Newsflash: “Life Doesn’t Have to Be Boring Just Because You Are Paying Down Debt”
Paying off debt is really important. But let’s be honest, so is having a life. The thought of living a boring life for a few years while you throw all of your extra money at your creditors might keep you on the sidelines watching others work through their payments. Or perhaps you have gone action-hero intense on paying down your debt and are feeling a bit resentful at having to live like a hermit and stick to your budget while others seem to be having all of the fun.
The great news is that you can have both: live a fun-filled life as well as pay down debt! Here are 9 ways to score free or cheap entertainment, all of which I have personally taken advantage of:
1. Sign Up for Free Gym Trials: If you live in a city or near one, you will have several options for gyms. This often means that you have several free trial offers awaiting you. Right now my husband and I are taking advantage of a two-week free trial at our local gym. We’ve met up for three workout dates this week alone. Afterwards, I have been using their cedar-lined sauna room and whirlpool. It’s divine!
2. Attend Free Venue Days: Here in Houston we know that Thursdays are free at the Museum of Natural Art, the first Tuesday of every month is free at the zoo (from 2:00-6:00 p.m.), and the local IKEA store has several free events throughout the year (including one where I had a free 15-minute chair massage and free feng shui consultation alongside my friend!). Do a search for museums and other venues in your local city/area, and find out when they offer a free day. You might be surprised.
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3. Movie/Board Game Potluck Nights with Friend: It is so much fun to get a group of friends together to watch a movie at someone’s house or to play board games. Let everyone know that it is a potluck night, and provide your own potluck dish (and perhaps the plates, napkins, and silverware). Want to save even more money doing this? Search for a free Redbox code to use to rent the movie.
4. Cash in Reward Points for Free Gift Cards: I am a bit of a reward points maven, and know how to maximize them for my own purposes. My accounts include Swagbucks (rewards search engine powered by Google), Recyclebank (reward points for curbside recycling), Nuride (reward points for carpooling), and My Coke Rewards. The great thing is that you can cash in these reward points for gift cards to the movies, a restaurant, a local miniature golf place, an amusement park, or some other place of entertainment.
5. Mystery Shop: While many mystery shop assignments are for practical purposes—eating at a fast food restaurant or getting your oil changed—there are some really cool mystery shopping jobs out there as well. For example, recently I snagged a mystery shopping job at the opening night for a horse racetrack! The reimbursement was for two people to dine, purchase a program, and place three bets on three different horse races. What a great, free date night! On top of this I was paid $60 for my time. I have also seen mystery shops for golf courses and decent restaurants, though you will probably have to work up to these types of assignments.
6. Score Tickets to a Free Movie Screening: My husband and I absolutely love going to the movies. But at $10.00 a ticket, we have had to find alternative ways to continue enjoying this together. Fortunately, we have gotten to see several free movie screenings over the last few years. Try out the following websites to score your own free movie passes: Wild About Movies, Eventful.com, Advance Screenings, and GoFoBo. A word of warning, you need to be there early (not iPhone-release-day early, but half an hour to an hour is useful) as they tend to overbook these pre-screenings.
7. Join a Free Group: I just joined a knitting group two months ago that meets at a café a few miles away from my home. It’s been a great experience as I get to know other women my age who live around me, and already own all of the materials needed to create something beautiful. There are groups sprouting up all over the place and the internet makes it easy to find them (also check bulletin boards at your local library and coffee shops). You could join a reading group, a political group, a hiking club, etc.
8. Work through your Pinterest DIY Boards: Since you are in payoff mode, I am not suggesting that you work through your fantasy boards filled with cruises, exotic islands, and posh clothing. I mean your craft, gardening, and recipe boards. Chances are you have some of the resources at home, can source others for a discount on Craigslist, and can purchase the rest of what you need at a craft store like Michael’s or Joann’s (being sure to use their 40% off coupon each, of course). For your recipe board, challenge yourself to make one new recipe each grocery store shopping cycle.
9. Volunteer or Work Someplace You like to Spend Time at: My friend’s husband loves to play golf, which happens to be an expensive hobby. Instead of paying the green fees, for several years he mowed their lawns for a few hours on the weekends. Not only was he paid for his time (read: extra cash for debt payment), but he was given free hours on the green! Do you want to go horseback riding? Ask a facility if you could muck horse stalls in exchange for some free lessons or free time on their horses. If you love animals, why not volunteer at the zoo? The options are unlimited.
What do you think of these fun things to do for free? Got your own ideas? Share them in the comments below!
And don’t forget, if you’re ready to pay off debt, use ReadyForZero to stay motivated – it’s a free tool that shows you how fast you’re paying off debt and gives you tips to help you out.
Amanda L. Grossman is a personal finance writer and the creator of FrugalConfessions.com.
Image credit: Ed Yourdon