Cheap fun on a tight budget

Recreation Budget on the Skinny

by Karen Kuebler

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When we are working hard to accomplish our financial goals, it is absolutely necessary that we don't forget to relax, play, and have some fun. But financial resources are limited, so what can we do for recreation? I have outlined 15 ideas to help get your wheels turning. Let your imagination help you. If you were to think back over your life and pick five of your favorite recreational memories, there is a very strong likelihood that there wasn't much money involved.

  1. Make a list of all of your social contacts including friends and family in the area. If it's a short list, you might want to begin working on this! If you listed between five and ten contacts and planned something each week with one or more, it would take awhile to move through the list. Make plans that don't involve a lot of money such as inexpensive dinners, potlucks, watching a movie, a game and dessert, a nice walk or hike someplace in town, a free concert in the park, etc. Continue to rotate through the list. You will probably get reciprocal invitations, which will also help your budget!
  2. Check your library for movies. I know this suggestion comes up frequently, but I can't say enough for the value we have received from this one idea alone. Our library can access 25 other branches, and we have checked out at least 50 videos in the last two months.
  3. Make a list of favorite foods that you would normally eat dining out. Make those dinners at home, at least once a week instead of going out. Pizzas and hamburgers are a cinch, and the more gourmet meals can be created at home. I don't always get the exact same taste and texture, but I generally make a dish we enjoy.
  4. Check your local paper and/or Chamber of Commerce for events in town. You will find many free activities or events that don't cost very much. Call your Chamber of Commerce to ask if they can drop a calendar of events in the mail to you.
  5. Swap movies with friends if they are agreeable. Ask your friends about a favorite movie in their collection. Invite them to bring it over to watch together. Make a bowl of popcorn and you're set for a great evening.
  6. Feed the ducks at a nearby pond or lake. Save end pieces of bread and go in the early morning or evening, as they seem to be most responsive at those times.
  7. Keep track of your friend's birthdays. When a birthday rolls around, invite them over for pizza or some other easy and low cost dinner. It's fun to celebrate together and it will mean the world to them.
  8. Ask everybody you meet in town where's his/her favorite nearby place to visit. I did this when we first moved to town and came away with a list of 20 neat drives to take. It was a fun way to discover places we wouldn't have otherwise found. You have to be comfortable breaking the ice and asking the question, but the payoff is worth it!
  9. Check the local colleges and high schools for concerts, plays, games, etc. You can enjoy some great talent for a very low cost.
  10. Volunteer to usher at your local arts theaters. You will be able to enjoy free plays for the exchange of approximately 30-45 minutes of your time helping to seat patrons, or taking tickets.
  11. Take up bird watching. You'll be amazed at how enjoyable this is. Your only cost might be a pair of good bird watching binoculars. We found some on sale for $20. I used to think bird watching was only for old people. Well, I've either gotten old or I just learned how to slow down enough to enjoy it!
  12. Go to the local park or school playground and play a sport you used to enjoy, such as basketball, badminton, softball, kickball, soccer, etc. You can find equipment for low prices at garage sales or thrift stores.
  13. If you're a dog lover, go to the local doggie park. You don't even have to have a dog to enjoy this one. They are so much fun to watch while they are playing and getting to know each other.
  14. Find all the best spots in your area to view beautiful sunsets. Pack a nice picnic supper, take along some favorite music, and stop letting the sunsets pass you by.
  15. Force yourself to do something that might be considered "child's play." Blow bubbles, run through a daisy field, dip your toes in a stream. I mention this one because we tried this on a recent vacation. I was lamenting the fact that I didn't have the energy or desire to romp through a field of flowers. This begged the question, "Do we sing because we are happy, or happy because we sing?" I forced myself to romp through the field, along with my husband and our grown daughter. After five minutes, some of our inner child came out in all of us!

You may notice some common themes that run through my thread of ideas. I like to focus on simplicity, and also find a lot of joy in spending time in nature and with friends. Ideas are only limited by the boundaries we place around them. I hope this list will help get you started. In fact, a great way to start is to reminisce. What are your favorite memories and what made them special? Remember that everything we do today is an opportunity to create a new memory.

Karen Kuebler lives with her husband in the Southwest and enjoys consulting part-time in a variety of areas, including Training and Development and Personal Financial Coaching.

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