Being strapped for cash doesn't mean that you have to stay at home, glum and bored. While shopping, dinners, cinema visits, or trips are some of our most common (and costly) entertainments, there are plenty of other options for having fun, provided that you're willing to put a bit of ingenuity and vim into the process.
- The first and most obvious option is to check out the free events in your neighborhood or town. Big cities have plenty of free concerts, movie screenings in parks, street festivals, etc., but small towns also have their fair share of cultural events and free local flavor.
- Visit local art galleries.You can learn about local talent without having to pay museum entry fees, and you can become more engaged with the local art community. Plus, you might find some artists that you'd like to support once your cash flow is more ample.
- Have a picnic or a grill night outside. You've got to eat, so why not do it outside? Break up the usual routine and find a nice stretch of grass and make yourself at home. When I was a poor graduate student living in Paris, I had many nights where friends and I shared a cheap bottle of wine and a rotisserie chicken and spent hours hanging out canal-side. I brought this practice back with me, and it's one of my favorite ways to while away a night.
- Host a board game night. If you don't personally have many games, then have your friends bring over their favorites. You can vote on which one to play, or, if you have enough people, then you can have multiple games going. My friend hosts a yearly Bunco night, which only requires a few dice and some fake trash-talking, and it ends up giving us hours of laughter.
- Look for Meetup groups with similar interests. Join a book club, a French conversation club, or a running club (for a dose of fun, find your local chapter of the Hash House Harriers!) Usually, you can find hours of entertainment for little to no cost.
- Take bike ride adventures. Set different landmarks as your goal, or have a fun final destination like a botanical garden, beach, or favorite pub, where you can spend a few hours cooling off before resuming your journey. I love to combine this option with the next one too….
- Set up a scavenger hunt. This affords hours of fun, since you have to plan, set it up, and then get in on the action. And to maximize the fun, you can leave the clues open-ended enough so that you can participate as well. (For instance, say that each team has to find a street that closely resembles the name of one of the team members.) Instead of having clues that require purchasing souvenirs as evidence, have everyone take photos.
- Have a dance party in your living room. Yes, I know this won't suit all tastes, but it is definitely lots of fun. I'm lucky enough to live in a city with a DanceDancePartyParty group (twice a week a group of women meet in a local dance studio to cut loose on the dance floor), but even if you don't, get a few friends, turn down the lights, set up the iPod, and get it going with your tackiest, most embarrassing, most energizing moves.
- Go take photographs. Treat your town as if you've never seen it before. Get close-ups of leaves, take stealthy pictures of strangers, play the part of the tourist who's never seen the local architecture – whatever! Build a scenario and play your role, enjoy getting to know the more fine-tuned features of your camera, or simply slow down and see your home with fresh eyes.
- Have a baking get-together. Everyone brings a bunch of cookie dough or the ingredients for their cookies, and everyone sits around story-swapping while cookies are in the oven. Ingredients are low-cost, the room smells divine, and the occasion provides a wonderful, warm, homey atmosphere.
- Go outside. Most cities have parks or access to natural space, and most rural areas have plenty of places where you can roam free, look at the flowers, and spot some birds. Hit your local park, nature preserve, hiking trail, or what have you, and enjoy the glorious spring weather while it lasts!
- Host a movie night. Have your friends bring their own beverages, make a huge tub of popcorn, and use that Netflix subscription that you already have. It's much better watching Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead with friends.
What are your favorite low-cost activities? Add your own ideas below!
(Image credits: Bethany Nauert/Isabelle & Brandon's Lovely Echo Park Cottage)