So Now You're Poor - Enjoy Your Life Anyway!
Many Americans are learning about poverty firsthand for the first time in their lives. American culture has focused on consumerism and material riches as the major source of pleasure for decades, making this transition to poverty harsh for many people. Though their basic needs may be met, some of the newly poor find themselves depressed by their new monetary limits and unable to see the pleasures still available to them.
I've lived in poverty for different parts of my life. I was poor for much of my childhood and homeless directly afterward. I learned early on how to have fun on a budget. Then I managed to pull myself up to middle class for about a decade. Illness and other problems brought that time to a close. I've experienced everything from abject poverty to an upper middle class lifestyle.
I noticed during my middle class years that most middle class people don't do a lot of things that aren't spending related for enjoyment; they seem to always be going out to eat, going to movies, shopping, or partaking of expensive hobbies. As a result, once they no longer have the same income they aren't familiar with many ways to have fun on a budget.
I'd like to share some of the things I do for enjoyment as a poor person, things I feel that people of any income could enjoy.
photo by Kylyssa Shay
Reading is a very budget-friendly entertainment
Reading is free entertainment if you have a library card or have friends who read. You can also find book swap clubs in your area.
Nothing is more relaxing for me than curling up on the sofa with a good book. Reading is one of my favorite activities.
2. Go for a Walk
Walking is cheap and fun
Even in the city, there's nature to be seen, squirrels in the park, sunsets to enjoy. Otherwise you can people watch as you walk around your home city or make a game of seeing it as a tourist would - paying attention to the architecture and the unique features of your neighborhood or city.
Walking is not only enjoyable, it's also healthy. Time spent in nature is reputed to reduce blood pressure.
- EveryBody Walk
Learn more about the health benefits of taking a walk plus tips on how to get more walking into your life.
3. Play Board Games and Card Games
Games provide hours of enjoyment and healthy social interaction
You can usually find board games and card games pretty cheap at secondhand stores and discount stores. Even bought brand new, the outlay for a board game or card game is usually far less than the cost of just one person going to a movie or out to eat.
We have a bunch of board games in my home but the ones that get the most use are Scrabble and Boggle because we all love playing with words. Apples to Apples comes in at third place and it is great for playing with guests because it is a silly, social game.
4. Visit with Friends
This is just what it sounds like - either hosting friends or visiting friends to just sit around and chat, perhaps over a cup of tea. You could also turn this into a potluck night and take turns hosting. Bring along some board games and you can have a great time for the cost of gas to a friend's house.
Volunteering is fulfilling, interesting, and usually costs nothing
Check out your local charities (homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food banks, animal shelters, literacy projects, etc.) and find one or more that you would like to support and volunteer there. I've found that most people take great pleasure in volunteer work - or at least take pride and pleasure in having volunteered. Give it a try, it can be very enjoyable.
This website helps people find local volunteering opportunities. Just type in your zip code or location and your area of interest and a list of volunteer opportunities in your area will be provided.
6. Attend Open Mic Nights
Enjoy free or nearly free music, poetry readings, or comedy acts
You might not be able to afford concerts anymore but you can still enjoy live music and other live entertainment. Some bars, coffee houses, and clubs host open mic music nights for comedians, musicians, poets, and other performers. In the current economy, this phenomenon has really taken off as many businesses have started hosting them to improve business. Check with your local bars, clubs, and coffee houses for dates and times. For the cost of a few drinks (avoid alcohol to keep it really cheap) you can enjoy an evening of live entertainment.
7. Join a Book Club
Social fun on a budget
Combine reading and visiting with friends and you can get together with friends or socialize with new people through a book club. Many bookstores will host them so all you need to do is read then talk about it. Check the bulletin boards at your local bookstores and libraries for book clubs or create one of your own.
8. Play Free Online Games
Search for free games online. There are many, many of them. I don't often play games online but for many people it's a fun distraction.
9. Watch Free Movies
Libraries often allow you to check out movies as well as books. The library is a great source of free entertainment. Also, if you live in an apartment complex check with your complex office; they may have a movie lending library.
You can also swap DVDs with friends and family members.
10. Go on Picnics
Eat outside and enjoy the scenery.
