When I first started trying to get my finances under control, I read just about every personal finance blog. Almost all of them contain a loving paean to their local public library.
They do that a for good reason! Libraries are amazing resources and offer a lot of free entertainment. I am a library junkie.
That being said, I feel like there’s another free resource that deserves as much praise as libraries: Your local public park.
Over the last three years, I’ve lived in several different cities and spent hundreds of hours in various public parks. They have become such a big part of my life that I can’t imagine living without them.
Here are all the ways that access to public parks have helped me save money and improve my life.
Free Gym Equipment
My local park has two pull-up bars, a bench designed for doing situps, and various other bars and structures for doing dips and pushups. It’s no muscle beach, but with some creativity, you can still get a whole body workout without the need for a gym membership. There are also free community yoga classes offered all throughout the summer.
Then, of course, there’s always free access to the trails and paved roads on which you can take a scenic run, plus plenty of stairs to climb.
When living in an area where a gym membership costs $80 per month, and yoga classes cost at least 20 bucks a class, the savings of working out at the park can’t be beat.
Parts of my local park have free Wi-Fi. It’s surprisingly fast and reliable, and a great perk for someone who likes to get work done on the weekends during the nice weather months (or for those of us lucky enough to work remotely).
The park near my house in San Francisco had similarly great internet access. As IT infrastructure has become cheaper and more ubiquitous, free “hot spots” have started popping up in parks across the country.
It only felt appropriate to write this post on a lazy Sunday in the park. On a nice day, it beats the heck out of working in the same old coffee shops.
Free Live Music
This summer, national musical acts like Common, The Decemberists, Vance Joy, and Grizzly Bear will descend on the bandshell in my local park to play live music. While some of the performances cost money if you want to get a seat where you can see the band, they’re all free if you just want to hang out near the stage and hear the music.
There’s no better summer activity than gathering with some friends, a blanket, and a bottle of wine for a night of high-quality music under the stars.
There are free concerts all throughout the summer from performers that would normally charge too much money for me to buy a ticket. Many city parks host summer concert series, and they’re well worth looking into.
Throughout the summer, my local park will set up a giant screen on one of the main lawns and project a movie. This year they have movies like The Wizard of Oz, West Side Story, and Space Jam on the docket. Parks in and around Boston host free family movie nights, showing films like Cars 3 and Coco this summer, and some series run through September, when Black Panther hits Boston Common.
It’s a fun and different experience compared to watching a movie in the theater — and it doesn’t cost $18 a ticket plus parking fees and absurdly expensive popcorn and snacks.
You won’t get to see the latest blockbuster in surround sound, but you will get to enjoy quality free entertainment with your friends and family at a convenient location.
Free Kids Activities
While the majority of the kids I see at my local park seem to be having a grand old time simply playing with sticks, climbing trees, and playing hide and go seek, there are plenty of other options if they get bored with all that.
There is a roller rink, an ice skating rink, and even a mini water park that opens up in the summertime. There are fields to play football or soccer, baseball diamonds that are open to all, and free guided nature walks led by local wildlife experts, and free carnivals.
On top of all that, there are several playgrounds with swings and jungle gyms. If I had kids and lived where I do, I’d see no need to go off and pay for fancy water parks or Chuck E. Cheese-like playhouses.
Every Saturday, my local park has a farmers market. Vendors come from all over to hawk their delicious, local food. Even if you’re on a shoestring budget and can’t afford to buy the (sometimes quite pricey) homemade goods, you can certainly take advantage of all the free samples on offer. Who needs Costco, am I right?
Furthermore, you’re legally allowed to forage for food in all New York City parks. I’m not nearly awesome enough to pull this off yet, but I know people who enjoy finding wild mushrooms and other edible plants.
Of course, not every park is going to offer every feature I’ve discussed. But if you look closely, I’d bet that almost every park offers at least a few of the things I talked about. It’s worth doing a few online searches to see what’s available in your area. You might be surprised.
And if you can replace just a few paid activities with free ones at the park, well, you’re on your way to a healthier financial future.