By Malinda Fugate
Ah, pay day…. That glorious moment when you lovingly welcome your paycheck into your bank account, only to watch it trickle away into the never-ending abyss of adult responsibility. So, now what? Do we just sit in quiet contemplation until next pay day? Does responsible adulthood mean the end of fun? Is the joy of life only for the wealthy? Please. We all know better than that.
The clichés exist for a reason. Money CAN’T buy happiness (though I can think of a few things it can buy what would make me very enthusiastic, but let’s focus here). Some of the best things in life ARE free. And MasterCard’s “priceless” campaign resonated with all of us because, well, the best experiences aren’t material. So, for the traditional and uncreative, there are expensive outings. For everyone else, there’s another option.
I’ve accepted my student loan debt as a fact of life. Dear Aunt Sallie Mae is practically family. As a result, here are the strategies I’ve learned to get out and do fun things for free (or practically free, in some cases).
- Community events
Plug into your community and enjoy seasonal festivals and special occasions. Many towns have a designated evening a month for food trucks or an art walk or open houses. These are typically free or low cost, you’ll probably run into friends and neighbors, and the long-term investment into your town is beneficial in many ways.
- Google “free things to do” in [YOUR LOCAL AREA HERE]
The internet is a beautiful thing (usually), and you’re definitely not the first or only person who needs some fun on the cheap. Bonus: this is a great way to discover new things right around the corner.
- Your local library is your most underused free resource.
It’s more than merely a collection of books, though that’s enough to make it awesome, in my opinion. Most libraries offer reading programs with fun incentives and a chance to discover new titles. Meet new friends in a book club. Want access to free DVDs, music, and other goodies? Yup, the library has them. Plus, libraries are often hubs for many community organizations, classes, and local events. Getting your library card is free free free.
- Stroll the craft store for DIY inspiration
Ok, so this is a low cost option. I suggest walking in the door and heading for the clearance section to see what kind of cost-efficient gems are hiding there. And before you say “I’m not crafty”, remember that this is about having fun and experiencing joy, and the creative process is just that. It’s about the activity, NOT the results… though you might be surprised at what you can do when you stop telling yourself you can’t. Craft stores have such a wide variety of supplies and project ideas, and many even offer classes to refine your skills or take a hands-on adventure out of your comfort zone. Working with your hands is pretty satisfying.
- Learn a new skill
YouTube is full of how-to videos…from new make-up techniques to recipes in someone’s kitchen to home repairs to yoga moves to magic tricks to growing plants to…. Well, anything. All for free, and in your own living room. Also – home improvement stores offer free how-to classes on everything from gardening to tiling to woodworking. Or, download one of the free apps to learn a new language (my favorite is Duolingo). Endless possibilities!
You don’t have to be entertained to have fun. Supporting a local organization is a very fulfilling way to spend your time, and can be quite joyful. Of course, many times, you can volunteer at fun events like fun runs or concerts in exchange for admission. Be creative. Once, I spent an afternoon hiking in local fields to help count migrating butterflies (my total count was zero, but my friend and I had fun traipsing around the meadow for a morning). There’s also a local marine mammal rescue in a nearby beach community that accepts volunteers to help rehabilitate sea lions. Seriously, there WILL be something interesting near you if you do a little bit of digging. Or consider doing purposeful random acts of kindness. You never know where it might lead.
- Remember the joy of old-school correspondence
Write letters, send cards, create care packages… who doesn’t love receiving mail? Preparing a mailbox surprise for someone you love is pretty fun, too. (Yes, postage isn’t free, but a stamp, paper, and an envelope will cost less than a dollar. I bet you have that in a cup holder somewhere.)
- Have a picnic in the park
Pack a lunch and enjoy the fresh air. Take a friend, take a kite, take a book, or take a nap.
- Fitness is free!
Walk, jog, find community yoga, check for meet-up groups that hike or play pick-up softball games, ride a bike, get outside, move!
Some people have a lot of fun in the kitchen. I’m not one of those people, but I appreciate all of you who are. Save money by not eating out, try new dishes, and of course you can check out the great single girl recipe ideas right here on this site. 😉
- Free museum days
There’s a growing trend of museums offering free admission once a month or once a week.
- Create a designated spam email and sign up for freebies
If you’re into couponing, finding freebies can be like a grown-up scavenger hunt. You can even start by looking for free things on your birthday or product samples. Many places offer freebies when you sign up for their newsletters or email lists, so just create a new email address to keep your primary inbox clutter-free…. And let the goodies start rolling in.
- Got a camera? Take a photo “safari”
Even if you’re not a photographer, there’s fun to be had with your cell phone camera. Be creative and artistic, or just create a collection of shots of your family, friends, or pets. Consider splurging a few dollars to print them out, just like the good ol’ days (places like Shutterfly offer super affordable prints or photobooks, and often have good deals).
Have a night picnic or hot cocoa under the stars (bonus points if you do this during a meteor shower). If you’re really adventurous, go camping for a weekend.
Add to this list!
Keep a running list of “I’ve always wanted to try….” Or “When I have time….”. Research your family history. Discover what’s unique about your town. Try geocaching. Ask a friend to teach you something they love to do. Seriously, I could keep going, but the longer you read this, the more you’re delaying your own free fun. So, frugal single girl, go be unstoppable.