A lot of people ask me: “If you don’t watch TV and you choose to limit movies, clubs, restaurants, etc. in order to save money, what do you do for entertainment? Aren’t you bored?” I usually look at them, dumbfounded, because to me there is too much to do and boredom is never a problem. I have never had a problem finding free or very inexpensive entertainment. However, I understand that those who are used to relying on “prepackaged” entertainment may have a problem at first identifying all the fun, free things there are to do in and around their communities. When I first turned frugal I wasn’t aware of all the things I could do, but I’ve learned over time. So, for those who are looking for more free/inexpensive things to do, I offer this list:
1. Free museums. Some paid museums have free days, and some museums are always free. Call around to the museums in your area and ask. Some also sponsor free outings to local points of interest.
2. Read. The library is a great source of free books. Yard sales, flea markets and book sales are great sources of very cheap books. Websites such as PaperbackSwap.com allow users to trade books just for the cost of postage.
3. Movies. Yes, I said movies. Some community groups, libraries and museums show free movies. Many towns have a dollar theater that shows first run movies cheap. Some libraries lend DVD’s. Websites like SwapaDVD.com allow users to trade DVD’s for the cost of postage. DVD’s can be obtained cheaply at yard sales and flea markets (many times for a buck or two), and then resold or swapped for something new. Even a rental program like Netflix is much cheaper than going to the multiplex.
4. Take the kids to the community playground. You don’t have to go to a restaurant with a playground or a pay-to-play indoor park. Many communities have nice playgrounds that are free.
5. Go to the park. Whether it’s a park with a playground (see number 4) or a state park, there are lots of recreational opportunities at a park ranging from walking/hiking to picnicking to just sitting and reading or people watching.
6. Ride a bike.
7. Go for a walk in your neighborhood. If you go alone, it gives you some quiet time. Go with friends or family and it’s a chance to connect while getting some exercise.
8. Get some friends together for a pick up baseball, basketball, football, tennis, frisbee, or soccer game. Many communities have sports facilities that can be used by the general public when not in use for league play.
9. Live music. Some community groups and museums offer free concerts and some up and coming bands play for free at local bars and clubs (with no cover charge). Look for open mic nights that attract up and comers.
10. Potluck or progressive dinners with friends.
11. Local theater. Some community players offer free performances to test a program before launching it on a paying audience. High schools and universities are also good sources of free theater.
12. Local historical sites, battlefields, or historic homes. Most are free, low cost or “request” a small donation.
13. Swim. Some communities offer free or low cost public pools. Others are blessed with swimmable lakes.
14. Lectures. If you live near a university, free lectures are always offered on a variety of topics. Even without a university, many communities feature appearances by authors, actors, and others.
15. Free magazines. This is how.
16. City. Many communities offer tours for new residents or visitors. Most are free. Tag along and you might learn something new about your area.
17. Art galleries. Many offer free showings.
18. The library. In addition to being a source of free books, most host free children’s programs and adult workshops on a variety of topics. Check their schedule for more information.
19. Craft events. Many craft sorts such as Michaels or AC Moore offer free classes and projects for both kids and adults.
20. The local bookstore. Many offer readings by authors or open mic nights for poetry or short fiction readings. Some offer story times for kids. You can also read magazines and books without making a purchase, although this privilege shouldn’t be abused.
21. Community festivals. Many communities have festivals such as spring flings, agricultural celebrations, music festivals, craft showcases, or celebrations of local heritage. Most are free to attend.
22. Parades. Christmas, Thanksgiving, St. Parirck’s day or local band days bring out parades including music and other performances.
23. Holiday celebrations. In addition to parades, many communities offer free activities such as fireworks on the 4th of July, egg hunts at Easter, or free New Year’s Eve parties.
24. Camp out. If you already have a tent and some sleeping bags, an overnight camp out at the local park or in your yard is a fun, inexpensive change of pace.
25. Church. If you’re religious, church can be a great source of free activities such as outings, exercise classes, crafts, and book groups.
26. The animal shelter. This is a great place to play with some animals without incurring the expense of owning one. Many shelters need volunteers to exercise the animals, so ask if you can help out. You’re doing something good for the animals and having some fun at the same time.
27. The zoo or aquarium. For more animal fun, try the local zoo or aquarium. Most are very inexpensive and many offer significant discounts to those who purchase memberships, good for more than one visit.
28. Board games, cards, and puzzles. These are inexpensive ways to pass an evening as a family. You can find lots of used games at yard sales and thrift stores, or maybe someone in your family has some that they are looking to get rid of. Even purchased new, these are inexpensive compared to the amount of entertainment you get out of them.
29. Take up an inexpensive hobby. Writing, poetry, origami, organizing the family photos, genealogy, certain crafts, etc. are all inexpensive ways to pass the time. Even cooking, while not always inexpensive, can be a frugal hobby because you get to consume the results of your labors.
30. Pick your own produce or cut your own Christmas tree. Yes, you have to pay for what you pick/cut, but you’d be buying food at the store anyway, right? Many pick your own places also offer other things like tram rides, corn mazes, petting zoos, crafts, holiday activities or performances by local groups.
31. The farmers market. Again, you have to pay for what you buy, but some farmer’s markets offer gardening classes, local performers, or holiday celebrations.
