Summer has been great, hasn’t it? Fresh air, all that vitamin D, lots of evenings at the bar with your friends and socializing in general. But with so many activities to choose from and all that great weather to make the most of, I don’t know about you, but my bank balance is looking a little worse for wear. Well, a lot worse for wear. But it turns out there are bunch of cheap and free things you can do!
I’m not going to give you options like “clean out your house! It will be sparkling clean and you will enjoy it for months to come” because no one likes cleaning (but seriously, do clean out your house at some point. Open all the windows when you do it and you WILL notice a difference). But I do have a few good suggestions for how to make the most of the beautiful fall weather without draining your bank account completely. Here goes!
15 Start with the basics
The absolute first thing you need to do if you want your weekends to be easier on the pocket is to sign up to your city’s social and cultural newsletters. Online versions often publish a list of activities in the lead up to the weekend, many of them cheap or free. Take this one step further and actually, google free things to do in your city. It’s OK, no one is looking at your search history and judging you. One benefit of this tactic is that it will help ease the burden on the weekend wallet every week, not just the ones where you spent too much of your wage at Zara that week buying fun culottes and cute swing coats. I know I’m not the only one who does that. The other benefit is expanding your horizons. So many times I would have missed out on a fun new event or meeting different people if I hadn’t googled “free things to do in NYC”.
14 Host a dinner party with friends
“Host a dinner party?! Feed eight of my friends? Might be cheap for them, but not me” I hear you say. Hold on, hold on, let me finish. I mean host a potluck dinner party with friends. You take care of the main item (baked pasta dishes or a couple of roast chickens work well and don’t break the bank) and get everyone to bring a side or a bottle of wine to share. There will always be one friend who takes the cake for being really cheap and brings a packet of corn chips and salsa, but for the most part, everyone will pull their weight. The combination of different foods and family-kitchen-feel all add to the enjoyment of the night. For added ease, you can use paper plates and cups and plastic cutlery to help cut down on your cleaning up time. It’s fun to save money and have a potluck dinner but no fun cleaning up after midnight when everyone is gone.
13 Have a series or movie binge
With so many online tv and movie services competing for your dollar, they are all within an affordable price range these days and all packed with great TV shows and movies you can binge watch all weekend. Like ALL weekend if you really wanted to. Or you know, just a Saturday night if you want to keep tv viewing to a healthy level. This one is perfect for inviting one or two of your closest friends over or keeping it a solo activity if you have decided you hate all people and human kind is the worst. I’m not judging you, it happens. Buy some popcorn or order in a pizza and your night will come in under $30, monthly subscription fee included. If you do invite your friends, get them to each sign up for a different service (you Netflix, them Hulu, etc) and make it a once a month ritual to stay in and binge on a new show.
12 Happy hour bar crawl
But we can’t stay home and watch Stranger Things every weekend (mostly because we binged it already and have to wait a year for the next one). The good news is that America loves its happy hours and the happy hours love it when you turn up. Pick a neighborhood and do a bit of research for the best happy hours in the area. This can be a bit of a minefield because your google results might range from 2008 to yesterday, but lots of bars advertise their happy hours on their website too, so spend an extra couple minutes going to check what is still relevant. Most neighborhoods will have that one bar that keeps its happy hour going until 10pm which is your golden ticket to ensuring the bar crawl is an actual crawl and not just two different bars between 4pm and 7pm before the happy hour runs out.
11 Get your friends together to play some sport
Look, I’m not saying you have to be good at it, god knows I’m not. Like really not good at it. But sometimes that’s the fun of it. Gather a group of friends together for some fun three on three basketball or a Frisbee game. Did you know Frisbee is an actual sport, with actual rules, and actual teams and you can get so good you end up on the American Frisbee team? And that it’s actually called Flying Disc and Frisbee is just the name of the most popular brand? No, neither did I. If you find you enjoy your relaxed weekend sport, you can always seek out a social team to join. Most social sports teams just charge a weekly fee of $10 or something cheap to play and it’s a good way to get some exercise, meet some new people, and stop drinking so much mid-week wine. Ugh, so much mid-week wine.
10 Get out in nature
Yep, you heard me! Trees, animals, fresh air! Escape the grey city walls and head out to the countryside for a long walk or hike, depending on your fitness level or motivation (walk. Always choose a walk over a hike). If you’re lucky enough to own a car, have a friend who owns a car, or have access to your parents/neighbors/partners/anyone on the street’s car, definitely, pile a few people into that and see what’s within an hour’s drive away. If you’re like me and have no car, no worries. Plenty of hikes and walks are accessible by public transport. If you have no idea how to find what walks and hikes are near you, you’re not alone. Again, old mate google will come in handy for this – a simple search of “hikes near [city you live in]” will yield some useful sites for finding out about and getting to a lot of great hikes and walks near you.
This one can be harder than it sounds because you can’t just walk out your door and find a place to volunteer. Many organizations that accept volunteers will want people who are willing to commit to more than one weekend they were broke and needing cheap activities. Some might also need to train you, or ask you to get security clearance before working with their constituents. But let’s not brush this one off into the too hard basket just yet because there are definitely options for one off volunteering and this is one thing you can do that will reap not only rewards for your community, but you will feel very warm and fuzzy too. New York Cares is one organization in New York that caters to one off or short term volunteering, and you can try your hand at a different thing once a month until you find what fits. Again, a quick google in your city will help you to find similar local opportunities.
