25 Fun Things to Do in Your Free Time That Cost Nothing

With the increasing cost of everything from food to gasoline, entertaining ourselves can be expensive these days.

But it doesn’t have to be, says Katie Ross, executive vice president of the national nonprofit American Consumer Credit Counseling. Ross is well versed in helping people budget better and stay out of debt. “You don’t have to spend a fortune to have fun,” she says.

So if you’re looking for activities that are fun, free and different from the norm, consider these 25 ways to entertain yourself.

[READ: How to Do a No-Spend Challenge.]

— See what your community has to offer.

— Work on your family tree.

— Pull out the board games.

— Work a jigsaw puzzle.

— Take a bath.

— Set up a craft corner.

— Work on your garden.

— Look through your old yearbooks.

— Call a friend.

— Reconnect with a family member.

— Start a blog.

— Go on a nature hike.

— Read a book.

— Go to the library — for something other than reading

— Bake a cake.

— Write a letter to a family member.

— Hold a scavenger hunt.

— Get some exercise.

— Do something good.

— Browse a bookstore.

— Go on a picnic.

— Watch airplanes or trains.

— Go to a dog park.

— Try birdwatching.

— Be productive.

See What Your Community Has to Offer

You never know what you might find going on in your neighborhood or community. Free events might include nature talks, county fairs, parades, film screenings and art shows.

“If you join local Facebook groups or check your city’s website, you should be able to find lots of information about free, fun things to do so that you don’t overspend or break the budget,” Ross says.

She adds: “In the summer, some parks have free events in the evenings, such as free concerts or plays performed by community theater groups.”

Work on Your Family Tree

Clémence Scouten, Philadelphia-based owner of Memoirs & More, helps people publish books about their family history.

Even if you don’t go as far as writing a memoir, Scouten says there are a lot of fun things you can do alone or with your kids. “Work on a family tree together,” Scouten suggests. “Draw it. Do it in PowerPoint. Include photos of people. Draw countries of origin.”

She also suggests holding a storytelling hour where you tell family stories. You could interview the grandparents on the phone. “Record them if you can,” Scouten says. “There are free genealogy websites. A big one is FamilySearch.org.”

If you don’t have kids or they’re out of the house, Scouten says this is a good time to consider how you store and display family photos and documents. “You could create an e-collection to share with the whole family,” she says.

Pull Out the Board Games

This is one of those obvious ideas, but have you done it lately? Surely you have a Monopoly board somewhere. Chess? Risk? It only sounds cheesy until you start playing and remember why board games became so popular in the first place.

Work a Jigsaw Puzzle

Trade puzzles with friends, which could lead to hours of fun. And if it’s your puzzle, consider gluing and framing it after you’re finished to hang in your home.

Take a Bath

Take one of those long, luxurious baths that you never have time for. Hopefully you have bubble bath and candles on hand. Turn on some music, an audiobook or a favorite podcast and drift away.

Set Up a Craft Corner

That’s an idea from Amy Maliga, a financial educator with Phoenix-based Take Charge America, a nonprofit financial counseling agency. She envisions it for families with young children, although adults might enjoy a craft corner too.

Maliga suggests: “Set up a small table in the corner of the family room — or, if weather allows, on the patio — with paper, glue, stickers, paints, crayons, glitter (if you dare!) and other craft supplies.”

She suggests keeping the table stocked at all times, so it’s ready to go whenever anybody’s creative juices are flowing, and to cover the table with a sheet or tablecloth when it’s not being used to minimize visual clutter.

Work on Your Garden

Beautify your surroundings by pruning shrubs, pulling weeds and plotting a design for the future. Gardening can be a great activity to help manage stress and get you outdoors, and there are plenty of free resources online to find garden and landscape designs and ideas that showcase your green thumb.

Pull Out Your Old Yearbooks

Feeling nostalgic? “Even though you’re probably connected with some of those folks on social media, there’s nothing like paging through yearbooks and reading the messages to make those memories come flooding back,” Maliga says. She adds: “If you have kids, they’ll get a big kick out of seeing the big ’80s hair or crazy ’90s fashions and hearing some of your best stories.”

Of course, some parents might think that’s a little overly optimistic.

[READ: Money Saving Challenges to Try in 2022.]

Call a Friend

Now that you’re feeling nostalgic looking through those yearbooks, why not reach out to a friend that you’ve lost touch with?

You could go the old-fashioned route with a phone call, but you could also schedule a video chat. Either way, talk really is cheap, and you’ll feel great reconnecting with an old friend.

Reconnect With a Family Member

Visit an older relative who doesn’t get much company, or a relative you like a lot but rarely see. If you live far apart, visit over Zoom. The fun-o-meter may or may not be off the charts, but you won’t be sorry that you spent some time with family.

Start a Blog

Consider an online project such as starting a blog, podcast or YouTube channel. “There’s even the potential for these things to gain some momentum and make some money over the medium to long term,” says Ben Taylor, founder of the HomeWorkingClub.com, a website for freelancers and home workers.

