One of my favorite things to do when I have a (rare) free evening is check out Meetup.com and see if there’s anything happening anywhere near me, or else I’ll check the community calendar in my town and a couple of nearby towns to see if there are any civic events going on.
In both cases, I’m really looking for the same thing – new social events that I can check out where I’ll theoretically meet new people and learn some new things and maybe be exposed to a new hobby or interest.
It was primarily a Meetup listing in 2011 that sparked a massive interest in homebrewing. It was primarily a community calendar listing in 2009 or 2010 that spurred my board gaming passion to new heights. Thanks to various meetups – both literally on the Meetup.com website or on a community calendar somewhere – I’ve learned a ton about my community, learned about making a bunch of different fermented foods, learned how to use a CNC router, learned some great places to backpack and geocache near where I live, and met a ton of interesting people, several of which have persisted as friends in my life.
Total cost for all of those meetups? $0.
For me, community gatherings are some of the absolute best bargains out there for frugal people who are curious about the world and want to meet other frugal and curious people. They’re an opportunity to be social, to learn, and to not spend much of anything (unless a new hobby hooks you, of course). If nothing else, it’s an evening of free entertainment.
Here’s how to get started.
Check out Meetup.com and local online resources.
Your community – and the communities around you – have a ton of social events of all kinds going on pretty much every night of the week. They’re mostly open to the public and almost all are free.
So why don’t you hear about them? You don’t hear about them because most of them, being free organizations, don’t have the media budget to make sure everyone around hears about every meeting. Instead, they rely on tools where people who might be interested will go and find out what’s available in the community.
If you want to know about these things, you have to meet them in the middle and use some of the “common ground” that you have in order to discover such groups. There are a lot of places to look.
– Meetup.com is a great place to start, as it provides listings for all kinds of organizations that are often just meetups run by interested parties.
– Your community’s website sometimes offers a “community calendar” that lists civic events that city hall has been notified of.
– Library websites often list all of the groups that utilize the meeting space at the local library. You should check the website of the library in your town and the websites of libraries serving surrounding communities.
– Parks and recreation websites, which serve as the public face for the parks and recreation services in many towns, provide lists of public recreational facilities and services along with mentions of groups that utilize those services.
– College and university websites typically have a very robust calendar of public events on them to which the broader community is welcome to participate. This is often a great way to find intellectually stimulating events.
– Websites of neighboring communities provide similar listings to the ones provided by your community’s website (or perhaps even more robust listings).
– Local Facebook groups, often formed around a particular community, often have announcements of community events and maintain a pretty robust calendar. See if your community has a Facebook group or two associated with it.
– Local newspaper websites often include a community calendar or event listing of some kind as well.
– House of worship websites and Facebook groups often include a listing of regularly scheduled events and irregular events that you can look into if you’re a member of that faith or curious about it.
Between these options, you’re likely to find a ton of free events and open group meetings in your local area.
Choose several events that fit into your upcoming calendar and schedule them.
If you check out all of those resources above, you’re probably going to find a ton of events, far more than you can ever possibly attend. Even in rural areas, the number of events that can be collected by using all of those resources is quite large; in a civic-minded college town or a larger city, the number can quickly grow to “overwhelming.”
Your first tool for filtering these events should be your own calendar. What evenings are you free in the next week or two? Start looking for events specifically on those evenings and ignore the rest.
Attend the events with an open mind and a desire to meet people and learn.
You’re likely going to find some events that are immediately appealing and many that are not. I urge you to not just consider the ones that are obviously appealing, but also consider ones that are a little outside your normal wheelhouse as well.
Consider events that are related to things you’ve been curious about in the past but never followed up on. Consider events that are connected to good causes that strike you as worthwhile, even if you’ve never been involved with them.
Most importantly, keep an open mind about such events. Go there with an intent to learn more about those things and meet people who are passionate and willing to bring someone new into the fold. You’ll find some people who are deeply engaged who may not be interested in reaching out to a new person, but you’ll also find people who are definitely interested in reaching out to you and getting you involved.
If you didn’t find the event compelling, don’t go back! You’re not committed to anything!
The thing to always remember is that if you attend an event that you didn’t find worthwhile, that’s fine! At the very least, you got an experience out of it and probably an hour’s worth of entertainment of some kind. You’re under no obligation to ever return to that group.
I’ve attended many group meetings and meetups that were nothing like what I hoped they would be, and I simply never went back for another meeting if they were regular groups. It’s okay. Not everything is a good fit for everyone, and trying to make it a good fit is usually frustrating both for you and for the regular members of the group.
Save your energy and time for the things that do click.
If you do find it compelling, become a regular participant.
If you go to a regular meeting and actually find it to be interesting and worthwhile and you’re drawn to go back, go back! Become a regular member and participant in the group.
Not only does it become a regular event in your social calendar, you’ll almost always find yourself building friendships and associations with the other people who are regular members of the group. You may build up a good one-on-one friendship or two, plus you’ll suddenly have a pool of people that you’ll know in the broader community.
You’ll also have an opportunity to delve much deeper into a particular area of interest, which is a great opportunity for personal growth.
Remember, being frugal doesn’t have to mean sitting at home every night. Your community is likely loaded with things to check out and groups to participate in and things to learn about if you open yourself to the possibilities, all of it for free.
Get out there and have fun! Good luck!