How to Get Started with Eight Great Frugal Hobbies

Let’s be honest: I don’t have a whole lot of spare time. Between my writing and other professional responsibilities, being a good father, being a good husband, being a homeowner, and living up to my various community responsibilities, there are times where it feels like I have very little time left over for hobbies and personal life.

What little time I do have is mostly divided up among the following activities, along with the generic activity of “trying new things,” which is something I try to do every few weeks.

Each of these hobbies is very inexpensive. Each of these hobbies requires virtually nothing to get started (with one semi-exception). Each of these hobbies is something I personally get a ton of enjoyment from. Each of these hobbies is something that you can jump right into if you so wish.

Reading

I read a wide variety of books, from essay collections to high fantasy novels, from biographies to science fiction, from literary fiction to topical nonfiction. I often have as many as four books going at the same time – usually at least one fictional book, one nonfictional book, and one personal finance or productivity book.

Keeping up with all of these means that I do devote time each day to reading. I usually keep an electronic book on my phone so I can carry it with me at all times, which works when I’m on the go. At home, I usually have a book on my bedside table and another one in my office and I’ll grab one or the other when I have some time to read.

I generally read in the last half hour before bed. I’ll sometimes take an hour or so in the middle of the day to read something that’s very challenging, because my mind is fresher and more capable of tackling the material.

Getting Started with Reading on the Super Cheap

The solution here is easy: your local library offers mountains of books that you can borrow for free. What they don’t have on the shelves, they can usually get for you fairly quickly via interlibrary loan.

I usually recommend that people go check out a lot of different books that they think they might be interested in, then sit down and give them each a shot. Don’t worry about big, complicated books (unless you specifically want that) – pick things that are appealing and interesting to you. Give those books thirty or forty or fifty pages to hook you and if you’re not into them, move onto the next one.

Can This Become Expensive?

As long as you keep a clear distinction between the act of reading and the act of collecting books for yourself, it can be a very cheap hobby. There’s no reason to buy a book unless you want to keep it for yourself, and the only reasons to do that is for repeat reading, note-taking or modification, reference, or collecting.

I personally separate “reading” and “book collecting” as distinct hobbies. I once had a pretty serious spending problem when it comes to “book collecting,” but once I realized that I mostly just yearned for more opportunities to read and was using book collecting as a substitute, I just committed to spend more time each day reading and that desire to collect quickly evaporated.

Hiking

When the weather is nice, one of my favorite activities is to go to a park – preferably a state or a national one – and start exploring.

I enjoy hiking on well-established trails. I enjoy finding little side trails. I enjoy wandering completely off the trails on my own. I enjoy getting tons of fresh air. I enjoy pushing myself a little and breathing heavy sometimes, and at other times I enjoy meandering slowly and leisurely.

Hiking is really just an excuse for me to get back to nature, surrounded by trees and plants and wildlife and scenery. I love it.

Getting Started with Hiking on the Super Cheap

Head off to the city, state, or national park that happens to be nearest to wherever you are and see what they have available for walking trails. Most city and state parks are free (many national parks have a small entry fee). Pick one that sounds interesting and go that way.

You don’t have to head off with the intent of hiking for miles and miles or whipping yourself into shape cross-country style. There’s nothing wrong with meandering for an hour and only covering a mile and a half. There’s nothing wrong with stopping every few hundred feet to enjoy the scenery and catch a breather.

Take it at a pace that you enjoy, because that’s what really matters.

Can This Become Expensive?

As you get more into hiking, you’ll probably reach a point where you want to get some dedicated shoes or boots for hiking, depending on the type of terrain you typically tackle. This isn’t necessary if you mostly stick to simple trails without significant inclines, as normal shoes will work fine.

If you start getting into multi-day hikes, you can actually end up investing a lot of money in equipment, as you’ll want an appropriately-packed backpack for the trip. That’s not something you’ll ever want to just leap into, of course.

Rock Collecting

One of my favorite things to do while hiking is to collect interesting rocks that I discover. I enjoy finding them, cleaning them up, identifying them, and adding them to our gardens around our house for decorative effect.

This works very well in conjunction with hiking, as most of the rocks I find that are most interesting are found while hiking in unusual places, often creek beds and riversides.

(It’s worth noting that you shouldn’t actually collect rocks unless it’s from private land where you have permission to collect rocks. It’s generally forbidden on public land.)