You've got to eat, right? Well, then, pack it up and take it outdoors! Eat in a local park or even your own back yard. To keep this activity inexpensive, consider walking or biking to your destination.
11. Enjoy Free Zoo and Museum Visits
Many museums and zoos have days when they can be enjoyed at no charge, sometimes during their off season or at other times for promotional purposes. Find out when these promotional free admittance days are through your local zoo and museum webpages.
In my area, the Grand Rapids Art Museum allows unpaid entry during parts of Art Prize, which is an absolutely amazing art contest spread over the entire city.
12. Check Out Your Apartment Complex Clubhouse
Free entertainment may be just a building away
If you live in an apartment complex that has a clubhouse - use it! You may be wasting access to such luxuries as a pool, hot tub, exercise equipment, computers with internet access, or a movie library. Be sure to bring along a friend, too!
13. Go to Free Shows
Locally, several venues have free music shows and speaking events. Here in the Greater Grand Rapids area the locally owned bookstore chain, Schular's Books, hosts bands and other performers as well as guest speakers on a variety of topics, children's story hours, and book signings. Check your local bookstores and libraries for activities and events such as these.
14. Solve Some Crosswords and Puzzles
You can find many crossword puzzles and word searches online and available for the cost of paper and ink. Print them out and have fun. Some don't even require printing, you can solve them online and pay nothing.
You can also sometimes find crossword puzzles in newspapers and periodicals. So nab the newspapers and magazines your friends, family, or workplaces discard and check them for puzzles or other word games.
15. Join or Create a Common Interest Club or Forum
Check your local paper, book store bulletin board, and Craigslist for common interest clubs you might like to join. Perhaps you like bird watching, knitting, writing, or something else - there's probably a club for it in your area. If you aren't able to get together in person you can always find an online forum or club where you can at least talk about your common interests.
16. Try New Recipes
Tasty fun on a budget
Look up a new recipe online and give it a try or go hog wild and look up a whole meal's worth of recipes to create a theme dinner. Don't choose recipes with expensive or unusual ingredients, just try something different. Get your whole family involved for added fun.
17. Attend Community Events
Check out your community calendar for your apartment complex, neighborhood, your town or city and those of nearby cities. You can do this by going to their websites. Oftentimes, you'll find some fun things to do on one of those lists that won't cost much if anything at all.
18. Make Blanket Tents and Have Pillow Fights
Some of the best free fun available!
You're an adult? Yeah, well, so what! Dig out your blanket tent making skills and create your own indoor camping spot. Then hide in it with a pet, friend or sweetheart, lounging on some pillows and cushions. When it's time for it to come down, demolish it with a pillow war.
19. Visit the Park
Spending time outside is healthy and often free
Investigate your local parks. Visit a park near you to play on playground equipment, grill some hot dogs, or simply to lie down in the grass.
You can also combine going to a park with other activities such as having a potluck or just getting together with friends. This is especially nice if you don't have appropriate housing to host a traditional gathering.
How Do You Have Cheap (or Free!) Fun?
Cronicbeats on November 07, 2013:
Do I know you? Because you just summed up my life in your len! LOL Another thing me and my boyfriend do is go to the gym. It only cost 10 dollars a month. Go as much as you want, plus gives you a cheap reason to leave your home for awhile!
Tricia Deed from Orlando, Florida on October 06, 2013:
Yes, I enjoyed this article. The best things in life are free and as we all know the most valuable in time. The freebies which you suggested include other people. This is a pleasant way to get away from our self and enjoy the spices of life.
StephenAZ on May 23, 2013:
I have really enjoyed life being "poor" or should I say frugal. Great ideas you have and healthy ones too! Thanks...
Rose Jones on March 13, 2013:
Another excellent inspiring lens. I like to look for free days for museums: if you live the Bay area there is "Free and Cheap SF" Pinned to my "Thrifty Living" board and out by digg.
ladyyummy on February 12, 2013:
Hiking, biking, and doing a puzzle. -- great lens :D
anonymous on January 23, 2013:
Great ideas :)
Mary Crowther from Havre de Grace on December 13, 2012:
Great ideas and I especially like the "make Squidoo lenses"! Angel Blessings!
