Get Connected in Your Community: 18 Free or Cheap Activities for Seniors

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When I told Tony Brooks, activist and advocate at ADAPT Philadelphia, that I was writing a story about free and cheap activities for seniors, he let out a laugh.

“You mean like adult day care?”

ADAPT is a disability advocacy group that explicitly includes seniors among the disabled. Brooks was acknowledging the fact that American culture tends to separate seniors (and disabled people at large) from their own communities.

“I usually love having conversations with elderly people,” Brooks continued. “Because they were in that community before you got there. I do not know why we tend to put them into separate spaces. We need to break that cycle that’s already been in place. How can we change that? To me, it’s being more involved in the community.”

In that spirit, today we’re looking at activities that can help amplify your social connections in your local community across generations — not just in spaces that have been cordoned off for elders. The best part is that they’re all low-cost or free.

Free or Cheap Activities for Seniors 

If you’re feeling a little down lately because your social life is suffering, know that you’re not alone. Even among younger generations, the events of the last few years have led a large number of Americans to experience feelings of isolation and loneliness. If you’re in a community-building phase of your life, here are some ways to do so for free or on the cheap.

1. Join a Meetup Group

Meetup Groups are a great way to meet people in your community with common interests. While there are some that are geared towards specific age groups, most are open to anyone in the community. You’ll find people of all ages discussing philosophy, exploring their artistic talents, getting together to hike local trails or researching genealogy together. Whatever your interest, there’s likely a meetup group to match.

Almost all Meetup groups are free to join. Do keep an eye out, though – there are a few that will charge membership fees after you’ve participated in a few sessions.

2. Try Your Hand at Poker Nights, Karaoke Nights or Trivia Nights

Watering holes will often host free poker nights (the kind where you play for bragging rights or prizes rather than cash,) karaoke nights or trivia nights. Even at places that have two-drink minimums, they probably don’t require that the drink be alcoholic if that’s not your speed.

It might seem like an odd choice at first glance, but I’ve built many cross-generational friendships at these venues. Every trivia team needs someone who remembers pop culture and world events prior to 1980.

3. Take Your Hobbies to a Co-Working Space

Let’s say you’re working on the next great American novel in your retirement, but you don’t want to spend everyday in your apartment alone while you embark on the endeavor. You can look for venues like coworking spaces in your community.

Coworking spaces provide work space to remote workers. To be honest, every time I’ve used a coworking space there’s more ping pong and foosball than actual work. They tend to be extremely social environments.

You’ll want to work on your novel in the peace and quiet of your own home on some days so that you actually make progress, but most co-working spaces allow you to purchase affordable memberships on a sliding scale depending on how much you visit. That means if you only come in one day a week to rent a computer workspace on the pretext of writing your novel, you’ll pay a whole lot less than someone who is there five days per week.

4. Take Advantage of Libraries’ Services

Libraries offer free programming for people of all ages. Whether you want to learn a foreign language, up your technology skills or learn how to cook, there’s probably a free class for it at your local library.

5. Join a Book Club

If you’re a bookworm, look for local book clubs on Facebook, Meetup or your local community center. Most book clubs aren’t going to have membership requirements – they’re usually free. Even in themed book clubs, typically the person who chooses the book of the month rotates. This is an interesting way to get to know your fellow club members and share a little bit of yourself with them when it’s your turn to pick, too.

6. Attend Lectures at Local Universities

It’s a little-known fact that most university events are open to members of the local public sans admission fee. If you have a college or university in your town, keep an eye on their lecture series. Many of these will happen during the day because the primary audience is college students, which can be great if you’re looking for intellectual stimulation while your friends and family are at their nine-to-fives.

As a senior, you may be able to enroll in a whole college course for free, too.

7. Join a Community Theater

Most community theaters run off donations and cheap admission prices. Everyone from actors to stagehands to AV volunteers generally aren’t paid. If you’re in retirement and want to pursue this as a new talent or as an industry veteran, they’re likely to be thrilled that you’re choosing to spend your time and efforts with them.

8. Get Involved in Self-Advocacy Groups

In democratic countries, one of the most effective ways to gain a sense of well-being is to be civically involved. So find a cause you care about and join a group of people who are working to make things happen.

Typically, when you join advocacy groups, the most ethical way to engage is self-advocacy – or advocating for situations that affect you directly. If you do join an advocacy effort that does not directly affect you, be sure to defer to the expertise of the self-advocates in your group as you all work together to make tomorrow better.

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9. Throw a Dinner Party or Game Night

Once you’ve built up a bit of a social network, you don’t necessarily have to leave your home to have a good time. Dinner parties and game nights can be a fun and affordable way to get together with friends. If you don’t feel like cooking an entire meal for everyone yourself, don’t underestimate the power of a good pot luck.

Free or Cheap Things to Do If You’re High-Risk

COVID-19 numbers are a lot better than they were, but if you’re older, there’s an increased likelihood that you’re still high-risk. Even if it feels like the rest of the world has moved on and left you sitting in place, rest assured that there are still plenty of ways to get out there and have well-ventilated fun in your community.

