We all hear how important it is to save money, and many of us have to cut back as the cost of living keeps increasing. But that doesn’t mean we should tolerate austerity and never enjoy ourselves. There are plenty of free and inexpensive ways to enjoy yourself, even on a low budget. My absolute favorite activity is just getting out and exploring with my dogs.
1. Zoos, Museums, Galleries, and More
Did you know many museums, aquariums, and zoos offer free admission days? For instance, in Chicago, Shedd Aquarium opens its doors to Illinois residents for free on certain days. And if you’re in Washington, D.C., enjoy the Smithsonian museums and zoo without spending a dime all year round. L.A. is home to the Getty Center, another amazing free venue where you can enjoy the exhibits for a whole day.
Keep an eye out for local “pay what you can” days or special discounts for students, seniors, or military personnel. Bank of America’s “Museum on Us” program offers free entry to numerous cultural spots nationwide every first weekend of the month.
2. Lose Yourself in Books
Rediscovering the joy of reading is enriching and economical. If your bookshelf doesn’t inspire you, your local library, a friend’s collection, or a used bookstore’s sale section might have just what you need. Amazon Prime members also have access to a free collection of books and magazines.
I’m a big fan of historical fantasy, horror, and dystopian alternative realities. Frank Tayell’s Surviving the Evacuation series is a brilliant take on a zombie apocalypse story. I love to read. I can curl up with some really good coffee and a book that immerses me and carries me off to new worlds or places while away for an hour or two.
3. Enjoy Movies Without the Big-Screen Price
Aside from paid streaming services like Disney+ and Netflix, there are an increasing number of decent free streaming services like Crackle and Pluto TV. If you have a library subscription and your library supports it, you can even stream movies on Hoopla.
You can also enjoy the cinema experience on a budget by joining loyalty programs or choosing matinee showings.
4. Games at Home
Revisit the charm of board games, puzzles, or card games. Turn a rainy Saturday into a fun family game day with snacks, lots of fun games, and maybe a movie. If video gaming is more your speed, look for free options. For P.C. gamers, Steam often offers free days or weekend passes for specific games or game studios so that you can try out premium games for free. You could also go with a subscription service like Xbox Gamepass to get access to an extensive library for a low monthly or quarterly price. Many public libraries also lend out video games.
5. Outdoor Games
Engage in some physical activity without spending a cent. Play basketball at a local park, join a community sports league, or simply be a spectator at a local game. Or turn it into a fun family event in your backyard. Make an obstacle course, have an impromptu sports day, and then have a picnic in your yard.
Volunteering is a fulfilling and free way to spend your time. Many organizations welcome volunteers, whether your passion lies in environmental conservation, animal welfare, or education. Services like VolunteerMatch can help you find the perfect fit.
There are so many volunteer opportunities that you’re bound to find something you’ll enjoy. I regularly do beach cleanups with my dogs, assist at the local village hall, serve food and drink to older people, and give a little time to a local animal sanctuary. It’s rewarding and fulfilling and lets you meet an amazing bunch of like-minded people.
7. Local Scavenger Hunts
Create your own scavenger hunt in your neighborhood or a nearby park. This is a fun, active way to explore your area, learn about local history, or simply enjoy a day outside. You can do it alone, with family, or as a social event with friends. You could even organize it as a community activity and get the whole neighborhood involved.
8. Thrift Shopping
I think of thrifting as an adventure. It’s about the thrill of the hunt; sometimes, the joy is in browsing, not necessarily buying. Learn more about getting the best out of thrift shopping, including tips on snagging free clothing. I’ve found some amazing things while thrifting; there’s real happiness and excitement when you find something fabulous.
You could also start thrifting bargains to resell online to bolster your budget a little.
9. Enjoy Scenic Bike Trails
Discover the beauty of your region through its bike trails. It’s a healthy and eco-friendly way to explore new areas, and many regions offer picturesque routes suitable for all biking levels. I don’t cycle as often as I’d like anymore, as I tend to take my dogs when I go for adventures, and one of them doesn’t enjoy the pull-behind dog trailer. So we walk instead.
