One of my most recent interests has been time tracking. I’ve been enjoying tracking my time use as accurately as possible using Toggl and looking at the data that’s produced from doing that over a period of time.
One of the big things I’ve discovered in this process is that I actually have a fair number of hobbies that I devote time to, but they tend to overlap with other areas of responsibility in my life – parental, marital, social, familial, and so on. I started figuring out ways to label various time uses so that they’d show up both as hobby time and as “family time” or “social time” because I really wanted to see how much time I devoted to various hobbies.
Last month, I took a look at what hobbies of mine I spent at least one hour on during the month, and I came up with a list of eleven of them (I combined a few similar time uses into one single group in a few cases). Every single one of them is what I would consider a frugal hobby.
A few days ago, I posted an article entitled The Happy Life on the Path to Your Financial Goals, and one of the big suggestions I made in that article is to find free and low cost things you enjoy doing and dive deep into them if you find them enjoyable.
I thought it might be sensible for me to share a brief description of my eleven frugal hobbies and how I practice them inexpensively. I’ve written up a few of these in detail in the past, but this is intended to be more of a smorgasbord of ideas where you can choose which ones you want to try.
(Note: there are a few practices I do every day like meditation and journaling that could probably count as a hobby, but I chose to exclude them to focus primarily on recreational activities.)
By hiking, I simply mean going into natural areas on foot and exploring, whether it’s walking along a quarter mile nature trail in a state park or backpacking in the backcountry of a national park and anything in between. If you’re on foot exploring a natural area, I consider it “hiking.”
This is a wonderful and peaceful hobby that has little cost associated with it. You just need a nice park or nature preserve near you that offers areas for nature walking or hiking.
Hiking provides fresh air and sunshine, exercise at any level of intensity that you desire, and a great way to escape the bustle of everyday life and simply appreciate nature. There’s also a subtle but notable psychological benefit from spending time in nature, too. Hiking provides all of these things.
Low-intensity hiking can be done with virtually no expense using the shoes and clothing you already have. If you get into it and ramp up in intensity, you’ll need a bit of equipment, but nothing too egregious and it’s all stuff you can continuously use. I have a nice pair of hiking shoes and a backpack which were more than enough to tackle several day-long hikes at Yellowstone.
A while back, I wrote a beginner’s guide to hiking and nature walking at minimal cost if you want more information.
Bodyweight exercise basically includes any form of strength-building exercise that doesn’t require additional equipment and thus relies on the weight of your own body for resistance. Thus, bodyweight exercise includes things like push-ups, sit-ups, squats, planks, and so forth. There’s an infinite variety of these exercises out there, so you can try lots of them and find ones that really work for you and achieve what you want to achieve.
My main interest in terms of bodyweight exercise is to mostly improve my core strength and balance. I tend to mix up things like planks with things like balancing on one foot with my leg extended, something I’ll get back to in a bit. I also really enjoy stretching and increasing my flexibility, so I also do some yoga (which is definitely a form of bodyweight exercise that targets the core, improves flexibility, and improves balance). I also enjoy rucking, which I tend to think of as more of a bodyweight exercise than anything else.
I try to put aside at least fifteen minutes a day for stretching and some form of bodyweight exercise. I usually do the daily workout from Darebee (which is free) or one of my bookmarked favorite routines from them, such as the Justice Served workout. Again, the goal for me is to improve my balance and core strength and (secondarily) work other muscles and improve cardio without feeling miserable, and this does the trick.
The nice thing about bodyweight exercises is that there’s no cost associated with them. You can just do them at home, any time you want, at no cost whatsoever. Plus, time spent exercising is going to reduce long term health care costs and extend your life, so it’s time spent likely saving money as well as improving quality of life. Not only that, I usually feel great after doing it.
This is definitely an activity that has a cost associated with it, but I consider an activity to be “low cost” when the out of pocket cost for me is less than a dollar per hour that I spend on it, and taekwondo definitely meets that target.
