100 Free Things to Do to Get Your Entertainment Budget in Check
If your entertainment spending is causing you to go over budget, it’s time to make some changes.
Don’t worry. We’re not suggesting you lock yourself in the house and do nothing but eat, sleep and pay bills — after all, we did that for a couple of years. Thank you COVID.
Still, with inflation eating through our budgets faster than a rabbit with a carrot, we’ve just got to find other ways to enjoy ourselves that won’t put us in the red.
We’ve compiled a list of 100 free things to do to keep boredom at bay but that also won’t keep you from buying groceries or gas. That’s right, free. Incorporate some of these suggestions in your life, and have fun without feeling guilty about your finances.
Free Things to Do Outdoors
- Visit a park. Get some fresh air and take a walk through a nearby park. Bring your four-legged friend along too.
- Go to a farmers market. Farmers markets can be a great place to buy affordable produce, but you don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy your trip. Browse local artisans’ goods, taste samples and listen to live music.
- Take a hike. Enjoy the health benefits of hiking while immersed in nature.
- Go biking. Grab your set of wheels and take off on a trail. If you prefer a more urban setting, bike around the city to check out public murals or notable landmarks.
- Go camping. Swapping a hotel room for a campground is one way to slash vacation costs. If you can’t find a free campsite in your area, turn your backyard into one. Borrow a tent from a friend if you don’t already have one.
- Spend time around the fire pit. Enjoy this traditional camping activity, even if you don’t plan to sleep outdoors. Roast marshmallows for s’mores or crack open a beer as you sit around the flames.
- Plan a picnic. Pack a lunch and some snacks and head to a park for a “dining out” experience you won’t have to pay for at the end.
- Fly a kite. You can make your own kite with simple materials like paper, plastic straws and string. Find a tutorial online to walk you through the steps. Once the weather is breezy, take your DIY kite outside and let it soar.
- Get a workout with outdoor fitness equipment. Invite your favorite workout buddy along for camaraderie.
Free Things to Do Around Town
- Tour historic sites. If your city has a historical society, reach out for tips on places to go.
- Go to the library. They have so much more to offer than books. You may be able to borrow instruments, tools, cake pans, museum passes and other unique items from your public library. Or stick with the traditional and curl up with a juicy novel. Use that library card for free streaming services for movies, music and more.
- Visit a museum for free. The easiest way is to tour a grant-funded museum that accepts donations but doesn’t charge admission. Otherwise, check admissions details for opportunities for free entry. Some museums offer free admission to local residents once a month. See if your local library will let you reserve free passes. Another way to score free admission is during the annual Free Museum Day held nationwide in September.
- Go window shopping. If you can resist the urge to pull out your debit card, window shopping can be a fun way to spend time. Check out a shop you’ve never been inside or browse the latest offerings at your favorite store.
- Have a photoshoot. Choose a picturesque spot around town and snap away.
- Attend a local festival. Check out your city’s calendar of events to see what you can get into that doesn’t require an entry fee. Eventbrite is another outlet to find upcoming free events. If you think you’ll be tempted to spend from vendors, leave your money at home.
- See a movie in the park. Enjoy a classic film under the stars. Check your city’s parks and recreation department to see if they offer this.
- Hear a concert at the park. Similar to movies in the park, many cities host outdoor concerts when the weather is nice. You may not hear major headliners, but you won’t have to pay concert venue prices.
- Attend a program at a place of worship. Churches, synagogues and temples regularly hold programs that are open to the community at large — including concerts, plays and public speakers.
- Attend a program at a community college. Experience a public lecture, an author book signing or other free event at your local junior college.
- Explore a new neighborhood. Venture out into a part of town you’ve never explored before. You may discover a new favorite part of your city.
- Stop by the visitor center. Pretend to be a tourist and get schooled on all the points of interest your city has to offer.
- Attend a grand opening. Get the scoop on soon-to-open shops and eateries from your chamber of commerce, the business section of your local newspaper or your go-to local business blog. Enjoy free samples and other giveaways.
- Join a local meetup. Meetup.com is a great way to connect with community members. Browse by category to find groups with a shared interest. Some events cost money, but you can also find some that are free.
Free Things to Do on a Date
- Have a penny date. The premise of a penny date is to use coin flips to dictate where you’ll spend your date. Select a starting point and then flip a penny. If it lands heads up, you turn right at the corner. Tails up, you turn left. You keep it up for a predetermined number of flips — and hope you don’t end up someplace weird. It’s really more about the journey than the destination.
