Think you have to spend money to have fun? Think again.
Living on a really tight budget because you want to get out of debt or retire early doesn’t have to mean sitting in a dark room eating noodles. It just means swapping expensive hobbies and pastimes for cheap or free ones. Even better, you might find a few that pay you to do them.
Enjoy my 100 best frugal pastimes.
1. Reading: The king of frugal hobbies. Reading can educate you about the world or grip you with an amazing tale. You probably have a library near you that is full of good books available for free. From literature to biographies, poetry to blogs – there is something for everyone.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons
2. Writing: Humans have occupied themselves by writing since 3200 BC – you only need a computer or a pen and paper and you’re away. Whether you like writing angry letters to the editor or want to work on writing the next War and Peace, you’re not going to spend much money in the process (unless you quit your job to work on writing full time – not a frugal move!)
3. Drawing: Painting, sketching, doodling or being creative with a pencil. Drawing is one of the cheapest ways to pass the time.
4. Learn a language: There are heaps of wonderful free resources available online to help you learn a language. You can listen to podcasts on the way to work or work through a structured course. Soon enough you’ll be speaking French (or Klingon).
5. Podcasts: Learn a language, listen to your favourite comedian, listen to a great documentary or catch up on the latest news. Podcasts are an awesome source of information and are (by and large) free!
7. Start a blog: If I can do it, you can too. It’s a great way to lay down challenges for yourself and provide yourself with accountability. Telling the internet about a goal you have is a great way to stay on track. Wordpress is the most popular option for blogging software if you want to go down the self-hosted path, and for good reason.
I use bluehost to host this blog. They have plans starting from $6 a month which is a true bargain. I haven’t had a single issue with them at all – They are rock solid and great value.
If you make the decision to sign up with bluehost, please consider using one of the links on this site. It won’t cost you any more to sign up through this site either.
8. Running: If reading is the best cheap intellectual pastime then running is the exercise equivalent. You can do it almost anywhere and you only need decent footware. There is always something to improve on, races to enter and PBs to beat. (Update: Read my blog post about why you should start running here)
9. Swimming: Not necessarily cheap if you can only do it at a swimming centre with expensive membership. However, if you’re near the sea or a swimming bath that doesn’t cost anything to use then swimming is a great way to get fit.
10. Cycling: If you have a bike (and you should!) then you can use it to get fit as well as to get around. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you need a ridiculously expensive bike to exercise on – you don’t.
11. Surfing: If you’re near the ocean try to buy a cheap second hand board. According to those that do it, it’s hilariously fun. The board won’t cost you much and should last you many years. Like cycling, try not to fall into the upgrading trap – you don’t need a new wet suit every season or a new board just because you’re sick of your old one.
12. Snorkeling: All the gear you need can be bought for under $100. It’s also amazing fun. You can make a spear out of an old broom handle and a bike innertube – you might even catch dinner.
13. Urban exploration: Be careful you’re not breaking the law – but exploring your city, it’s tunnels, oddities and bridges can be exhilarating. Take a look at this crazy guy for an example of what I’m talking about:
14. Surfing the internet: You probably don’t need any help with this, but in case you do, here are some great ways to find new things to look at online:
- Something Awful Forums
- Watch endless free videos on YouTube
- Read forums about something you like
- and if you’re really stuck…
15. Keep abreast of news and current affairs: The world is bigger than your city or country. Find out about what’s going on in Egypt or Syria, or learn about the political candidates in your election so you can make a better choice. The BBC is a good place to start.
16. Web design: A great way to make some money on the side if you can make attractive websites or have the patience to learn how this hobby can make you decent pocket money. If you’re really successful there isn’t any reason why you couldn’t make it a full time job. It’s something you can do from anywhere and is always in demand.
17. Play free games online: Visit Kongregate.com and say goodbye to your free time. (You’re welcome.)
18. eBay arbitrage: Like the idea of buying cheap items on eBay and selling them for profit? Learn about how to here.
19. Play online poker: You can play for free at most of the big sites. However, be warned, it’s addictive and you can lose serious amounts of money without realizing it. Poker is a game of skill as well as luck, and money can be made if you’re good enough. Still, it’s a tough way to make a dollar.
20. Become a Wikipedia editor: Help one of the most amazing internet resources stay awesome.
21. Watch documentaries: Expand your horizons. There are millions of documentaries on YouTube alone. If you like the odd things in life, check out Vice’s documentary channel.
22. Sign up to Freecycle: Another great online community based around swapping things in your local area.
23. Learn how to program: Learning how to program efficiently can be fun but also a valuable and marketable skill. If you’re already good, check out eLance and freelancer to make some money on the side.
24. Fishing: If you can do it from the shore or on a mate’s boat, it’s cheap, fun and a great way to pass the day with your friends.
25. Gardening: I can’t speak highly enough of gardening. It gets you outside, gives you practically free vegetables that are ten times anything you’ll get in a shop and rewards patience. It’s great. If you want somewhere to start, learn how to build an enclosed garden, or a simple raised bed using recycled materials. SproutRobot will tell you what and when to plant based on your zipcode, and even send you the seeds.
