Community parks and programs are an almost unlimited source of entertainment, at little to no cost.
Ellen F. O'Connell/AP/Hazelton Standard-Speaker/File
This past weekend, Sarah and I went on a long walk in the woods at a state park, checked out the restored birthplace of President Herbert Hoover, ate a picnic meal in a beautiful grove, found a bunch of Devonian-era fossils, and played with our children on a playground.
Our total cost for all of this – minus the food we brought ourselves – was nothing. All of it was made free to us by our community and other communities in Iowa.
In the past month, my family has gone ice skating in a public rink, played disc golf, played tennis, played basketball, watched an outdoor concert, and enjoyed a pile of food samples. Cost (beyond stuff we already own)? Nothing.
In the next month and a half or so, my children are participating in a youth soccer league, my oldest may be participating in a youth baseball league, we’re going camping for a weekend (probably), going to a couple of concerts, watching at least two parades, eating a ton of food samples and at least one meal, watching multiple live sporting demonstrations and tournaments, playing and eating picnics and exploring and hiking in several public parks, going on a family scenic bicycle ride, and observing the religious practices of several world religions. Cost (beyond stuff we already own)? Nothing.
The amazing thing is that we’re barely scratching the surface of what’s available to us. The vast majority of the free options we have on hand are discarded without discussion, and quite a few more are tossed aside after discussion. There are still more things to do and enjoy in our community and surrounding communities that are free than we can ever take advantage of.
How do you find all of this stuff? Here are several tactics to use.
Read any and all free local newspapers. They are almost always full of notices of free community events, festivals, parades, concerts, and other things of that nature.
Find your community’s parks and rec department’s website (and those of towns nearby). Search for your town’s name plus the phrase “parks and recreation” in Google. Look at the offerings they have, from bike and hiking trails to parks and organized sporting activities.
Find your community’s calendar of upcoming events (and those of towns nearby). Search for your town’s name plus the phrase “community calendar” or “upcoming events” in Google and you should find something (provided your town has at least a little size to it). Do the same for surrounding communities. You’ll find tons of different activities, from community festivals and parades.
Keep your eyes open. I’ve discovered many community events by simply examining the bulletin board in local stores or outside the local post office or near city hall. I’ve found posters for interesting events all over the place, from being taped to light poles to being stuck in our front door.
We’ve found that, as a family, if we have a long list of free things to do, we eventually find a few that we all have at least some interest in doing, and if it’s a free activity that’s enjoyable for all of us, that’s a big win. We aren’t spending money, but we’re all having fun.
If you can find fifty free things to do, you only need to have one of them be appealing to you to have something free and fun for you to do.
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.