- Cook at home. Show off your culinary skills (or recipe-following skills) and impress your date with a home-cooked meal. Or use this opportunity to get in the kitchen and cook together.
- Go for a walk on the beach or lakeshore. This romantic cliché is really a great way to spend time with your significant other. Enjoy striking scenery and conversation without having to take out your wallet once.
- Gaze up at the stars. Find a nice, private spot on a clear night and spend the evening stargazing. Try to spot constellations and be on the lookout for shooting stars. To bring the fun indoors, see if a nearby college offers free planetarium shows.
- Laugh ‘til it hurts at a comedy show. Some comedy clubs host free shows during the week. You probably won’t hear from any well-known comedians, but you can check out local up-and-coming talent.
- Play a game of pool. Find a lounge or dive bar that has pool tables and rack ‘em up. If billiards aren’t your thing, try darts, cornhole or some other game.
- Try out a new style of dance. Care to learn swing dancing, line dancing or salsa? Local dance organizations or clubs may offer free lessons to the public.
- Take a tour of a winery or brewery. Score samples of free booze while learning the history of your local winery or brewery and the process of how your favorite drinks are made.
- Go to open mic night. Impress your date with your singing skills or pretend to be secret judges as everyone else performs. Just make sure the venue doesn’t have a cover charge.
- Attend a poetry slam. Keep an eye out for poetry slam events at your neighborhood coffee shop, wine bar or indie bookstore. The topics the performers cover may be a springboard for further discussion with your date.
- Attend an art gallery opening. Many galleries open their doors to the public for free for new exhibits and artist talks.
- See a free movie screening. Is there a movie coming out that you’d love to see with your significant other? Snag free tickets with one of these three ways to attend advance movie screenings.
Free Things to Do on Your Own
- Practice yoga. No need to pay a class fee. Check out a DVD from the library, watch a video on YouTube or simply go off memory for a satisfying stretch session.
- Learn something new online. YouTube is a great resource to learn a new song on the guitar, a new recipe, a new dance routine or whatever you’ve been itching to try.
- Get artsy. Spend time tapping into your inner artist. With supplies as simple as pencil and paper, you can let the creativity flow.
- Volunteer. Experience the personal perks of volunteering when you usher at a local theater or snuggle with puppies at an animal shelter.
- Catch up with loved ones. Video chat with your old college roommate or give your grandma a call. You don’t have to live close to connect and enjoy time together.
- Browse a bookstore. Attend an author talk or just pass time browsing the stacks.
- Take time to work on a personal goal. Whether you want to train for a half-marathon or plan a road trip in an old VW camper, mapping out an ambitious goal can be more fun than putting in the work to achieve it.
- Give yourself a DIY spa treatment. Got coconut oil, coarse sugar and a couple drops of an essential oil on hand? Then you have the makings of a spa treatment you can enjoy at home.
- Enjoy a free beauty session. Get primped up without hiring a makeup artist. Beauty shops like Sephora and Ulta and department stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s offer brief, complimentary consultations with beauty stylists.
- Attend an Apple workshop. Learn about all you can do on your iPhone, Apple watch or Mac. The Apple store regularly hosts free workshops in-store and online to learn how to make the most of various features, like photo and video.
- Take a virtual course through the Microsoft store. Microsoft hosts free events where you can learn how to use their platforms and products, including Excel, PowerPoint and Teams. .
- Try out a new recipe. Ask your mom for her famous meatloaf recipe or search online for instructions on how to make a dish you’ve been dying to try out.
Free Things to Do With Your Bestie
- Plan a day trip. Take a day exploring someplace close enough that you’re not driving forever but far enough that it feels like a break from home. Don’t forget to pack snacks for the car.
- Attend an open house. It doesn’t matter if you’re not in the market to buy. Open houses can be a great chance to get home decor tips and possibly some fresh-baked cookies.
- Get to know each other better with conversation cards. What three things would your best friend take if stranded on a deserted island? Learn all kinds of random things — and rather than going out and buying a set of cards, make your own using suggestions from the internet.
- Try on crazy outfits at the mall. Have fun choosing articles of clothing your friend would never wear willingly. Then be a good sport when your friend picks a ridiculous outfit for you. Be sure to get photo evidence of it all.
- Go tailgating. You don’t need tickets to your favorite sporting event to enjoy the atmosphere. Bring a portable grill, snacks and a cooler full of beer, and stake out in the parking lot with a radio to keep up with the big game.
- Go people watching. Sometimes the seemingly mundane can be really interesting. Find a great spot with a bunch of foot traffic and spend time with your BFF observing those that walk by. Bonus points to whoever can create the funniest backstory for the characters you see.
