Experiences can be expensive. But many of the most fun and most rewarding experiences don’t have to be. While many choose to put their finances at risk by taking expensive vacations and dining out excessively, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here is a list of my favorite free, and almost free, experiences.
Whether getting together with a group of friends to play Cards Against Humanity or having a quiet game of Sleeping Queens with the kids, having a game night is a free way to have an unforgettable night of fun with friends or family. Some of my family’s favorite games are The Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Monopoly Go, Scrabble Junior, and Sleeping Queens. We also enjoy doing puzzles, especially on long holiday weekends.
This one is obvious. Getting the family outside in nature to walk or play is an experience that will make lasting memories. We enjoy taking the kids to local parks that have playgrounds (including one in town with a splash park!) and walking paths as well as to the local community forest lands to hike the trails.
Go to your town’s or city’s website and you will likely find that they keep a calendar of free events happening locally all year long. My town has a farmer’s market most of the year, an art walk every month, periodic music events (including a summer concert series), and a host of free events for every holiday. We also enjoy a nearby children’s museum which is free for military families once a month.
If you have time and are going to cook dinner at home anyway (‘cause why waste the money, right?), why not try a new recipe? Or better yet, have a friend over to teach him how to make your favorite recipe and ask him to do the same for you!
You may not have a fancy camera with multiple lenses but with improved phone technology these days, you probably don’t need one. There is a movement of photographers who take amazing pictures with their iPhones and you can find the knowledge and techniques online for free. If you are only an occasional phone picture taker, check out a free web tutorial to learn more about how to get the most out of your phone’s camera and how to frame the best pictures.
Another thing you can do is organize old digital photos. Chances are, your life’s memories are scattered between multiple computers, phones, and cameras. The first step is getting them all in one place. Then, organize them by year and eventually month, name/rename them based on location or other characteristic, and tag the people in the pictures to make searching easier.
Take some time to invest in yourself by reading. Don’t waste money buying books you’ll only read once that will clutter your house for years. Go to your local library and pick up a book for free.
Beach (if you live near one)
Over 50% of Americans live in coastal areas. Head out to your favorite beach for the day and relax.
Many people enjoy foraging for wild plants, nuts or mushrooms to enjoy as food. While that’s great for them, my family has enjoyed picking berries that grow wild pretty much everywhere here in NW Washington. This summer we picked blackberries multiple times and enjoyed eating them as a snack or making delicious pies!
YouTube isn’t just for cat videos and viral fails. There is so much free content and information on YouTube these days. YouTube has become an especially popular place to find how-to videos on almost any subject you can think of including home improvement and trade skills like automotive work. A few popular channels that I enjoy are TED talks and Crash Course, but there are so many others depending on your goals and interests.
Another great place to learn is by listening to podcasts. There are endless genres to choose from so pick something that is both interesting to you and educational. I like to listen to podcasts in the car while driving to and from work, mowing the lawn, and running or biking at the gym.
Track spending – Build a budget – Track net worth
This idea probably won’t be most people’s idea of fun but it will benefit your finances. One of the most important things you can do for your finances is to track your spending. As the saying goes, “What gets tracked, gets managed.” Once you know where your money is going, you can decide whether your spending is in line with your values or whether maybe you should spend less in one area (dining out?) and more in another (saving for the future).
Now that you’ve started tracking your spending and created a budget, the next step is to track your net worth. This will tell you if your finances are moving in the right direction and whether you’re on track to meet your future goals.
The best way I have found to track your net worth is through a website/app called Personal Capital. You can sign up for a free account and input your login information for all of your accounts into their secure site. Personal Capital will simultaneously track your bank accounts, credit cards, loans (including auto loans or mortgages), and retirement accounts. It even allows you to link your home value through Zillow to see what your total assets minus liabilities are. What I like most about this service is that it consolidates all my accounts in one place. I no longer have to login to a dozen sites to manage daily spending and investing.
Organize something (your life)
Looking for an activity you can do indoors that will reduce stress and increase your daily productivity? Science has shown that decluttering your home provides multiple benefits to your health. Many people skim the surface of this once a year when they do “spring cleaning.” Even a day of going through your things to try to pare down the items around your house can make a big difference.
If you want to take this idea a step further, try the “minimalist challenge.” According to www.theminimalists.com, the way this works is you find a friend or family member to compete against. On day one you each get rid of 1 item (either donate, sell, or trash it). On day 2, you get rid of 2 items. Day 3, 3 items, and so on until one of you can’t or won’t, and the other person wins. If you both make it to 30 days and are still going strong, you both win!
When it comes to rewarding experiences, volunteering is at the top of the list. And in addition to helping others, volunteering is good for the volunteer as well. While you serve others through the organization you volunteer with, you are connecting with the people in your community and making it a better place. Volunteering has been shown to increase self-confidence, reduce stress, and provide not only fun but meaning to your life.
Free/Almost free experiences
Many experiences, especially sports, can be free once you have the equipment. Here are a few of those experiences, some equipment required.
Many people may find that they already have many, if not all, of the necessities required for a fun camping experience. The basics include a tent, sleeping bag, and water storage but might also include cooking equipment and kitchenware, chairs, campfire supplies, and other needs based on the age of campers and the location of the campsite.
If you have a family with young children, you can get them excited about camping while feeling out how they’ll do by keeping it close to home. I got my girls excited about it last year by “camping in the living room,” complete with s’mores. This year we’ll try out the back yard and if that goes well, it’ll be all clear to head out into the woods!
Here’s another one with an upfront cost that you may already have in the garage. Bike riding is a fun way to explore the neighborhood or an area of the town while being active and outside. Additionally, you can couple it with any of the other activities mentioned by biking to and from the activity.
When my wife and I lived in San Diego, we bought a bike trailer to tow behind one of the bikes so we could take our daughter out with us before she could ride. This has added so much value to our lives over the years because it has allowed us to take bike rides with the whole family, regardless of whether the youngest kids were able to ride.
Fishing is a great activity to do with family or friends. All you’ll need is a fishing pole and tackle and a license if you’ll be fishing on public land. And if you’re successful, it’s fun to create a meal around your catch of the day!
Again, there’s the upfront cost of buying a surfboard but once you have one, going to the beach and catching waves is free!
What about you?
It’s clear that there are plenty of options for families who want to do things instead of buying things but don’t want to sacrifice their financial future. While not everything above may be an option based on your town, location, or situation, there’s something for everyone and many more ideas I haven’t mentioned.
What free experiences have you found that bring happiness to you and your family?