It’s no secret that attending the hottest concert in town, hitting the newest club or catching a movie at the nearest theater can be expensive, and the cost of social engagements can really add up weekend after weekend. According to a survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spent an average of $2,913 on entertainment in 2016. Reducing your entertainment budget can therefore be an easy way to trim your spending and a simple way to save money.
Don’t worry. Cutting back on entertainment costs does not mean saying goodbye to your social life. There are plenty of ways to have fun without spending money, and you don’t have to look further than your own backyard.
“How many New Yorkers haven’t ridden the Staten Island Ferry or gone to a live concert in Central Park?” says Donna Freedman, a writer who focuses on personal finance.
Whether you’re facing a thin wallet this Friday night, or you just want to reduce your entertainment expenses in general, here are 13 fun things to do without spending money that will make you feel like a tourist in your own hometown:
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, a money-saving expert and founder of the blog Money Can Buy Me Happiness, has a specific strategy. She’ll pull up Google Maps and search for green patches near her home. Then, she’ll Google the name to see if it’s a place she can take her kids.
“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.”
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. 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 advantage.
3. Give geocaching a try
If you have a smartphone, chances are you already have all of 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. To get started, simply download the Geocaching app or log in to the Geocaching website. Bonus: This activity may bring you to local spots you’ve never visited, which is a way to be a tourist in your own hometown.
4. Leverage your chamber of commerce
Many towns and cities offer no-cost festivals, music nights and other events. This is an easy way to enjoy your hometown, socialize with 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 ways to have fun without spending money.
Americans spent an average of $2,913 on entertainment in 2016.
5. Take a historical city tour
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 a way to be a tourist in your own hometown. 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. Sometimes these tours are led by volunteers, while others are offered as self-guided tours.
6. Visit a farmers market
If you’re a frugal foodie, farmers markets in your hometown 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.
But, to make this another of the many ways to be a tourist in your own hometown, 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.
You could still check out the farmers market and turn it into a nice walk or outdoor picnic if you’re looking for fun things to do without spending money.
7. Go camping
A way to have fun without spending money is to find an outdoor adventure. While some campgrounds charge fees, it’s also possible to find no-cost 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 a fun thing to do without spending money only for people living way out in the sticks, 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
Looking to boost your photography skills and explore hidden nooks and crannies as a way to be a tourist in your own hometown? Google “photography challenge” to find lists of things to take pictures of each day for a set period of time. Items 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
Freedman, the author, says she uses the library all of the time as a way to have fun without spending money. “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 without spending 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.
You may not think of volunteering as a way to have fun without spending 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 website like VolunteerMatch to find 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? Meetup.com provides a way to find 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. Pro tip: 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 handy at all times, this could be a new hobby and a fun thing to do without spending money. There are birds wherever you are (even in the biggest of cities), and all you need is a bird book and binoculars to get started. See how many birds you can spot in your hometown.
13. Take a hike
Hiking is a great way to see nature and get great exercise, even if you live in a large city. To find trails near you, check out websites like AllTrails, which provides detailed trail maps, trail reviews and crowdsourced trail photos. You can carpool with friends to save on gas and combine hiking with another fun outdoor activity like bird-watching or geocaching.
So many ways to have fun without spending money
Entertaining yourself and your family locally does not 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 examples of ways to be a tourist in your own hometown will help you find new and fun things to do without spending money.