- Swap houses for a weekend. If you and your bestie live in different towns, swap homes for a cheap vacation. Watch a movie from their DVD collection. Make dinner with whatever’s in the pantry. Enjoy exploring their hometown.
Free Things to Do with a Group
- Organize a potluck. Skip the restaurant. Gather a group of friends together and make the food yourselves. Make it fun by choosing a theme, like a country cuisine, vegetarian/vegan, dishes that include cheese or family favorites.
- Host a video game competition. Keep score, of course.
- Host a movie marathon. Have each friend choose a favorite film and come together for an ultimate movie night. Alternatively, you could binge a TV series that you all enjoy on Netflix.
- Play sports. Gather enough players and head to your local park for a game of basketball, flag football, soccer or the sport of your choosing.
- Form a book club. Connect with fellow bookworms and take turns hosting monthly meetings.
- Go dancing with the girls. Sorry guys, but clubs will often offer free admission to women or host a weekly ladies night. Buying drinks is always optional, but you can sweat it out on the dance floor without spending a dime.
- Have a jam session. Get your musically inclined friends together to form an impromptu band. Brainstorming band names is half the fun.
- Throw a block party. Have each neighbor chip in to bring food, put on some music and let the conversation flow.
Free Things to Do with Kids
- Go to the playground. This go-to activity for families is one young kids never seem to get bored of. Switch things up a bit by trying out playgrounds in a different part of town.
- Go to an indoor playplace. Don’t let bad weather dampen the fun. Visit the indoor play area at your local mall or IKEA. Fast food chains like McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A have play areas too, but they’re really for customers who order food.
- Get crafty. You can find endless arts and craft ideas online — just don’t sweat about things ending up Pinterest perfect. Don’t stress about supplies either. Random household items like toilet paper rolls and sponges can be repurposed to make something creative.
- Have a movie night. Movie tickets and snacks for the entire family can drain the budget. Pop some popcorn at home instead and pick out a fun movie to watch. Borrow DVDs from your library so you’re not seeing the same film for the 15th time.
- Have a game night. Break out the board games and a deck of cards. Invite friends over to add some fresh games to the tournament.
- Sing karaoke or have a lip sync battle. You don’t need a fancy karaoke machine to join in on this fun. Search for instrumental versions of your favorite songs on YouTube and pull up the lyrics. Or go with the regular version of the song and do your best lip sync impersonations of the singer.
- Attend a school performance. Even if your kids aren’t in jazz band or the latest production of “Annie,” you can still support those who are. High school performances might charge a nominal fee, but you may be able to get into elementary school shows for free.
- Cheer on little league players. It doesn’t matter whether it’s t-ball, soccer, flag football or basketball. Attend a game put on by your community youth sports league and skip the pro league prices.
- Participate in a free in-store event. Various retail chains host special events for children. They get you in the store in hopes you buy something, but there’s no obligation to spend money. Barnes and Noble hosts children’s storytime sessions. Michaels, The Home Depot and Lowe’s invite kids to make craft projects. The Disney Store and Bass Pro Shops hold special events to celebrate the holidays.
- Cool off at a splash pad. Forget the water park. Take the kids to a splash pad on a hot day instead. Or create your own version with sprinklers in the backyard.
- Make a scrapbook. Gather the construction paper, stickers, photos and old ticket stubs. Pass the time in a fun way while reflecting on memories of the past.
- Create your own talent show. Put the (imaginary) spotlight on your kids as they show off what they love to do. Invite friends and neighbors to participate.
- Have a field day in your backyard. Field day doesn’t just have to happen at school. Create your own version at home with what you have on hand — pillow cases for a potato sack race or a jump rope for tug of war.
- Take the kids skating. Various skating rinks across the country participate in the Kids Skate Free program where children can enjoy free skating sessions at select times. You may have to pay for skate rentals if your kids don’t have their own.
- Spend time outside. Blow bubbles, draw with sidewalk chalk, jump rope, hula-hoop or play tag or hide and seek. There’s plenty of fun free things to do outdoors — and you don’t have to worry about the kids wrecking the house.
- Try a science experiment at home. Disguise these learning opportunities as fun. Mix baking soda and vinegar for a fizzy eruption. Build aluminum foil boats and see how many pennies they can hold before sinking. Google is your best friend in finding other neat science projects to try.
- Make a time capsule. Gather things representative of the here and now — newspaper clippings, store catalogs, journal entries — and seal them in a container to bury and dig up a couple decades later.
