Over the past six months, this is probably the question I have heard the most often from readers. “What do you do for fun?” “Frugality seems so boring because it takes away all the fun.” “What can I do that’s fun and cheap?”
Behind all of these questions lies a simple problem: people perceive “fun” to be inherently tied to “spending money,” and thus if you’re not “spending money” you’re not “having fun.” Frugality is inherently about spending less money. Like many people, I view frugality as maximizing the value you get from your money, time, and energy, which means that the idea of “fun” is different than if you just focus on time and energy without worrying about money at all.
There are probably some activities I’d dig into if money were no object at all, but I’ll skip them for now because the expense is simply too high compared to the large number of low-cost things that I otherwise enjoy. For me, it comes down to this: if I have a lot of things I enjoy doing that don’t cost much money, why would I intentionally skip all of them to choose a thing I might enjoy that costs a lot of money? I can’t find a really good justification there.
The Idea of What’s Fun Is Different for Different People
The things I find “fun” are quite likely to be different than the things you find “fun.” Below, I’m going to list twenty things that I find fun, and I’m willing to bet that at least some of them do not sound enjoyable to you. That’s normal and healthy – we’re all different people.
Of course, the reverse is true – there are a lot of activities that other people seem to find “fun” that I don’t enjoy at all, like going to dance clubs or drinking to excess. I just don’t find those things personally appealing.
You Have to Try Lots of Things and Be Open Minded
The number one key to discovering “fun” frugal things to do is to simply be open minded and try lots of things. It’s really hard to walk through a long list of ideas and try each one without finding at least one or two that bring you some kind of personal enjoyment.
The single biggest challenge I’ve noticed regarding this, however, is that many people will skip over things they’ve never tried for silly reasons. They’ll decide something is “nerdy” or “too hard” or some other sketchy reason and skip over it and before long they’ve reduced a long list of ideas down to just a couple – or none at all.
One of the big reasons for that, I think, is that people tend to be creatures of habit. Even people that seem to be quite spontaneous are often drawn to the same activities over and over.
You have to make a conscious choice to regularly try new things, even things that don’t seem “cool” or “exciting” at first. Most of my greatest interests and passions were launched by doing just that. I would find myself dragged into things that I really didn’t have much interest in at all, only to find that something about that activity really clicked with me and blossomed into something new.
Try things. Get outside of your comfort zone a little bit and see what these things are like. Sure, you might find that you were right and you don’t like these things… but you’re also going to find out that you were wrong sometimes and find yourself enjoying new things.
Twenty Free (or Nearly Free) Things I Enjoy Doing
So, how do I spend my free time? Honestly, between my professional responsibilities, my family responsibilities, and my household responsibilities, my free time is often more limited than I’d like. Some of the activities I’ve listed below are activities that fill up only a small sliver of my time in a given month.
Still, taken all together, these activities fill up almost all of my free time in a given month. The little slivers that are left over are usually spent on trying new things.
I am a voracious reader. Not only do I constantly have both a fiction and a nonfiction book going all the time, I also am constantly reading articles and essays. I like to learn and to be entertained by the written word.
The best way to get started in reading, I’ve found, is to either take a topic you’re curious about or a story you’ve enjoyed in the past in other media (like a movie or a television show) and then hit the library to find books that match up well with those things. I have always loved high fantasy, for example – think Game of Thrones – and there’s an endless supply of great novels in that type of setting.
2. Going on long walks
I love to head out of my front door and just start wandering on foot for an hour or two. I might wind up in the country along a gravel road or wind up in the middle of town. I might go by my son’s school or by a cow pasture. It’s different every time.
I also love going to parks that feature lots of walking and hiking trails and just heading out, choosing my paths on the spur of the moment. In fact, without GPS, I probably would have become badly lost.
Just go somewhere that looks interesting and start strolling. If you’re worried about getting lost, take a GPS device with you, mark it where you started, and keep it in your pocket.
3. Playing board and card games
For me, board and card games serve two valuable purposes. One, they’re a social lubricant, meaning that they work really well for starting conversations with the people around me. Two, they cause me to think in all kinds of different ways – creatively, strategically, tactically.