Discover the tranquility of nature on a hike. Check your local government’s website for trails and parks. Pack a lunch and some water, and enjoy the great outdoors. This is my favorite activity, as it lends itself so wonderfully to entertaining my dogs and myself. My senior struggles with longer hikes now, but I take his off-road buggy and stick to more accessible trails so that he can get in his “chariot” and rest while we carry on along the route.
11. DIY Home Spa Experience
Transform your home into a relaxing spa for a day. Use simple ingredients from your kitchen for homemade face masks, enjoy a warm bath with essential oils, and play soothing music. This self-care session is a luxurious yet budget-friendly way to unwind and pamper yourself without the cost of a professional spa.
12. Camp Under the Stars
For those craving adventure, camping is an affordable getaway. Grab a tent and sleeping bag, and enjoy a night under the stars. Camping, whether in a tent or a van, is such an affordable vacation option.
The night sky is a free spectacle. Learn about constellations with free online resources or join local astronomy clubs at their events. If you’ve got a good camera, why not take some pictures of the often spectacular night sky and sell them on stock photo sites to make a few dollars?
14. Tune Into Free Music
Enjoy music for free through radio, Spotify, or Freegal. Live music doesn’t always have to be pricey, either – check local listings for affordable or free shows.
15. Attend Open Mic Nights
Many local cafes and bars host open mic nights where amateurs and professionals perform. It’s a fun and free way to enjoy live entertainment and maybe even showcase your talent.
16. Create and Craft
Channel your creativity into cooking, crafting, or writing. It’s fulfilling and could even become a profitable hobby. Cooking is never dull, as there are always new recipes and ingredients. Crafting doesn’t have to be expensive, particularly if you combine it with thrifting for supplies.
17. Learn Something New
The internet is a goldmine for free tutorials on almost anything. From languages to DIY projects, there’s no limit to what you can learn. I’ve used YouTube to teach myself all kinds of things, including how to do macrame, which has become a nice little side income for me.
18. Exercise Without the Gym Fees
Ditch the gym and embrace free exercise options like running home workouts or yoga sessions. I bought a rebounder that I adore, as it’s impossible to bounce up and down and not feel happy. I do wall pilates, too, following free workout videos from YouTube.
19. Host a Budget-Friendly Potluck
Gather friends for a potluck. It’s a cost-effective way to enjoy a feast and spend quality time together. While I’m wary of eating stuff strangers have cooked, I trust that the food is safe if it’s my friends and family cooking. A good old-fashioned potluck is fun and a chance to socialize without spending loads.
20. Start a Book or Movie Club
Forming a book or movie club with friends or neighbors is a great way to share experiences and insights on a budget. Rotate hosting duties and discuss a chosen book or movie. It’s a fantastic way to enjoy new stories, deepen friendships, and have meaningful conversations without spending much.
21. Explore Local Art Galleries
Art galleries often have free admission and showcase works from local artists. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the local art scene and maybe even find inspiration for your own creative projects.
22. Get Involved in Community Events
Check out free local events like art shows, concerts, or outdoor movies. These gatherings offer entertainment and community connection without any cost.
23. Go Geocaching
If you’re looking for cost-free excitement, geocaching is a thrilling option. With just your smartphone, you’re equipped for this modern-day treasure hunt. The concept is straightforward yet fascinating: over 3 million hidden caches are scattered globally, waiting to be discovered using GPS coordinates. I’ve done some local geocaching with my dogs, and it’s enjoyable. I even met some other friendly geocachers on the same hunt as me!
24. Historical City Tours
Travel doesn’t always have to be far-flung or expensive. You might be surprised to learn that many historical treasures lie just around the corner in your city. Many cities offer free historical walking tours, a perfect blend of education and exploration. These tours, often organized by local businesses, chambers of commerce, or city governments, provide fascinating insights into your local area’s past. To find a tour near you, check out the website of your local historical society, city, or chamber of commerce. Some tours are volunteer-led, while others are self-guided.
25. Join a Community Garden
Participating in a community garden is a way to grow your own fresh produce and a chance to connect with neighbors. It’s a fulfilling activity that nurtures both your health and community spirit.
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