I participate in taekwondo because it’s an easily available (meaning there’s a class fairly close to where I live, close enough to walk there if I’m okay with a long walk) exercise class with a focus on self improvement, balance, core strength, and technique. I get a killer workout whenever I go to one of the classes – I usually leave with my shirt soaked with sweat.
The cost of the classes themselves exceed that $1 per hour metric that I note above, but the classes basically come with “homework” – there’s almost always something you can be working on at home, whether it’s working on exercises to get your kicks higher, mastering certain moves through repetition, or something akin to that. I spend some time each day working on taekwondo exercises, particularly on days without classes, and adding up all of the invested time pushes the cost well below $1 per hour.
Most of what I said about bodyweight exercises holds true here. It’s a great way to get a workout, which is good for your current quality of life and for reducing long term health care costs. There is a cost associated with taking martial arts classes, but if you actually follow the suggested exercises, the cost per hour of the classes (especially if your school allows for unlimited class attendance) ends up being quite low. See if there are any martial arts classes in your area for adults and sign up.
Check with your local parks and recreation department and see if they offer any inexpensive martial arts classes.
Making Fermented and Pickled Foods
One of my favorite activities is making fermented and pickled foods in my kitchen. Rare is the day when there’s not something fermenting or pickling somewhere in our home, whether it’s cabbage turning into sauerkraut, pickled eggs, preserved lemons, pickled cucumbers, kimchi, pickled garlic, and even drinks like kombucha or kefir.
The process is really easy and requires minimal equipment. I typically use a gallon jar with a special lid that has a small hole with a rubber gasket in it, into which I put a small air lock. The total cost of this lid and the bubbler was about $5, and I’ve used it on dozens and dozens of batches of food. I also have a few glass weights that I picked up somewhere years ago that are useful for weighting down the food and keeping it below the level of the brine.
Mostly, I just cut up a bunch of vegetables or other items that I want to ferment or pickle, add an appropriate amount of salt and, if needed, water, and pack everything down in the jar with the weights on top, then I simply seal it up and wait until the air lock stops bubbling. This general procedure has some variations depending on what exactly I’m trying to do, of course, but that’s the general framework. When a batch of food is finished, I usually keep a container of it in the fridge and I often give some of the product away to friends and family.
It’s a pretty low cost hobby, considering that the ingredients are almost always less expensive on the store shelf than the finished product. I can often buy three heads of cabbage for less than a dollar and turn it into many pounds of sauerkraut by just adding salt and a little water, for example.
In fact, if you like sauerkraut, it’s incredibly easy to make at home and it’s incredibly inexpensive, too, because cabbage is always pretty cheap. This is a great beginner’s guide for making sauerkraut.
Making Homemade Beer/Cider
This is definitely a subset of fermenting foods, but in this case my approach is a little different (and the whole process is a little more expensive). Essentially, all you’re doing is adding yeast to a sweet liquid. The yeast then eats the sugar and converts it to alcohol. When this process is finished up, you move that liquid into individual bottles for long term storage. That’s pretty much it.
Having said that, there are some startup costs. You do need some kind of large vessel to actually make the beer or cider in – a five gallon food grade bucket is great to start with and can be found pretty cheap. You’ll also need a pretty good sized stock pot to actually cook things in and some empty bottles, and each batch of beer or cider that you make will require some basic ingredients (sugar and things to add flavor). This hobby can definitely turn into a “rabbit hole” of expenses if you’re not careful, but if you stick with basic equipment, you’re fine.
This is a great hobby to get into if you enjoy drinking craft beers or cider. You can save a little money over the normal cost of craft beer by home brewing if you keep up with the hobby, but this isn’t a “free” hobby.
If you want to get started, my suggestion is to start saving old bottles until you have several empty six packs, then stop by a local homebrew supply store and get a beginner’s kit with a capper and some caps. The expense will be a little stiff at first, but you’ll refill all of those empty bottles with your product and you’ll have some fun along the way.