Free Things to Do in Season
No matter the season, there’s always something to get into that doesn’t require spending money.
In the Summer
- Go for a swim. Municipal pools may offer free swimming sessions — or make plans to visit a friend who has one. Various YMCA locations even offer free swim lessons for youth. No pool access? Seek out a nearby lake or beach where you can make a splash.
- Take a beach trip. A classic in the free things to do tradition, even if you’re not into swimming. Search for seashells. Build a sand castle. Listen to music on Pandora while taking in the beautiful scenery. Make sure to pack a cooler with drinks and snacks, and don’t forget the SPF!
- Plan a BBQ. Summer is the season of grilling. Give your kitchen a break and move your cooking outdoors. (Here are some expert tips on grilling on a budget.)
- Take in a fireworks show. The Fourth of July and fireworks go hand-in-hand. The great thing about most pyrotechnic displays is that they can be seen from a distance. You don’t have to buy a ticket to the July 4th festival. Chances are you can find a spot on the outskirts to watch.
- Take the kids bowling. Register your little ones for the Kids Bowl Free program, and they can enjoy free games throughout the summer at participating bowling alleys. You may have to pay for a shoe rental, but you’ll still be saving money.
In the Fall
- Collect the falling leaves. No, I’m not talking about raking the yard. The beauty of autumn is when the leaves turn red, orange and gold. Talk a walk, pick up some of the prettiest leaves you find, and use them for a seasonal art project or home decor.
- Carve a pumpkin. Nothing says fall like a gourd with a toothy grin. Gather friends together and see who can make the spookiest pumpkin carving. Roast the pumpkin seeds for a low-cost treat.
- Go trick-or-treating. Trick-or-treating isn’t just free fun for the kids (and the kids-at-heart). It also means free candy, so win-win. You can go door to door in your neighborhood or attend a free trunk-or-treat event held at local businesses, churches or community centers.
- Watch the Thanksgiving parade. You don’t have to battle the crowds in New York City to see Macy’s famed spectacular. The intricate floats and impressive balloons alone are worth the watch, but live performances in Herald Square are a heartwarming way to usher in the start of the holiday season.
In the Winter
- Go sledding. Sure, you need a safe sled before you can enjoy this classic winter pastime, but you can find them used or borrow one from a friend. Once you have a sled, the fun times are endless.
- Decorate the house. Place the menorah in your window or the kinara in its designated place. Get the ornaments down from the attic, put on some holiday music and make a day of decorating. You can even choose a yule tree to decorate outside.
- Make holiday crafts with the kids. Winter is one of the craftiest seasons. It’s also super expensive! So capitalize on free things to do to celebrate the Yule, from DIY cardboard dreidels to paper-plate snowflakes. The internet is full of ideas that’ll keep your brood entertained on snow days or during holiday break.
- Fish on the ice. Ice fishing can be a fun way to enjoy the cold weather and maybe even hook some dinner. Plus, it gets you out of the house during long cold snaps. You can cut your own hole in the ice, or drop your line in a hole someone else left behind.
- Get your baking on. Forget about counting calories. It’s time to break out the cookie sheets. Once your sweet treats are out of the oven, you can pack them up and have a cookie exchange with friends. Or eat them all yourself. No judgment.
- Experience a festival. Ice festivals abound in cold weather climes, but winter festivals aren’t just for places with snow. New Orleans hosts Luna Fête, a yearly festival of light and even Celebration, Florida holds the “Now Snowing” festival. Got friends who can carry a tune? Get together to sing Christmas carols — even if your idea of caroling doesn’t include leaving the house. Drinking eggnog by the piano sounds cozier than facing below-freezing temps.
- Check out the light displays. Pile in the car one evening and drive through different neighborhoods to check out all the decorated homes. Vote on your favorites.
- Watch the Rose Parade. Tune into the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, on the same January day as the Rose Bowl football game. The floats in the parade are made of 100% plant material.
- Enjoy the snow. Build a snowman. Have a snowball fight. Make a snow angel. Just make sure to bundle up and have some hot cocoa waiting for you when you come inside.
In the Spring
- Plant a garden. You can save seeds from the fruit you eat or regrow vegetables from scraps. You may even be able to score free seeds from your library or a local agricultural organization.
- See the cherry trees blossom. Or the dogwood trees. Or the crape myrtles. Spring is when everything’s in bloom, so spend some time taking in the beauty.
- Visit a farm or orchard. Enjoy the warmer weather and soak in that sunny feeling while strolling through the trees and watching the cute animals.
Nicole Dow is a former senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Freelance writer Veronica Matthews contributed to this story.