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50 Creative, Cheap Ways to Have Fun

“Never let lack of money interfere with having fun.” ~Unknown

Back when we were young, we may have asked our parents for money to do things, but more often than not, we found creative ways to have fun without spending a dime.

At least I know I did.

My cousins and I turned their bulkhead cellar doors into a slide—and the main attraction of our DIY amusement park.

We turned cardboard paper towel rolls and rice-filled soda bottles into instruments, and entertained ourselves for hours on end. OK, maybe not hours, but you get the point.

We didn’t wait for overtime or vacation weeks to have fun. More often than not, it didn’t really matter what we did. All that mattered is that we were together, and we were fully committed to enjoying ourselves.

I highly doubt I’d spend one of my adult Saturdays banging on a homemade coffee can drum, but there’s something to said for getting a little creative with your downtime. Especially since a lot of us spend a great deal of time immersed in routines and technology.

If you’re looking for some cheap, creative ways to enjoy the weekend—or perhaps an upcoming weekday you’ve chosen to liberate—I recommend:

Have Fun Outside


1. Take a “flip the penny” hike in the woods. Assign each side as right or left, and then when you come to a fork in the road, flip to see which way you go. Make sure you keep track of where you’re going so you don’t get lost!

2. Host a modern scavenger hunt, using technology.

3. Have a picnic in the park, and ask everyone to make something from scratch.

4. Make your own kite and then head to the beach to fly it.

5. Take up urban foraging—the act of picking free fruits, vegetables, and edible plant life around your city, where sanctioned.

6. Start a nature collection—interesting shaped rocks or shells—and then spend the day getting it started.

7. Start a garden on the cheap using some clever ideas from TheStreet.com.

8. Download a bike map application for your iPhone and explore a new area.

9. Have a nostalgia hunt at a flea market. Look for GI Joes, My Little Ponies, Cabbage Patch Kids, or anything else you loved as a kid.

10. Go geocaching—a “high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers.”

Have Fun with Food


11. Swap family recipes with a friend and make each other’s to enjoy together.

12. Make ingredients gifts for upcoming birthdays and events—get a jar, decorate it, and then layer cookie ingredients inside.

13. Have a cookie swap party. Everyone makes a dozen and goes home with a dozen of all different types of cookies.

14. Take turns hosting dinners with friends. It’s much less expensive than going out to eat, and it gives everyone a turn to host.

15. Host pot luck dinners based on food themes. Everyone brings something Italian, and the next time Thai, and the next time Chinese.

16. Have a food art party—everyone needs to bring something that’s both edible and creative.

17. Have a budget food contest. Everyone has to cook a dish spending no more than $5 or $10. Eat and vote on the best budget dish!

18. Start your own Julie and Julia project—grab a cookbook, start working your way through it, and blog about it as you go.

19. Make a recipe book of all your favorite dishes to give to someone you love.

20. Have an ugly cake contest. Have all of your friends make a desert, and then before you enjoy them together, vote on which is the ugliest!

Have Fun with Entertainment


21. Have a karaoke night using the YouTube karaoke channel.

22. Look on Craigslist for your area to see if there are any free concerts going on in nearby parks.

23. Have a movie marathon with one or two friends where everyone brings their favorite DVD.

24. Have an independent-film marathon, watching free indie videos online.

25. Spend a day looking for free street performances in the nearest big city. In the summer particularly, there’s a ton!

26. Host your own open mic night and invite all your most talented musician, comedian, and poet friends.

27. Have a culture day—visit a museum on a free day, listen to classical music on the way, and watch a classic movie in the evening.

28. Call your local theater to see if they take volunteer ushers. Many theaters give free tickets to volunteers who either seat guests or clean up post-performance.

29. If you have children, host a family barbecue where the adults catch up while the kids come up with a little show to perform later in the evening. (My favorite childhood memories all involve a show with the cousins!)

30. Use Facebook to get a group together for a flash mob. You’ll need a lot of people—and undoubtedly, this requires work—but it can be a ton of fun to prepare and carry out! Here are 15 flash mob videos to get the creative juices flowing!

Have Fun by Trading


31. Host a clothes swap day where everyone brings clothing and accessories they no longer want, and everyone goes home with something new. (This may be more for the ladies!)

32. Exchange homes for a night. When you’re staying at your friend’s high-rise condo and she’s decompressing in your claw-foot tub, a relaxing night in will have a whole new sense of excitement.

33. Trade gear—let your friend use your bike while you learn to rollerblade.

34. Trade iPods for a jog or hike with a friend to learn a little more about the type of music that gets your friend pumped.

35. Have a board game night where everyone brings their favorite game. (OK, so this is more sharing than trading).

36. Trade your services for someone else’s. Offer to help your painter friend set up a website in exchange for painting your bedroom. It will be a fun, free, productive afternoon!

37. Have a no-money garage sale on a sunny afternoon. List on Craigslist everything that you have that you’d like to get rid of, and include a list of everything you want in exchange.

38. Trade ideas. Ask your friend to share his or her favorite way to spend a day off, and then you share yours. You can either do them separately and report back to each other, or do them together on two respective off days.

