say when I travel late at night (I’ve flown in before at midnight), that is the way to go.

If you fly into La Guardia (LGA) you can take the La Guardia Link Q70 bus from the airport terminal right to the subway!  The cost for one ride is only $2.75 (this can be cheaper depending on the NYC MTA Metrocard you buy), and you get a free transfer to the subway.  You do NOT need to pay again once you reach the subway.  Traveling with kids??  From their website: "Up to three children 44 inches tall and under ride for free on subways and local buses when accompanied by a fare paying adult."

Once we left the airport, we got off at the first stop for the subway (Jackson Heights Subway Connections) where the subway options were E, F, M, R, 7.  We were able to take the E directly to a stop that we needed in Lower Manhattan.

So how does this all work?  Watch this video to be walked through the entire process!  1) Once you have your luggage go buy a Metrocard at one of the machines.  2) Next go outside to the LGA Link Q70 stop.  Insert your Metrocard into the machine to get your Q70 ticket (you are not charged again).  3) Get on the Q70 when it arrives.  4) Get off at the Jackson Heights Subway Connections to catch the E, F, M, R, 7.  Take the appropriate train to Manhattan / your destination!  The YouTube video sums it up best.

But what about your luggage?  We tried to travel light.  We only had one suitcase (with wheels that rolls pretty easily), and the rest of our luggage was on our backs / shoulders.  We only had to carry the luggage a few times on stairs in the subway (some subway stations have elevators).

But how long did it take?  Isn't a taxi / car service / Uber faster?  It only took an hour or less door to door, and we had to go all the way to Lower Manhattan (Tribeca).  A car might be faster, but that depends on traffic!  And we did this with two kids (age 5 years and 7 years).

We will definitely plan to fly into LGA our next trip and use the La Guardia Link Q70 / Subway to get into Manhattan.

Subway: I highly recommend learning the subway and using this form of transportation during your visit.  Not only is this the cheapest way to go, but it's usually the most convenient way to go.  Just check ahead of time for subway service alerts (the subway lines can change - even more so on weekends), and put an app / map on your phone prior.  Or if you prefer, buy yourself an old school map.

And be sure to walk when you can.  The best way to enjoy NYC is by walking around and seeing everyday sights.


What about lodging?  Aren't hotels expensive there?  

We try to use travel hacking (such as airline / hotel points) for plane tickets and hotels, but we will save those details for another post.

One small tip is to look for a hotel that offers free breakfast.  That is one meal you don't have to worry about.  For example, we stayed at the Hampton Inn Soho.  Not only was the price of the hotel affordable, but it also offered free breakfast.

You may also want to consider AirBnb (depending on your length of stay, number of people, what you want to do in the city).


What about food?  Is everything more expensive there?  

Yes, it can be.  For example, many places in Midtown (tourist central) may have their prices hiked because much of their clientele includes tourists.  Don't go to Times Square and eat at Olive Garden!

NYC has any type of food you can imagine.  If you are a big foodie and want to go to a high end restaurant, just budget that into your spending prior.  You can save on your other meals and get some cheap(er) authentic foods in NYC too.

For example ... 

  • Pizza: I always have to get pizza when I go to New York City.  This is the real deal y'all.  For our last trip my sister treated us to Il Mattone.  Another great spot is Lombardi's in Little Italy.

  • Bagels: You can't go to NYC without treating yourself to a bagel.  I personally prefer a toasted Everything Bagel with cream cheese and lox.  My favorite place is Ess-a-Bagel, but this past trip we went to a place near my sister - Sadelle's (see photos below).  Delicious!

  • Hot Dogs / Street Vendors: Of course our kids love hot dogs.  When we were in Battery Park we got them a cheap lunch at a Nathan's street dog vendor.  

  • Pretzels / Street Vendors: These are huge, cheap, and entertaining for our kids.  (And yummy too!).  In the photo below, my son is enjoying a pretzel in Central Park.

None of these food choices will break the bank, and they will keep both the adults and kids happy.  Plus you can't go to the Big Apple without enjoying some New York pizza (and other New York favorites).

These are just a few things to share about NYC travel, lodging, and food.  Stay tuned for many more NYC tips and tricks (such as why not take the "carousel tour (SeaGlass Carousel in photo below)" through NYC?), but if you have any specific questions about New York, let us know.  I often help co-workers / friends plan their trip to NYC.

How do you budget for travel?  How do you find ways to reduce spending / save money when you are traveling?


How To Make $1,000,000 In 8 Years

The quickest way to FI (financial independence) is to have an extremely high savings rate.  We touched on this in our post about reducing debt when we showed that in a matter of just a few years you can go from saving around $12,000 per year to $48,000 per year.  And these numbers were based on "normal" salaries.

