13 ways to have fun without spending money

Looking for fun things to do that don’t cost money on the weekend or throughout the week? Explore these 13 ideas that are both fun and free.

It’s no secret that attending the hottest concert in town, hitting the newest club, visiting the acclaimed hands-on STEM museum, or catching a movie at the nearest theater can be expensive. 

If you’re looking to spend less money, one way to do it is to cut back on your entertainment costs. Reducing how often you dine out at restaurants, for example, is among several lifestyle changes that will save you money—and maybe even improve your health in the long run.

According to a survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spent an average of $2,912 on entertainment in 2020. So, if you have room to cut back, you’re not alone. Luckily, trimming your entertainment budget doesn’t mean saying goodbye to the good times. In fact, having a social life on a budget is completely possible. There are plenty of ways to have fun without spending money, and you don’t have to look much further than your own community.

“How many New Yorkers haven’t ridden the Staten Island Ferry or gone to a live concert in Central Park?” says Donna Freedman, the author of several books and founder of a blog that focuses on personal finance and frugality. 

Maybe you’re facing a thin wallet this Friday night and you need to cut your entertainment expenses. Maybe you’re saving up for a down payment on a house. Or, maybe you just need some staycation ideas to fill the kids’ summer or winter school breaks. Whatever your situation, here are 13 fun things to do that don’t cost money with friends and family:

1. Go on a picnic

A picnic with family or friends is a way to have fun without spending money, and you can go to your favorite outdoor spot or use it as an opportunity to explore someplace new. Emma Healey, founder of a money-saving blog for moms, has a specific strategy. She’ll pull up her maps app on her phone and look for green patches around where she lives. Then, she’ll search the name of the area to see if it’s a place she can take her kids.

A group of 10 young people enjoying a picnic on grass, near the edge of a lake.

“Once we discovered a nature reserve hidden behind some farmland, with a trail through the woods and a rope swing for the kids at the end,” Healey says. “There was no one else there, so we enjoyed the forest all by ourselves and the kids thought it was the best thing ever.”

As you’re considering different fun things to do that don’t cost money with friends and family, picnicking is a great choice. It’s completely free, especially if you’re walking or biking to your destination (and not using a car) and packing your basket full of items already in your pantry or fridge. 

2. Go to no-cost museum and zoo days

If you have museums or zoos in your area, check out their websites to see if they offer days when you can visit without paying admission. The downside is that these days can be relatively popular and crowded, but it’s worth it if you’re trying to find fun things to do without spending money with friends and family. Some companies also have deals with local museums that allow employees and their families to attend without cost on specific days, so check in with your employer to make sure you’re taking full advantage of any partnerships.

3. Give geocaching a try

As you’re searching for things to do that don’t cost money, consider geocaching. If you have a smartphone, chances are you already have all the equipment you need for this hobby. It’s based on a simple idea: People have hidden more than 3 million treasure stockpiles (known as geocaches) all around the world, and it’s your job to find them using only a GPS. Bonus: When it comes to staycation ideas, this activity is all about adventure and can open your eyes to local spots you’ve never visited.

4. Leverage your chamber of commerce

Many towns and cities offer no-cost festivals, music nights, and other events. If you’re wondering how to keep up with friends with money, taking advantage of free events is an easy way to enjoy your hometown, socialize with your friends, and mix up your activities on evenings out—all without opening your wallet. To scope out upcoming events, check out the website for your local chamber of commerce for a calendar of fun things to do without spending money. 

Americans spent an average of $2,912 on entertainment in 2020.

Bureau of Labor Statistics

5. Take a historical city tour

Although it’s possible to travel on a budget and visit free or low-cost historical sites around the country, you probably have some closer to home as well. Did you know that no-cost historical walking tours are available in many cities? For kids and adults alike, these tours are often put together by businesses, chambers of commerce, or governments and are terrific staycation ideas. To find out if one is available near you, search for “walking tour” on the website of your local historical society, city, or chamber of commerce. Keep in mind that sometimes these tours are led by volunteers, while others are offered as self-guided tours.

6. Visit a farmers market

Perusing the produce and wares at your local farmers market can be a lovely (and free) way to enjoy the day. Plus, they often have plenty of free samples to try.