Getting Started with Rock Collecting on the Super Cheap

All you really need to do is find someone who will allow you to walk on their land and find rocks. As I mentioned earlier, you’re on shaky legal ground if you hunt for rocks on public land, so I generally recommend that you only hunt on private land where you have permission.

Just look for rocks that look interesting to you, put them in your pack that you’re carrying with you (any simple bag or backpack works just fine), and take them home with you for cleaning, identification, and display.

It really doesn’t cost much of anything at all to get started.

Can This Become Expensive?

If you want to go beyond merely cleaning your rocks and want to do things like polishing, cutting, and tumbling them, you’ll have some equipment costs. Those things are completely optional, of course – I have collected rocks for years and haven’t used any such equipment.

One of my friends, who collects rocks and arrowheads by the truckload, has a few display cases in his home that show off some of his most prized finds. However, this individual spends hundreds of hours a year looking for rocks and arrowheads.

Journaling

Almost every day, I write down some thoughts on my life in a journal. It’s a mix of personal perspectives, quotes, recopied poems, doodles, and other things like that.

I usually use small pocket notebooks for this. That way, my journal is usually in my pocket wherever I go so that I can jot down notes everywhere. (I also carry a pen with me.)

I find that journaling is a powerful thing for getting my thoughts in order and making me reflect on my own life so that I draw healthier conclusions about events and ideas. It also feels something like a “mental release,” as I almost always feel more clear-minded when I’m done journaling.

Getting Started with Journaling on the Super Cheap

Go to your local department store or office supply store and buy a very cheap notebook or a journal of a size that works for you, along with a few pens. This shouldn’t cost more than $5.

Once you have those things, journaling costs practically nothing. It takes many, many hours to fill up a notebook with thoughts. I usually run a pen or two completely out of ink while doing that. Buying a new pen after many hours of journaling isn’t a big deal; buying a new notebook after many, many hours of journaling isn’t a big deal, either.

Can This Become Expensive?

The costs of journaling are pretty linearly related to the time you invest in journaling. Depending on your equipment, after every so many hours, you’ll need a new pen, and after so many more hours, you’ll need a new notebook. Those are consistent but very low costs.

The only real source of significant expense comes from buying more expensive notebooks and journals and pens. If you stick to inexpensive journals and notebooks and pens, it’ll never get expensive. If you start buying Rhodia notebooks or Moleskine journals or Field Notes pocket notebooks or high-end pens, the cost can start to add up. Are they necessary? Not at all.

Geocaching

Geocaching is one of my favorite hobbies during the nicer parts of the year. It goes hand in hand with rock collecting and hiking, too – I’m often doing all three of them at the same time.

For those unaware, geocaching is akin to a worldwide scavenger hunt. You can go online to Geocaching.com and download very specific GPS coordinates, and then you enter these into your GPS device (there’s a smartphone app that does all of this automatically). Then, you go out into the city or the country or the park – wherever the coordinates lead you – and once you’re there, you look for a cache, which is often a small pill bottle but is sometimes a larger container. Inside that cache is usually a log that you can sign as well as other little interesting things (sometimes).

I enjoy keeping a record of all of the caches I’ve found. This summer, for example, I have a geocaching goal that requires me to find about 250 more caches (there are literally tens of thousands of them in the United States), so I have to log them to keep track of this.

This is something we often do as a family. It gives all of us a reason to get out and about in our community.

Getting Started with Geocaching on the Super Cheap

Geocaching is the only hobby here that can have an expensive startup cost. To do it, you need a GPS device of some kind – a smartphone works perfectly well.

Aside from that startup cost – which you may already own – there is no ongoing cost for geocaching. It really is free.

Can This Become Expensive?

If you get obsessed, you may want to travel in order to geocache. There are hundreds and hundreds of geocaches within an hour of my home, but I’ve found almost all of them in a fifteen minute radius. So, to continue to geocache, I have to go at least 15 miles from home.

You may also want to “give back” by managing your own cache, which means you’ll be buying the materials to make a cache. In its cheapest form, you’ll just need a pill bottle, a pencil, and a piece of paper, but some caches get really elaborate (I’ve seen modified birdhouses, hollowed-out rocks, and many other things).

Playing Board Games

Board gaming is one of my favorite hobbies, particularly when the games offer at least some strategic depth and require some thinking each turn. They simultaneously require me to think and solve a puzzle while also socializing with like-minded people, and that adds up to a lot of fun for me.