In other words, you don’t have to make $200,000+ per year to save this kind of money.  Savings rate is more important than the amount you make.  Savings rate is more important than the amount you make.  (Repeat, as necessary).

Public Art In Brooklyn, NYC.  Yes!  $1 Million in 8 Years!

What Does My Savings Rate Need To Be?

Everyone is different, but typically in the FIRE (financial independence retire early) community people aim for a savings rate between 50 - 70% of total income.  You can calculate your savings rate by first figuring out how much money you brought in for the year (regular income, 401k, employer contribution to 401k, dividends, etc).  Next add up the money you did not spend.  Finally, divide total unspent by total income and multiply by 100 (Confusing right? Let’s look at an example).  

Here is an example of a typical year for us: 

So we are currently sitting at a 67% savings rate for 2018.  Take some time to calculate your savings rate and strive to have it eventually fall within that 50 - 70% range, and you will be well on your way to reaching FI.  

But You Mentioned $1,000,000 In 8 Years…..

Let's play with the numbers to see just how powerful a high savings rate can be.  

Our family started saving for FIRE back in 2015, once all of our debt was paid off.  It was at this time that we started living off of just one salary (a teacher's salary!).  Here is a breakdown by year of what we have been able to save.  (The annual increases typically come from the salary adjustments we receive).  

I will also forecast out the next few years just so we can better illustrate the power of compound interest in the chart below.  Everything after 2018 is what our planned savings amount for that year would be (in reality we should reach FI by the end of 2019 so these aren't our exact numbers, just an example).  Note, just like above our numbers include: 

-Savings in our Vanguard Taxable Account
-Savings in my company's 401k plan / plus the company match of 5%.
-Dividends earned from investments.

While these numbers alone look great, this isn’t their true value because they will all be invested straight into our favorite Vanguard index fund: VTSAX.  Being invested this way will historically net you about a 10% rate of return in the long run.  When you adjust for inflation (typically 3%), we have an inflation adjusted rate of return of 7%. 

Wow!  We just went from ZERO to $1 Million in 8 years! 

That is the power of having an extremely high savings rate, while also reaping the benefits of compound interest from a low-cost total stock market index fund.  

I can’t stress enough the importance of having a large % of your investment portfolio allocated to stocks.  For those that want to be conservative and smooth out the wild ride of the stock market an allocation of 75% stocks (VTSAX) and 25% bonds (VBTLX) is the way to go.  

The key to reaching FI is having an extremely high savings rate (ideally between 50 - 70%) and investing those savings into VTSAX.  The higher the savings rate, the more quickly you reach FI!

What is your savings rate? 


How To Survive The Next Financial Apocalypse

Retiring early sounds nice and all, but what are you going to do when the stock market crashes again?

Calmly riding out the next financial storm (Lego Art in Houston).

This is by far the most commonly asked question in regards to early retirement, and rightfully so, because the stock market is going to crash again.  If you’re in your 30’s / early 40's like us, you will probably witness at least 3 - 4 more major stock market collapses in your life.  

What will we do when the inevitable happens?  Simple.  We’ll turn to our safety margins to ride out the storm.  

What are safety margins?

Safety margins are ways that you can protect investments during economic downturns.  Living off of the 4% philosophy of withdrawals is great and extremely safe on its own.  But when the market does tank, rather than continue to withdrawal down your investments, it’s good to be able to let them sit while you tap into your safety margins.

Safety Margin I: Cash

The first safety margin everyone should have in place is cash.  Cash is king, and when the market tanks, it is your best friend.  A good practice is to have 3 - 5 years of spending set aside in cash.  This will provide you with enough of a cushion to ride out any economic downturn that we have experienced in the history of the stock market to date.  

Wait!!  We assume that a typical early retiree lives on around $40k per year.  Are you telling me that I need $120,000 - $200,000 extra cash for when the market tanks?  No, not really.  Rather than worry about covering 100% of your expenses (in this example 4% or $40,000 per year), all you need to do is have enough to cover 1% of your expenses.  Thus you drop your withdrawal rate from a safe 4% to a bulletproof 3%.  Using our example of someone living off of $40,000 (4% of $1,000,000) this means that for this safety margin to be effective you only need a cash cushion of $30,000 - $50,000 (3 - 5 years worth).   Not too shabby.

Let us take 2008 as an example.  As bad as 2008 was (the market dropped about 40%), in 2009 the market was back up over 26% and has been up every year since.  So rather than pulling the 4% from your investments in 2008, you could have pulled maybe 3% from investments and 1% from your cash cushion and been just fine!  That should get you excited.

