22 Free (or cheap!) Fun Things To Do When You’re Broke

Do you guys have Switzerland-sized bank accounts? Are you always complaining about the extra money that’s stuffed in your pockets, creating unflattering bulges? Do you think “Where can I go that serves $17 cocktails? I can’t think of enough places that overcharge for their drinks!”

No? Weird. Me neither.

Regardless of your income, it’s always fun to enjoy the cheaper things in life, isn’t it?

22 free* things to do when you’re broke

* or very cheap

1. Ride a bike/scooter/motorcycle

Autumn was made for bike rides along the river, filling your basket with goodies from the farmers market. Or with puppies. If you have a friend with a scooter or motorcycle, ask for a ride. Bonus points for taking it on windy roads!

2. Afternoon movie matinee

Because every movie is better if it costs $4.

3. Tuck notes of encouragement into library books

Find the books about business development and leave a note that says “Your business idea is great!” Find the diet books and leave a note that says “You’re gorgeous just the way you are.”

4. Have a picnic (indoors if necessary)

Food tastes better when it’s eaten outside, on a blanket, in the company of ants. Or in the arboretum. Pack up your favorite nibbles and head somewhere lovely and green – here are some great ideas for easy, delicious picnic food.

5. Host a potluck and games night

If you want to have some friends over, but can’t afford footing the bill for a fancy dinner, invite everyone to bring a dish, pull out your favorite old board games and play a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit. Or, really, Girl Talk.

6. Host a clothing swap

Invite your favorite ladies to your place, bringing over the clothes and accessories that they’re no longer feeling to trade with each other. Borrow a few full length mirrors, put on some RuPaul, throw together some cheap appetizers and you’ve got a super cheap, really fun party.

7. Take a public transportation adventure

I have extolled the virtues of bus adventures before, but let’s belabor the point a bit, shall we? Buy a full-day pass on your city’s bus or train line, pack a lunch and your camera and head out to explore the city. Bonus points for getting off at the same time as that looker in the plaid jacket.

8. Volunteer

Improve your karma, meet cool people and do something fun? That’s a win/win/win, y’all! You’ll obviously get the most out of a volunteer opportunity that corresponds to your interests, so I’d give volunteermatch.org a try. I searched ‘writing’ and found 667 volunteer opportunities!

9. Go to a museum’s free day

It’s always fun to ogle dinosaur bones or paintings, but it’s more fun if it’s free. Check out museumfreedays.org for free days in major cities. In the Twin Cities area, The Walker is free on Thursday nights, The Minnesota Children’s Museum is free the third Sunday of every month, and The Minnesota Institute of Arts and The Weisman are always free!

10. Go to the library

Why pay $7 for the latest Vogue when you can peruse it for free at your library? Check out DVDs, language-learning CDs and Twilight (in the event that you refuse to spend money on that delicious foolishness).

11. Go to an open mic night

Whether you favor a poetry slam, comedy or some tender-hearted singer/songwriters, there’s certainly an open mic night in your city that caters to your whims. Sure, you’ll see some stinkers, but you might also spot the next Lily Allen! Here’s a collection of all the open mic nights in the Twin Cities.

12. Karaoke

I looooove karaoke. Largely because I’m (erroneously) convinced that I can rock ‘Heart of Glass’ like no other. If you’re too shy to take part, at least you can be entertained by the group of ladies yelling out ‘I Will Survive’ or the fifteen dudes who are going to sing that song about having friends in low places. Here are 10 karaoke songs for bad singers.

13. Engage in a covert, fitting room photo shoot

Dress up in your most impressive outfit and hit up those crazy expensive boutiques where you can’t even afford the socks. Pull a few great outfits off the racks, try them on in those over sized fitting rooms and document the whole thing on your digital camera. This girl has some fantastic photos from doing just that! If you can’t own the clothes, at least you can remember how you look in them.

14. Airport people watching

I’ve spent an abnormal amount of time in airports over the last few years and watching tearful, joyful reunions never, ever gets old.

15. Beauty school spa day

If you’re not afraid to let a supervised student work on you, you can get crazy, crazy cheap salon services. The Aveda Institute in Minneapolis offers $13 haircuts that include a wash, dry, head massage and makeup! For less than the cost of an entree at Applebys!

16. Real estate open houses

Barring marriage to a professional athlete, I will never be able to afford a home in the neighborhood where I currently rent an apartment. But! That doesn’t mean that I can’t stop in at the real estate open houses, check how the other 5% lives and eat a lot of free cookies.

17. Utilize some sidewalk chalk

My nine-year old neighbor is always doing this – drawing and labeling robots and, oddly, sprinklers. Draw a hop scotch on the sidewalk in front of your favorite coffee shop and see how many people will hop through it.

18. Photo scavenger hunt

It’s a great way to spend a weekend afternoon and an even better way to bond with a kid you’re getting to know! Here’s a list to get you started.