Within a thirty mile radius of my home, there are community game nights almost every night of the week. You don’t actually have to own many games to enjoy playing a lot of games, in other words, though it’s nice to have a couple on your shelf for those times when you have guests. You can often find these groups on Facebook or Meetup.com just by searching.
Geocaching combines the joy of going on walks with a treasure hunt aspect because, essentially, that’s what you’re doing – hunting for treasure out in the “real world.” There are geocaches hidden everywhere – tens of thousands in the United States alone – and all you have to do to find them is look them up online at websites like Geocaching.com and head out there with your GPS to find them.
This is a big family activity for us. It often fills up summer weekends and, believe it or not, we went geocaching in rural Illinois on Christmas Eve. It’s something you can do almost anywhere at almost any time with almost anyone.
Right now, I have assigned volunteer hours for two different charities and serve on a couple additional boards. It wasn’t hard to get involved with any of these groups – I just showed up and asked.
Why volunteer? Lots of people need different kinds of help. People need food on their plates. They need safe places to go. Even though I’m far from a life-changer in my efforts, I am able to play a part in making those things happen for people who really need it.
It also gives me a chance to meet other people who are also interested in volunteering who often turn out to be wonderful people and good friends.
6. Playing with my children
This ends up eating a surprising amount of my day. My philosophy is that I always have time for my kids, so sometimes I’ll choose not to sweep the floor or let some dishes pile up so that I can play a game with them or draw pictures with them before bedtime.
I am firmly convinced that the time I spend doing this has made them more well rounded, but I think it’s also made me well rounded. I get to see so clearly how they view the world and it’s helped me see the world differently, too.
Few things are more awe-inspiring than a cloudless night sky during a new moon when you’re far away from the city lights. The sky fills with stars, many of them just on the very edge of being visible to your naked eye. I can lay down on the ground and stare up at the sky forever on those nights and it creates an incomparable feeling.
I like going out during special astronomical events, like meteor showers, but I also enjoy the ordinary nights, like when I can identify planets and stars and constellations and other night sky features with my children.
8. Rock collecting
I love wandering around rock beds looking for unusual rocks – strange colors, strange textures, and other features like the fossils of long-extinct creatures. Some of my greatest memories have revolved around finding unusual ones, like the trilobite fossils I found in northern Iowa a few summers ago or the magnificent crystals I found in Minnesota in 2006.
Most of the time, I enjoy just identifying and marveling at these rocks, but sometimes I’ll take one or two home with me and add them to the collection that’s in our front garden and on our porch. We have an array of geodes, crystals, and other stones, and each one has a story that goes along with it.
Obviously, I write for a living, but I also enjoy writing for fun. I’ve long tinkered on a number of different novels – a high fantasy novel, an urban fantasy novel, and a sci-fi novel are the ones I’ve toyed with most recently.
I am strongly critical of my own fiction and have a hard time sharing it, but I get a lot of personal enjoyment out of actually writing it. The act of channeling my imagination into the written word is just a deeply fulfilling experience, even if I don’t publish a thing.
10. Taking online classes
With the advent of so many great free online classes sponsored by universities, I’ve found myself taking them on a regular basis, working through the material at my own pace. For example, recently I’ve been working through PLSC 114 at Yale, Introduction to Political Philosophy, and I’m intending to try to put together a sequence of chemistry classes that leads into biochemistry in the future.
Why? I want to understand the world better and I enjoy improving my understanding of the world. Online classes provide a free way of doing that. Depending on what you choose, they can also improve your career marketability, but since I do it for fun, I mostly choose topics that match what I’m thinking about and interested in.
11. Watching movies
We have a family movie night once a week which happens to be a highlight of my week. Sarah and I watch a movie together, just the two of us, about once every two or three weeks.
We usually just watch a movie we already have on hand. Sometimes, we’ll watch a movie from Netflix or something new we’ve rented from Redbox or checked out at the library, too.
12. Listening to NPR and/or podcasts
This is something I often do when I’m doing other chores around the house. I’ll just flip on NPR on the radio in the kitchen and suddenly household tasks become more interesting and thought-provoking. Sometimes, I’ll do the same thing with my laptop and podcasts, pulling up a program that intrigues me and playing it while I work.
