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You want to get out of the house and have some fun, but entertainment can be expensive, right? Let’s take a look at a few examples:
- Average movie ticket price: $8.61 (plus expensive popcorn and drinks)
- Average restaurant meal: $36.30 per person
- Average ticket price when Taylor Swift was in Dallas: $354 (!)
- Family trip to Disney World: thousands of dollars
So what can you do if you’ve already blown your entertainment budget for the month (or year) but still want to have some fun? Don’t give up hope. Instead, take a look at the following list of things to do for free.
1. Go to Museums for Free
Admission to the Tucson Museum of Art is $12 per person, but when my wife and I went we just showed them a certain credit card and paid nothing, saving us $24. We’ve been to many museums for free using all of of the following three strategies.
Show the Right Credit Card
More than 150 museums and other cultural institutions in the U.S. participate in Bank of America’s “Museums on Us” program. If you have a Bank of America credit card, you can visit any of them on the first full weekend of each month for free. Just show your card.
Visit Free Museums
Go on Special Free Days
Many museums have special days when they drop the admission charge. Check out the listings at FreeMuseumDay.org, and see which museums participate in “Museum Day Live” (admission is free one day each year).
2. Attend Grand Openings
Last year my wife Ana and I went to the grand opening of an Aldi grocery store. Okay, it wasn’t that exciting, but we got free samples and free cloth shopping bags.
We also recently went to the grand opening of a new residential project. We wandered through new homes and received gift bags with pens, soda can insulators, magnets, and other swag.
To find such events near you, Google “grand opening” plus the name of your city, county, or state. Then click “search tools” and choose “past week” or “past month” from the drop-down menu to find recent announcements of upcoming grand openings. Look for the ones where you can get freebies to make it more fun.
For example, a Tucson search just now turned up a grand opening of a new art gallery in a month, with festivities that will include live music and refreshments — all free.
3. Go to the Zoo
There are also zoos where certain days are free. Here in Tucson (where we live) the Reid Park Zoo has a free family day every year (most recently in November). When we lived in Naples, Florida we went to the Naples Zoo for free, which you can do on the first Saturday of the month if you’re a resident of Collier County. The Milwaukee County Zoo has “Family Free Days” several times each year.
Check zoos near you for free days. Also, Trekaroo.com has a list of zoos that are always free. You’ll have to pay to park at some, unless you get there without your car.
4. Attend Flea Market Events
Here in Tucson we go to the Tanque Verde Swap Meet as much to wander around and talk to people as to shop. When we lived in Florida we went to the Sun Flea Market in Port Charlotte, Florida for live music, and there is never an admission charge.
We also enjoyed bluegrass jam sessions at the Flamingo Island Flea Market in Bonita Springs, Florida. Most flea markets are free to enter, and many have entertainment events.
5. Enjoy Free Concerts
ILoveFreeConcerts.com maintains an updated list of free concerts. Some are simply in public spaces open to anyone, while for others you have to request free tickets or enter a contest to win them..
There are also free holiday and summer concert series, like the “Keepin’ it Free” events in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. You can find these by Googling “free concert” plus the name of locations near you.
6. Go to Free Festivals
National Geographic has a list of 20 free festivals around the country. The Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival, for example, has a parade of floats made with — well, you can guess.
Of course you can still spend a lot of money at a free festival if you go unprepared. Bring a backpack full of snacks and water if you want to keep it cheap.
7. Go to National Parks for Free
Every year the national parks have entrance-fee-free days. Here’s the list for 2017:
- January 16: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- February 20: Presidents’ Day
- April 15-16 and 22-23: Weekends of National Park Week
- August 25: National Park Service Birthday
- September 30: National Public Lands Day
- November 11-12: Veterans Day Weekend
You can check the state-by-state list of national parks that normally charge a fee to see which ones are near you. Then mark your calendar.
Also in 2017, to celebrate Canada’s 150th year Parks Canada is giving away its Discovery Pass. It gets you free access to hundreds of national parks, marine conservation areas and historic sites across Canada.
8. Take a Hike
In addition to taking advantage of those free national parks, there are thousands of places to hike without paying a dime. Click on any of the state-by-state lists of national forests maintained by the Forest Service to get more information on what’s near you, where the trailheads are, and whether there is a charge.
