36 Creative Ways to Entertain on a Budget


To be honest, when I was first tasked with thinking of 36 ways to entertain on a budget, I immediately adjusted the number in my head. I mean, I could think of 10 easy – but 36? Psh, it’s not like I’m that cool. I gave myself some wiggle room and decided, I’ll just see what I can come up with… then edit the number later. Luckily, I came to my senses and kicked myself in the butt – if I couldn’t brainstorm 36 different ways to have fun, I clearly needed more fun in my life. So brainstorm I did! And guess what? You can read on for 36 tips.

I’ll warn you – we are going to get a little creative here. Some of these ideas might sound a little “out there”. But that’s the point! Creativity is the basis for some of the best cheap and free entertainment. Just think of all the things you did as a kid, or the ways that people entertained before the time of mass media… they had to get a little weird.

So prepare yourself and get into that whimsical mental state. These kinds of things are what keep life interesting!

36 cheap (creative) ways to entertain on a budget:

  1. Potluck – This is my favorite way to entertain on a budget – and for good reason. You get to see your friends AND they bring food. Win, win. You can assign dishes or go with the flow. It’s surprisingly fun when 5 people show up with cake.

  2. Picnic – I almost feel like eating food outside should be the marker of a successful weekend. It’s so easy to curate a cheap, picnic meal and head outdoors to soak up some vitamin D as you chow down.

  3. Blind food tasting – Pick a food, any food, and track down several varieties. Line them up, blindfold the taster(s), and have them take a guess at what types they’re enjoying! This is a fun way to explore different flavors and work out your senses.

  4. Pop culture themed party – Throwing a themed party is the basis for oh so many entertaining options. Game of Thrones night? Favorite movie night? R.R. Tolkien fiesta? The options are only as limitless as your imagination (or your Netflix).

  5. Clothing swap – This one is as efficient as it is exciting. You get to do a little spring cleaning of your clothes while also adding to your wardrobe – for free! Have friends bring over their unwanted clothes, a bag, and get to swapping.

  6. Learn an instrument – There’s nothing like a little musical therapy to get outside of your mind and relax a little. From harmonica to ukelele, no instrument is too big or small (though portable ones tend to do better). Invite someone be the teacher or all band together to learn the basics for the first time.

  7. Open mic – Coffee shops and bars are best known for open mics, but if you have a living room then you have all you need to host one of your very own. Invite attendees to bring a 3 minute “segment” of talent and be blown away by the offerings of your friends and family.

  8. Movie night – Popcorn. DVD. Milk Duds. Boom. You have all the elements for a perfect movie night. For the full effect, don’t skimp out on the previews!

  9. Art night – Put out different art mediums (pencils, watercolors, charcoal, etc) and get your doodle on. It doesn’t matter if there’s not an artistic bone in your body – it’s fun to let yourself create something.

  10. Debate night – Harken back to the days of high school debate club and take a stance on something. Whether it’s the merits of cronuts or the health benefits of coffee, (friendly) debates can be a great source of entertainment. Bonus: you don’t have to give out grades at the end.

  11. Game night – Game night is the classic standard for fun on the cheap. Dominos, Twister, Monopoly, Guess Who?, Jenga!, Risk, Charades, Pictionary, Apples to Apples, Dungeons and Dragons… the list could go on and on. Tip: diffuse competitive tension with snacks.

  12. Flower exchange/garden party – Looking to expand your garden? Invite friends over and ask them to bring seeds, cuttings, or small plants which you can then exchange with some of your own. Even better, ask attendees  to pass on helpful gardening info to whoever takes over their seedlings.

  13. Baking/cooking class – You don’t have to be a master chef to embrace your inner Emeril. Pick out your favorite recipe and invite friends over for a demo. Encourage them to do the same and you can even add some recipes into your own arsenal.

  14. Book exchange – You know those books on your shelf? The ones that you always wanted to read, but never quite got around to? Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Host a book swap and you can refresh your library while sending your own unread books to a good home.

  15. Book club – If you want to do a little more than exchange books, pick out a book and host a book club. If it seems that people are a little hesitant to commit to the challenge, host a “Short Story Club” and opt for a short story that can be read in 10 minutes or less. Flavorwire has some suggestions that will take up less than 15 minutes of your time.

  16. Lawn games – Take your gaming outside for a good old fashioned game of croquet. If you’re feeling fancy, make it a dressy event. If you’re feeling crazy, break out the slip ‘n slide (just be sure to clear the lawn of rocks).

  17. Teach/learn a dance routine – Rent an old dance DVD, choose a dance sequence from a movie, or just choreograph one yourself. Then – have at it. Dance troupe – done.