39. Trade videos with a loved one who lives far away. Each of you plan a day of fun, without telling each other what it will entail. Then go through the day with the intention of creating a joy-filled video to send the other one later that evening.

40. Trade blogs. You host your friend’s blog for a day and let him or her host yours. If you both write about different niches, this is an incentive to try something new so that you can write about it.

Have Fun by Giving Back


41. Create a digital product about something you enjoy and donate the proceeds to charity.

42. Host a free webinar sharing something that you’re passionate about.

43. Sign up to be a volunteer dog walker through the SPCA (you can also help organize fundraising events, provide general animal care, and assist with grooming, among other things.)

44. Call your local children’s hospital and see if you can host a sing-a-long or come dressed up as a clown to spread cheer. (Contributor Harriet Cabelly did something similar through Patch Adams international clowning trips.)

45. Volunteer to help with events at your local zoo. Some zoos require an extensive time commitment, but others take short-term volunteers for specific events.

46. Be an unofficial park volunteer for a day. In between relaxing and reading books on the grass, pick up litter to keep the area clean.

47. Use Charity Navigator to find a local charity that you can trust, and then get involved starting today.

48. Help an elderly neighbor with her garden, or with another chore that you generally enjoy doing.

49. Lead or participate in a midnight run to help the homeless.

50. Have a bake sale with friends in your neighborhood, and then donate the proceeds to your favorite charity.

Have anything to add to the list?

Photos by Diamond Farah, UggBoy, timsnell, and Dave Bezaire & Susi Havens-Bezaire

Avatar of Lori Deschene

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha. She is the author of the Tiny Wisdom eBook series (which includes one free eBook) and Tiny Buddha's Guide to Loving Yourself. She's also the co-founder of the eCourse Recreate Your Life Story: Change the Script and Be the HeroFollow @tinybuddha for inspiring posts and wisdom quotes.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Jtreadwa

    I absolutely love this. Thanks for all the great ideas! And now…off to discover which ones are my favorites :)

  • Jennifer

    What a great list, thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome! It was a lot of fun putting this together. I’m so glad you like it. =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome! Enjoy =)

  • http://illuum.com Angus

    Oh my what, YouTube Karaoke?? My poor neighbors…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1759554667 Emily Rossiter

    Great post! Those are some wonderful bonding/family ideas as well. We need to get away from our video games and the TV and do something fun!

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  • http://kate-is-pre.posterous.com Kate

    Cool. Some great stuff in this list!
    I have a little file on my computer’s desktop entitled “I’m bored.txt”. I open it for ideas about what to do when I get that feeling. When I come across ideas I’d like to consider on the bored days, I add them to the file. I’ve just put a link to this post in it. (It already has a link to this tinybuddha page in it: http://tinybuddha.com/blog/33-ways-to-be-childlike-today/)

  • http://www.sensophy.com Jacob Sokol

    Move over TimeOut-NY for date ideas… Lori’s got me covered!! -=)

  • Snowfinch

    A lot of nice ideas, and some don’t cost much. But “Download a bike map application for your iPhone and explore a new area.” implies a bike and… an i-phone. I think. Or “Trade iPods for a jog or hike with a friend to learn a little more about the type of music that gets your friend pumped.” Which implies an i-pod. And a way of getting the tunes onto it. Not exactly low-cost items! It’s all relative, isn’t it?.. “Go geocoaching…” Hmmmm… :) Still some great ideas here, though – thanks! :)

  • http://impressyourkids.com ohamanda {impress your kids}

    Oooh, fun stuff! I’d love to be in a flash mob. :)

    And thanks for linking to my hiking post!

  • Beth Earle

    Adding different flavors (colors) of Koolaid or similar drink mix to snow when building an igloo or fort out of snow is fun. Nature crafts off all kinds are interesting to work on and can be used to decorate your home or be given as gifts. Any kind of treasure-hunting- panning for gold, rock-hounding, using a metal detector, beach combing,etc. Having the whole family taking turns reading a good book checked out from the library. Use your imagination. There are always lots of things to do which are fun and inexpensive- often free!

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  • Efharris18

    Great ideas! Free is always good. Love your blog….
    Betty

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  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks Betty! =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I love your ideas! I especially like the food coloring one. Growing up in Massachusetts, we spent a lot of time playing in the snow. Thanks for adding these. =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I really enjoyed your post! Thanks for popping by. =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Good point! I actually don’t own either an iPhone or an iPod, but pretty much everyone I know does! I was somewhat assuming that I am the odd duck among the majority–but you’re right. Those items certainly aren’t cheap!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Jacob! Always nice to say hello to you. I’m glad you liked this post!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m honored that two of my posts made it into your list! =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m with you there, Emily! It’s so nice to disconnect and do something physical and creative.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Haha I know my neighbors probably wouldn’t love that either. Maybe soft singing karaoke…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1492965044 Jim Barber

    Go bird watching. Leave your binoculars at home and don’t bother to identify the birds. Just watch them.

