Finding Things to Do That Don’t Involve Continually Spending Money

A reader writes in: “It seems like so many people who write in are caught up in our consumer-driven society, and I think we all struggle sometimes with having “nothing better to do” than shop. Besides contributing to rampant debt, shopping is like an addiction that satisfies boredom, and leads to fake fulfilment and non-productivity. But it has to be enjoyable – “extreme” anti-consumerism can go too far. We need to talk more about the world of options of hobbies and activities to replace shopping.”

This reader went on to mention several activities that they enjoy, some of which overlap with the ones I mention below.

While I see where this reader is coming from, I don’t fully agree. I think there are a lot of activities that people engage in besides shopping that are regular money drains, such as playing golf, going out to eat, going to coffee shops, going to the movies, and so on.

Whenever an experience requires you to spend money, requires you to spend additional money beyond what you would normally spend, or heavily involves spending money, you should rethink whether or not you want to engage in that activity. Instead, it’s really worth your time to find things you enjoy doing that don’t involve spending money.

It would be easy for me to just start listing outdoor activities. I love spending time outdoors. I love taking walks in parks, playing soccer with my children, coaching youth sports, going swimming at one of the many lakes here in Iowa, going camping… the list goes on and on.

However, if you live in a winter climate like I do, you’re finding yourself stuck with indoor activities right now, so I’m going to name ten things I enjoy doing for little or no cost in the winter. These are all things that I fill my time with indoors, and each of them has little or no cost.

I don’t expect you’ll enjoy all of these. Instead, I suggest reading all of these and trying one or two of them (or more, if you like). Everyone is different and everyone has different passions.

Play a board or card game
First of all, if you associate board games and card games with endless, boring games of Monopoly from your youth, you’re missing out. Monopoly was first published in an early version in 1910. Comparing Monopoly to a modern board game is like comparing a Model T to a Lexus.

Try playing a more modern board game, like Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride. Look for a local hobby shop in your area and ask for a demonstration of the game if you don’t have access to a copy, just to see if you enjoy it. Board games can make for a great holiday gift.

If nothing else, a standard $1 deck of playing cards can provide lots and lots of gaming. You can play poker, euchre, pitch, bridge, rummy… the list goes on and on. There are also many, many solitaire games to play.

Read (or re-read) a book
My shelves have quite a few great unread books sitting on them, right next to a big pile of some of the greatest books I’ve ever read. There are few better ways to burn a few hours than to read a great book.

If you don’t have any books available to you, visit your local library. There are thousands upon thousands of books available there for free borrowing.

I could list hundreds of books that I’ve enjoyed over the years. The key, though, is to find something you enjoy, whether it’s something challenging or a complete page-turner.

Thoroughly clean a room in your house
Whenever I thoroughly clean a room in my home, I feel really good. Not just because of the exercise I got from cleaning the room with a good tempo, but from the enjoyment of having an uncluttered and very clean area in my home.

By cleaning, I don’t just mean dusting and vacuuming. I also mean getting rid of items that you don’t want or don’t use any more. A cleaned room generally has far less stuff in it compared to when you started.

This is just a great way to spend an afternoon. It makes your living quarters that much better and it can give you a good workout, too.

Make a great meal using what’s in your pantry
It’s easy to go out to eat… but that’s going to eat up money. It’s also easy to just go to the store and pick up a premade meal… but, again, that’s going to eat up money. Not only that, both of these options don’t help you learn how to prepare food or use up the multitude of things you have in your cupboard.

Making a meal from the items you have on hand can be a bit of a challenge, but it can be very rewarding, too. It gets some of the unused items out of your pantry and results in a delicious meal for you and your family.

Quite often, this ends up being close to a “free” meal because the items you use are things that would have otherwise never been used.

Make some homemade gifts
Homemade gifts are a great way to cut back on your budget while also producing something that the recipient will actually want and value. Instead of throwing your money at a person, you’re throwing some of your time, which often means a lot more.

There are a lot of great homemade gifts you can make, from jars filled with soup mix to original examples of any art that you’re skilled at.

The key is to invest the time to make it well, and to make something that the recipient will value. Do both of those and you’ll create something memorable out of your spare time.

Learn about a topic you’ve always been curious about
Most of us have some degree of curiosity and find ourselves wondering about some topic or another. There are few better ways to spend an idle hour or two than learning more about that topic.

The easiest way to do this is to start at Wikipedia, type in your topic, and start reading. Remember that this is a starting point – if you begin to dig deep into a topic, it’s often a good idea to move on to books on the topic.

I actually do this quite often. Recently, I’ve been learning about specific philosophers, using the entry on Wikipedia as a starting point and moving on to their writings.