Wednesday-Elf from Savannah, Georgia on May 04, 2012:
I love baseball, and happen to have a Minor League Baseball team near me. Great to sit outdoors on a beautiful evening and support our local team in a lovely ballpark for just $5.00 for Seniors for General Admission! I'm also just 10 miles from the beach on the Georgia coast and a walk on the beach is 'Free', plus it's good for your health and the scenery is gorgeous! And, like you mentioned, if you check your local community calendar you'll find all sorts of free or inexpensive events occurring close to you, especially in the summer months when you can enjoy many outdoor events.
Odille Rault from Gloucester on January 13, 2012:
Great idea for a lens, and some really good suggestions here. Blessed. :)
E L Seaton from Virginia on January 07, 2012:
Public parks here in Virginia Beach are great. Great exercise and great parks.
B E Newman on July 02, 2011:
love this-great mindset
sharock3000 on June 13, 2011:
I was so depressed this weekend because I thought I had nothing to do but this article made me smile and remember all the fun FREE things I could have done. Thanks, I plan to put all of these suggestions to good use. ;)
anonymous on May 29, 2011:
You made me smile in memory of many blanket tents and pillow fights. I don't have an entertainment budget and can't understand all the money that seems to be wasted when there are so many wonderfully fun and enriching free things to do. In Fargo, we have a lot of open space for kite flying fun. Of course there is the investment of the kite but most serious kiters will let you take a try at an extra they bring along.
OrganicMom247 on May 13, 2011:
nice tips. be positive always and you'll find ways to have fun.
vinylvenue on March 04, 2011:
You could join a Vinyl Record Club... it's FREE
marsha32 on December 19, 2010:
so many great ideas here....I especially like the one to build squidoo lenses :)Blessed by a Squid Angel
eclecticeducati1 on October 20, 2010:
Lots of people are having to save money now days, these are some good ways to do it!
VarietyWriter2 on August 09, 2010:
Blessed by a SquidAngel :)
Canela Ajena from Houston on March 26, 2010:
I love this lens. Direct, simple and so true. Thank you. Blesed
ElizabethJeanAl on February 17, 2010:
I grew up poor and my husband and I have always had to watch our pennies. But we still have fun.Thanks for sharingLizzy
momto4 lm on February 01, 2010:
Lots of great ideas! We like to take the kids to the park and have a picnic. And I love to read.
Linda Hoxie from Idaho on January 27, 2010:
What great ideas, I think you can have a lot of fun without spending a dime. Great lens!Linda
elmikeo on January 20, 2010:
This is a great lens, I totally believe in the power of volunteering and I have definitely paid my share of board games. Remember though that when you are budgeting, don't neglect the things that matter, life insurance, health and home are important to have at all times and can save you from financial strain later.Mike- Life Insurance Specialist
alohaitsaj on January 04, 2010:
I found your lens in the critique me section of squidu. My input: Awesome lens! If you get a chance, please check out/critique my lens on personal finance tips for college students. :)
Swagger1 on January 03, 2010:
Nice lens and nice tips!
Bambi Watson on January 02, 2010:
Great ideas!I spent countless hours at our local free zoo when my boys were little...it's a great way to have fun for free!Blessed by a Squid Angel!
greenerme on January 02, 2010:
Great ideas! I do a lot of the things you mentioned. Free movies are something I recently discovered on-demand, if you have cable. You can't beat free. Meeting up with friends is another big one that doesn't cost much.
Cynthia Arre from Quezon City on January 02, 2010:
Beautiful lens with lots of great ideas. For no-cost fun my husband and I would walk to a nearby park and play badminton or go tandem-biking. Playing with our kitty also provides free, instant-fun. (:
anonymous on January 02, 2010:
Excellent stuff. Maybe you should mention some great + free online games
puzzlerpaige on January 01, 2010:
What a great list Kylyssa. My very favorite is to make blanket tents. I did this when I was young. I also took the furniture cushions off the couch and propped them up and made pretend airplanes etc. Now we live in a tourist town and many of the attractions are free for residents. This is one way we are having fun - for FREE. We also assemble jigsaw puzzles.