Thursday, February 10, 2011

Free Entertainment!

We live in fairly materialistic, money-minded times. Anybody taking an objective look at various civilized cultures throughout the world probably figure that out pretty quickly. This isn't a new phenomenon attributable to my generation, so I don't consider this a sign that our current era is a particularly shallow one. There probably hasn't been a truly frugal culture to be found anywhere in the world since the times of primitive mankind, when survival dictated necessity and left little room to contemplate entertainment or hoarding unnecessary goods. Though most of us aren't so materialistic as to think that a new, stylish pair of shoes will deeply change our character, we have all experienced the slight confidence boost gained from wearing a new pair of shoes that we really love.

It's much easier to spot this kind of materialistic behavior and use some restraint when dealing with something concrete such as purchasing items. You can look inside any room in your home and spot some things you bought that you know are totally unnecessary or useless. It is more difficult to work on another common expense dominated by the idea that the more money one has, the better time one has. I'm talking about entertainment. I know personally, it's a rare to non-existent occurrence that a relative or friend invites me to an outing that doesn't require me to spend money. My fiance and I are likely to go out somewhere for coffee or a bite to eat when we find ourselves with absolutely nothing to do. I went through the all too common college drinking phase a couple of years ago, where I found it nearly impossible to have a fun night on the town without some kind of alcohol consumption. As one would expect, this meant dropping at least ten dollars a night (usually much more than that) and devoured my meager student income. Aside from the money spent on alcohol, lowered inhibitions and poor judgment usually lead me to a Denny's or I-HOP at three thirty in the morning to fritter away more cash than I originally planned to spend. I don't recommend going grocery shopping intoxicated, as you're liable to regret your dietary choices in the morning and find you spent money you wish you hadn't. Even when choosing to avoid bars and the like as a means of wasteful spending, popular alternatives don't get much more affordable. When a friend would suggest we go to the movies for the evening and have a calmer night, I'd leave the theater feeling ripped off for having spent nine dollars for two hours of entertainment.

Those were merely a few examples that I think the average college student would relate to. If neither happen to relate to your lifestyle, trust me, regardless of your interests in entertainment, it can get costly. If you're a reader, think about how much you spend on new books. Love video games? Consider how much money it costs to purchase a new video game or the price of monthly subscription fees associated with playing online. In other words, it seems spending on entertainment is unavoidable. I can see it's pretty clear that entertainment can be come expensive but what can I do about it? Should I stay in every night rediscovering my childhood imagination and inventing imaginary games to play free of charge?  When my friends call me and suggest we go out for a drink should I tell them to take their wasteful lifestyle elsewhere? It's apparently impossible to have fun without spending money, so maybe I should just renounce fun? Wait a minute...maybe I'm being a little narrow-minded here. I surely can think of ways to have fun that don't involve spending money. Besides, from the first post, I specified where I'm coming from, this blog is called "Finding Frugal" not "Militant Frugality". I don't think it's necessarily against what I'm trying to practice to spend money on entertainment, as long as it's done so responsibly and consciously as opposed to without much thought or restriction.

Now that it's clear I'm not advocating self-imposed prison or being the ultimate "party pooper", let's move ahead and think of ways to have fun where you can leave the debit card at home:
The Public Library:
 "Is this guy serious? The public library! Come on man, I didn't need to read your blog to know this, my grandmothers been advocating this kind of clearly boring outing for years." Yes, my friend, I am indeed serious. Though unlike the trip with your grandmother (I know, it's been ages), I'm not talking about sitting down in the children's book section with a copy of "Green Eggs & Ham", even if it is a good book. I'm talking about overcoming your preconceptions about what the public library is and going there and seeing what they have to offer. Even if they don't have the book you're looking for, they can generally have it ordered in within a week or less. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty certain waiting a week to read a book costs less than rushing to your local bookstore and dropping ten bucks on it. Even if books aren't your thing, these days nearly all libraries carry movies on DVD. If you can find a film that interests you and check it out for free instead of paying a rental fee, well then you've found some money you can leave in your bank account. Some libraries also occasionally have free social events. For those of you with children, many libraries have certain days where they do a "story time" and have a member of the staff read a children's book aloud to a group of kids.

