15 Fun Nights Out for $5 or Less

by Ashley Marcin on 10 March 2014 2 comments

After all my fixed expenses are accounted for in my budget, there's not a ton left for the extras. Over the years, I've grown accustomed to entertaining myself on the cheap. And it's easier than you might think to find things to do. It just takes a little research and a lot of creativity, but you can certainly spend $5 (or less) and have an enjoyable time out. You may even learn something new! (See also: How to Beat the Sunday Night Blues)

1. Get Your Sweat On

Looking for a healthy way to spend Friday night? Search around to find yoga studios and other fitness establishments in your area. Many offer complimentary or low-cost classes to first-timers. Make plans with a friend to stretch and strengthen your muscles, and then grab a smoothie afterward. Just be sure to call ahead and ensure there's enough space in the class you want to attend (as well as if there are any potential hidden charges).

2. Check Out Some Art

Many communities large and small offer once-monthly (or sometimes weekly) art walks highlighting local painters, sculptors, photographers, musicians, etc. The one in my area is called "First Friday," and it's free to attend. If I'm on a budget, I skip a meal out and opt instead to grab a drink with a friend. Then we stroll along the streets and take it all in. (See also: How to Make Art on the Cheap)

3. Scope Out Local Festivals

The same goes for all those open-air concerts and festivals happening in your hometown. As we get into the spring and summer months, there are more and more free events held by cities and towns, cultural groups, churches, and many more organizations. In our area alone, we have festivals celebrating Italian, Greek, and Ukrainian cultures and cuisines; Jazz, Classical, and Folk music; Chocolate, Strawberries, Garlic, and other local foods; and much more. These events often take their low admission costs and toss them back into the community.

4. Listen to Music

In my city, we are lucky to have a state university with a solid music program. The events calendar is teeming with student recitals that are free and open to the public. Many of these concerts are during the daytime hours, but every so often there are evening offerings as well. I've seen everything from a solo soprano to a small jazz ensemble perform, and I love knowing that I'm helping students practice their craft for an audience.

5. Sing a Tune

If you'd rather make music than sit in the audience, a rousing night of karaoke might be for you. Many bars offer this type of event for free, so the rest is up to you for how much you want to spend on drinks and food. I like to eat something beforehand and then grab a beer and some free popcorn (or whatever other type of complementary munchie is on the bar). (See also: How to Have a Cheap Night Out)

6. Challenge Your Mind

One of my favorite activities is heading with my husband to our favorite bar and getting a team together for trivia night. If we get enough people, we can split a pitcher of cheap beer and even a pizza, making it a very affordable night-out option. The best part? We learn some fun, useless information and — if we come in first — we win gift certificates or cash to afford free eats the next time we want to play.

7. Soak in Some Screen Time

While this one might not be specifically for you night owls, when I became a parent, my definition of "night out" also came to encompass the afternoons or whenever we can secure babysitting. Though traditional matinees might come in over $5 a person, local colleges and universities sometimes have cinemas on campus that are open to the public with lower ticket rates. We used to live in Ithaca, NY, and daytime weekend movies at Cornell Cinema came in at just $5 a person. We saw some really interesting stuff there we might not have heard of otherwise. (See also: Watch Movies in the Theater for Free)

8. Make It Social

Are you a member of a local club or organization? If not, you should see what's available in your area. Where I live, there are groups focused on hiking, running, photography, parenting, and just about anything else you can dream up. And many of these groups host free or low-cost events for members. Just recently I took a 90-minute Hot Yoga for Runners workshop through our club for less than half the normal price, and I got to spend time with my friends to boot!

9. Pack a Picnic

When the warmer weather hits, I love to come up with a fun menu of packable foods and head to a local park for a simple picnic. It's an intimate way to spend an evening, but definitely a nice change of pace if you're inside all day long. Don't forget a blanket, candles, and utensils. Since there aren't any costs besides food, you can get as creative as you'd like and even use up items from your pantry to make it free.

10. See the Sights

Many areas have museums that offer either free or inexpensive admission. Even if there is a higher cost associated, check out the museum's events calendar to discover special discount nights — most have them at least once a month. If you're a history nerd like me, you can spend hours wandering around. While we often take these places for granted, it's incredible to see the different exhibits on display. (See also: Free Things to Do in Any City)

11. Go Literary

Along these same lines, many educational institutions, libraries, and book stores offer free poetry and prose readings by writers from the local community to the international scene. Again, it's all about checking out those event calendars and getting there early to grab a spot in the crowd. Grab a coffee with a friend afterward to discuss.

12. Volunteer

There are lots of great causes and organizations that need help morning, noon, and night. Consider getting a group together — or heading out on your own — to give the gift of your time. You might meet some awesome people and form long-lasting friendships in the process. Plus, it's free.

13. Sample Local Flavor

Head to your local brewery, winery, or wherever else serves up samples and tastings, and get a flight of their current offerings. If a flight is too expensive (prices range wildly across the country), grab a pint or glass of something you've never tried before and sip slowly to savor. Some of these places have specials too, so be sure to ask around and make some mental notes.

14. Kid Around

Remember bowling, mini golf, ice skating, and batting cages? All this stuff we found fun as kids can be just as entertaining now that we're adults. The cost for a bowling game at our local alley is an incredibly low $2 a person with a $1 shoe rental. Add a pitcher of beer at $2 a person, and you've got yourself quite a nostalgic night.

15. Use Your Perks

Depending on where you work or go to school, many companies and institutions offer free or discounted rates for the various local establishments in the examples above. Find out what perks are due to you, and you can certainly whittle down your entertainment costs and start doing more for less with your evenings and weekends.

Obviously not all these activities are priced the same in every location, so I'd love to know what fun activities you fill your time with for less than $5 a person. Even better — what nights out have you enjoyed for free?

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Guest's picture

Taking any kind of class is always fun. The New York Public Library offers everything from yoga to to knitting/crochet to language classes. All for free!

Ashley Marcin's picture

That's so cool, Stefanie! I think in larger areas (I live in a city around 45,000 people) there are SO MANY opportunities like you describe -- that's awesome to have something like that to take advantage of!