A lot of people love to claim that entertainment these days is expensive and that it's nigh impossible to have a good time without spending a lot of money. They're right, so long as your idea of a good time involves going to concerts and seeing a new movie in theatres with your family every weekend.
But there are a lot of free ways to entertain yourself these days, even ones that are fun for the whole family. The shame is that so many people overlook them.
So here's a list of ways to keep yourself entertained that don't cost you a penny. (Some of them may require Internet access, but I assume if you're reading this blog, you already have that.)
1) Visit your local library - If your local library's anything like mine, not only will you have access to a lot of books to keep you entertained, but also video tapes, DVDs, and music CDs. If your library doesn't have what you're looking for, ask about inter-library loans. Plenty of libraries have book clubs, too, which can add a community experience to the event.
2) Take a walk - Either alone or with friends and family, going for a walk is a great way to pass the time and get exercise in. If you have small children, consider a nature hike. Challenge yourself or your friends to see how far you can walk in a day before you're too tired out to keep going.
3) Learn a new language - There are a ton of websites that offer introductory language lessons for free. I can't say you'll become proficient using only online tools, but you can certainly get a good feel for the basics of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary for a lot of world languages, and even some fully-functional made-up languages.
4) Read or watch TV online - I already made posts about free online books and TV channels in Canada.
5) Listen to podcasts - Podcasts these days can range from general observations on just about any subject you're interested in, to full audiobooks written and read by up-and-coming authors. I myself have a backlog of over 500 hours of podcasts to listen to, and I didn't spend a cent on any of them.
6) Start a blog - Or join message boards. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that everybody has something to say, and there are always people out there willing to listen to your opinion. Take advantage of that. Write, and build a community around yourself.
7) Browse your local Freecycle listing or Craigslist for free hobby supplies. - Books, yarn, cloth, furniture, there's always somebody giving it away for free, and there's no reason you should spend money when you can recycle and reuse and get the same benefits. More benefits, even, because you're taking part in both helping somebody declutter and saving usable things from landfills.
8) Volunteer - If you're so inclined, join a volunteer group in your area. Spend time with underprivileged kids, teach an adult to read, serve food to the homeless, or any number of things.
9) Play games - From board games in the closet to free online games, this sort of thing can keep you busy for hours! I speak from experience.
10) Go Dumpster-Diving - Your Mileage May Vary on this one, but I hear that Dumpster Diving is very entertaining and even profitable. Plenty of stores and companies just throw things away even when they're still perfectly good. From fabrics in no-longer-popular colours to canned food that the grocery store has decided to stop carrying, if you go with an open mind and a pair of rubber gloves, you can come away with plenty to keep you busy or fed for weeks! (A movie store I used to work at would rip the covers from unsold game guides and movie books and just throw them away. I can't count how many free game guides I got this way. Movie theatres will put the night's leftover popcorn into a single bag, nothing else in it, and throw it out though it's still perfectly edible. They can't sell it, often can't donate it, so they trash it. And their loss can be your gain.)
11) Be a local tourist - Cities often give tourist info away for free, and you'd be amazed at what you don't know about your hometown that tourists do because you've never taken the time to explore. Act like a tourist, look around, and I bet you'll learn things that you didn't even know you didn't know!
12) Learn a new skill - Instructional diagrams and videos are all over the Internet these days, so why not think of a skill you don't have that you want to learn, and go learn it. Juggling, quilting, knitting, bookbinding, any number of things! You can often learn the basics in only a few hours, and practice take care of the rest.
13) Alphabetize your books - It may not sound exciting, but it takes up some time, and you may come across books that you'd forgotten you even had.
14) Organize a neighbourhood yard sale - Not only will you get rid of stuff you no longer need, but you'll also get a little bit of cash for it, and have a chance to meet and greet your neighbours.
15) Get involved in a barter community - Just because you're not spending any money doesn't mean you can't get something new. If you have a local barter group, or can find one online, why not barter your skills or homemade stuff for something that somebody else has or does. It doesn't cost you anything (assuming you've got the materials on hand to trade, that is), and you get something new in return.
16) Make your own recycled paper - It's easier than it sounds. Take non-glossy flyers that plague just about everybody, rip 'em up, put 'em in a pot with some water, then wait until they're a soggy mess. Layer that mess on something that the water can drip through (old window screen work perfectly for this) and when it's dry, voila! Your own coloured recycled paper!
17) Read back entries of blogs - I love starting from the beginning when it comes to blogs, because I get to see how people started and go along with them until I get to today. I can learn skills that they wrote about once but may not reference often, or find link to other fascinating blogs and bloggers that they may no longer be in contact with for whatever reason. And if nothing else, if the blog is interesting, then I just enjoy reading it for the sake of reading it.
18) Clean up - Not the most exciting task in the world, but it does take up your time, doesn't cost you anything, and is beneficial in the long run. I myself ought to pay closer attention to this suggestion sometimes...
19) Take a bubble bath - Yes, men, even you! Bubble baths can be wonderfully relaxing things, good for destressing, and just taking a little bit of personal time to ignore the world and find your focus again.
20) Improve your cooking - See what delicious things you can make using the ingredients you already have in the house. Get a little creative and experiment with new flavours, look up recipes online or in recipe books, and try something new. It can be a lot of fun.
21) Go to gallery exhibits - Some art galleries and museums will have open-to-the-public exhibits, so check them out when you have the chance. You'll have the chance to meet people with similar tastes, and perhaps even meet the artists themselves! And you'll get to spend a great afternoon surrounded by culture.
Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list, and additional ideas can be found all over the place online. But it's a good start to filling your days with interesting and exciting events when you're really low on cash, and given the economy these days, finding free entertainment is getting to be high on a lot of priority lists.
(As a little aside, too, Sudsmuffin is having their anniversary contest, so drop by their blog and enter for the chance to win some free stuff to pamper yourself with.)