Your Local Recreation Center:
I used to play basketball at least twice a week at my local rec center. How much did it cost me? Absolutely nothing. There was usually a lot of people on the court and I always left feeling I had a great time. Aside from basketball, most of these facilities have tennis courts, football fields, soccer fields, baseball fields, swimming pools and a trail made for running track or taking walks. Some even have indoor facilities featuring ping pong, air hockey and pool tables, foosball and various board games. Recreation centers are usually open to the general public and don't require any kind of membership or application to use. For those of you who are college students, more than likely your University or College has similar facilities open for use to all students.

Good Ol' Fashioned Freeloading and Borrowing:
The term "freeloader" has commonly been used in a derogatory manner to offend people. I remember a friend of ours calling my brother a "freeloader" when my brother would visit him and not want to do anything but play x-box. In actuality though, hanging out with a friend in order to use something she or he has is only "freeloading" if that's the sole reason you're going there. I think all of us have at one point or another gone over to a friend's house in order to access entertainment we couldn't access from our own home. Usually, it's a prearranged, mutual kind of deal. I've known plenty of friends who congregate at a friend's house to watch HBO shows for example. "Freeloading" is just what angry friends who feel unappreciated call getting together to enjoy entertainment. As for borrowing, well I don't feel an explanation is needed to explain what that entails. If you have a friend or a relative that has a lot of movies, books and video games that you haven't seen, read or watched, why not borrow them before running off to rent or purchase them. My father comes over biweekly to check out what movies I've acquired and usually finds at least one he hasn't seen. That's a trip to the rental store or retail store saved.

Get Your Thoreau On
Gather up supplies, find a pond in your town, build a cabin beside it and live there for a year or two. I'm joking, you don't have to go like a legend of literature to learn a thing or two from him. I've been reading Walden and I've come to find that Henry David Thoreau was indeed a master of frugality. He has a lot to say about how one should use available resources and live a simpler, more fulfilling life. What I mean by "get your Thoreau on" though, has more to do with his views on enjoying nature. According to Henry David Thoreau "A man's interest in a single bluebird is worth more than a complete but dry list of the fauna and flora of a town." The essence of Thoreau's argument is that nature is best experienced in a personal way versus being read about or told about. Looking at a picture of a flower alongside information such as the type of flower it is and where it grows isn't as exciting or interesting as picking up a flower from a garden and holding it in your hands as you inhale it's aroma. Getting a personal experience with nature won't cost you a dime.Next time you're bored, go to a local outdoor park and take a walk on one of it's trails through the woods. If you prefer to ride a bike, then find a scenic route and go spend some time cycling through it. You don't have to be a seasoned outdoors person to enjoy the sights and sounds of the natural earth. Go out and climb a tree, I bet you haven't done that in a couple of years and don't remember what it's like. Go bird watching. Make a bonfire somewhere in the woods, and enjoy it's warmth with some friends.

Get Creative
I really think that part of the reason social network applications like Facebook have grown so popular is because they provide a type of outlet for creativity. Using these kinds of websites, people say what they're presently feeling, post photographs they like, write captions for pictures and share their thoughts on movies they saw, sports events on television or whatever else they feel is a worthy topic. It's like the creators of these applications have tapped into a need to create and be heard that most of us forgot existed within us. Feel passionate about something and want to put your feelings into words? Why not write about it. For those who've never really written for pleasure and are put off by the idea of forcing a school assignment upon themselves, I will highlight the big difference here. When writing for a school assignment, you always have something you have to write about, if you don't really care for the topic, writing about it is a chore. Now if you decide to write about what you're feeling during an emotionally rough day, or write an essay about why your favorite television show is better than others on cable right now, or anything that interests you, you will find you fill pages with a sense of purpose and enjoyment you don't usually associate with writing. Did you used to love drawing as a child? Why not draw something today then. Whether you're "good" or isn't what it's about, you're doing this for your own entertainment, not for an art connoisseur. The same goes for those of you who might enjoy (or used to enjoy) singing, dancing or playing musical instruments. If you have a camera, and I know in this generation specifically, this is hard, but try taking a picture without the idea in mind that it's going to be on Facebook or another social network. Take some picture you find appealing, whether or not other people will, for your own enjoyment.

Suddenly, I see there is quite a bit I can do for free next time I'm bored and considering driving off to get coffee for the sake of going somewhere. This is obviously not the most complete of lists, so I'm certain you can think of other things you can do for free. I know I'll be on the lookout for more ways to have fun, free of charge.

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