19. Attend a cultural events

No, not the opera. Does your city have a large immigrant or refugee community? Check out their events calender and you could find yourself at an awesome Day of the Dead party or an “Auspicious Wrist Tying Ceremony” like I attended a few years ago.

20. Watch the Wizard of Oz while listening to The Dark Side of the Moon

Seriously, that business matches up in an uncanny way. Particularly great for a rainy Sunday night.

21. Buy a Sunday paper to split with a friend, and read it while mulling over a coffee

I love doing this. It’s so much more gratifying than checking CNN repeatedly. You can be those people who say “Listen to this!” or “What’s a five letter word for ‘Egyptian king?'”

22. Play Online Games

There are dozens of online games to check out, both on apps and on the internet. If you’re looking for a fun challenge, try FreeCell Solitaire. It’s like a puzzle where you have to move cards around  to eventually place them in order by suit in what’s called the Foundation.

What makes FreeCell unique is that almost every game is winnable except one, and that you can use open spaces to help you move cards around.

What fun things do you do when funds are low? Tell us in the comments!

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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  1. Clementine

    As someone who used to work in cosmetics, I reaaaally can't condone #6. Makeovers are given with the implicit understanding that a sale will be made. That is, essentially, the unspoken contract. It is an insult to the time and skills of the person doing your makeover to leave without buying anything when s/he could have been spending that time with other customers (or doing other tasks that inevitably need to be completed before the shift is over).

    The people who work at cosmetics counters make a base salary of whatever the minimum wage is. Commission is really important to their livelihood. It's not just about the commission, though – it's about their sales (as well as the team's). An employee not making his or her sales can be let go.

    Cosmetics SAs are probably pretty broke as well – no need to be a jerk to them by leading them on and walking away without making a sale. I speak from personal experience when I say that it is a terrible feeling to spend 20+ minutes doing someone's makeup while they ooh and ahh over the products, acting as though they're considering them, and then don't buy anything.

    I'm really disappointed that you would condone doing something so selfish that has a direct impact on others. There is no "classy" way to go about it. You're screwing over a service worker. Just as you shouldn't eat out if you can't afford to tip, you shouldn't get a makeover at a counter if you can't afford to make a purchase. The end.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Well said. Edited 🙂

    • Clementine

      Thank you, Sarah. I appreciate it.

    • Copper

      Or you can go to a store like MAC, where the artists are NOT paid on commission.

  2. Caitlyn

    Great suggestions! I love getting my hair cut at the local beauty school, but I try to warn people to expect to spend a couple hours there – it always takes a really long time since the teachers usually have to check before and after the cut and the students sometimes take a while to figure it out. But honestly, to me that's half the fun – I LOVE having people play with my hair – so paying $20 (that's what it costs near me) to have someone mess with my hair for 2 hours is delightful. And I find that the teachers usually cut my bangs (the only part of the haircut that's complicated/really matters) so my hair always looks great when they're done!

    And I've been to a theater playing Wizard of Oz with the Dark Side of the Moon and it was really uncanny and VERY entertaining to watch it sync up – I figured I'd get bored with it 20 mins in – but it's surprisingly engaging to keep watching all the way through!

  3. Ashley

    #17 is great! This summer I doodled with chalk under a pedestrian bridge and left the chalk behind, and others did the same! It made me feel all warm and fuzzy about my community 🙂

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh that is so sweet! What a good idea!

  4. Kate @ GreatestEscapist.com

    I love this list, Sarah! And my mom, a children's librarian, would be happy to see libraries make the list. In addition to the usual free books/magazines/etc., libraries often have really great free programming – yoga, book clubs, author talks, plus tons of stuff for kids. Last month alone, in addition to usual storytimes, my mom hosted a Percy Jackson event, had a "dog day," & brought in a magician. So much to do!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I JUST LOVE LIBRARIES SO MUCH! I periodically forget they exist, remember, and then I want to tweet "YOU GUYS! Did you know you can read any book you want FOR FREE at a library? Wuuuuuutttttt."

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Ooooh! Good to know!

  5. Lulu

    Love these ideas! Thanks for the inspiration – and some of the resources you linked!

  6. Anonymous

    I love this list, but 3. Leave love notes on strangers' cars? Would flip me out and for someone else possibly be super triggery/terrifying. There's gotta be a cooler version of this that people can do without freaking someone else out.

  7. Anonymous

    I know I'm late to the punch, but one of my favorites is going to a really expensive, fancy restaurant and ordering only the cheapest thing on the menu, whatever that is (it is usually an appetizer or a soup). I still feel really fancy and pampered, and wind up eating something really delicious that I normally wouldn't have had. I always feel a little smug, a little like stealing, when I leave that high class restaurant with only a $5 tab. When I first started doing this I thought the waiters might be upset with me, but they really don't seem to mind.

  8. Anna

    My library also gets me access to a bunch of online apps that hook me up with free music albums, audio books, e-books, and current magazines. It’s amazing. And they return themselves when they’re due! Hit your library website and make sure you’re using all the things they offer.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oooh! They return themselves?! Amazing!

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