10. Drive-In Movies Are Still Affordable

Movie theaters are packed again – and they’re more expensive than ever. But you know where you can still catch a flick on the cheap? Your local drive-in.

When it comes to the budget, your mileage may vary, but typically adults can get into double features for under $9 (or $4.45 or less per movie) and children gain admission for $5 or less. Your drive-in theater may charge by the car rather than the person, in which case you can get the most value by loading your vehicle up.

It’s so nice to be able to catch a new release on the big screen with friends and family again – especially when there’s less need for an N95. Just be sure to pack lots of pillows and blankets to make the car comfortable – or bring folding chairs!

Another great thing about drive-in movies is that sometimes they’ll let you bring your own snacks, which means no paying for overpriced concessions.

11. Check Into Free or Discounted Fitness Classes at Your Community Pool

Some community pools are indoors, but depending on where you live, it could be outdoors, too. Usually when there are fitness classes, they’re either free or super cheap for community members. Be prepared to show ID or some type of proof of address if discounted prices are offered.

12. Visit National Parks for Free

National parks provide unforgettable experiences that are high-risk friendly. Plus, seniors get in for super cheap. You can get a $20 per year pass based on your age or opt to pay a one-time $80 fee for a lifelong pass.

If you’re also permanently disabled, you could get a free Access pass, which gets you and everyone in your car into any national park for free forever. No need for renewals in the future.

13. Go Mini Golfing

You don’t necessarily have to join a country club to get out there and golf. Check out these free or cheap(er) options that still help you congregate outdoors:

  • Public golf courses. You might find one of these inside parks owned by your city or town. Reserving a tee time (when reservations are even required) is usually free or just a small amount of money.
  • Mini golf. While there are miniature golf courses that go above and beyond both in experience and pricing, there are others that you can visit on a modest budget.
  • Top Golf. Places like Top Golf are popping up across the country. It’s essentially a fixed driving range, with booths set up in a covered, open-air setting. You can grab drinks and food while you’re playing various games with your friends. This option is a bit more expensive than mini golf, but as long as you’re not visiting every single day, it’s still cheaper than a country club membership.

14. Visit a Theme Park (They Usually Have Senior Discounts)

Theme parks are a place where you usually don’t have to go inside unless you absolutely want to. They’re also way cheaper when you apply senior discounts. For example, you can get a Six Flags Season Pass for just $50/season as a senior.

It’s not just the big theme parks, though. Check out your locally-owned amusement parks for steep discounts on senior passes.

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15. Take Up Pickleball

Pickleball is big for a reason and it attracts crowds of all ages. While there are membership pickleball clubs that can rival the costs of joining a gym, most communities have at least one set of pickleball courts open to the public.

You can reserve a court for free if your city or town has that setup. But a lot of times, they’ll have sign ups for people who just want to play a pickup game. It’s a great way to meet people in your local community with a common interest.

Take Advantage of Senior Discounts

Then there are activities that are uniquely cheap for seniors thanks to senior discounts. Let’s take a look at a few.

16. Visit the Museum 

As a senior, it’s highly likely that you have an ACCESS card, whether through your state-sponsored health insurance or due to being on a program like SNAP. There are likely a number of different cultural opportunities in your community that give discounts or free admission with your ACCESS card.

Even if a museum, zoo or history center doesn’t advertise an ACCESS card discount on their website, call them before you visit. Most will not only give you a discount, but also allow you to extend that discount to multiple members in your party. That means you can get your friends in for free or cheap, too.

17. Look Into Senior Travel Discounts

Getting your AARP card in the mail is often viewed as a dreaded rite of passage. But don’t let it keep you down too long – that little card can save you big money.

This is particularly true in the travel sector, where you can find outstanding deals on things like:

  • Airfare
  • Train fare
  • Bus fare
  • Hotels
  • Car rentals
  • Cruises
  • Travel packages

If there’s not an explicit AARP discount, do ask if there’s a senior discount before you book. You might be surprised at how many vendors in the travel space offer one.

18. Schedule Your Spa Days Through Your Doctor’s Office

Many healthcare plans cover massage if your doctor prescribes it – including many state-sponsored health insurance plans. If you can get the Rx, you might not have to shoulder the bill for (parts of) your spa day anymore. Obviously, you need to have a legit medical issue for it to be approved. Your doctor may send you to a physical therapist rather than a day spa, too, but in the end it’s the same service.

If you can’t get it approved or your health insurance doesn’t cover it, do ask your spa if they have a senior discount. At spas, these discounts usually max out at 15% off, and some spas may have a set day of the week on which the discount applies.

Pittsburgh-based writer Brynne Conroy is the founder of the Femme Frugality blog and the author of “The Feminist Financial Handbook.” She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder. The Penny Hoarder staff also contributed to this post.