Host a potluck dinner
A potluck dinner simply means that you invite friends over and have them each bring a dish. Together, you have a varied and delicious meal.

This is actually a great way to spend an evening socially without spending much money at all. Generally, you’re only in charge of one or two items which you can prepare or buy in bulk. In exchange for that, you get a great meal and an evening with friends.

We host potluck dinners about once a month. They’re always quite fun, and they often end up with a bunch of us sitting around a table playing a game, laughing and joking with each other.

Do volunteer work for a political campaign
If there’s a candidate or cause you believe in, donate your time from home to work for this campaign. There are always tasks that political campaigns would love to have volunteers for.

In the past, volunteers have written letters on behalf of candidates or issues, made phone calls, stuffed envelopes, maintained social media tools, and countless other little tasks that campaigns need fulfilled.

Most of these tasks can be done from home. I know one person who used to stuff envelopes for her preferred candidates. They would drop off reams of papers and envelopes and she’d prepare the documents and mail them for the campaign. She loved doing it.

Make a yearly calendar
This is a project that I do each year. We still rely on a wall calendar, so one afternoon, I’ll sit down and transfer all of the birthdays and other events from the previous year’s calendar to the new one. I’ll also incorporate things from my own personal Google calendar.

It can be quite a task when you fill in birthdays, anniversaries, and other such events. I like to write in reminders of those events a week in advance so that I remember to pick up a card or a gift if needed. I also like to note other important things, like key dates on our children’s academic calendars and the like.

This can take several hours, but a calendar with all of your important dates on it can be a godsend. You’ll find yourself relying on it so much that the time you invested up front will repay itself in a smoother life and better relationships throughout the year.

Get rid of your unwanted stuff
Virtually all of us have unwanted stuff in our home – old stuff filling up the closet, items that we might use “someday” but really won’t, items from abandoned hobbies that might have value.

If you haven’t used an item or really thought about it in a year, it’s probably safe to get rid of it. Once you make that decision, you have several options. You can sell it, you can donate it to Goodwill, or you can simply toss it in the trash.

Even with the options that don’t involve receiving money for the item, you’re still improving your life because you’re decreasing clutter. If you’re making money from it, too, all the better.

There are countless things to do with your time without spending money. The key is to just find things that you enjoy and do them.

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15 thoughts on “Finding Things to Do That Don’t Involve Continually Spending Money

  1. Kai says:

    I live in a far more winter climate than you do, and by no means is it necessary to spend the days inside.
    Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, tobogganing, and walks with a warm jacket all have a low startup cost and are essentially free after the gear acquisition.

  2. Tracy says:

    Meh. It’s really worth your time figuring out what activities you REALLY ENJOY, how much you want to budget in for entertainment/activities and then go from there. There’s no need to get rid of all pricier joys (that you REALLY LOVE) in favor of the cheap/inexpensive ones you also enjoy. They also satisfy different wants/needs.

    The once-a-week-dinner I have with friends where we take turns cooking satisfies a very different need than the one I fulfill when I go to a movie or play a computer game or read a book.

    But most of the stuff you list isn’t really ‘entertainment’ – which is what the original person wrote to you about – so much as ‘things you have to do anyway that you happen to enjoy.’

    Cooking, cleaning, sorting through storage, making your calendar – these are TO-DO list items. It’s awesome that you enjoy them, but they’re not entertainment.

  3. Debbie M says:

    If you’ve spent a lot of time shopping, then you probably have a lot of stuff. Therefore, you could spend your time using your stuff. The kind of stuff I have a lot of includes:
    * books – can read them
    * games – play them
    * movies – watch them
    * music – play it
    * sheet music – practice and play it
    * hobby stuff (skates, yarn, etc.) – use it
    * camera – take pictures
    * pans and cookbooks and food – cook stuff
    * computer – web surf, play games, send e-mails, etc.
    * stationary/cards – write letters

    You can also organize, clean, service/maintain, and repair your things of course.

    If you find that you don’t want to use the stuff you have, that is a very interesting thing to learn.

    You can also use other people’s stuff (go to public libraries, go to public parks, lend/swap movies/books/etc. with friends).

    You can also set up events. Grown-ups mostly set up dinner parties or keg parties, but you don’t have to make eating the main activity. You can have a dance, have a music recital, display “art” (creations), put on a play, give lectures, play board games, play other games (hide-and-seek, charades, etc.), play sports, do an exercise video, lead a tai chi practice, make a movie, carve pumpkins, decorate cookies, make a quilt, plant a garden, have a book club, watch and discuss a movie, or a million other things.

