Personal Finance

How To Have Fun On A Budget

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 8 minute read

As a writer with a fluctuating income and the single parent of a teen son, I have to be careful about how much money I spend. Many Americans may relate to my predicament, and like me, many have cut back on non-essential expenditures in order to put money away for things like an emergency fund or their children’s education fund.

But just because money is tight doesn’t mean the pleasure has to end. Enjoy life without draining your bank account by being thrifty and on the lookout for bargains. You may find many great bargains and free or cheap activities if you only know where to search.

Great Deals and Discounts on Entertainment

  1. Shopping Websites That Offer Daily Deals
    Daily deal websites like Groupon and LivingSocial are some of my favorite locations to discover discounts on dining and entertainment. Each bargain has a time restriction, and the savings may be substantial (up to fifty percent off) if you act quickly. However, make sure you verify the dates before using anything. While most contracts are valid for a few months, others have far shorter terms.
    These discounts might help you save money while also exposing you to novel experiences. A local cheese manufacturer offered me a tour of the facility and $20 worth of cheese for only $10 once I presented a voucher for the deal. I had no idea such a cheese factory even existed until I came on this bargain. However, I found the experience to be entertaining and educational.
    Make sure you only buy the discounts you know you’ll use; if you buy coupons for places you’ve never been to or those are on the other side of town, you may not utilize them in time or at all.
  2. Mailings and Circulars
    All sorts of coupons for local discounts are included in the free circulars I get regularly. There are a lot of coupons for places I like to eat at, and many of them are for offers like two-for-one meals or 50% off.

    Promotional discounts on future shows are a common feature of such mailings. For instance, a park close to my house has a Festival of Lights every winter. The envelope has a $2 discount voucher and a schedule of free “community nights.” The few minutes you spend every day sorting through the mail might save you a lot of money on local entertainment if you make it a habit.
  3. Web Pages for Events
    If there is a festival or event you’re interested in attending, check the website for any discounts that may be available. My visit to Summerfest, a music festival in Milwaukee, was entirely free because I went there on Children’s Day (regardless of whether you have kids). You may also check your local TV and newspaper for announcements of any ticket sales for future events.
    Be on the lookout for bargains during the event, too. A popular example is the discount coupon book sold at the state fair for use at the many food stands.
  4. Places That Offer Free Meals to Children
    These days are often designated as “kids eat free” or “kids eat discounted” at many family eateries. This sale is especially popular on slower days like Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays. It’s not unheard of, though, to find discounts on a weekend day. In my neighborhood, for instance, there is a family restaurant where, with the purchase of an adult entree, kids eat for $3 on any day of the week.
    To find local offers, go to KidsMealDeals.com, enter your zip code, then select either a certain day of the week or “on any day.” When you click on a restaurant, you’ll be sent to a page with more information on the offer and a map pinpointing its precise location. However, you might want to double-check with the business by calling ahead to make sure the details are correct.
  5. Where to Find Birthday Discounts at Shops and Eateries
    Some restaurants will give you a free meal or dessert on your birthday (or sometimes even for the full week or month of your birth) if you can prove it. If you go to FreeBirthdayMeals.org and enter your zip code, you’ll be sent to a page listing local birthday discounts.
  6. Associations Offering Membership Discounts to Employees
    My former employer provided its employees with group discounts to the local pumpkin patch, theater tickets, and tickets to performances at the local performing arts center. If you are interested in learning if your company provides similar benefits, check with your manager or human resources. Affiliation with a club or organization, such as AAA or AARP, may also entitle you to discounts. If you want to know if the club has a list of discounts, you may check their website.
  7. Cereal boxes and receipts
    A free movie ticket was recently discovered by scanning the back of a grocery shop receipt. Even though I knew it was too good to be true, I went online and used the code at the supermarket’s online store. I was able to print off a complimentary movie ticket after making sure it would be accepted at my neighborhood cinema. That’s how easy it was.

    Since then, I’ve made it a point to check the backs of my sales receipts for coupons, which I’ve found to be a good source of savings on anything from entertainment to food.

    On a box of cereal, I also discovered a coupon for a free movie ticket. Two boxes of cereal had to be purchased, but who doesn’t go through two boxes of cereal at some point? Getting a complimentary movie ticket with my cereal purchase was a pleasant surprise. You never know when a product you buy regularly could have some sort of entertainment-related promotion attached into it, so keep an eye out.

