The 35 Best Ways to Spend Your Free Time (Frugally)

by Kate Luther on 5 April 2014 2 comments

Wise Bread readers are masters at saving more and spending less. You know how to shop smart, how to stretch a budget, and how to find the best deals on just about anything.

But what about when you want to cut loose and relax?

Life, after all, is about balance and having some hobbies is a key component of living a happy, healthy life. If only those hobbies weren't so expensive.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to stay true to your frugal principles and still have a good time in the process. Here are 35 ways to enjoy yourself without breaking the bank. (See also: 20 Free Ways to Relieve Stress)

1. Reading

Too obvious? Maybe, but it's cheap, cheap, cheap, and if you enjoy doing it, you'll never run out of new material. Find an endless supply of stuff to read on the Internet, pick up used books at garage sales and thrift stores, or take advantage of your free library card and gain access to everything from the old classics to the latest best-sellers.

2. Journaling/Writing

Writing offers a number of benefits, not the least of which is learning to write better by constructing your thoughts on paper. Work through your issues by journaling or leave something memorable for your descendants by writing your memoirs. If you're not yet ready to put your life on paper, try writing about someone else's life instead, or write about a cause or event that you think is important.

Or just make the whole thing up. One of the great things about writing fiction is that you have control over how the story develops. Not sure where to start? Let this handy online plot generator start for you.

3. Writing Poetry

There is an art to making words rhyme,

A rhythm that requires those words to keep time,

But master it and you will see,

There's nothing quite so creative as poetry.

Where to start? Turco's The New Book of Forms and Hollander's Rhyme's Reason are classic introductions to English rhyme and verse, with clear explanations and plenty of examples.

4. Performing Slam Poetry

If traditional rhyme isn't your thing, consider slam poetry instead. Meant to be spoken, slam poetry is much more visceral in content, often used as a means to vent about political issues, humanitarian injustices, and personal milestones. It's also much more flexible when it comes to style and syntax. You can use rhyme if you want, but it's not required; in fact, the only real "requirements" of slam poetry is that it's passionate, and if you're going to compete, your poem must be three minutes or under.

5. Sewing

When I was in elementary school, my mother made matching outfits for me and my best friend. They featured faux suede vests and skirts with cream-colored satin shirts, and since this was the '70s, we were hot stuff in those outfits to say the least.

I never really got into sewing after a dress-debacle in my 8th grade Home-Ec class, but now, with a daughter of my own, I've pulled out mom's sewing machine, and I'm slowly but surely learning how to make my own garments. My only regret is that I didn't do it sooner. Sewing is a wonderfully creative outlet and the perfect way to fashion a custom wardrobe for a fraction of what you'd spend buying off the racks. Plus — and this is my goal — if you get really good at working with patterns, you can start working on your own designs. Move over, Jaclyn Smith!

6. Walking

Despite the obvious cardiovascular benefits, walking is a great way to clear your head, let off some steam, and just enjoy the outdoors. You can walk the trail at your local park or just walk your neighborhood after dinner. The benefits are the same, and it's free. (See also: Surprising Benefits of a 10-Minute Walk)

7. Gardening

When we moved out of the city some seven-plus years ago, I wanted to fully experience the whole "country-lifestyle," so I promptly tilled up an area for a small garden. It was one of the best things I've ever done. Not only do you get to commune with nature, but if you grow edibles, you can cut down your grocery bill to boot. And just let me say, there's nothing like homegrown tomatoes. Plus, you don't need lots of space to enjoy this hobby — container gardening works well even in the smallest of spaces — and if you grow heirloom plants and harvest your seeds, you'll only have to buy your starter plants once.

8. Bird-Watching

When we moved to said country home, we noticed a mud nest on our front porch. Hubby wanted to tear it down — and I wanted to know what lived in it. As it turns out, that nest belonged to a pair of Purple Martins, birds known for eating their weight in mosquitoes. And because they come back every spring, I've never had to buy a can of repellant. The moral of this story? Learning more about the birds in your backyard might be worth your time.

9. Painting

Years ago, my girlfriends and I decided to try our hand at painting. We began with oils, which I loved as a medium, but they were a little pricey and a pain to clean up. Then I discovered acrylics. Water soluble and much, much cheaper, they have been my go-to medium ever since. You can find canvases and brushes — also inexpensive — at most craft stores, and there's an endless supply of how-tos on the web.

10. Drawing

If painting isn't your thing, try drawing. Sketchbooks are relatively cheap and easy to tote, so you can take your hobby with you wherever you go. And like painting, you can self-teach using books, online instruction, and lots of practice.

11. Cooking

Forget about prepackaged mixes and store-bought cans — there's something about cooking and baking from scratch that feels almost spiritual. Maybe it's the creative aspect of pulling it all together, tasting and adjusting along the way to be sure your recipe is just right. Maybe it's the satisfaction of seeing your creation turn out well, a manifestation of all the love and intention that went into making it. Maybe it's the presentation, with all the little drizzles and sprinkles that turn your dish into art.