  4. TLS says:

    Free or low-cost community events are also a lot of fun: concerts, celebrations, fairs, etc. Our library also offers lectures and classes on various subject, usually free as well. These things probably depend on where you live though.

    I don’t feel the need to spend a lot of money on entertainment, but I have family members that do (and some of them can’t actually afford it).

    My personal faves for entertainment: walking on a local nature trail, playing card games with my husband and cleaning out drawers/closets. (Ok, that last one may be a bit odd, but I enjoy it.)

  5. AndreaS says:

    I am someone who DOES think reorganizing a space is “entertainment.” In general, creating order from chaos is one of the most satisfying things to do. Zero cost, but it looks hugely better afterwards. I have often worked with friends on their spaces. We get to spend time together, talk and catch up, and accomplish something at the same time.

    Often frugalistas stress finding free sources of entertainment. I look for entertainment that actually saves money, even if it is a small amount of money saved. If instead of engaging in entertainment that costs $10 per hour, I do something that saves $5 per hour, the swing is $15 per hour.

    Yesterday, for example, my husband went out to his workshop and whipped up a charming little step stool out of scrap materials for our small grandson. It is similar to ones sold on Amazon.com for about $20 plus shipping, and took him about an hour to make.

  6. Gretchen says:

    Again. If you enjoy coffee and movies, they aren’t money drains.

    But +1 to number one. Get a hat and go for a walk.

  7. Gretchen says:

    Also, to play off the ” do you really have that many hot tub owning readers” question, do many people who read this blog shop for fun?

  8. Mary says:

    I also find organization quite enjoyable. I do however tend to take on too much at once, so sometimes I have to come back to it at another day. =P

    Coming from a winter climate state (Wisconsin) I am making an effort to get outside during these cold, snowy months. Won’t catch me in -30 windchills, but I have found cross-country skiing to be very fun. I got the skis for free from my future mother-in-law from a garage sale, and it’s a great workout.

    Also, being a programmer, there’s always opportunities to design and create a website or web application, to learn different technologies.

    Just depends on who you are and what you like.

  9. Steven says:

    Kai beat me to it. Winter is the best season for outdoor fun! How boring to sit inside all winter long organizing closets. I think I’ll go snowboarding instead.

  10. AndreaS says:

    Steven: I wasn’t referring to cleaning closets. More like whole basements, garages, attics, barn lofts and so on. I know people who get so buried in their stuff, they don’t know where to begin, and so have lived with disasters for many years. I am good at going into a space, and knowing how to organize it and make it look nice. It usually takes just a couple hours to make a difference. It’s really satisfying to do this… it is fun for me.

    I used to date a guy who was into skiing in the winter and sailing in the summer. So I accompanied him very often to do these sorts of activities. I didn’t get it. Once in a while is fine, but not every weekend.

  11. Steven says:

    Did you participate, or just accompany? I suppose it’s like anything, different strokes for different folks.

  12. Kai says:

    I have to grant that downhill skiing and snowboarding are extremely expensive sports. A lift ticket here is around $85 for the day, and that’s before you count the costs of travelling to the hill and anything else. If you do it a lot, a pass will be much cheaper, but it’s still several hundred dollars for the season.
    Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and such are very cheap after the initial gear acquisition, which can be kept quite cheap by buying good second-hand gear.

  13. Shevaun says:

    I really love to cook, bake, sew, and knit as my hobbies. They dont’ have to be expensive hobbies, but I made them so because I have a soft spot for exotic cheeses and imported silks (to make period-costume gowns). Keeping in mind that we’ve never bought clothes new at a store (Amvets for us!) and get about half of our food budget from our own garden, cheese and silk were my allotted luxeries and I really felt that I “deserved” them, especially given how frugal we are in all other ways. I’ve given up the cheese and silk on a daily basis though (just once a month!) so we can save up money to buy a small farm. I still cook and knit and sew, but we give most of it away as gifts (and reduce the birthday/xmas budget at the same time).

  14. kristine says:

    Oh- enough with the clean closets already! I sort and purge like an anal retentive marine on speed and love it. But I feel compelled to mention that no one mentioned the obvious…uhm…marital fun. It is by far the most free enjoyment you can ever have! Dress up, write a story, meet at the library, talk dirty, whatever! It’s FREE! It’s an investment too, of the best kind. And if frugality is a bone of contention in the house, I am sure that having a little more marital fun instead of going out will definitely get the other person to see it in a new light! And according to Dr. Ruth, such fun can be had by anybody, regardless of relationship status ;)

  15. TLS says:

    @kristine
    I love it! Great suggestion!

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