  18. Skill exchange – Most of the time, people are hesitant to admit to their talents, but everyone has a shareable skill. One of mine is cracking an egg with one hand. Not earth shattering but a talent, nonetheless. Invite people to bring over their skill/talent and teach it to the others in the group.

  19. Organize a skit –  Pick out a scene or a sketch and decide parts among your friends. You can add costumes and props to up the production value or just sit and read from the script. You don’t have to write it but penning a play gives another element of entertainment!

  20. Share something about your neighborhood with friends – Everyone should have something that they love about their neighborhood. To give some warm fuzzies back to your community, round up friends and show them your favorite part about your zip code.

  21. Musical salon – I went to a dinner party the other day which ended with a private concert courtesy of a viol de gamba playing guest… and I have to say, I felt like I was experiencing something out of a film. That being said, it was amazing and made me realize the value in sharing music with friends. So get a little classical and have a good ol’ musical salon!

  22. Silent dance party – Here’s how it works: Everyone brings their own music, music player, and ear buds. Then everyone plugs in… and dances. This sounds weird (and it is). But as someone who’s participated in one myself, it’s oddly freeing and honestly really fun! A new meaning to “dance to the beat of your own drum”.

  23. Desserts take over your brain!!! One word: sugar. Times that by 20, and you have yourself a dessert party. There’s a reason that cookie/dessert exchanges have been so popular… you get access to a smorgasbord of sweets. Organize a swap of all things saccharine and get yourself tasting.

  24. Extend a challenge or contest – Maybe it’s a pumpkin carving throw down. Maybe it’s a cat drawing competition. Whatever the theme, declare a challenge, provide some materials (or ask people to bring their own), and have a few prizes ready for the victor at the end!

  25. Guide a hike – Take up the leader reigns and pick out a hike near your digs. Sharing natural beauty with others is always a fun way to bond and reconnect with the outdoors.

  26. Iron Chef challenge – Choose an ingredient and have your friends get cookin’. Implement a time constraint and you have a regular culinary throwdown ready. I partook in one where the secret ingredient was “Top Ramen”. This was in college, if you hadn’t guessed.

  27. Theme night based on “National _____” Day – National Iced Tea Day? Corn on the Cob Day? Cow appreciation day? There’s pretty much a day for anything. Take advantage of the pre-populated themes and celebrate! For reference, check out this comprehensive list and get to coordinating.

  28. Murder mystery dinner – With a little bit of planning, you can host your very own Clue. Ask people to arrive in costume and stick to their characters for an even more entertaining experience.

  29. Book readings – No, not just sitting around and reading independently (though by all means, read away side by side if that sounds interesting) but reading out loud. Take turns reading from a novel or collection of short stories and feel your culture points zoom through the roof.

  30. Karaoke – There’s not much better than getting your Celine Dione on in front of friends… unless of course you’re channeling your Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Whatever your musical style, rent a machine and prepare to rock the microphone with your buddies.

  31. The exquisite corpse (and other parlour games) – Take a cue from those fun-seekers of time past and check out the old fashioned parlour games. They’re usually centered on high entertainment value and creativity so they’re a great place to look for party games.

  32. Friendly bets – Poker face on, poker chips out. Yes, I’m suggesting that you place some (friendly) bets. My fave currency to employ is chocolate increasing in quality (Hershey kisses for the small bets, bacon chocolate for the high stakes bets) but anything could work. Just remember, I said friendly betting game.

  33. Bring a new friend – Expand your friend group by inviting your friends to bring a new acquaintance or friend to your next get together. Not only will you be opening yourself up to new connections, you’ll help new folks branch out as well.

  34. Travel sharing – Travelers almost always want to share their travels – trouble is, not everyone wants to listen to them relive their trips. Give each person the opportunity to share their experiences by hosting a “Trip Spotlight” night. Have people bring photos and stories and give them 15 minutes on center stage. Then, switch to the next person’s travel stories.

  35. Topical mastermind group – If there’s something that interests you and your friends, offer an open space to discuss and brainstorm on the topic. This keeps you sharp and also gives an opportunity to bond over common interests. It’s a great way to push your creative brain and learn from others!

  36. Leave it up to chance (pull from a hat) – Get a little mysterious here and let chance guide your evening. Write up a few ideas and then pull from a hat to decide! It’s like choosing the mystery flavored Airhead… the element of the unknown makes it all the more fun but still know it’s going to be delicious.

In true testament to the idea that creativity begets creativity, I was actually shocked when I hit 36. Once I was on a roll, I felt like could keep going on and on! That being said, I’d love to hear your ideas. Add them to the comment section below and we can keep the list going.

Now go forth readers, entertain and be frugal. And feel free to invite me… I’m always down for a rousing game of Candyland.

Image Credit: Jenni Conrad

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