The Bureau of Land Management also has information about free hiking trails in more than 200 wilderness areas that they oversee.
9. Go Foraging for Wild Foods
Want to combine a free activity with free food? Go foraging! We collected wild blueberries along the hiking trails in Florida, and we had a secret wild orange grove where we picked dozens of oranges at a time. Here in Arizona we forage for cactus fruit.
To find what’s available near you, go to FallingFruit.org and search by area or by the type of wild edibles you hope to find.
10. Go Foraging for Samples
We have sometimes found ten different free samples at a Whole Foods Market. The best day might be Saturday, but it seems to vary by location. If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, you can always get a sample of coffee or juice, and some food item. Ask an employee when they’ll have their next wine sampling (they usually put out crackers too).
11. Go Camping for Free
You can camp for free in most national forests, but you check with the National Forest Service to see if you need a free permit. State forests often allow free backcountry camping as well.
Don’t want to rough it? Get in your RV and stay in free campgrounds. FreeCampgrounds.com has a list that includes some free ones (others are inexpensive — nothing over $15 per night). My wife and I once stayed for free in our van for a week at a campground that overlooked a lake. It even had hot showers.
12. Attend Free Workshops and Classes
Here are some examples of seminars, workshops and classes you can attend free:
Home Depot Workshops – Learn to tile a shower, install a fence, or some other useful skill at one of Home Depot’s weekly workshops. Just enter your zip code to find out what’s available near you and when.
Lowes Build and Grow – These Saturday “Kids Clinics” teach children how to make things. You have to register before you attend, but there is no charge.
Apple Workshops – These are free hour-long events that cover everything from how to edit your movies to iPhone basics.
Michaels Classes – Learn how to make jewelry, decorate cakes, and learn various other craft skills for free (although you may have to buy supplies to use some of your new skills).
13. Go to Free Movies
If you become a certified field associate through Market Force Information, Inc., you can do better than free; you can get paid to go to movies as a movie secret shopper.
Another option is to Google “free movies” and the name of your community. You might be surprised how many free movie events there are (I just found three or four near us).
14. Attend Public Library Events
We used to go to poetry readings at the library (complete with free food and drinks). Maybe that’s not your cup of tea, but most public libraries have a wide variety of free events, ranging from children’s art workshops to lectures on various topics.
15. Go to Art Gallery Receptions
Last year, when we lived in Florence, Colorado, we walked from gallery-to-gallery during a “First Fridays” event. We had our fill of interesting art, wine, and cheese, at no charge. Many communities around the country have some sort of “First Fridays” or “Free Art Friday” event.
16. Go on a Picnic
You don’t need a fancy basket or expensive foods to have a great picnic. Just round up whatever foods and drinks you already have in the house and put them in a bag or two, along with an old blanket to sit on. Then pull up a Google map of the area and pick a place.
17. Go to Free Beer and Wine Tasting Events
If you live near wineries, check them out online; most have free tasting rooms or events. You can also attend one of the regular free wine or beer tasting events at Total Wine and More.
18. Watch Free Fireworks
It’s pretty difficult to charge for viewing fireworks, so they will probably always be free. Besides on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve, you might see fireworks during other events. Google “fireworks” plus the name of your community. I just found a show that will be put on by one of our local casinos.
19. Go Geocaching
If you have a handheld GPS unit or a GPS coordinate app for your phone, you can go on a treasure hunt, otherwise known as geocaching. The “treasures” are typically items of little value in hidden stashes (you take one and leave one), but the hunt can be an adventure.
You can search online for geocaches near you. You might not even need to get in your car, which makes this activity completely free.
20. Have a Garage Sale
You might not think of a garage sale as entertainment, but it can be. Our last yard sale was an opportunity to meet a lot of neighbors, and we made sure we had good food and drinks for the event. It’s also better than free; you can actually make a few bucks getting rid of all the stuff you no longer need.
I took a guided trip deep into the caves of Tennessee, and another dog sledding in Canada — both for free. How? By volunteering as an adult supervisor for an at-risk youth group.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying the process when you volunteer to help people. You can find opportunities to do so on VolunteerMatch.org.
Feel free to add to this list of things to do for free in the comment section below. Thanks for reading and Happy Frugaling!