Many people have a preconceived notion that all board games are like Monopoly. Trust me – they’re not. There’s an infinite variety of themes and game mechanisms out there that will challenge you and entertain you in nearly infinite ways.

I play board games with my family and friends a few nights a week, and I also attend a community game night roughly once a week. Both scenarios are a lot of fun. We usually play simpler games with our family, but at the community game nights, I dive into much more complex games.

Getting Started with Playing Board Games on the Super Cheap

The best thing you can do to get started is to join meetup.com and find a local board gaming group. Many groups advertise via Meetup. You can also check with any local game stores to see if they have community game nights. Sometimes, large local churches also host them.

Generally, attending these game nights costs nothing at all. There are almost always other attendees who bring games and are happy to teach games and play with you. I have never been to a community game night without seeing several people bringing games and willing to teach.

Can This Become Expensive?

If you start collecting your own games to host your own game nights, it can become expensive. Many games cost between $20 and $40, with a few going well above that (depending on component count and quality).

It’s not that bad if you buy one or two games a year and play them many times so that you really get the juice out of them, but it’s often tempting to keep trying the new “hot” game, and it’s also tempting to allow the collecting bug to bite you.

Volunteering

I spend several hours a week (on average) volunteering for various community groups. I serve at a local food pantry on occasion. I chair at least one community board, and I serve on a few others. In the past, I’ve done things as varied as coach youth soccer and made meals for a community dinner and cleaned up public parks and helped with Habitat for Humanity houses. I’ve also volunteered for political candidates in the past.

Volunteering is a great thing. Not only does it give you a chance to polish some of your own skills, you get to see the positive impact that your effort has on others. Beyond that, you also get a ton of opportunity to interact with like-minded people.

Volunteering is something that would leave me feeling empty if it were no longer a part of my life. While my commitment to various things goes up and down over time, maintaining that connection to the community is something that’s deeply important to me and maintains a lot of value.

Getting Started with Volunteering on the Super Cheap

Volunteering costs nothing but your time. All you have to do is look around your community for charitable organizations and agree to give some of your time and talent to them.

Many city websites maintain lists of charitable organizations within the city, so you can get started by visiting the city’s website and seeing what charities are at work locally. Choose one, contact them, and get involved.

Can This Become Expensive?

Sometimes, if you’re particularly drawn to a volunteer organization, it can be tempting to also donate money to that cause. I know I’ve done this in the past – I’ve wound up giving money to charities once I see up close how much good those charities do in the world.

For me, this often comes in the form of volunteering to bring my own supplies to volunteer events. For example, I’ve worked at a community dinner to raise funds for things and I’ve brought enough salad greens to feed 150 people.

Again, such things are completely voluntary, but if you’re like me, you’ll often feel drawn to do it.

Swapping Potluck Dinners

One thing that Sarah and I do with some of our local friends is have “dinner swaps,” where one of us will host a potluck dinner where we prepare the main course, while others come and each bring a simple side dish. Then, a few weeks later, the others will return the favor.

This is a great opportunity for spending time with friends and others in the community you might know, and it’s often an opportunity to get a little bit of exposure to new foods and new preparations of familiar dishes.

We have ongoing exchanges with two different couples at the moment and have done it with many other people in the past.

Getting Started with Swapping Potluck Dinners on the Super Cheap

The easiest way to get started is to just host a potluck dinner at your house. Invite some friends to dinner and ask each of them to bring an appropriate side dish.

This will have the expense of buying enough food to cover the main dish of the people you invite, which will probably be a bit more expensive than a typical full family dinner.

Can This Become Expensive?

Not really. In fact, it usually becomes cheaper on average after the first time, for two reasons.

One, you’ll almost always start receiving reciprocal invitations. We tend to alternate with our friends with regards to hosting dinners like these so that we share the cost burden.

Two, you learn how to cost-effectively prepare large batches of entrees using cheaper ingredients. Buying ingredients in bulk is one of the best ways to trim down costs.

Final Thoughts

These eight activities largely describe how I spend my spare time. I do mix in new activities here and there, but for the most part, these eight things devour most of my free weekend hours.

Almost all of these are incredibly cheap to dip your toes into. Even geocaching, which does require a GPS device, is basically free if you already have a GPS device or you have a smartphone. All of the others require minimal equipment.

Most important of all, these activities all bring me personal joy. I have fun doing these things.

I encourage you to try some of these activities yourself. Maybe they’ll click with you – maybe they won’t. Either way, you will have tried something new with very little cost.

Good luck.

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