15 Cheap Things to Do (On a Shoestring Budget)

Oh the things you can do when you’re broke.

You know how everyone keeps saying that there’s an upside to this recession? Well, when you lost your job eight months ago, you also lost your health insurance, in part because of a backdoor federal move to make unemployment punishable by death. It’s also true your parents have been driven into early retirement and foreclosed on their home, forcing you all to simultaneously move into each other’s soon-to-be-repossessed basements. And yes, lately you’ve been spending a lot of time watching the bedraggled remnants of the American middle class trampled to oblivion by an economy now populated exclusively with yacht-focused investment bankers and McDonald’s robots.

“But at least you’re spending more time with your loved ones,” people are saying.

“Cutting back makes you appreciate the simpler things in life,” the same or profoundly similar people tell us.

“I actually find holding a gallon of milk at a steady simmer for a full hour to be a very soothing process,” says the recession embracing artisan yogurt maker.

Though you’re probably going to be busy with all these family love-ins and culinary meditation opportunities, here are 15 more things to do with all the free time you have now that your chosen occupation no longer exists anywhere on this planet. Enjoy!

15. Some sort of forced outdoorsy group activity through Meetup or Groupon – God, I don’t know, a discounted group date for a skydiving session? No, really, it’ll be fun (it won’t).

14. Go to your local library. Oh, I forgot, it’s closed after 3pm and also on weekends. Try your local bookstore? Do you have any books at your house? I see. What about the Yellow Pages? That still shows up on your doorstep every once in a while, right? There’s got to be something interesting in there, like a piano moving company you can go watch hard at work or a list of churches you’re thinking about joining (now that you need faith).

13. Do you still have a phone? If so, does your plan include unlimited minutes? Pick an ex. Any ex. See how many times you can call them in an hour and really process your feelings with each voicemail. Try using different voices and see if they can still recognize you!

12. Menstruate. That’s at least three days right there. “What are you up to this weekend, Carrie?”

“Oh, I thought I’d just shed my endometrium lining in case I choose to use my body to make life. You?”

11. Too broke for brunch? I have three words for you: farmer’s market samples. Almost every stand has them, and if you work your way down the line slowly enough, they might have forgotten your face by round two. Also, if someone puts down a cup of coffee while bagging their produce, it’s fair game.

10. Put the internet to good use. There are literally thousands of useful YouTube tutorials available for free. Want to look like Audrey Hepburn? Fix your iPhone screen? Mend a shoe? It’s all there for you. You can even learn how to pick a lock, which would be incredibly helpful if you get evicted (because, you know, you’re still broke).

9. You don’t need me to tell you to go outside, right? Go outside! There’s still a few weeks left before blizzard season.

8. If you live in the Bay Area, FunCheapSF aggregates local free and ultra-cheap events on a daily basis. These can be pretty hit-and-miss, but for every municipal Winter Festival Parade, there’s a free astronaut class.

7. Host a swap party with some friends/coworkers/friendly people you met on the bus last week. Swap books! Or, if your friends have terrible taste in books, swap clothes. If your friends have terrible taste in clothes, swap food. Which I guess is technically a potluck, so:

6. Host a potluck! It’s like getting all the credit for throwing a dinner party without having to turn your oven on. Make some cute name tags, pull out some paper lanterns and Christmas lights, and all of a sudden you’re the “Friend Who Has It Together.” See? This isn’t so bad.

5. You might as well try to meditate, because the worst-case scenario means you take a nice long nap on your floor in your yoga pants. Maybe vacuum first, just in case. But still, floor naps are nothing to shake a stick at.

4. Make your own caramelized onions. Make them in the oven, because it’s ridiculous to stand in front of the stove stirring something for hours unless it’s going to turn into a Polyjuice Potion. All you need are onions, butter, oil, and salt. Onions are so cheap! They last forever! Put it on pizza. Put it on sandwiches. Put it on mashed potatoes. Put it on everything. You can’t stop and you don’t even want to.

3. The third Thursday of every November is Beaujolais Nouveau Day. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the yearly release. Remember, it’s not a drinking problem if it’s tradition. It’s cheap! It’s purple! You could drink it forever. Go get some. Now. Drink it with friends. Drink it alone! Say “Beaujolais Nouveau c’est arrive!” over and over again until you can trill the r’s satisfactorily, or you’re too tipsy to care.

2. Do you have rich friends? Maybe they can buy you expensive wine, you know, for comparison to the Beaujolais Nouveau. Maybe you could find rich friends if you snuck into more regattas and galas. Avoid fundraisers, though; they usually charge per plate.

1. EcoSalon is free? I’m just saying…

Image: Design Trust for Public Space

Mallory Ortberg

Mallory resides in San Francisco, California. You can catch her weekly Sex By Numbers column.