Or maybe it's just that it tastes better.

Depending upon what you have in your cabinets, you may need to purchase certain spices and staples, but I've found that it's not too hard to keep a well-stocked kitchen, and it's definitely cheaper than eating out. Plus, it's nice to get a craving for something and know that I have the ingredients to make it, meaning fewer spontaneous trips to the grocery store.

Where to start? Pick a cuisine or style you like, and decide to master its ingredients and recipes. (See also: 10 Recipes for Kitchen Newbies)

12. Genealogy

I can't tell you what got me started in genealogy. But I can tell you that once I started digging, I was forever hooked. There's something absolutely fascinating about tracing your past, learning where you came from, and even (occasionally) stumbling upon photos and stories of ancestors you never met. I have an ancestor who was a Revolutionary War Patriot, for example, and there's a memorial built in his honor in his hometown.

I have another ancestor who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth and he, too, is remembered in a memorial, this one placed in an Abbey in Somerset.

Not all of my ancestors have notable stories, of course, but following their trail is interesting nonetheless. You can splurge for an Ancestry.com membership or you can begin by exploring the free genealogy websites online and the genealogy section at your local library. If you're just getting started, try Cyndi's List.

13. Become an Expert

When I discovered that I had an ancestor with ties to Queen Elizabeth, I couldn't help but learn more about that particular era. Between the assassination attempts on the Queen and all the betrayal and beheadings during her father's (King Henry VIII) reign, there's more than enough information to keep my interest piqued. And in the process, I've become a bit of an expert on this topic.

Now, think about something that interests you. Are you a history buff? Fascinated by science? Passionate about climate change? Dig in deeper and learn everything you can. In a world where we're bombarded with information 24/7, it's a nice change of pace to cover more than just a few fleeting details. (See also: 11 Ways to Learn Something New)

14. Jewelry-Making

If you've got kids, then you've probably seen the rubber-band bracelets that are all the rage. My daughter loves making them, and has even branched out to woven friendship bracelets using string and cord. Helping her figure out new techniques and patterns reminded me of how much fun those smaller craft projects could be and while the rubber-band variation isn't really my thing, wire jewelry offers some great possibilities.

There are literally hundreds of websites where you can get ideas and inspiration, along with step-by-step tutorials to walk you through a complete project. You can find wire at most craft stores, but you'll pay less if you order from some of the jewelry-supply websites, such as Fire Mountain Gems. Beads can be found at most of these sites as well, or you can order them in bulk from Amazon.

And if you find that you're especially good at jewelry making, you can sell your stuff on Etsy for extra cash. (See also: 5 Ways to Launch a Small Business With Etsy)

15. Guitar

Of all the musical instruments you could play, the guitar is probably the most practical — easy to take with you, and if you buy it used, you can get one relatively cheap.

There's also plenty of free lessons to be had. Justin Guitar and GuitarLessons both offer free instruction as do many other websites. Or, you can just head over to YouTube — you'll find both generic lessons as well as instructions for specific songs, meaning you can finally learn how to play that 80s tune that you love so much.

16. Card Tricks

Who hasn't seen a card trick and wondered, "How did they do that?" Well, here's your chance to find out! The beauty of learning card tricks compared to other types of magic is that you can buy a deck of cards for a dollar — one dollar, and you have everything you need to start learning new tricks.

Granted, some are more complex than others, but many are relatively easy and if you add a fancy shuffle, you'll look like a pro when you perform your trick.

Cards not your thing, or a dollar to high a price to pay? How about coin tricks?

17. Play Cards

Want to stretch that dollar even further? Learn to play Texas Hold 'Em or Five Card Draw or Bridge for that matter. Playing cards is a fun and easy way to relax and unwind, and it's also a great option when the Internet mysteriously goes down and you decide to reinvent family time.

18. Star-Gazing

There is something magical about looking out at the night sky, even if you don't have a telescope. Learn to spot the different constellations with one of the many astronomy apps available (I use Star Chart — it's free!) and subscribe to some of the astronomy websites (such as Astronomy Magazine and Sky and Telescope) to learn more about space and upcoming celestial events.

19. Fishing

You'll need a place to fish obviously — a lake or a stocked pond, for example — but that's about the biggest challenge you'll find with this hobby. Fishing requires patience, but it can also be a great way to get outside and clear your head. It's also a great way to take care of dinner.

20. Photography

No need to spend lots of money on expensive cameras; many smartphones can now take some really nice pictures and you can always upgrade later. If you've got an eye for photography, you can sell your images on sites like iStockphoto and make a few extra bucks in the process. (See also: Awesome Money-Making Hobbies)

21. Chess

You can get a cheap chess board at Walmart, or you can play online for free (plus pick up tips and strategies) at Chess.com. In addition to being a great way to challenge yourself, chess is actually good for you. It exercises both sides of the brain, can help prevent diseases like dementia, and has even been shown to raise IQ.