Safety Margin II: Be Flexible

Being flexible, should probably be number one on this list because it is absolutely key to having a successful retirement.  There are numerous ways to be flexible in early retirement.  It could be anything from reducing your grocery budget to deciding to take a cheaper vacation.  Here’s one example.  Let’s say you’re retired and enjoying the good life, and the bottom falls out of the stock market.  You’re a pro and so you don’t panic.  You adjust your withdrawals down to about 3% and tap some of your cash cushion.  Next you decide maybe it’s not the best year to take that big vacation to Disney World (or destination of your choice), so maybe you decide on a staycation and just do fun things around your own city for a couple of weeks.  Either way you have remained flexible and adjusted your lifestyle (temporarily) to help weather the storm.  Mickey Mouse will be there next year (I promise!).

Safety Margin III: Part Time Work / Side Hustle

Wait, WHAT?  Work??  I thought this was (early) retirement?!  You don’t work in retirement! 

Alright, settle down, and let’s consider some facts.  If you are an early retiree, you are probably still young, educated, and healthy.  Just because you’re “retired” doesn’t mean you are never again allowed or able to make any more money.  How silly is that? 

This is one of the most debated topics when talking about FIRE (financial independence retire early).  Being FIRE does not mean you are not allowed to work.  Being FIRE does mean that work is no longer mandatory.  You can instead pursue what interests you, and do it on your own time.  

Additionally, keep in mind, you no longer need $100k per year to get by.  Rather, $5k - $10k per year would be more than enough as a safety margin.  For example, let’s go back to our family living off of $40,000 per year at a 4% withdrawal rate.  Bringing in $5k just lowered your withdrawal rate from 4% to 3.5% or from $40,000 to $35,000.  That’s huge!

Safety Margin IV: Geographic Arbitrage

If you’re like us and part of your plan for early retirement involves a lot of travel, then geographic arbitrage is a very powerful safety margin.  When things get bad, instead of panicking you could just go to Croatia.  Or maybe Thailand is more your speed.  I don’t know about you, but spending time in either of those places while living off of considerably less money while you ride out the storm sounds like a win win to me!

The ride isn’t always going to be smooth.  There are going to be plenty of twists and turns along the way, but remain confident that your investments will last and continue to grow.  After all, up to this point you have been disciplined enough to clean up your budget, pay down all of your debt, invest, and reach FI (financial independence) much earlier than most people.  Do you really think that when you get to retirement that you are all of the sudden going to start making poor decisions with your money?  No!  You have a solid plan.  All you have to do is implement it, and sit back and enjoy the flight.

Are you ready to take flight with us?  Are you ready for the next financial apocalypse?


Financial Independence With Kids? But Kids Are So Expensive!!

Have you ever said (or heard someone say) "kids are so expensive!"?

FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) with kids?!  With two average professional salaries (we are (way) below $200k total)??  And one being a teacher's salary?  How can you save enough (kids are so expensive!)?  Yep, not only can it be done, but it will be done by us ... and it has been done by others (Root of Good).

I'm going to bring you a series of posts related to saving money even WITH kids.

The Arts

I'll start with entertaining the kids for free or cheap around town which is one of my favorite things to do with them.  Even before kids I liked exploring the city.  If you don't live in Houston, you can probably find some similar activities if you are near a major metropolitan area.  Or if you aren't near a major metro area, I'd love to hear your thoughts on free or cheap entertainment nearby.

What about the arts?  Museums?  Experiencing Picasso or Warhol for free with your kids?  Teaching them about artists and the world through viewing the art?  Teaching about proper museum manners?  And for free (or cheap)?  Yes, please.  Sign me up!

My passion is experiencing the arts, learning about art, and making art for myself and my kids.  This is my 10th year teaching art in a public school.  I've taught Pre-K through 12th (except for 5th Grade), and before that I worked in art museums (Education, Public Relations, and Specials Events).  And previous to museums, I worked in advertising, and as a child I always loved the arts.  So this is easy for me, and I love to share the arts with others!

In the summertime I do Art Thursdays with my kids, and during the school year we just try to get out and experience art as much as we can (and at home).

My youngest enjoying art (Oscar de la Renta) last Spring.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

My favorite art museum in Houston is The Menil Collection.  But today I will start with The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH).  Did you know that kids 12 and under are always free?  And everyone is free on Thursday (courtesy of Shell) which is why we try to visit on a Thursday.  If you have a Bank of America card (we do), the first full weekend of the month is free (one free general admission for each cardholder) so this is helpful during the school year when it is harder to get there on Thursday.  But wait!  They are open later on Thursday (until 9 pm) if you want to try to go after school hours.  Read more about the MFAH's admission costs here.

