Personal Finance

20 Ways to Have Fun Without Spending a Fortune

Years ago, I recall meeting someone who said that as a society, Americans are obsessed with entertainment. After some thinking, I concluded that was an accurate and observant comment. Thinking about this: On the weekends, many people go recreation shopping, watch sports ad nauseum, and go to the movies. During the week, there’s no shortage of sports events.  Whether it watching sports, engaging in outdoor activities, playing sports, TV, or shows, we love to be entertained.  Not sure what this means for us as a society, but it certainly mean we likely spend a lot of time – and money – being entertained.

Home Sweet Home – Low Cost In Home Entertainment

Beyond obvious activities like reading books and watching TV at home, how about just spending time playing board games and cards with family and friends. Back in NYC, I used to host dinner parties for 10 people or more in my tiny 600 sq ft apartment. People loved coming over and just playing games. Compared to going out for dinner or to bars, chipping in $10-15 for a takeout or potluck dinner was a bargain. If you have video games or a karaoke machine, there are even more options. The point is you can be entertained at home for very little money. If you have a backyard or a balcony, why not host a BBQ / potluck and just hang out when the weather is warm. Sometimes, “shooting the breeze” is a great way to spend an evening or lazy afternoon on the weekends.

Cutting the Cord

In an earlier article, I mentioned how unsubscribing my cable TV saves me at least $49/month. As noted, many Americans have cut the cord since the Great Recession. Why pay $49 and up for a bunch of channels you never watch?  With a basic internet subscription, you can get Netflix and Roku that can provide much of your visual entertainment. Many shows are now directly available on websites (e.g. Food Network). Low cost options like Redbox charges $1.50 or less for a simple movie rental.

Learn Something New – for Free

With online learning sites like (many subjects),,, (languages), and (MIT courses), just to name a few, there are numerous places online where one can take courses for free. You can take courses that can help yourself professionally or learning something new to broaden your horizons.  Why watch another episode of Seinfeld when you improve your intellect and skills?

Internet – Amuse Yourself Online

If you find yourself getting bored, go to websites like Youtube, Pinterest, Instagram, and you’ll find so many videos and pictures on any and every topic imaginable. On Youtube, I dig up clips of my favorite bands in concerts; personal trainers showing their latest exercise routine; handymen showing how to do home repairs; etc. Yes, some videos and pictures on social media are silly time waster, but you’ll be surprised how entertaining and educational some free content can be.

Exercise – Make It a Routine Past Time

Most people wouldn’t classify exercising as entertainment, but if you get creative, exercising can indeed be entertaining. On one end of the spectrum, going on a simple walk around the park can be very enjoyable and relaxing. It doesn’t require gym membership and it’s a chance to get fresh air. I find that 2-3 hour hikes can be very invigorating. If you live near hills, trails, streams or a lake, why not make a day trip out of it and spend a few hours by the water when the weather is nice?  For athletes and sports fans, join a local sports league or play pick-up games to stay in shape or enjoy the camaraderie.

Volunteer for Admission

If you have refined taste and enjoy cultural events like plays and symphonies but have a tight budget, why not become volunteer at a theater or music hall that need volunteers to help with ushering and concession? In my 20s, I volunteered at a theater and got to watch great plays for free. If you like art, volunteer at a museum and get to enjoy all the new exhibitions without paying admission. Just contact the museum or playhouse to inquire if they offer this type of exchange.

Free Admission Days

Many museums have one day a month where the entrance fee is “pay what you want.” Basically, you can get it for free or a nominal donation. Bank of America sponsors a program whereby patrons can show their ATM card on a particular day each month and get into their favorite museum for free. Check with Bank of America and your local museum for details.

Churches / Temples – Get Connected

Many places of worship have free concerts and plays during the holidays. Many churches in cities have weekday concerts during the summer and around the major holidays. A church close to my house offers bi-weekly ukulele lessons as a ministry to the community.

Arts and Crafts 

A lot of people, especially women, enjoy knitting and crotcheting, while watching TV or listening to music. In addition to being a pastime, these crafts can be a way to make inexpensive heartwarming gifts for friends and family. You can make a quilt or jewelry. I knew someone who made her own candles. Some people love scrapbooking. You get the idea – get creative and be entertained while doing something creative.

Libraries – A Wealth of Resources 

In addition to books, magazines, and newspapers, many libraries also lend out records, CDS, and movie DVDs. Instead of renting movies from Blockbusters or Redbox, get it free at your local library.

Book Club – Join or Start One

On the topic of books, organize a book club to meet once a month. I belong to a society for finance professionals and one thing we’re considering is having a monthly book club at a coffee shop to discuss a book of the month. If club members are good cooks, why not have rotate the meetings at different club members’ home and have a potluck?

Movies … Without Breaking the Bank

Sometimes, you’ll just want to splurge and watch a flick on the big screen. Most theaters still offer matinee prices for the first showing each day or before a certain hour. The difference can be $2-5, so it’s material. Through your work place, you may be able to buy discount tickets for 40-50% off. Sometimes, through shopping social media sites like Groupon, you can get really good deals. Many art house theaters sell tickets in packets of 4-5 at a discount to individual ticket prices. With the movie admissions you save, you can treat yourself to some popcorn. J

Music – Free Streaming

Streaming sites like Spotify and Pandora offer free music online and Youtube has free music videos. There’s no need to pay for music anymore!

