Friday, February 3, 2012

Free or Low-cost Things to Do Year-Round

One of my goals for 2012 is to spend less on entertainment: dining out and going to the movies, in particular.

Of course, it's easier to make plans than to live by them, especially when boredom hits. So, to avoid reverting back to my dinner-and-a-movie routine, I've created a list of things to do that require little to no money.

If you want to join me in my resolution or just want to change your weekend routine, check out the list of ideas below.

And if you have ideas that I haven't included here, please add them in the comments.
  1. Pursue a hobby. My hobby is sewing, and I have practically all of the needed supplies at home, which means that this activity doesn't cost as much as it would if I were just starting out. Is there a hobby that you've enjoyed but have neglected lately?
  2. Declutter. Remember my blog post, Living Well with Less? After my first round of decluttering, followed by a second, I became obsessed with getting rid of things that I don't want, need, or value. Having less stuff makes the apartment more spacious and cuts down on cleaning.
  3. Clean the house. Not fun, I know, but a clean house is more enjoyable to be in and gives you a sense of accomplishment.
  4. Watch TV or a movie (at home). TV shows can be viewed for free at Hulu. If you're a Netflix subscriber, stream movies to your TV or computer. Or borrow DVDs from the library. The Orchard Park branch has a good selection.
  5. Read a book. Keep a list of books to borrow from the library, or if you have a Kindle, check out Amazon's free books for the Kindle.
  6. Learn a new skill. While you're browsing the library shelves, borrow a book that can teach you something, make you more efficient at work or at home, or introduce you to a new hobby.
  7. Exercise. For the past few days, I've been working out to 10 Minute Solution Yoga, streamed instantly from Netflix. My muscles ache when I'm done, but it's an exercise that I enjoy, which is a first for me.
  8. Start a blog. If you like to write, try your hand at blogging. Most bloggers write about what they know (crafting, traveling, being green, etc.) or about their families or experiences. Take what you're passionate about and turn it into a blog.
  9. Read blogs. Use Google Reader (click here for my tutorial) to follow blogs that are of interest to you and access them from your computer or phone.
  10. Bake. Who doesn't love dessert? Pull out your cookbooks or try something new. For healthier desserts, read my review of Olive Oil Desserts.
  11. Go for a walk. Walking is a great way to spend time with your spouse or children without the distractions of home. I recently shared my walking route around Buffalo's Elmwood Village and will be posting a new walk next week. Click here to follow along on my walking routes.
  12. Write to friends or relatives. Keep in touch by email, Facebook messages, or postal mail.
  13. Make a digital scrapbook. Using paper supplies, scrapbooking can be expensive. But, if you have image editing software, such as Photoshop, you pay only for the cost of your prints and the scrapbook you put them in. Any elements that you make or buy can be reused again and again, which is a big advantage over conventional scrapbooking.
  14. Keep a journal. I have a friend who has journals from childhood, and long after I've forgotten about an event, she can tell me about them in detail. Some things, of course, I'd rather forget! Keep your journal securely online with Penzu.
  15. Go to Karpeles Manuscript Museum. Buffalo is the only city in the United States to have two Karpeles museums, where admission is always free. Here, you'll see rare documents that rotate on a regular basis. Currently, the North Hall location is displaying documents relating to Evita, the second wife of Argentine President Juan Peron. The Porter Hall museum is hosting The Theodore Roosevelt Exhibit through April.
  16. Play a board game. Pull out your old board games or find the digital versions online.
  17. Take photos. Cameras aren't just for vacations or special occasions. Take some snapshots of the things around you to document your life for future generations or to bring back memories later on.
  18. Volunteer. Giving back to the community doesn't just help the people that you serve. It makes you feel good about yourself too. Find opportunities at VolunteerMatch.
  19. Play a game (computer, Xbox, Wii, etc.). Chances are, you probably have some games that are collecting dust. I rarely play the Sims, not because I don't like the game, but because once I start, I'm glued to the computer screen for hours!
  20. Spend time with your pets. When reading a book, I was surprised to learn that cat owners should play with their cats twice each day. I had assumed that cats entertained themselves, but playtime makes a noticeable difference in their behavior – for the better.
  21. Plan a future vacation. Last year, a study showed that the anticipation of a vacation gives us more happiness than the vacation itself. Give yourself a trip to look forward to, whether you take it this year or five years from now.
  22. Make a family tree. Learn about your roots. Check out ancestry books at the library, search for online resources, and involve family members in the process.
  23. Listen to podcasts. If you have a smartphone, download Stitcher to listen to podcasts for free. You can also listen on your computer at or iTunes. My favorite podcast: Stuff You Missed in History Class.
  24. Find new music. Stream music from Pandora to discover new artists. Or create playlists on Spotify.You can see what your friends are listening to, and stream music to your computer or smartphone (a Spotify subscription is required for listening on your phone).
  25. Make homemade bread. I've never had homemade bread, but I hear that it's superior to store-bought in taste and nutrition. Try this simple recipe from Trent at The Simple Dollar.
  26. Make a dinner menu. Grocery spending can be reduced by writing a weekly menu, taking into account leftovers and repeat meals. It prevents you from buying more than you need and keeps your grocery list streamlined.
  27. Find new dinner recipes. Incorporate some new meals into your weekly menu, using recipes from cookbooks borrowed from the library or found at
  28. Cook foods in advance and freeze them. By preparing meals in advance, you'll prevent the urge to eat out when you don't feel like cooking.
  29. Start or maintain a garden. Vegetables grown in a garden are not only better for you, but they taste better too. It's even possible to garden if you don't have much space. Click here for information about apartment gardening.
  30. Go wine tasting. Most wineries offer free wine tastings, with no obligation to buy. Click here for vineyards and wine trails.
  31. Make Christmas gifts. It's never too early to start planning for Christmas! Practice baking the cookies that you'll give away or make a teacup candle or other craft.
    Have an activity or event to add? Leave a suggestion in the comments, and I'll post it to the list.


      1. I love your tip about Podcasts. I'm an avid podcast listener and what's great about them is you can listen, laugh and even learn when you're doing chores or whatever. Do you have any recommendations? Thanks for the post!

        1. I like Stuff You Missed in History Class, The Colonial Williamsville podcast (even though I've never been, it's one of my "someday" vacations) and This American Life. The first two are usually short, 20 minutes or less, so I listen to them in the car. I have trouble finishing an episode of This American Life because it's so long. I tend to listen while I'm driving, and my commute is only about 10 minutes. Which do you listen to?


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