So, you’ve decided to take your budget—and financial health—up a few notches, and the numbers look good. But, with your shifting priorities, you’re feeling a little less enthusiastic about your spending leeway.
On one hand, you’ve got a solid plan to be debt-free with an emergency fund (that’s huge!). On the other hand, well … suddenly the other hand feels a little bored. Lucky for you, feeling deprived is optional! What’s that saying? The best things in life are free? It’s true. With the right attitude and a little bit of strategically-allocated fun money, you can have plenty of fun on a budget.
Here are some ideas to get you started …
1. Bond With Your Peeps.
Fun with friends doesn’t have to be expensive. One of my favorite, completely free activities is a good, old-fashioned, walk’n’talk. Just grab a friend and walk. I’ve done this in major cities, in the country, at shopping malls, and (lucky me) on the beach. This isn’t about the place, it’s about the people! Catch up, enjoy the view, or make it a game with Pokemon GO. Sniff out the adventure in your own surroundings. Bonus: Walking is proven to make you happy (and isn’t that the point?).
Upgrade your free walk with a picnic or snack (dollar cone, anyone?). Better, yet, invite a group of friends over for a potluck feast—theme optional. Look online for budget-friendly recipes.
And after dinner? During the summer, most cities offer free, live music (check your community’s event calendar). Watch a favorite movie or bust out the board games. Most of us have a few in the closet and, even if you buy a new game, you’ll have it for many game nights to come.
If your friends live far away, the next best thing is a Skype date. You’ll have virtually the same amount of fun. Or try Meetup.com to make some new local friends.
2. Get Smart(er).
How about enhancing that big, beautiful brain with a stimulating podcast? You can listen, snuggled on your couch with a cup of tea, or while you toss the ball for your dog. Whether you’re interested in budgeting (just a guess), technology, fitness, art, pop culture or short stories, there’s a podcast for you. You can even listen to a free, tiny concert, black-tie optional.
There are also countless free ways to learn online, including the ever-popular Ted Talks, free online classes at Creative Live, and YouTube. Or sign up for a course through a site like Udemy.com or Lynda.com (watch for sales!). You can find courses on just about anything imaginable.
Depending on your budget, the cost per hour of entertainment—not to mention what you’ll learn—could be totally worth it.
3. Make Something Awesome.
Even if popsicle-stick birdcages aren’t your jam, you might enjoy getting crafty. There are tons of ideas online (and at your local library) for low-cost and free arts and craft projects, so pick one that appeals to you! Instead of buying supplies, try to use recycled materials that you already have in your home. You can make something just for the fun of it, as a gift, or that you can actually use. Homemade bookstand, anyone?
If you’re more of an “ideas person”, start a blog. Love pictures? How about an Instagram account? You could share recipes, make a post every day about what you’re grateful for, or dedicate your whole page to your pet. Creativity is free—and satisfying!
4. See Your City With New Eyes.
Be a tourist in your own city! Most cities offer free and low-cost entertainment—search online for your city and neighborhood events calendars. Take advantage of the wildlife and parks and check out public hiking trails. If you live near a beach, look into discounted parking for residents. And there’s always your public library (who doesn’t like the smell of old books and some good Ghostbusters ambience?).
And don’t forget to look up events offered by local museums and professional associations. Many museums offer free admission at least once a month, too. If you can’t afford a membership to your favorite, find out if they offer volunteer or part-time work (free all-access pass, included).
5. Make Someone’s Day.
Volunteering isn’t just a good idea during the holidays. There are lots of ways to get involved with your community and make a difference. You can help a food bank, tutor a student, socialize with the elderly, or drive a cancer patient to the hospital. Search online for opportunities near you.
Take this idea smaller-scale and help a friend declutter their garage. Another twist? Declutter your own garage. You can sell your old stuff (to the delight of local bargain-hunters and your budget!), or donate it.
6. Get Some “You” Time.
Spend some quality time with the one who knows you best—you. Escape to part of town that you don’t often visit and try out a new coffee shop. For the price of a coffee, you can sit for hours and enjoy the view (or work on that blog!). While you’re there, check to see if they have an announcements board. You might find something new and interesting to try.
If you’re staying home, it’s all about simplicity. Make a sandwich, have a bubble bath, listen to music, read a book, or catch up on some television (maybe not all at once). The art to this game is letting go and really enjoying yourself.
7. Get Fit.
There’s is nothing you can buy that is more valuable, or enjoyable, than a healthy body. So hop on YouTube or FitnessBlender—or just make an appearance in your own backyard—and reward yourself with a workout. You can move just for the endorphin rush, or pick a goal. Can you run a mile? Do 30 push-ups? How about a handstand? Can you even deal if I mention walking, again? It’s just so great!
Start where you are, and do what you can. With some consistency, you’ll feel good, you’ll look good … and you really don’t need to spend a penny (I don’t care what the infomercials say).
8. Master the Art of the Bargain Hunt.
These days, you barely need to blink to score a free trial, sample or a reduced price. That’s great news for budget shoppers! When you’re cutting back, finding deals is a great way to add a little more wiggle room in your budget.
Depending on what you’re looking for, you can scope out sale racks, second-hand stores, Groupon and coupons. Sign up for email newsletters to be alerted to sales events. Search online forums for tips from other buyers about the best deals. The most important thing is that you only buy stuff that you really need—not clutter with a sale tag!
Most Importantly, Enjoy the Ride!
So, yeah. This list isn’t super-flashy, but you’re going to have plenty of cash for flash soon enough. The important thing is to take it in stride—don’t pause your life, because time is even more valuable than money. So enjoy it!
If you’d like to share what YOU do for fun on the cheap, email me at [email protected] I’d love to hear from you!