22. Whittling

All you need is a knife and a piece of soft wood; the rest is nothing but your own creativity. There are plenty of tutorials online to get you started, and there are even some whittling magazines out there as well. And if you're wondering what you could possibly make by whittling, take a look at these.

23. Puzzles

Puzzles are cheap. Puzzles are easy to find. And depending upon your level of patience, puzzles can be a wonderful way to spend a quiet evening at home. Don't care for the jigsaw variety? Then try crossword puzzles or Sudoku — both help improve concentration, memory, and critical thinking.

24. Coding

Not everyone welcomes the idea of deciphering code, but for those that do, there are plenty of free resources to keep you busy. Code Academy offers free lessons in several scripts and languages, including PHP, Ruby, HTML, and Java. Become proficient, and you can charge for your skills on sites like Elance.

25. Dancing

Besides being a wonderful form of exercise, dancing is intensely expressive, allowing you release your tension while you work up a sweat. Learn specific dance styles, such as Salsa, Latin, or Hip Hop on YouTube or at sites like LearntoDance and The Dance Store Online, or just turn on your radio and go freestyle.

26. Scrapbooking

If you buy all the ready-made scrapbooking kits, you can easily spend a small fortune. So don't do that. Instead, make your own scrapbooking accents with cheaper alternatives such as construction paper, coloring book pages, free printables off the Internet, and pictures cut out of magazines.

27. Pinterest

I've just recently started using Pinterest, but I can definitely see the appeal. You create "boards" devoted to whatever topics you choose and then "pin" related items that you find on the Internet. Think of it as digital collecting, and you're on the right track. For me, it's like window shopping online — I have a board for shoes, one for recipes, one for wire jewelry, another for astronomy pics, and yet another for gardening ideas. It's a free and fun way to share the stuff you find online and follow others who share your interests.

28. Raise Chickens

I currently have eight chickens — four that are full-grown and keep me well stocked with fresh eggs, and four new chicks, about three weeks old and currently living in a tub in my dining room until they're big enough to live outside.

Getting chickens was one of the first things I did when we moved out of the city, and I have to tell you, I am in love. Chickens are easy to keep, funny to watch, and if you get the right breeds, sociable. My girls follow me around the yard, they keep the grasshoppers under control, and as I said, they keep me and my neighbors well stocked in eggs. If you decide to breed, you can sell your chicks to feed stores or direct to the public for $2 to $3 apiece. (See also: Raising Backyard Chickens)

29. Homesteading

Homesteading is actually a broad term that covers a variety of activities and practices, all devoted to living self-sufficiently. Canning falls under homesteading for example, as does making your own wine and cheese. You don't have to go completely off the grid, but if making your own jerky sounds appealing, or if you've often thought about keeping bees, crafting elixirs, growing your own crops, or just "going green," homesteading might be for you. And with the right planning and preparation, even a little homesteading can be very friendly to your pocketbook.

30. Papier Mache

Not only is this hobby extremely creative, it's also a great way to recycle all that junk mail and old newspapers. Visit Ultimate Paper Mache for recipes, tutorials, and inspiration.

31. Origami

The art of paper folding, origami, dates back to 17th Century Japan. It uses a series of folds to create sculptures out of flat pieces of paper, no glue or cutting allowed. To start your origami adventure, try these projects.

32. Whistling

Yes, whistling. I can whistle one note — one sad, little note that's barely audible, but I love the idea of being able to whistle a tune, or even just whistle for my dog. Those that can do it typically take it for granted, while those that can't would love to learn. And as with everything else, practice makes perfect. Here's some tips to get you started.

33. Singing

Everyone — everyone — likes to sing along to their favorite songs. So, why not improve that singing voice and share it with the rest of the world? There's plenty of singing tutorial videos on Youtube or you can take free lessons from Free-Singing-Lessons.

34. Make Recycled Art

We've all seen those news stories about people who made impressive works of art from what might otherwise be considered as trash or junk. The chicken made from egg shells for example, or the paintings created from floppy disks — the possibilities are endless, and what better way to recycle your trash?

35. Blogging

After you've mastered some of these other hobbies, write a blog about it! You can blog for free on sites like Blogger and Wordpress or, if you want something more custom, you can download the Wordpress platform for free and install on your own domain. Domain names can be had for about $10 a year (I use Namecheap) and hosting for under $10 per month, depending on the package you choose (I use Hostgator).

Blogging about your hobbies and interests allows you to continue improving those writing skills and connect with others who share your interests.

Now it's your turn… what's your favorite frugal hobby?

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NJGill

knit/crochet/macrame - working with "two sticks and a string" or the equivalent can provide health benefits while you are doing it, and a finished product in your choice of size, style, and color that may rival boutique items costing hundred, if not thousands, of dollars more than you expended (even if you use really fancy yarn.)

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I usually read my favorite books or do gardening during my free time. It keeps me relax and at the same time, I learn something new or do some exercise.