How to Have a Free End-of-Summer 'Staycation'

During the visit, Lucas got to take his turn behind the wheel of a fire engine, Leila got to don an actual firehat, and the entire family discovered, much to their surprise, that firefighters still use firepoles.

The family also learned the difference between a fire engine and a fire truck (engines hold hoses and trucks hold ladders and rescue gear) and watched in awe as firefighters suited up with the 150 pounds' worth of gear they routinely wear while fighting fires.

Besides getting a chance to try fire hats on for size, the free tour also gave the Mathisons a chance to talk as a family about a very important day in American history: Sept. 11, 2001.

Engine Company #40 and Ladder Company #35 each lost six members during 9/11. Placards are prominently posted in the firehouse, honoring those who lost their lives in the line of duty.

CLICK HERE to visit the FDNY's Web site to learn more.

For the Mathisons, the best part of the tour was getting to meet and pose for pictures with some real-life heroes.

Step Five: Cheap Eats

After a big day of adventure, the last thing most parents want to do is cook, but eating out costs money ... or does it?

The Mathisons discovered that IHOP is among the national restaurant chains currently sponsoring a kids-eat-free promotion. Now through mid-September, kids eat free after 4 p.m.

Cameron and Vanessa still had to pay for their meals, but a stop at IHOP let Lucas and Leila to eat free of charge. The whole family to end their fun-filled day out on a high -- and economical -- note.

Other restaurant chains currently offering kids-eat-free incentives include Fazoli's, an Italian chain with 251 locations. It's expanded its kids-eat-free deal to include weekends through August 30. And El Torito, a West Coast Mexican chain, has been offering free kids' meals on Saturdays until 3 pm.

Experts warn there can be a danger involved in taking advantage of kids-eat-free promotions.

Studies indicate people tend to celebrate free meals by buying extra desserts or drinks – and sometimes spend more than if they had paid for the kids' meals outright.

But the promotions, when handled with care, can provide a fun means of getting the family out of the house to celebrate the end of summer or the start of a new school year.

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