  • Beth Earle

    Glad you liked them. I always have lots of ideas. LOL. Wanted to add that if you can find the molds to make bricks with sand that are sold to build sand castles, they are also good to use with snow to create forts and igloos.

  • http://www.fredtracy.com Personal Development | Fred

    Neat! I really like the one about taking a penny flipping hike in the woods. How adventurous!

  • julesie

    i live with chronic pain (with, not against) and today is just one of those days. i have spent the last hour, at least, reading tiny buddha articles guilt-free. i’ve let go of my to-do list and pushing on and have gained much i will put into practice on better days. great ideas in the comments as well. very glad this site exists.

  • http://www.facebook.com/susan.lynn.white Susan Lynn White

    What a cool list! I cannot wait to employ some of these fun endeavors! After reading, I remembered one of my favorite activities from Girl Scouts– take a pine cone, butter the inside of most of the “scales”, hang up outside your window, and watch the birds come and snack out!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    What a great idea! I was a Brownie as a kid, and we did some really cool stuff in nature, too. It’s so fun to reconnect with the simplicity of those days. =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m so glad to learn you’ve found the site helpful! I can only imagine how challenging it is to live with chronic pain. I love that you wrote “with, no against.” Beautiful and inspiring!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m so glad to learn you’ve found the site helpful! I can only imagine how challenging it is to live with chronic pain. I love that you wrote “with, no against.” Beautiful and inspiring!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks Fred! I like that one, too. Planning to do it some time soon. =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks Fred! I like that one, too. Planning to do it some time soon. =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    That’s a great one. I love waking up to the sounds of birds outside my window. It’s so fun to just zone out and watch them for a while.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    That’s a great one. I love waking up to the sounds of birds outside my window. It’s so fun to just zone out and watch them for a while.

  • http://www.rebuildyourlifecoach.com Harriet Cabelly

    Hi Lori,
    Thank you for linking back to my clowning guest post. That clowning trip was definitely a highlight of my life. It’s a real, step out of your comfort zone and try something new and adventuresome. And of course, you’re helping by bringing joy and smiles to so many people.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I loved that post, Harriet! It’s just such a fun idea. Thanks for writing it. =)

  • Darius

    and these all have something in common beside being free, they are healthy.

  • Tim Black

    Volunteer your time with a local cancer center or hospice, providing transportation or domestic assistance to people in a time of need.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Indeed! Writing this really motivated me to reach out to people and get active.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks for adding this Tim!

  • Khaled Allen

    I love the trading ideas. It would definitely be fun to walk in someone else’s shoes for a day and see things through their eyes.

  • Anonymous

    Great post! These ideas encourage not only fun and creativity, but awareness and an openness to wonder. In this sped-up, dumbed-down, 140-character world, these are becoming endangered species.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Yes, me too! =)

  • Ram

    nice

  • amy

    that’s what i’m attempting to do now while reading the rest of this list!! thanks for all the great inspiration!! :D

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome! =)

  • http://www.writechangegrow.com Thea | Write Change Grow

    Hi Lori
    Really enjoyed this post. I am on a strict budget at the moment, so all of these cheap, creative tips are very much appreciated and will definitely come in handy. I have been staying home all the time to save money, but you have reminded me there are lots of other options I could be doing instead.
    Cheers
    Thea

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I know what that’s like. I’ve cut back on work recently, and that puts me on a much tighter budget. And yet I don’t regret it one bit because I feel so much more free. I’m glad this post gave you some ideas to get outside and have fun!

  • http://twitter.com/ProverbsWife Saidah Washington

    I’ve found a lot of fun in just coming up with frugal ideas for my family. It’s always a treat to start with a blank summer calendar and begin filling in activities like the one’s you’ve listed. We attend the FREE movie in the park and Free bowling events every year among other things. This is a great round up of ideas to get the creative juices flowing.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I know what you mean Saidah. I had a blast just writing this list! I’m a huge fan of bowling, but it hadn’t occurred to me that there may be free bowling events out there. Thanks for the idea!

  • hosay

    this list is rubbish. im 13 why would i really want to finger paint or go on a picnic  

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi there! Thanks for popping by. It would be great to learn what types of cheap activities you find fun. Care to add some to the list?

  • Sarah Gilbert

    i am in love with this list, and hope to refer back to this every time i find nothing to do :)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    That’s great, Sarah! Making this list was actually a creative, cheap way to have fun. I love coming up with ideas like these!

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  • grammarnazi

    its geocaching, not geocoaching ;p

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/shawna.ilagan Shawna Ilagan

    I remember having a walmart put back contest with friends. We would team up into two teams, put 10 items in the cart, trade carts, and see who could put back all the items the quickest (one team member would switch teams on each team to be able to verify they put it in the right place). Those were the days free and fun.

  • Summer

    Lovely list! Thank you so much!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome! =)

  • sammuy

    thank you so much

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome. :)

  • LiiLii

    Give yourself a couple of decades, a couple of children, a couple of pets and only a couple of dollars. This list will begin to look like the #1 list for things to do without having to spend your couple bucks.