I didn't read all the comments, but it seemed like a lots of readers felt this article was a list of "Don'ts", including many activities they'd already cut back on. Here are some suggestions for things to "Do" for free, or at lower cost. Local organizations are usually up to something good, and the Internet has free resources you might not have come across.
1. If you're near a university or community college, see what movies and speakers are scheduled. Usually these events are not limited to enrolled students. Admission is typically low since the target audience is on a "student budget."
2. If you're lucky enough that there's a music or dance department at the college, pay special attention to "senior" and "graduate" live performances at the end of the semester. The students will be THRILLED that someone other than their immediate family or friends took the time to see them perform. The performance will be free, you can typically dress as you like (unlike at a stuffy and expensive symphony or opera), and the atmosphere is so easy-going. The same goes for art showings, and often there are plays put on by the drama department. And of course there are always sports events. I'm just not into team sports, so I don't know if most sports typically charge admission, like college football. What about swimming or gymnastics????
3. Try your local churches and schools for any of the above. Even if you and your family don't attend a particular church or school, why not enjoy the performance and help make for a larger and livelier audience. It means so much to the kids and adults who worked hard on their show.
4. Free Books at Project Gutenberg -- Reading a book on your PC is not for everyone. Because of the formatting, it can be a distracting hassle to constantly scroll through each "page" of the book. But, free is free :)). Go to www.gutenberg.org. The organization's mission is to scan books that are in the public domain and make them available on the web for everyone. You can download the book and read it on the screen. Or if you're ambitious, format .txt files on your word processor and print it out. Some downloads are already in HTML format, so printing will vary based on the book. Since these books are out of copyright, they tend to be ones published before 1923 (at least for U.S. copyright law -- I think I got the year right). That means lots of classic authors will be available, like Dickens, Twain, and Austen. There are also lots of oddball books that are fun to browse through. Be patient with the Gutenberg website -- sometimes it gets overloaded with traffic, but usually within minutes, searches are up and running. Also, if you have time for "at home" volunteer work, you could be a distributed proofreader. You help enter new books by volunteering for the different stages of scanning, proofreading, etc.
5. For buying relatively inexpensive books, see www.betterworldbooks.com. It's a clearinghouse to sell books for the benefit of libraries and literacy programs throughout the U.S. and worldwide. Sales are tax-free, and shipping is free if you choose the lowest U.S.P.S. service. You can search by zip code to find books benefiting programs in your area. Currently, they have a "5 for $15" bargain offer on selected books. Books seem to start at $3.48 (probably to cover at least some of the shipping). You can always search www.Amazon.com, www.ABEBooks.com and www.Alibris.com for used books under $5. The problem is that shipping per book can make it expensive (it seems to be close to $4/book now). If you find a lot of used books at a particular seller through a website like ABEbooks.com, it never hurts to ask the seller to consolidate shipping. I love browsing books at www.eBay.com. Sometimes books are sold in lots, which spreads the cost of shipping.
6. Volunteer work -- Churches, schools, civic groups, police departments, hospitals, animal shelters, etc. ALWAYS need help with something or other. Stuffing envelopes by yourself is a bore, but in a group at the school cafeteria, it can be fun. You'll get yourself out of the house and get to feel good helping others. It's really nice too if your kids can participate, like in a group-organized day of picking up litter at a park, or doing a short Fun Walk.
7. Free Foreign Language Learning -- Have you always wanted to learn French or Spanish? How about Igbo or Twi??? The U.S. Foreign Service created numerous foreign language courses for their personnel (I think in the 60s). Because the U.S. government developed the programs, they are in the public domain. For once, you can directly use some of your tax dollars. Yay!!! Go to http://www.fsi-language-courses.com and click on that language you've always wanted to learn. Depending on the language, there will be tapes you can download as well as manuals of the written text. Be patient -- these are older programs, and the audio quality can vary. Also, the French at least (the only one I've used) is based on a lot of listen and repeat. That method may be extremely boring to some learners, but I find I REALLY need the constant repetition. The materials are placed on the website by individuals who have access to the original tapes. There are also forums for discussing some of the languages. NOTE: I think these FSI materials are the same ones published by Barron's and online download sites at a charge. Those companies are just as entitled as you to use the materials, but it's nice to know you don't have to pay for something that truly is free.
8. More Free Foreign Language Learning -- I haven't used this site yet, but the name says it all: www.freelanguagecourses.com. They provide information about other sources for language learning. The BBC has great BASIC lessons in French, Italian, etc. You get a weekly e-mail for about 12 weeks, with links to the website lessons. The courses are oriented to language a tourist will need in the foreign country. It may not be enough to make you fluent, but it's a big help and good start for more intensive follow-up programs. The link is www.bbc.co.uk/languages. The website www.about.com has several free language courses. The French course developed by Laura Lawless is excellent for exercises and supplemental work, though it might not be the best start if you're completely new to French. You can search for other languages by name of the language.
9. Free TV Online -- I just tried www.hulu.com. They have lots of TV shows and movies you can watch on your PC. Some are classics, like the Alfred Hitchcock show, or even oldies like the original Flipper. But there are also newer programs, like 30 Rock or the Colbert Report. Our family doesn't have the equipment yet to feed shows from the PC to a TV so a group of people can watch. I'm pretty sure that can be done once we get the equipment. But, even if we don't, I can't complain too much about sitting at my PC to take a break and watch a freebie. It beats buying a DVD of a TV collection for $20, $30, $40 each. There's "limited commercial interruption" but nothing too overbearing.
10. Pretend you're a tourist in your own land -- Is there a museum or park nearby you've never gotten around to seeing? If a cousin or school roommate showed up for a visit, where would you take them? Even if you're not all that interested in the attraction and go just that one time, you'll be supporting your local community. And you may be surprised at how interesting it was. Look for discounted days and events. I just Googled "free things to do", and found the website www.free-attractions.com. It lets you search by state for activities for the "budget-oriented traveler." The Google search results turned up lots of links based on individual cities and states, so add your own geographical info to your own Google search. Start researching your own area and get your family, friends and co-workers together for an afternoon "walking or driving tour." Maybe you could even get your kids into the local library to find those sites with historical interest.
11. Start your own group (exercise, book club, bridge, etc.) -- These groups often start with a bang, and then die a slow death as individuals drift in and out. But if there's a core of 2 or 3 people with a strong interest, your group could go on for quite awhile. Maybe if you set a more limited goal at the beginning, like read and discuss just one book, or walk in a group at the mall for six weeks, you could get a more solid beginning. Maybe you and a few friends could have a monthly "movie" day rotating among your houses -- pool your DVD libraries, make a rule that snacks are to be low-cost, and forget about whether you have fancy home theatres with big-screen TVs. The best parties I ever went to in my life were in grad school in a small town. There weren't all the distractions of a big city, so we spent more time just enjoying each other's company at our different apartments.
I'm always up for saving money and trying new things. I'd love to hear more positive suggestions on things to "Do" instead of cutbacks and "Don'ts".
- 5/20/2009 12:15:14 PM