32. Public gardens. Most communities have public gardens where you can walk amongst the flowers and trees. Particularly stunning in spring.
33. Business tours. Some large companies offer free tours of their facilities, which can be interesting and might end with a free sample of the company’s products.
34. Free/low cost classes. Some community colleges or extension programs offer free classes or workshops. Even if you have to pay, the cost is usually small. Free classes or workshops are also available at some stores, such as home improvement classes at Home Depot or Lowes.
35. Minor league, college, or high school sporting events. These aren’t usually free (although some low profile college or high school sports offer free admission), but the cost is nothing when compared to major league sports.
36. Join a club. There are many clubs dedicated to all kinds of interests. Most offer free membership or nominal dues to cover operating expenses. Book clubs, Red Hat’s for senior women, clubs for people with or without kids, game clubs, sporting clubs, business clubs, are just a few examples.
37. Listen to podcasts. There are tons of good podcasts available for free. Some are funny, some are educational, and some are political. There are topics for every interest. Some are available on iTunes for free and others can be downloaded directly from websites that interest you.
38. Take the dogs to the dog park. If you have a dog park near by, this is a good chance to get out and get some exercise and bonding time with your pet.
39. Don’t overlook the obvious attractions of your area. If you live near the mountains, you’ve got winter fun all sewn up — sledding, snowshoeing, skiing, hiking, etc. Same if you live near the coast — you’ve got fishing, beach trips, shell collecting and sandcastle building. Sometimes when you live near a natural haven for entertainment, it’s easy to forget what you have at your disposal.
40. Keep cheap entertainment on hand for the kids. Avoid rainy or snow day desperation by keeping things like coloring books, activity books, crayons, card games, craft ideas and supplies, DVD’s borrowed from the library or purchased cheaply, unread books, etc. on hand.
41. Go to the mall. No, not to shop (and be certain you can resist the temptation before you go or this tip’s worthless). Malls sometimes offer performances by school musical groups, they likely have a free indoor play area for rainy days, or you might see a fashion show. During holiday periods, you can visit Santa or the Easter Bunny. Some stores, like the Apple Store, offer free classes and instruction on their products. It’s a good place to walk if the weather is bad and people watching is always entertaining.
42. Recapture a little of your childhood with your kids. Catch fireflies in the summer, play on the swings, build roads to nowhere in the dirt, play in the sandbox, feed and watch the birds, collect rocks, etc. These simple pleasures are often overlooked in our electronic age, but they are fun for kids and low cost.
43. Yard sales and flea markets. Yes, if you buy you have to pay, but it’s entertaining and free to just look around. Sometimes there are even freebies to be had. If you have a need, you can score some great deals in the process.
44. Write a letter. Letter writing is a lost art in the age of email and cheap long distance, but it’s still fun to receive a handwritten letter from someone you care about. Write to a friend or family member that you don’t see often and update them on your life and just remind them that you care.
45. Free computer games. If you have high speed Internet access, there are a lot of free games available online. Just beware of viruses, spyware, etc.
46. Music. In addition to free concerts (#9, above) there is free music to be had that you can put on your iPod or burn to CD. iTunes offers a free download or two each week. Up and coming bands often post free songs on their websites so you can sample their wares. You can listen to many radio stations from other states or countries as free streaming broadcasts. Just remember to never illegally download or copy copyrighted music.
47. County or state fairs. Admission to many is free, while some charge a small fee. Once you’re in the gate, there’s usually no additional charge to walk the grounds and look at the exhibits or see the animals. Most only require that you pay extra for the rides and the food. If you skip the rides and pack a picnic lunch, this can be a free or cheap day out.
48. Video games. No, video game consoles aren’t cheap, but if you already have one and some games, you can pass many hours playing. Rent games or buy them cheap on the used market. If you have friends with different games or consoles, invite them over and play against them, or take your console to their house. It’s a great way to try different games and consoles while having some cheap fun.
49. The local arts center. Many communities have an arts center that hosts art exhibitions, offers art, dance or other classes, and has activities for kids. The offerings are usually ever changing and free or inexpensive.
50. The senior center. If you’re age appropriate, many areas have a senior center that offers free classes, outings, and activities just for your age group.
51. Know what you’ve already paid for. If you live in an apartment complex or housing development, you may have access to a recreation center with exercise equipment, games, game tables, movies, or areas in which you can host gatherings that your rent/dues pays for. Your development may also offer special activities such as pool parties or cookouts that are open to all residents. Make sure you keep abreast of any offerings that you’re already paying for and get the most out of them.
52. Volunteer for something you find fun. Maybe you can volunteer as an usher at a theater and see the performance for free. Maybe you can volunteer at the senior center and play cards with other people. Maybe you can volunteer at the library and see the new books before anyone else. Whatever you find fun can probably be turned into a volunteer activity.
The thing about free or frugal entertainment is that it isn’t always the most obvious choice. There likely isn’t a neon sign pointing you to the free museum like the one that’s pointing to the multiplex. You have to search out some offerings by looking in local papers or visiting local websites, but it’s worth your time. There’s plenty to do that’s free or low cost, you just have to accustom yourself to hunting out these jewels rather than automatically reaching for your wallet.
Photo courtesy of Shavar