It's natural for us to feel like the more we can spend, the more fun we can have. And if we’re focused on saving, we may feel like that limits our fun.
But as the pandemic curbed a lot of our tendencies to dine out, go to movies and concerts, and otherwise spend money on events and entertainment,1 it’s also given us an opportunity to reevaluate ways we can enjoy our free time—perhaps spending less along the way.2
With some planning and creativity, you can have a fun-filled weekend without spending hundreds of dollars that may be better suited for other goals. Below are some ideas you can do by yourself or with others. But before we dive in, consider this money-saving tip that can come in handy when planning fun.
A quick caveat: You still need a budget
Even when you’re focused on spending less money, you’ll still encounter small costs that add up—such as parking and transportation fees—and you still need to eat. Creating a values-based budget—one of the best steps you can take toward financial confidence—will prove helpful here. Your budget can include an amount set aside for fun, even if it’s just to cover little costs for now.
Brian Ford, Truist’s head of financial wellness, recommends trying to budget about 5 - 10% of your take-home pay for fun and entertainment. Figuring out how much you want to spend on fun each month can help you determine how to plan out your weekends—and maybe identify some times when you can afford to swap your money-saving activities with an occasional splurge.
6 ideas for inexpensive weekend fun
1. Get outside: Your neighborhood park or even your backyard may be an untapped resource for fun—and a mood boost. Studies show that just 20 minutes at your local park—even if you don’t exercise—can improve your well-being.3 It’s an excellent way to get away from your screens and stretch your legs. You can even turn being outside into a game for kids—try asking your child to pick a color, then have them find as many things as possible with that color while you’re outside together. You may be surprised how excited they are to engage with nature as they start to notice their environment in different ways.
2. Cook or grow your own food: Cooking as a family is a natural way to save money and bond at the same time. While the cost of ingredients can add up, shopping at a farmers market, repurposing or swapping ingredients, growing your vegetables, or hosting a potluck with friends can help keep costs low. And if you have room to start a garden, it may be something your kids love.
3. Bring the movies to you: A night at the movies can get pricey. But with many new films now being released on streaming services at the same time they’re released in theaters, you can create an exciting movie night at home, too. So pick a flick, pop some popcorn (an inexpensive snack), and throw in some drinks and you have a night of fun without breaking the bank. Bonus tip: With so many streaming services out there now, it may help you save money if you rotate subscriptions and just pick one or two each month.
4. Jump in a time machine: Well, not a real machine, but your town or nearest city likely has free museums or historical attractions that are worth visiting. Many places offer free or inexpensive tours, events, and exhibits, so look for some attractions that are unique to your area.
5. Get crafty: Is there a craft you’ve been wanting to try? There’s so much you can do in your spare time using your hands, mind, and the right materials: painting, pottery, restoring old furniture, making your own soaps or skincare products, and making handmade cards are just a few thought-starters. Many crafts are just as suitable for kids as they are adults, and a quick online search yields plenty of inexpensive ideas. (If you’re looking for a side hustle, some people even find ways to earn a profit from their crafts.)
6. Host a game night: Board games can be inexpensive ways to have hours of fun with friends or family. “You can do a lot with a deck of cards, too,” Ford adds. When organizing family game nights, you could even come up with prizes to award the winners, like a Get Out of Chores Free card. With some snacks and a little creativity and background music, game nights can go a long way.
Finding joy in spending less
When it comes to enjoying your weekend while being budget-conscious, it’s not about how much money you spent or saved—it’s about the experience. Rotate activities with family members and get everyone involved—especially if you’re part of a big family. Whether with family or friends, it’s best to take turns choosing what you all do together for fun. Make a list of affordable activities that you enjoy doing.
“It all depends on what brings you both positive emotion and meaning. When people talk about happiness, it’s usually when they’re doing something they love with people they love," says Bright Dickson, co-host of the podcast “Money and Mindset With Bright and Brian.”
Ford also notes the first rule in saving and budgeting isn’t deprivation—it’s balance.
“The best way to stay motivated is to allow yourself to splurge a little bit—but splurge on something that’s not massive, in a way that doesn’t cost a lot of money,” Ford says.
So it’s OK to splurge sometimes—but do so wisely and with a plan.