I also mix podcasts with my long walks that I mentioned earlier. I’ll stick some earphones around my head and learn something while I’m walking about.
13. Making foods
I enjoy making challenging meals. I can make a mean Hollandaise sauce, for example, and for a long time I was working my way, meal by meal, through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Basically, this hobby just expands my meal preparation work, but the end result is often an incredible meal. I really love experimenting with foods, particularly items that come straight out of the garden and are ultra-fresh.
Speaking of the garden, we maintain a thriving vegetable garden in our backyard as well as some side gardens near our house that are mostly focused on ornamentals.
This is primarily Sarah’s hobby. She runs our garden planning, chooses most of what we plant, and spends more time out there than I do, but I’m certainly a part of it, particularly during planting season when there’s a lot of work to be done in a relatively short time frame. I’ll also pick items throughout the year and help with cleanup in the fall.
15. Playing the guitar
I am terrible at playing guitar, yet I still find it fun. I have a guitar in my office that I pick up pretty often and stumble through a terrible version of Hurt or Come As You Are with the tablatures up on the screen in front of me. I use a guitar I received as a gift many years ago, nothing fancy.
I almost never play in front of other people and I certainly wouldn’t record my disasters, but there are these moments, every once in a while, when I can play something that sounds beautiful to my ears. Those are the moments that make it worthwhile.
16. Going to community festivals and concerts
Almost every community has a special festival or two throughout the year, usually involving parades and exhibits and free concerts and many other such things. Many larger communities have lots of free concerts and other events spread throughout the calendar year.
The easiest way to follow these things is to just watch the community calendar in your city or town – Google helps with finding it – as well as the towns and cities near you.
17. Binge-watching television series
If I ever find myself with a full lazy day (which is rare), I’ll binge-watch a television series, devouring most of (if not all of) a season at once. It’s pretty much the only way I watch television series these days.
I’ll usually do it by checking out a full season of a series on DVD from the library or hitting Netflix and I’ll just plow through tons of episodes.
Doing this transforms television series into long films and the interconnections and subtexts become much more apparent than they would be if you were watching them in a spread-out fashion.
18. Playing disc golf
Several parks in my area offer free disc golf courses. All you have to do is show up with a throwing disc and you’re ready to go.
Disc golf exercises many of the same things for me that golfing does. It teaches patience and focus and aim and getting the “perfect” shot. It lets you spend time in the outdoors in wide open green spaces.
19. Doing resistance yoga
This is my favorite form of home exercise. Basically, it’s normal yoga poses except as you’re doing them, you push as though the air is as thick as sand so that you have to really work to move from position to position.
Not only do I find it a great way to clear my mind, it helps with back and joint pain, too. My back sometimes gets quite sore and resistance yoga clears it up. I try to make this a daily practice and sometimes I slip, but I always wind up regretting it.
Each day, I spend some time writing down a few things that I’m grateful for and the things I’ll want to remember from that day if I open up that journal in the future. I find this to perhaps be my most uplifting hobby.
At the start of each day, I take a few minutes to write a journal entry about the day before. I ask myself what I will want to remember about that day if I look back in five or ten years. If I can’t think of anything, then I know it wasn’t much of a day. Doing this usually fuels the obvious question for today – what am I going to do today that I will want to remember in five or ten years?
It keeps me grateful for the great things I have, mindful of the long term, and reflective on my life. Plus, a filled journal like this at year’s end is a great thing to hold onto and peek at down the road.
None of the above activities cost very much at all to participate in. Each one brings me substantial joy and I wish I could devote more time to almost all of them. I am aware that there were times where I used to feel “bored,” but I basically haven’t felt that way in many years and can’t imagine I ever will again.
The key is to try new things as often as you can. Let down your guard and try things you wouldn’t have otherwise tried. If you find new things that bring you joy, try to keep them in your life. If they don’t, let them fade away – it’s okay.
The problem is that there are so many things to try that it’s easy to be overwhelmed. I just apply a simple filter of cost – is this an expensive hobby or activity to dive into? If it is, I’ll almost always pass.
After all, there are literally dozens of activities I enjoy doing, plus thousands more that I haven’t tried, and all of them are either free or cheap. I can’t see a reason to spend much of my time on activities that are also going to siphon away my money, too.