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My friend tells me he has several bikes that cost thousands of dollars each. Sheesh! And I thought I was getting carried away when I paid $20 for a new daypack to take on my hikes.
Sure you can find a way to bicycle for less, but how do you collect rare coins or become a skydiver without spending a lot of money? Some hobbies are just plain expensive.
So what can you do if you want some regular mental and/or physical stimulation but you can’t afford an expensive pastime? Find a cheap hobby, or better yet, choose from one of the following completely free hobbies.
None of these will get expensive unless you choose to make them so. At most some might require a few dollars in gas for your car. But to make our list each hobby has to be possible to engage in for free for at least some readers.
1. Start an Exercise Routine
This may not be the most interesting hobby, but it could be one of the healthiest. And you don’t need to spend a cent on equipment to have good regular workouts. Just look at all the exercise routines on YouTube for inspiration, and do your thing right there in front of your computer.
2. Do Some Urban Exploration
I love to poke around abandoned buildings, and I’ve explored a few underground tunnels, as well as an old prison. If that sounds interesting to you, check out the urban exploration thread on Reddit. You might want to buy a flashlight or two at some point, but you really don’t need anything to get started.
3. Try Cell Phone Photography
You do not need to buy an expensive camera to take up photography. Learn how to take great photos with your cell phone from the free iPhone Photography School. You can even make this into a profitable hobby by selling you smartphone photos on Foap.
4. Learn Frugal Cooking
Yes, you have to buy food to cook, but you have to do that anyhow, and learning to be a frugal cook will lower your grocery bills, making this hobby better than free. Start with a list of frugal recipes, or see what you have in the fridge and search for recipes using that. We have a bunch of onions, and Googling “onion recipes” just now turned up dozens of dishes.
5. Make Walking Sticks
You can learn how to make walking sticks on YouTube, but really all you need is to find a knife around the house and start experimenting. There are free materials out in the fields and woods nearby (ask permission on private land, of course). I’ve made (and sold) hundreds of walking sticks, so this is another potentially profitable hobby.
6. Write Poetry
Most of us like to write poetry from time to time. You don’t have to spend anything to get started. If you want guidance there are free poetry tutorials online, and if you want some feedback there are even many free poetry contests you can enter.
7. Go Dirtbag Camping
Dirtbag camping is just getting out there with whatever you have. For example, I once had a great time floating down a river on an old tube and sleeping in a bivy sack made of garbage bags. You can also camp in your car for free. Websites like FreeCampsites.net and FreeCampgrounds.com will point you in the right direction.
8. Visit Free Museums
If you like going to museums but don’t like the entry fees, make a hobby of going for free. If you have any Bank of America credit card you can use it to go to select museums for free on the first weekend of each month, thanks to their “Museums on Us” program. National Geographic’s list of 20 free museums gives you more options. Also, many museums have special free days during the year, so call the ones near you to see what’s available.
9. Become an Activist
If there are issues you really care about, make activism into a hobby. You don’t even have to leave the house. You can sign or start petitions online, and post about your causes on social media. Online activism has been shown to make a difference, and all it will cost you is your time.
10. Try House Sitting
If you like to check out and even stay in nice homes, make it a hobby by finding house sitting jobs on websites like HouseSitters.com. In many cases you take care of the home in exchange for getting to stay there, but sometimes you’ll also be paid.
11. Be a Spiritual Tourist
We recently went to a Hare Krishna gathering. The vegetarian meal that came after was part of our motivation, but the chanting and dancing was interesting too. Very few churches will demand that you pay anything just to attend a service or event, so if you like learning about various spiritual beliefs and practices, why not make a hobby of it?
12. Build Things
Yes, you can build things for free — just ask my cats. They have a variety of scratching posts and cat furniture that I’ve made from trees, scrap lumber and whatever screws and nails I find in my junk box. The challenge of keeping it free (or at least cheap) makes this hobby more fun. Oh, and if you stumble upon some, check out the things you can build with 2-by-4s.
13. Become a Volunteer
As a volunteer for a youth group I took a free dog sledding trip to Canada. When I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity I met interesting people and I learned how to build a house. To make a hobby of helping others look for the opportunities that are most interesting to you on websites like VolunteerMatch.com.
14. Forage for Wild Edibles
Foraging for wild edibles is one of my oldest hobbies. I’ve eaten from a dozen different types of plants on a single hike. The survival skill aspect of foraging is interesting, but some wild foods are just plain delicious too. You don’t need an identification guide thanks to the internet, but borrowing one from a public library may help. And you don’t have to go deep into the wilderness to forage. FallingFruit.org has information on many urban locations with tasty wild edibles.
15. Play Chess
I’ll be playing chess tomorrow, and though I’ll buy a cup of coffee where our group meets, it isn’t a requirement. You don’t even need to buy a chess board, because other players will always have theirs with them. You can find chess gatherings on WhereToPlayChess.info or Meetup.com, and until you find one nearby you can always play for free at Chess.com.