26. Guerrilla gardening: Think gardening can’t be an extreme sport? It can’t get your heart pumping? You’re probably right – but guerrilla gardening is still pretty cool. The idea is to plant vegetables in public spaces in your community so that people can see how easy and fun it is to become less reliant on the supermarket.
27. Bush walking: Hiking, mountaineering or exploring the natural environment near you.
28. Camping: Get a group of like-minded people together and set off to a beautiful beach, an isolated lake or a native forest. Fun will be had, guaranteed.
29. Urban fruit picking: The ying to guerrilla gardening’s yang. Find fruit in your community that is going to waste – but make sure you don’t steal anyone’s produce! The idea is to find fruit trees in public spaces that aren’t maintained. See here for more. Also here.
30. Find free food in the country side: Learn what to look for, how to find mushrooms that are good to eat and source all sorts of berries you can turn into beer. This is a good place to start. The top ten foods to forage are here.
31. Caving: You need to know what you’re doing here to stay safe. Team up with someone who’s done it before. Be prepared to find an amazing world you’d never know was there. Not for the claustrophobic.
32. Hosting board game nights: Rather than go out to watch a movie for $20, invite your friends back to your house, grab some home brew and play Settlers of Catan, Monopoly or Risk. (An affiliate link – you won’t pay more, but will support my blog.)
33. Charting your family history: This can take many years to do properly, and even then, it isn’t always possible depending on your background. It would make an amazing present to a grandmother or relative when it’s complete. There really isn’t any limit on how far back you can attempt to go.
34. Get to know someone: Make a friend who is lonely or isolated. It could be a neighbour, or a relative who is in a home. It’ll make their day every time you go.
35. Listen to music: This could be in the intellectual category too. Music is great and thanks to the internet and services like Spotify, it costs next to nothing.
36. Play with your children: This is pretty obvious but children love playing and their needs aren’t great. Let’s play in a box or kick a rock! It’s all good fun and should mean not spending a cent.
37. Play cards: There are thousands of games to play with the humble deck of cards. They are cheap and last for a long time.
38. Host a regular dinner party: If your friends like cooking try to arrange a regular dinner party once a month where each group shares the cooking. It’s fun and cheap compared to a restaurant.
39. Play chess: The ultimate game that will improve your mental dexterity. You could spend your whole life getting better at this game.
40. Sex: Fairly important for the survival of the human race, free and enjoyable! What’s not to like?
41. Play a low entry cost sport: Athletics, soccer, swimming, orienteering, touch rugby, disk golf or gymnastics. The list goes on. It’s social, good for you and frugal.
42. Learn to dance: Good exercise and fun.
43. Host a quiz night: This could be combined with another board games night or a way to raise some money for a charity. Everyone likes a quiz!
44. Cooking: On a normal income, you can’t retire early without knowing how to cook for yourself. Learn how to cook the basics like bread and pasta and then branch out into simple, frugal meals like curries, soups and chili. If you base your meals around staples such as rice, potato and pasta, you’ll save a packet.
45. Run a side business: Turn a hobby into an income stream. Run an online shop, build websites, run a blog, do freelance writing or sell your photographs.
46. Dexterity skills: Play hackey sack, juggle or learn to stand on your hands.
47. Scrap booking: I’ve never done it myself, but it sounds like the sort of hobby that can keep you very busy.
48. Craft: Sewing, knitting, dress making. Then sell it on Etsy.
49. Restoration: Rebuild old cars, old furniture or anything you can find at thrift-shops that needs a bit of TLC. Make it as good as new to use in your house in place of buying more expensive items, or sell them on for a profit.
50. Home-brewing: You can brew beer, wine or cider very easily at home. The ultimate resource for how to brew beer is How to Brew by John Palmer. Note: this is an affiliate link – it won’t cost you any more if you buy it using my link, but you will support the blog.
51. Homesteading: Learn how to live as self-sufficiently as possible. Taking care of animals and a full sized vegetable garden is almost a full time job, but it’s an amazing lifestyle if you can manage it.
52. Learn to sing: Voice – the cheapest musical instrument available.
53. Learn to cut your hair: If you have a short haircut you really should cut your own hair. It will save you thousands of dollars over the years and is really easy.
54. Canning: If you have a vegetable garden, then you’ll end up having periods where you have way too much of a particular vegetable. The solution is to make preserves, chutneys and relishes and to can your produce to make it last.
55. Keep chickens: This is guaranteed to keep you busy. Having chickens probably won’t save you any money, but it’s a fun hobby. They are good companions and give you eggs and meat for your troubles.
56. Carpentry: This is an awesome hobby to have. If you don’t have any basic carpentry skills you should learn them because they’ll save you money. Learning how to fix and restore your possessions is a huge bonus. I’m going to be building a deck next summer and will be relying heavily on carpentry to get it done.
57. Volunteer your time: To a lot of charities, this is more valuable than your money.
58. Follow a sports team: Getting involved in local sport by watching, helping, coaching, volunteering and playing can be very rewarding.
