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As a reader recently observed, having fun is often expensive. It starts to seem like you can’t go out for less than $40 a pop, which is disheartening for anyone trying to stick to a budget.
So here are a few ways to have fun on the cheap. You can also check out my cheap date ideas post, though admittedly I think there’s some overlap.
This is obviously one of my favorites. Many local bars and restaurants have trivia night, so grab at least one friend (preferably more) and test your brain power.
This one is great because technically (other than the gas to get there), it can be a free night out. But my readers strongly recommend buying at least a soda or something to support the venue.
A couple of groups to check out for potential trivia nights are Team Trivia and Geeks Who Drink. They may have events in your area.
Open mic nights generally have free entry, and regular standup comedy nights can be pretty cheap — especially during the week. For weekend events, check out Groupon, which (at least here in Phoenix) usually has some tickets for cheap admission.
One word of warning: Most of the clubs have a two-drink minimum. Even a soda will probably be a minimum of $4 (plus tip), so be sure to take that into account when calculating whether you can afford the night out.
One of a frugalist’s best friends! Happy hours usually have not just drink specials but also some cheap noshes. The specials generally run about 5-7 p.m., so if you can convene with some friends after work, this is a great way to catch up (and fill up) on the cheap.
If you’re more of a night owl, check out which bars have reverse happy hours.
Not sure where to go? There are sites like Happy Hour Near Me or just plain old Yelp that can point you in the right direction.
Here in Phoenix, there are usually discounted tickets on Groupon. (Don’t forget to go through Mr. Rebates for 6% cash back!)
But most local theaters also have a Pay What You Can Night. This is sort of a second dress rehearsal before the “official” start of the play’s run. It lets the company work out any last-minute kinks.
But by the time the Pay What You Can Night arrives, they’ve usually had both a tech rehearsal and a dress rehearsal, so you’re pretty much assured of the play running smoothly, so it’s a great way to see the production cheaply.
Also, depending on the climate, your area may have Shakespeare in the park. These performances are free. The only cost is some discomfort from sitting on the ground.
You can feel smarter — both for having seen a Shakespeare play and for paying $0 for it!
Do museums count as fun? Well, I’m including them anyway.
Most art museums will have free admission one day a month. Some credit cards’ benefits will include free admission on certain days too.
Failing that, check to see if your library has culture passes. Here in Phoenix, you can check out passes (which admit two) to several local museums and the botanical gardens.
Or check out local galleries to find art openings. You can discover new artists and, if movies/TV are to be believed, there are often drinks and small snacks so… Bonus!
Believe it or not, movies can be cheap. If you don’t mind waiting a bit, you can see a lot of the bigger films at second-run houses. Most of these charge $2-4 a ticket — and often have a weekly half-price day.
If you have an AMC in your area, then you can get into movies on Tuesdays for $5 if you’re a Stubs member (and the lowest tier is free to join).
Another option is to watch your local weekly publications, which usually have at least one offer for passes to a sneak preview in their movies section.
You usually have to go to a local store or may even have to mail off for them. Then you’ll need to get there early to make sure you get a seat, as routinely more passes are given away than there are seats. But hey, free movie — before anyone else has seen it, no less!
Congregate at the house of a friend with a DVD player or Amazon Prime membership. Everyone bring snacks, and all of you sit down to an Amazon Prime movie. If you want something a little more current, go with a Redbox or Amazon Video rental.
Did I mention that everyone should bring snacks?
Very cheap fun! Just get some friends to come over and play! Make sure they bring at least one snack each so that you don’t spend too much money on munchies yourself.
Ideally, your friends may have some games to bring with them. But there is a chance that you’ll need to invest in some board games initially. For this either use Amazon gift cards from Swagbucks or check thrift stores. There are also board game stores on Mr. Rebates.
If you don’t mind dirty and/or depraved humor, I strongly recommend Cards Against Humanity. CAH is a great first game to play because it gets everyone laughing and relaxed. Other games played at games nights have included:
Jurassic Park: Pretty fun, and you arrange the tiles each time, meaning that each game is slightly different. Also, it’s a collaborative game, which I like. Well, except for one person who gets to be the dinosaurs trying to eat everyone.
Oregon Trail: This one was a little iffy because, like its namesake video game, it’s pretty tough to win, even as a collaborative game. (And yes, I died of dysentery.)
Joking hazard: From the minds that bring you Cyanide and Happiness, this game has cartoon panels that you put together to awful/hilarious results. Panel cards are put down to start a story, and each player has to come up with the best (or usually worst) end card. The most apt/awful one wins the round. It can get pretty dark.
Stipulations: I was terrible at this one, but it’s a pretty cool game. Someone takes a card and chooses one of the three things listed: a Super Power, Lifetime Supply item or Occupation. Everyone else has to write down a caveat. The person reading the card has to choose the one they want the least. My group came up with some pretty dark ones. (One was that every time the superpower got used, a child got cancer.)
Werewolf: One person is secretly a werewolf and is thwarting the group’s effort to defend the village. Villagers must root out the werewolf, and the werewolf must avoid detection.
The Voting Game: Everyone is assigned a number, cards are read out loud (“The person most likely to have been in prom court”) and everyone votes. It’s an interesting way to see how your friends view you.
Exploding Kittens: I don’t remember a lot about this game, but I know it was very easy to learn the rules (which is a nice change of pace) and we had fun playing it.
Snake oil: One person (the “customer”) draws a character card (ie. a sea captain, a senior citizen, etc.). The other players have several cards, each with one word on it. They must combine two of the words into a product and sell it. The customer picks the product most alluring/suited to the character’s purposes.
And of course there are the old standby party games: Taboo, Scattegories, Trivial Pursuit, Apple to Apples, etc. (As an Amazon affiliate, I get a small commission for items purchased through my links.)
I’ve also played some good deck building games (Ticket to Ride, Ascension, etc.) but they cost around $35 which I think is too steep to recommend here.
A lot of bookstores will have authors come and read from their books, often in conjunction with book signings. It’s an interesting chance to hear the words in the author’s own voice, and a Q&A session usually follows.
Some libraries will have clubs to join. There are more than just book clubs, by the way. Clubs of various interests may meet at your local library.
Otherwise, check out MeetUp.com, where you’re almost guaranteed to find at least one club of interest. There are book clubs, clubs by age range, trivia groups, board game groups, dog owner groups (where owners get together and chat while their dogs play), dining out/bar groups (discovering local spots), karaoke groups, hiking groups, couples groups and so on.
Don’t see a group you were hoping for? Start one yourself! Yes, it’s $10 a month, but that’s literally a small price to pay to find like-minded individuals.
Local papers, including the free weekly publications, often have events calendars. These will alert you to cheap concerts in the area, but they’ll also usually have at least a few free events listed. This may include arts or cultural festivals, holiday decorations, etc.
When all else fails, turn to Groupon for inspiration and cheap options. You’ll find concert tickets, admission to museums, laser tag, escape rooms, wine/alcohol tastings, murder mysteries, rock climbing, bowling, mini golf, pottery classes, photography classes, roller skating and (slightly concerningly) axe throwing.
What are some of your favorite ways to have fun on the cheap?