Other Locations for Low-Cost Entertainment

  1. Schools
    Many successful fundraising efforts are organized by students in preparation for school excursions. I’ve donated money to charity by buying discount punch cards and coupon booklets at restaurants and fast food chains. Anyone interested in assisting with school fundraising initiatives may usually find relevant information online.
    Performing arts centers in the area might also partner with schools to give deep discounts on ticket prices. Tickets to a Broadway musical were offered at a local university for only $20, or about a third of the full price. As a result of the school’s bulk purchase, children and their families were able to receive significant discounts on their tickets.

    Going on field excursions with your kids as a chaperone is another enjoyable way to spend time with them at school. You may take your kid to a museum, a baseball game, an aquarium, or many other places for far less than you would pay on your own. While you’ll be accountable for your kid and the rest of the group, you may still have a good time.

    Seeing a school play or musical is another enjoyable and affordable evening activity, especially if you know any of the students involved. Price-wise, it’s probably going to be comparable to a movie ticket, and you could be pleasantly pleased by the performance.
  2. Campus Theaters
    College towns sometimes provide musicals, concerts, and recitals that may be attended for far less than the cost of a ticket to a Broadway show or other professional performance. In addition, there are many performances by local theater and choral groups throughout the year, but notably during the winter holidays. Read the paper to find out what’s happening in your area.
  3. Cheap Movie Theaters
    Watching a new release at the theater might be pricey, but there are various methods to reduce that cost. Thanks to the existence of two discount movie theaters in my area, I can take my family to the movies for only $4. They don’t play new releases, but I’m willing to wait a few weeks to pay a fraction of what a typical theater would charge to view a movie. Check the local newspaper’s movie listings or conduct a web search to find low-cost cinemas in your area. If you’re fortunate enough to live near a drive-in theater, you can take a whole carload of folks for one low price.

    If you can’t find a cheap movie theater in your area, don’t worry; many first-run cinemas offer discounts throughout the middle of the week. For instance, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, “Spotlight Selections” are shown in Marcus Theaters in numerous Midwestern states. Subscribers to the Spotlight Movie Club, which may be joined via the website for $5 per month, are notified via email each week of the four featured films.

    Subscribers to loyalty programs are often given special pricing at many movie theaters. Coupons for discounts on popcorn and soda, or even for two-for-one bargains, may be delivered straight to your mailbox.
  4. Personal Residence
    In order to have a good time without breaking the bank, hosting gatherings at home might be a great alternative to going out. Cooking at home is a far more cost-effective alternative than eating out. Make it a potluck if you’re feeding a small group to split the costs of food.

    Having a game night with your friends or family who enjoy playing cards or board games is a great way to spend an evening of fun and affordable entertainment. Hosting a party at your house is a more intimate setting for socializing with guests than a public venue.
  5. Discounted Activities in Your Area
    At many of our local nature centers, you may take part in educational and entertaining events without breaking the bank. I enjoy going to the nature center on the first Saturday of every month for the “Maple Syrup Saturday” event, where professionals tap trees and boil the sap into syrup that visitors can later have over ice cream. The same nature center also rents out cross-country skis and snowshoes at a good price, making these activities accessible to individuals of all ages.

    It’s possible that you don’t even know you’re near a ton of free or cheap entertainment alternatives. A friend told me about a little, obscure amusement park that was pleasantly enjoyable for about a third of the price of a larger, more well-known amusement park. You might be shocked by what you find when you do a web search for “amusement parks around me.”

    There are sometimes discounts available for reduced entrance to the more expensive amusement parks, such as Six Flags or Disney theme parks, especially during the off-season, midweek, or nights. Look for discounts on the internet or at your kid’s school.
  6. Activities Without Costing a Dime
    No matter where you call home, you’ll never be short of entertaining things to do that won’t cost you a dime. Some more options for recreation besides riding bikes, walking in the park, or even visiting a museum are:
  • Weekday summer concerts are free of charge.
  • Outdoor concert with free admission and performances by local musicians
  • Free or low-cost events at smaller festivals and fairs
  • A trip to the shore or the neighborhood pool
  • Special programs at the library in your area
  • Movies shown in the park under the stars

My son’s elementary school participated in Kids Bowl Free, a nationwide initiative that provides low- or no-cost recreational opportunities for children throughout the summer. This summer, kids may bowl for free twice throughout their summer break, and their accompanying adults can save money on additional games and shoe rentals.

There are a thousand bowling lanes across the U.S. and Canada that are part of the program, and you may check the website to see whether there is one in your area.

Bottom Line

If you’re new to the region, the people you meet, such neighbors, teachers, and other parents, may be invaluable when looking for fun, inexpensive things to do with your family. 

Even after 13 years of residence in my community, I am always surprised by the discovery of fresh, off-the-beaten-path gems by means of simple inquiry and interaction with the local populace. You might wonder why you ever spent so much money on entertainment before you became serious about discovering cheap ways to have fun.

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