Our YMCA's where my 3 went to preschools offered scholarships and we opted for just two days a week so that we could budget it in.
My sons are in cub scouts. Very little fees involved. Develops social skills, personal skills and community skills. Fund raising covers most or all of the applied costs. Pay for a basic shirt set up.
Instead of toys or mostly "stuff" for the holiday, I bought them each a clay making class every Saturday for 3 months at our http://pittsburgharts.org/school_ws_kids09.php
-- I applied and received scholarships so both classes cost me $50.00 for the term. I have bought them winter classes like this for three years now at either the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts or at our Phipps Conservatory where we were members. I have also recently applied for a scholarship for a week in the summer at the PCA -- Painting with VanGogh. We have major contributors through places like the Heinz endowment that strongly support the arts in our area. But it took a lot of looking around for ideas to find this stuff. I also sign them up for baseball. It is about $100.00 for the season for BOTH my sons for 4 months of activities. I have to sorta pick the things that have the most bang for the buck in the way of development, interaction and entertainment. Sometimes I have had to nudge a bit. In the summer I look for the free camps or community activities that are low to no cost. ie. our local wave pool does free swim lessons one day a week for 4 weeks, County wide. I take them to it. The county allows them to stay for public swimming for free after classes. so I just pay for myself for the days we decide to go and pack a picnic lunch. We do the free lunch programs in our Township/County Monday through Friday. It is a boxed lunch program open with a morning craft daily. Mostly my kids like to go to play with the other 25 kids in our neighborhood on summer break that show up. The mothers just sort of hang out.
We are very involved in our church. Sunday School,2 Vacation Bible Schools, Summer Camp which is done with funding. The all children work for through the church offering a Free Will Lunch after services a few times a year. The families donate food and the children prepared and serve the congregation. What they earn goes into a kitty to help the kids go to camp. It has been a good lesson for my sons and my daughter who is now in college.
I was a single mom for 8 years with my daughter, there was lots of "she goes to ### and they do ###. No matter how much one has or does not have there will always be wants and comparisons. If the children are busy in activities they notice less.
I gave up many things to make sure the kids could do some stuff. ie -- we are a paper free home -- that money goes towards things that were structured and developed my children instead. bake my breads, shop for a month at one time to stay out of the stores and to a budget. Cook from scratch, raise a small garden. I stock a dry storage so that I don't buy prepackaged foods and keeps the budget down. We don't eat out. I drive a budget friendly vehicle -- my house needs redecorated - bad. Having children in two different decades showed me just how fast the time flies and where my focus needs to be for a short time.
Just kicking out ideas that have worked for my non-existent widowed, unemployed budget.