Okay ... now that I got you in for free, but what about parking?!  Isn't that difficult and expensive?  (The rail is an option too if that is convenient for you).


Honestly parking for free use to be easier.  If you are dead set on parking for free (and are good at parallel parking) you may be able to find a nearby street available that does not have a meter and walk a bit (go towards the neighborhoods near the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston).  This will be harder during peak hours.

If you are only there for a few hours, metered parking a few blocks away (towards the Children's Museum of Houston) is the cheaper route if you don't mind walking a few blocks.  I've found this is cheaper (less than $10 for a few hours) than their parking garages.

I personally prefer their new parking garage (new underground parking garage on 5101 Montrose Blvd.) because you can visit the sculpture garden and the new outdoor area easily on your way back from the museum to your parking spot.  This parking garage is $10 for visitors up to 4 hours and $6 for MFAH Members for up to 4 hours.  (We will talk more about membership another time).

You can find parking for free or up to $10!  Not too bad.  Read more about transportation / parking here.

The Art

Have you ever experienced an art museum with kids?  Or is it intimidating to you?  Don't let it be!

Oscar de la Renta show at the MFAH in the Spring.
What do we see and do at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston?

My kids are 7 years and 5 years, and since we hardly ever pay admission price (maybe for a special exhibition) I'm never stressed about having to spend a ton of time in the museum.

I usually pick one area that I want to see or have the kids see (or sometimes ask their ideas too).  For example, this summer we went to look at Pre-Columbian art in their collection since we were taking a trip to Belize a few weeks later to see Mayan ruins.  Sometimes we will pick a theme - for example, "let's see how many animals we can find at the art museum today!"

I also suggest packing a sketchbook and some writing materials for the kids and have that on hand to draw and write (You can find these for less than $5 even at your local grocery store, or just bring some paper and writing materials you already have at home).

Oscar de la Renta show at the MFAH in the Spring.

Let the kids guide the experience, or here are some easy questions:

  • What do you see?  Why do you say that?
  • Why do you think the artist made this?

If family / kids activities are available, we visit those.  In the summer there are activities on Thursdays (free!) at the MFAH, and there are activities year-round on Sundays.  Read more about the MFAH's Family Programs here.

Family Programs at the MFAH this summer.

Family Programs at the MFAH this summer.

Next we pick a few easily entertaining spots for kids.  We visit Dan Flavin's "The Light Inside" tunnel (connects the Law building and Beck building underground!), and given their age - my kids are easily entertained by the vast array of stairs, escalators, and elevators (if you have a baby / toddler I do not recommend a stroller in the Law building!).

An art museum (usually) isn't the place to be loud, horse around, or run so I typically let them get their energy out in the Cullen Sculpture Garden.  The MFAH just recently added on to their outdoor space too which includes a water play area - great for beating the heat in Houston (and free!).

Getting out energy in the Sculpture Garden in the Spring.

Exploring the new outdoor area (this summer).

The new outdoor area has a water play area (this summer)!


But my kids are going to get hungry?  I am going to get hungry!  How to save on food?

I always pack reusable water bottles and lunch / snacks in a small Igloo thermos bag.  I don't have to worry about having to spend money on lunch (although sometimes I budget that in) or listen to hungry children.  And we eat in the sculpture garden!

Bonus: Art Museum Manners 

I recommend speaking to your kids about art museum manners before you go (mine have been going since birth, but I always remind them before we walk in).  The link above provides even more museum manners.

  • No outside voices - quiet voices!  We can be loud when we go to the sculpture garden.  (Yes, sometimes there are noisy activities, but mostly you do not want your child screaming in the art museum).  We don't want to disturb other visitors.
  • Walking feet.  No running inside.  We can run when we go to the sculpture garden.  We want to be safe inside, and we don't want to damage the art.
  • No touching the art unless it says to touch, and no pointing at the art because we don't accidentally want to touch it.  The oils on our fingers and hands can damage the art.
  • Have fun!

I usually go over no horse play and be kind to each other (they are siblings), but you do the rules that best fit your own kids / age of your kids.  (When my kids were toddler age I made sure I was holding on to them or had them close by since I definitely had one runner!).

When you leave ... ask, "What was your favorite work of art today?  Why?"  I always get interesting answers!  I love to hear what left an impression on them.

There you go.  A trip to an art museum for possibly under $10 (not including gas).  My favorite kind of free entertainment!

So what do you think?  Up for a (free or cheap) art day with your kids?  If you aren't in the Houston area, what art museums (or other art) do you have nearby?