16. Learn a New Language
It used to be that if you wanted to learn a new language you had to find an expensive tutor or at least buy a book. But now you can learn dozens of languages for free at OpenCulture.com and Duolingo. And this is another healthy hobby; Evidence shows that speaking two languages delays three types of dementia later in life.
17. Chase After Bank Bonuses
Some of my favorite hobbies are those which make money, and that includes opening bank accounts to earn bonuses. I find it fun to investigate the deals and figure the best ways to meet the various requirements. If this sounds like a hobby you might like, see my post on how I make thousands of dollars from bank bonuses. You do have to invest some money into this process, but it’s still your money (not an expenditure), so I think it’s fair to call this a free hobby.
18. Collect Rocks
Rock collecting definitely doesn’t have to cost a cent. I’ve found plenty of cool-looking rocks and crystals while poking around old mines and hiking in desert washes. Even around town you can pick up an interesting rock or two. The best ones look great displayed in your home or yard, and if you also want to learn about them, you can use an online mineral guide to identify your finds.
19. Go Dumpster Diving
Garbage picking or dumpster diving is like a treasure hunt, and a profitable one. I’ve sold many things I’ve found in the garbage. Wired reports that Matt Malone regularly makes thousands of dollars dumpster diving. Malone says he could do six figures annually if he devoted himself to this hobby full-time. And you can guess what it costs to get started.
This another of the healthiest hobbies. The benefits of meditation (those proven by science so far) include reduced anxiety, pain relief, and better immune system function. If you’ve never meditated you can learn the basics online from websites like FreeMeditation.com. If you need a little help from the latest technology, download some free brainwave entrainment audio recordings.
21. Read the Classics
You could spend a lot of enjoyable time working your way through the classics, and many of them are now available as free Kindle books. You don’t even need to buy a Kindle device. Just download a free Kindle reader for your computer. You can also find thousands of free classics on iTunes.
22. Start a Blog
If you want to share your passions or political views or anything else with the world, start a blog. Blogging can be a great pastime, and wordpress plans start at (you guessed it) $0. If you don’t like WordPress there are more than a dozen other free blogging platforms. You can also read our guide on how to start a blog for under $50 per year.
23. Go Hiking
I’ve been hiking to hidden pools and waterfalls in the desert around Tucson for months, and I don’t have to pay any entry fees (although I do have to put gas in the car to get to the best places). Even when my wife and I went hiking in Saguaro National Park it cost us nothing; we went on one of the free entrance days that all national parks have each year. Hiking is also another of the healthiest hobbies.
24. Get Educated
Want to continue your education on a casual basis? Khan Academy offers free classes, and if you enter “free” when you search on Udemy you’ll find some classes there that don’t require tuition. You can even take regular university courses for free from UC Berkeley and MIT.
25. Become a Frugal Gardener
You might be surprised by how many edible weeds are in your garden or yard. They cost you nothing, and you can add to them for free by locating your favorite berries or or other edibles out in the wild and transplanting them to your garden. A hobby of frugal gardening like this is probably more interesting than traditional practice of spending $50 to grow $40 worth of tomatoes.
26. Play Free Games Online
If you like video games but don’t like the expense, play games online for free. Kongregate is one of the many websites that offer free games, and FreeGames.com claims to have more than 100,000 different games. If you already have a gaming console you might find games to borrow for free at your local library, or they may even be one of the libraries offering game playing on site.
27. Become a Music Explorer
One of the hobbies my wife and I share is watching music videos on YouTube. It’s fun to get nostalgic with favorites from childhood, but it’s also fascinating to search for music you would never normally hear. Just combine genres with nationalities and search to see what you might find. For example, who knew there were so much Russian reggae or Mongolian heavy metal. Once in awhile you’ll have some great finds when you do these music treasure hunts.
28. Become a Wikipedia Editor
Keeping online information accurate, relevant, and useful could occupy a lifetime, and one way to help in this mission is to contribute to Wikipedia. You might become an editor or administrator. Wikipedia says there are more than 1,200 administrators for their English version, but to be appointed you have to first prove yourself as a “trusted user.”
29. Do Some Frugal Landscaping
It’s a challenge to do some serious landscaping without spending any money, but it’s entirely possible. For example, I’ve done a lot of work with rocks I collect for free on public lands, and I like to transplant bushes from the wild to the yard because the native varieties do better. You can also frequently find landscaping materials being given away on Craigslist. To see what’s available look for the “free” link under the “for sale” section.
30. Start a Business
If you look over our posts on businesses you can start for under $200 and ones you can start for under $100, you’ll find that several can be started for nothing. For example, pet sitting, scrap metal recycling, and yoga instruction don’t necessarily require any startup capital. Your money-making activity can be kept up as a part-time hobby or you can take it to the next level.
Do you have any cheap or free hobbies? Tell us about them below and keep on frugaling.