Reading has been a major part of my life since I was a young child, and even today I put time aside each day to sit down with a book of interest and read a chapter or two. Most years, I finish somewhere between 50 and 100 books.
Reading is one of those hobbies that can range from absolutely free (if you rely on your local library for your books) to a fairly expensive hobby (if you buy every book new and buy more books than you’ll actually read, though this tends to segue into collecting books more than reading). If you apply some basic smart principles to the hobby, such as sticking heavily with what’s available at the library and not buying books unless there’s an extreme sale or you’re absolute sure you’re going to read the book immediately, it can be a very inexpensive hobby, since most books take several hours (at least) to read.
A good way to begin with this hobby is to simply go to the library with a topic in mind (if you want to read nonfiction) or a genre in mind (if you want to read fiction) and explore those sections of the library until you find something that looks really interesting. Grab it off the shelf, take it home with you, and dive in. For me, I find it most effective to read fiction when I have a large block of time and can get absorbed into the story, whereas I tend to read nonfiction in little bits throughout the day and let my mind ruminate on what I just read.
Playing Board Games
Once a week or so, I go to a local community board game night where two dozen people or so meet up to play board games. The group is almost entirely professional adults, with a few college aged people and a couple older children accompanied by their parents. People bring whatever games they happen to have and then people just divide up into groups to play them.
In addition to that, Sarah and I host a board game day at our house about once a month for several of our adult friends. We get together to have a potluck dinner and play games until late in the night.
Board gaming is another hobby that can be expensive if you move away from actually playing games and focus more on collecting them, but if you keep the focus on simply playing games rather than buying them, it’s a pretty inexpensive hobby all around. The best strategy for keeping it inexpensive is to get involved with a local community board game night (check Meetup, as they’re often listed there) and just show up and play. If you eventually do pick up a game or two, bring it along with you and play it with friends outside of that group as well.
Playing Digital Games
I enjoy playing deep strategy computer games and puzzle games; I’m much less interested in games that require lightning reflexes. I like games that force me to think while I’m playing and make hard choices that run the possibility of backfiring on me later.
I mostly play games like Civilization (which is basically a slow strategic reenactment of the history of human civilization) and Stellaris (also a slow strategic game, but focusing on humankind spreading across the galaxy) and Factorio (a logistics game where you try to run an ever-more-complex factory) and SpaceChem (a puzzle game where you try to build a molecule factory).
Those games individually aren’t free – some of them are actually a bit pricy. However, I tend to research games obsessively when I’m considering buying one and I wait for sales on very specific titles before buying. I usually do this by using Steam and waiting around for their semi-regular sales to see if any of the titles I’ve looked into are on sale.
My goal with such games is to get the money I’ve invested in them below $0.50 per hour of play. I don’t buy a game unless I’m quite confident that I’ll be able to reach that level.
I tend to play such games in bite-sized bursts. Most of them are turn based (imagine a board game with an extremely large board and lots and lots of choices to make) and I’ll occasionally load up a game and take a few turns. When I was younger, I used to play in much longer sessions, but now I’d rather take two or three turns and go on a walk.
Solving Combination Puzzles
A combination puzzle is perhaps best illustrated by an example – the Rubik’s Cube is a perfect example of a combination puzzle. They’re usually handheld puzzles that you rotate in some way in order to solve them and typically take a fair amount of spatial reasoning to solve them.
I greatly enjoy learning how to solve such puzzles. At first, I’ll tackle them completely on my own, trying to figure out how to solve them without any assistance. If I struggle to the point of frustration, I’ll go look for help on the section I’m struggling with. Eventually, I’ll solve it, and then I’ll mix it up again and solve it again. I try to get to a point where I can do it fairly quickly without long pauses, and then I’ll move onto another puzzle (there are many in the genre, often appearing to be more complicated versions of a Rubik’s Cube using different shapes and more faces). It’s a nice hobby as well because you can pick up a puzzle and work on it for just a few moments here and there, or you can sit down and really try to master one of them over a longer period of time.