59. Mentor an at risk child: Many children today grow up without good role models. There are a number of charity groups that facilitate mentoring sessions. It’s bound to be difficult but would be very rewarding to both parties. It’s something I’m planning on doing when I retire.
60. Lobby the government: Sitting around whinging about the state of politics is great, but doing something about it is even better. Make a difference by getting involved.
61. Start a community garden: If you’re in the UK you should check out the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens. There are local equivalents all over the world.
62. Found a charity group: If you’re passionate about a local issue or cause, get involved and start a group to raise money.
63. Organize fundraising: If you’re not up for starting a charity (which is a huge commitment) you can get involved by raising some money – a trivia night or an auction are always fun.
64. Join the board of a community group: This can have the selfish benefit of being great for your CV. It can also lead to bigger roles on company boards if you’re good at it.
65. Donate blood: One of the best ways you can spend your time. Saving lives!
66. Visit museums and art galleries:
67. Improve the environment: It might not be the most fun in the world, but you’d be doing good. Try picking up a piece of rubbish every day.
68. Go to free community events: Check local government websites and community boards for cheap events in your area.
69. Couch surfing: Find free places to stay overseas.
70. AirBNB: Find cheap places to stay overseas and in your area.
71. Travel the world by house sitting: There are heaps of good house sitting websites where you can find places to stay in the short to medium term in return for looking after someone’s house.
72. Van Dwelling: Live in a van! Frugal, free and fun. Not for everyone, but if you’re young and want to travel on the cheap, this could be for you.
73. Become a caretaker: Similar to house sitting although normally in remote areas and involves working for a salary.
74. Investing: Making investing a hobby will go a long way in setting yourself up financially. It really doesn’t have to be a dry subject, and is crucial to gaining financial independence.
75. Budgeting: I might be a huge nerd, but I love budgeting. I’ll quite happily sit at home on a Sunday doing my sums.
76. Couponing: This isn’t really a big thing in Australia, but a lot of people in the US seem to be really into it. Worth a look to see if it can save you some money.
77. Thrift shopping:
78. Become a landlord: Extremely time consuming, but the financial rewards are obvious. This should be done as part of a balanced portfolio – I don’t really like the idea of having all your net worth in real estate, but each to their own. Being a landlord is a time-consuming and an active form of investment, but if done properly it should return a tidy profit.
79. Run a stall at a local market: Not a bad way to spend a day on the weekend. However, you should treat it like running a business.
80. Get a part time job: Getting a second job that is more in line with you interests is a good stepping stone to early retirement or financial independence.
81. Complete the world’s largest commercially available jigsaw: Go here and be amazed. It has 24,000 pieces and is over 14 feet by 5 feet big. It’s not cheap but if you look at the hours per dollar, it’s as frugal as it comes.
82. Build models: Not just for kids!
83. Bird watching: There are even organised competitions to see how many species of bird you can find over the course of a day.
84. Graphing progress: This is a big one for me. I love to make graphs and charts to track my progress towards a goal. I have one for my running, reading and all of my various financial goals. It’s really motivating, and a good, cheap hobby to have.
85. Dumpster diving: The degree of difficulty and risk is fairly high here. Please make sure you’re not breaking any laws if you try this. You might find some free food though!
86. Give up a vice: Quit smoking, or try to go without. I gave up alcohol for January. Try giving up a habit that isn’t helpful or is expensive.
87. Beating: Scare birds out of the scrub so hunters can shoot them. You’ll normally be rewarded with a free feed and some birds to take home.
88. Complete a list: Work through a list, for example – try to watch all of the top 250 imdb movies or all of the Oscar nominated movies in a particular year.
89. Play music: Especially if you’re got an instrument lying around that never gets used. Put it to work and make some noise.
90. Learn to do magic: It’s good for entertaining children and is quite time consuming to get right. All the tricks can be learned from the web for free.
91. Build a bunker to protect you from the apocalypse: This and other DIY tasks around the home can be really rewarding and add value to your house.
92. Explore asceticism: You probably don’t need to go to this extreme even if you’re interested in simplifying your life. Having said that, I’ve enjoyed every single challenge of going without and think each has improved my willpower significantly.
93. Minimalism: Get rid of your possessions that own you and get happy. Go here for more.
95. Investigate religion: Whether it’s so you know more about a religion you don’t follow, or to know more about the one you do. And if you’re not interested at all – the more knowledge you have the better.
96. Learn about philosophy: I think therefore I am. Deep, man!
97. Meditation: Not doing anything at all for long periods while deeply contemplating life or nothing at all is probably the ultimate frugal pastime!
Over to you
98. Geocaching – Thanks to readers Pat and Emily for this idea. There are whole communities dedicated to GPS based treasure hunting – sounds really fun actually!
99. Origami – Thanks Lexi!
100. Learn a Martial art – I love this idea from Walt. It is a great form of exercise and anything that can help you stay safe at night is a good thing.
What is your favorite frugal pastime? If you can come up with a few I haven’t covered, I’ll add the best to the last three spots. Edit: Thanks guys for the great ideas. Keep them coming!
Looking for another great list to save you money? Check out my 82 best money saving tips.