“The great thing about these projects, beyond being highly diverting, is that they involve learning new skills and building something tangible,” Taylor says. “Individuals can work alone, and parents can involve children. Younger ones love to be videoed or ‘interviewed,’ and the older ones will enjoy things like sound and video editing.”

He adds: “Yes, there are some small potential costs for those who want to take things to the next level, but there are free or cheap options for everything.”

Take a Nature Hike

Get out of your home and into the great outdoors. Although some parks have admission fees, there are plenty of places to hike for free. AllTrails.com is a good resources for finding trails near you. And if you’re a camper, this may be an excellent time to plot a trip and pitch a tent.

“Putting one foot in front of the other on a hike is one of the least expensive and healthiest forms of recreation there is. You can find a recreation area just about anywhere, and after you acquire the essentials, the gear will last a long time,” says Jeff Alt, a Cincinnati-based author of numerous hiking books, including “A Walk for Sunshine” and “Get Your Kids Hiking.”

“Much research has emerged about the mental health benefits of walking and immersion in nature. A walk in the woods keeps my body fit, enhances my positive thoughts, inspires my creativity and helps to de-stress me from the daily grind,” Alt says.

Read a Book

Surely you have some favorite titles that you would like to revisit or books you’ve purchased but haven’t gotten around to reading yet. And if you’re seeking a new book, browse your library. Maliga suggests downloading the Libby app.

“It’s a free app that connects you to your local library and allows you to check out e-books and audiobooks,” she says, adding that you’ll need a library card to get started.

Check Out Library Events

Libraries also often hold free workshops and presentations on everything from nature to genealogy. And, of course, you can often borrow other mediums aside from books from the library, like music, movies and even passes to state parks.

Bake a Cake

Put on your baker’s hat and fire up the oven. If you have eggs, flour, sugar and other staples, you might even want to try to create something from scratch. Or try out a new recipe and cook something special for dinner.

Write a Letter

We’re talking about an old-fashioned letter. Even better, send that letter to a relative at a nursing home. Or take a cue from Jennifer Buchholz, mother of three and director of marketing for The English Contractor & Remodeling Services in Cincinnati: Send a letter to someone else’s relative.

She says that a couple of years ago at the start of the pandemic, her son’s high school soccer coach started thinking about his wife’s 98-year-old grandfather in a nursing home who was unable to have visitors.

“So he challenged the team to write notes to residents at area nursing homes and hospitals as part of their homework,” Buchholz says, adding that she ended up getting her entire family involved in writing letters.

Hold a Scavenger Hunt

This activity is a lot of fun for kids — or anyone, really.

“In my neighborhood, different residents have organized different scavenger hunts,” Buchholz says. “One favorite was a fairy door hunt. Someone hid painted fairy doors all over the neighborhood and left clues on where they could be found. We have over 50 fairy doors hidden all over the neighborhood and most are still there.”

This is also something you can get friends and family involved in who live far away. For instance, if you’re a grandparent, you could make a list of 20 photos you’d like to see, such as your grandkids with their pet or a photo of them on a picnic or at a local landmark. Challenge them to “find” all 20 items on the list.

[READ: 20 Creative Ways to Save Money.]

Get Some Exercise

You can exercise without spending money on a gym membership or buying equipment. Turn on music and dance or go for a run. Buchholz runs and recommends looking into local running groups.

She cites a local store that sells running and walking equipment that organizes a run every Thursday night that starts at a neighborhood brewery.

“You can earn different prizes for completing a specific number of runs. Lots of runners hang out afterward to have a beer at the brewery,” she adds.

Do Something Good

VolunteerMatch.org lists a lot of causes and organizations that adults and teenagers can work with. Simply type in your ZIP code to see a slew of volunteer opportunities.

Buchholz does this, too, and has volunteered as an emergency medical technician. If that interests you, Makemeafirefighter.org has information on becoming a volunteer firefighter or a volunteer EMT.

Browse a Bookstore

Or you can browse, well, any store. As long as you won’t buy anything, window shopping is free.

Go On a Picnic

Pack sandwiches or pull whatever you have out of your pantry and refrigerator, and then find a scenic picnic table at a park. Suddenly you’re creating wonderful memories with your family or friends.

Watch Airplanes or Trains

A lot of airports and train stations have viewing areas for people to sit and watch the planes or trains come in.

For some people, this sounds as fun as watching paint dry. But for those who love aircraft and locomotives, it can be serene, almost like meditation. Kids often enjoy watching planes and trains, too.

Visit a Dog Park

It’s best, of course, if you have a dog. Find a bench and watch canines run and play. A bonus: People watching is fun, too.

Try Birdwatching

Birdwatching has regained popularity in recent years. There’s no doubt that you can spend plenty of money on bird seed and bird feeders. But the actual watching part, from your home or on a hike, is free.

Be Productive

Cleaning out your garage or organizing the pantry may not seem fun to some people. But others may find it therapeutic.

And sometimes checking tasks off a to-do list can be a helpful way to reduce stress, especially if you follow it up with a reward.

More from U.S. News

Cheap Date Night Ideas

Budget-Friendly Staycation Ideas

15 Money-Saving Tips for Big Families

25 Fun Things to Do in Your Free Time That Cost Nothing originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 06/08/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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