If those samples have you wanting to pull out your wallet, there’s no need to stress: Cooking at home can be even cheaper than eating out on a budget. Farmers markets can offer affordable, fresh produce, especially if you go at the end of the day when vendors are more inclined to offer discounts to get rid of extra merchandise.

As you’re shopping for produce, why not try something new? Rather than getting your favorite vegetables, try challenging yourself: Pick out one to two vegetables you normally wouldn’t buy, and then find a recipe for them. You’ll save money by not eating out, and you’ll increase your cooking repertoire.

Another couple of staycation ideas: Popping by a farmers’ market is a great destination for a longer walk, and you could even turn your visit into a nice picnic if you pick up an item or two. 

A mother hands her young son a free sample at a farmer’s market.

7. Go camping

When you’re looking for ways to have fun without spending money, you should consider finding an outdoor adventure. While some campgrounds charge fees, it’s also possible to find free sites. You can camp on most national forest land for no cost, for example. It’s called dispersed camping, but you may have to follow specific rules, such as being a certain distance from water sources and developed campgrounds.

Lest you think camping is only realistic for people living in rural areas, keep in mind that it is possible to find dispersed camping areas—as well as other campsites with minimal fees—near many large cities. For tips on recreational opportunities and how to visit public lands, it’s a good idea to check with your local or regional Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, or State Parks office before heading out.

8. Do a photography challenge

You probably take a lot of photos while you’re away on vacation, but why not take some while you’re home as well? If you’re looking to boost your photography skills, taking a photography challenge allows you to explore the hidden nooks and crannies of your own hometown. Plus, you can fit it in anytime.

Search “photography challenge” to find lists of things to take pictures of each day for a set period of time. Prompts like “find something red” and “take a picture of something abandoned and forgotten” can turn your photography into a real hometown treasure hunt.

9. Check out books from the library

Visiting and reading books from the library are great activities that don’t require money. Freedman says she uses the library all the time. “On the way out, I always stop at the ‘New Arrivals’ section and scoop up new reading material,” she says.

You might be surprised by how accommodating libraries are, even if your local branch is no larger than a walk-in closet. For example, if you’re interested in reading something that you can’t find on the shelves, most libraries are able to order it for you.

Many libraries are full of even more fun things to do that don’t cost money, like checking out DVDs, cameras, or binoculars.

In some locations, “you can get access to free passes to museums and other local cultural attractions,” Freedman says.

Going to the library, versus downloading content on your devices, can also become an event in and of itself and an opportunity for the family to get out of the house.

10. Volunteer

Whether you’re looking for affordable ways to spread generosity during the holidays or budget-friendly summer fun ideas, volunteering is a great all-weather activity. You may not think of volunteering as among the most fun activities that don’t require money, but there are tons of organizations in your area that can use your help right now. Ask at a local nonprofit, such as a food bank or a wildlife rehabilitation center, or use a volunteer website to search for opportunities. You could meet new friends, feel good about helping the residents of your hometown, and even develop new skills.

11. Find a fun meetup group

Speak a foreign language? Interested in home-brewing beer? How about spelunking? You can check out social media sites to find and connect with other locals with similar interests. You could also find new places in your hometown to explore if you join a club that moves around, such as a running club or a home-brewing club that visits different breweries. Remember: You can carpool to activities with others in the group to save on gas.

12. Go bird-watching

Even if you’re not a bird expert, with your checklist of all the birds you’ve ever seen readily available, bird-watching could be a new hobby and among your growing list of fun activities that don’t require money. There are birds wherever you are (even in the biggest of cities), and all you need is a bird book or app and some binoculars to get started. See how many birds you can spot in your hometown!

Bird-watching can be one of the fun activities that don't require money.

13. Take a hike

Hiking is the perfect combination of nature and exercise, even if you live in a large city. To find trails near you, check out this hiking trail website, which provides detailed trail maps, trail reviews, and trail photos submitted by hikers. You can carpool with friends to save on gas and even combine hiking with another fun outdoor activity like bird-watching or geocaching.

So many activities that don’t require money

Entertaining yourself and your family locally doesn’t have to mean constantly spending money on events and outings. Sometimes it’s the simplest excursions that are the most enjoyable and memorable. Whether you need to save a few bucks for the short term or rework your budget to focus on other priorities, these 13 staycation ideas will help you find new and fun things to do without spending money with friends and family.

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