50 Cheap, Creative 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. Okay, maybe not hours, but you get the point.

We didn’t wait for overtime or vacation weeks to have fun. 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 be 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. (Just 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, 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—collect interesting shaped rocks or shells—and 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 app 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 books with a friend and then get together to discuss the most insightful, helpful, or entertaining parts.

35. Have a board game night where everyone brings their favorite game. (Okay, 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, 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, then donate the proceeds to your favorite charity.

Have anything to add to the list?

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha. She started the site after struggling with depression, bulimia, c-PTSD, and toxic shame so she could recycle her former pain into something useful and inspire others do the same. She recently created the Breaking Barriers to Self-Care eCourse to help people overcome internal blocks to meeting their needs—so they can feel their best, be their best, and live their best possible life. If you’re ready to start thriving instead of merely surviving, you can learn more and get instant access here.

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