8 Clean out and swap clothes
My friends and I used to call this a “b!+ch n’ swap” because we would get together to swap clothes and end up complaining about anyone we did not like (we were young OK, we didn’t know any better). Grab a decent group of friends (five or more helps spread the style and sizing of the clothes) and have everyone bring between five and ten items of clothing in good condition. Whatever people don’t want can get donated to charity. To take it one step further (and encourage those people who are too afraid to part with their old loves), as long as everyone brings at least five things to swap for free, people can also bring items they wish to sell (keep it small, like $5, $10, and $20). This can help “up” the quality of the items and also some lucky people can make money off this event!
7 Get some culture
This one is not groundbreaking; we all know that museums offer a free day or afternoon a week, which sometimes falls on a weekend, and some offer “pay what you want” entry fees (hello $1 entry fee). But already knowing it doesn’t make it any less of a great cheap weekend activity does it?! You can mix it up by going to a museum that you don’t normally go to, one that takes a little bit longer to travel to, or that focuses on a particular culture or sector in society you don’t know much about. Lots of museums have special exhibits that only run for a few months so it’s a good chance to see something you might never get to see again in your lifetime. Throw in a visit to a small art gallery or two on your way back from the museum and you’ve got yourself a pretty cultural Saturday!
6 Make some art
OK, this one isn’t cheap cheap but it doesn’t have to be crazy expensive either. You don’t have to buy the expensive canvases and paints to end up with something unique and fresh to hang on your wall. Simple ideas include using some watercolor paints in spray bottles to spray bursts of color onto a blank canvas. If you make it really watery and use lots of it, you can then stand your canvas up for that “color burst drip down look” (I’m sure my excellent description “paints” a perfect picture in your mind, pun intended). Or head to a Staples (or your work or school if they have a good color printer) and print out your favorite picture (do an Instagram or Pinterest stalk for some inspiration) in large format, as big as your canvas. You can use thick watery glue to paste the printed picture to the canvas, and voila! You have a unique piece of art to hang on your wall.
5 Go on a walking tour
There are plenty of walking tours to be found with a quick search on the internet. You can join a guided tour and learn something new about your city (for a small tip paid to the guide at the end) or take a self-guided tour to see the sites and learn some history. If you don’t like any of the routes you find online, you can make your own! Google places to visit / monuments / historical sites in a neighborhood you are interested in, print out a map and mark all the places you plan to visit, pull on your shoes and head off! Making your own tour has the added benefit of using up a bit more of your time – and researching historical sites in your neighborhood in front of your computer, dressed in your PJs with a cup of tea costs very little money also. If you want to spread your net even wider, rent a city bike for the day and take your tour further afield!
4 Join a community garden
Like mentioned above (Volunteering), this one isn’t just a matter of walking out the door and joining in for a few hours one weekend never to be seen again (well you could, but it’s not the idea!). Lots of community gardens are user-funded, so this might not be an entirely free weekend activity, but some community gardens run through sponsorship, or even better, City-funded, which makes it free or cheap for users. Even if it is user-funded the cost is relatively low, only covering maintenance and equipment. By signing up to be part of a community garden you can work towards growing your own fruit and veggies – making your food bill smaller and also giving you a cheap activity to work on each weekend. If the community feel isn’t for you, you can buy a small window planter and some herbs and grow your own herbs – which will come in handy to help season your roast chickens when you host a potluck dinner party!
3 Get that banging bod you’ve always wanted
OK, so we all know I’m lying when I say you can get a banging bod in one weekend. But you COULD try a bunch of different exercises to see if you like any of them enough to keep going back. Lots of gyms offer a free trial for the first time you visit (and you can probably spend a whole couple of hours there, if you like exercising that much), and many yoga or pilates studios have an option to go as many times as you like in the first week (yoga Friday, Saturday, AND Sunday anyone?!). Some studios are even donation based (my local one is – check out Yoga to the People to see if there is one near you). If group exercise isn’t your thing, there are plenty of apps you can use to self-guide yourself through lots of challenging (and quick!) exercises – check out Virtual Trainer websites or apps on your phone and choose the “body weight” option to plan workouts with no equipment.
2 Learn something new
Whether it is learning the basics of a new language or delving into a whole new topic there are plenty of apps you can download for next to nothing to help you learn something new. Apps like Duolingo or Youtube playing in the background are a great starting point for learning a new language. MIT has an open courseware site that you can use to learn more about literally hundreds (over 2,000 if we’re counting) of topics. A lot of them have downloadable MP3s so that you can learn on the go (while cleaning, hiking, on a walking tour, community gardening, making art, at a museum, you name it!). By trying out a bunch of different topics you might strike on something you want to pursue or learn about more formally – you might find you next career path or hobby. And they all make great coffee and dinner party conversation starters!
1 Write, read, write!
I’m not going to tell you to write a blog, like every other person in the world, but putting pen to paper (or keys to keyboard) or reading something someone else has created by putting their pen to paper is a great way to spend a weekend. Write letters to family who live far away, or friends you met when overseas, or better yet, your grandma. People love receiving letters and no one writes them these days (just don’t expect to get one back, unless you write to your grandma). If you’re not into writing letters, you could experiment with writing some short stories or just free writing – whatever thoughts come into your head go onto the page. If you really don’t want to write anything yourself, pick up a book and dive into another world someone else has written. You can get lots of great books from second-hand stores, or see what books your roommate has lying around.