Cook – Save a Buck; Eat Better and Healthier Too

Nowadays, you don’t even need to buy cookbooks to get good recipes. Just go online to find every recipe imaginable. Learn to make delicious dishes and eat in to save money. I’m far from a good cook, but I’ve reached the point where I have a good enough feel in the kitchen that I cook things without following an exact recipe and most of my dishes come out fine. I often try to replicate good dishes I’ve had while eating out and try to replicate it at home. Because I may not have all the right ingredients, I get creative and think of substitutes. By experimenting, I’ve broadened my culinary skills and gained confidence in the kitchen. Don’t think of cooking only as a way to put food on the table, have fun with it and be creative. Baking delicious breads and cakes can make for great inexpensive presents. – Put Yourself Out There

Thanks to job changes, I’ve lived in three of the largest cities in the US in the past 10 years. As I moved, I had to make new friends. Thankfully, there was meetup and other social groups that I found online. One can sign up for activities based on interest and geography. If it weren’t for meetup groups, I would have had to spend many holidays alone since I was living in a city where I knew no one. Many people who attend meetup activities are single (and looking). I know quite a few people who met their significant other through meetup, so in addition to finding a way to spend time, you might get lucky and find your soul mate as well!

Celebrate Birthdays and Festivities at the Park

I often see large groups have host BBQs or picnics to celebrate birthdays and other occasions (especially for kids) at public parks. They’ll go early to claim their favorite tables and set everything up. Some people get really fancy and put up balloons and signs for the celebration. They’ll stay out there for hours and play volleyball and games. For a fraction of the cost of having a huge meal at a restaurant or club, they can feed tons of people.

Related: Check out this article on saving money on your utility bills.

Local Concerts – Gratis

Many communities have free concerts during the summer and around the holidays. In my city, there’s a free concert on the last Friday each month during the summer months. Another place I lived in had free concerts by famous 70-80s bands every Saturday night during an entire summer. Research your local newspaper and on the internet for dates, times, and locations.

Washington D.C.

Did you know that almost all the museums, monuments, and key attractions in the U.S. capitol are free?  That’s right!! F-R-E-E.   The Smithsonian.  The Lincoln Memorial. The Washington Monument. The National Zoo.  National Air and Space Museum.  Yes, all these and many more attractions are free in D.C.!

Walking Tours

Volunteer groups in many towns offer free walking tours. I know there are people who provide free tours in NYC.  Look for historical preservation or tourism promotion groups for such free tours. I know some groups on do tours as part of their regular activities.  So get out there for some exercise, see interesting sites and buildings, and learn something new. If groups are not available, find a self-guided tour online or through city guidebooks.


Why not beautify your yard, get some exercise, and fill your schedule at the same time?  Grow your favorite plant, shrub, or herb and make your garden nicer. You can turn your yard into a food source by planting your favorite herb, fruit trees, and vegetables. It doesn’t take much work and you’ll see your grocery bill shrink as well. Go to your local Home Depot, Lowe’s, or nursery for planting ideas.

Related: Learn about 20 budget friendly shopping apps and sites.

Puzzles, Sudoku, and Brain Teasers

Stay sharp mentally and have a little fun. When I’m traveling on planes, I often find myself doing the crossword puzzles and sudokus in the airline magazines, but you don’t have to wait until you’re on a plane to have fun. For me, whenever I finish a puzzle, I feel a sense of accomplishment and a little smarter. You can invite friends over and form teams and have a contest.


I’m personally passionate about personal finance. One of my goals is to help people reach their financial goals by investing smarter and budgeting better. That’s why I started this blog. Each week, I devote a few hours to writing articles like this in hopes that I can share what I’ve learned with others with the hopes that they can learn from my mistakes and benefit from the reading and research that I do.

Social Media and Texting

In the old days, people from different countries would write each other letters and become pen pals. With the Internet, you can have conversations with people in real time online. With so many social media sites and texting apps, you can meet people from all over the world and communicate with interesting people.

Check out this video on low cost entertainment ideas.

Charity and Volunteering for a Cause

This is related to the point of volunteering above, but instead of exchanging time for free entertainment, here you are actually devoting time to help others. There are so many worthwhile causes in the world. You can visit a nursing home or hospital to visit seniors or patients in recovery. You can volunteer at a literacy center and help someone to read.  You can deliver food or groceries or do chores for a homebound senior who cannot do these things yourself. You can become a big brother or sister and be a mentor for a kid in need of some adult friendship. You can volunteer for an environmental organization.  On and on. You get the point. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you brainstorm more possibilities.

Additional Reading:

Another article on having fun on a budget.

And more ideas on low cost entertainment.


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1 Comment

  1. Paula
    April 15, 2015 at 10:30 pm — Reply

    Many great ideas, ty. I think you meant “passtime” rather than “past time.”

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