I find this to be a great mental workout, plus learning the skill of solving such a puzzle is a neat party trick. It’s also been a great tool for bonding with my oldest son, who’s into speed cubing (basically solving some of the most common puzzles, like the Rubik’s Cube, as fast as possible). As you might guess, this hobby is in part fueled by family bonding, as most of our family can now solve the 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube and a few other similar puzzles fairly quickly.
It’s a pretty inexpensive hobby, too. You can actually buy off-brand puzzles very inexpensively online (they actually tend to work better than the name-brand Rubik’s puzzles and are less expensive, too) and they’ll provide many hours of entertainment if you enjoy these types of puzzles. For example, my son received this set of four puzzles for his birthday at a cost of less than $20 and he has invested countless hours into solving each one – in fact, he’s still working on the 5x5x5 puzzle. All you need is the puzzle itself and perhaps a few easily-found online tutorials.
Studying a New Subject
One of my favorite activities is to simply bury myself in learning about a new topic, usually starting with a general Wikipedia entry or a free online introductory class on the topic. I’ll usually pull out a cheap notebook and pen and start going through the materials online, taking notes as I go.
For example, let’s say I wanted to learn more about philosophy. One great place to start would be Wikipedia’s general entry on philosophy, then dive into each of the sub-pages listed on the menu over on the right, which will give me a good background and avenues to dive further into specific areas that interest me. Another approach might be to listen to the lectures of a free online class, like this introduction to philosophy course from MIT for which the full lectures are online.
Again, as with many of the other hobbies listed here, this is a hobby that can be broken down into bite-sized chunks. I actually like to use that approach because it gives me time to think about what I’ve just read or listened to. I’ll usually read a section of a Wikipedia entry or listen to about a fourth or a fifth of a lecture, write down the big ideas from that, and then go do something else for a while, letting those ideas percolate in my head.
This is one of the most beautiful things about the internet – it provides almost endless opportunities to learn, absolutely for free. The only cost I’ve incurred with this approach to self-guided learning is that I’ve blown through a lot of cheap notebooks and pens, but I can usually get quite a few hours out of both the notebook and the pen, meaning that the cost per hour for this is on the order of pennies.
I suggest doing the same for your topic of interest. Just visit Wikipedia and look up the general page on that topic. Go through it slowly and take notes as you go, and stop regularly so you can process what you’re learning as you do other things. If you prefer to listen, see if you can find an online course related to that topic with free audio or video lectures.
The final hobby on this list is one that tends to eat up a lot of time in the spring, a little time in the summer and fall, and zero time in the winter. We simply have a couple of small vegetable and flower patches on our property that we plant in the spring, maintain in the summer, and harvest and winterize in the fall.
It’s a peaceful and pretty low cost activity that gets us outside during the most beautiful seasons of the year (fall and spring) and puts a lot of fresh vegetables on our kitchen table while also making our property look nice. It gives us a chance to work the earth and get our hands down in the soil. Usually, we garden as a family, with several of us out there weeding and turning the soil over and planting all at once.
It’s an inexpensive hobby to get started. You can get started with any available area of land or a large pot with some soil in it, along with a few tools and some seeds. Prepare to do a bit of homework, though, as you figure out how to fertilize the soil (I like to use compost and “compost juice”) and how and when to plant. The internet is a wonderful resource for gardening questions, however.
Once you have a good system in place, the costs are pretty minimal and you’ll find yourself with an abundance of vegetables and/or flowers throughout the seasons.
This post isn’t intended to be a checklist of hobbies that everyone should try. Instead, I recommend a “pick and choose” approach – read through the list, find one or two that might be of interest to you, and dive into them. Most of these hobbies are very low cost, and every single one of them has provided me with many hours of joy over the years.