Whether you’re being frugal in an effort to attain financial independence or because the economy keeps getting worse and worse, one of the first things people tend to sacrifice when slashing personal budgets are their hobbies. That’s because hobbies can be legitimately expensive. Any time you’re collecting something or engaging in an activity that requires special equipment or regular payments, it adds up fast. It’s easy to think that if you’re broke you simply can’t have a hobby, but there are a ton of hobbies you can participate in that don’t cost much (or in many cases anything at all), and some can even generate income.
Here are a bunch of suggestions for hobbies that are either completely free or very low-cost that will help you use your free time in ways that nourish your spirit without draining your bank account.
13 cheap hobbies to try
There are a lot of puzzles in this world, from jigsaw puzzles to chess puzzles to crosswords and word jumbles to crazy, complex online riddles that will literally take you months (if not years) to get through. You can find tons of physical puzzles for free at libraries or for just a few bucks at thrift stores, and puzzle books at libraries or used books stores, so you can indulge in this hobby for a minimal budget. What you get in return are hours of absorbing fun that will help keep your mind sharp and give you that satisfying sense of accomplishment when you solve a particularly difficult problem.
You might think woodworking would be a hobby for rich people who can afford to have a shop built in their home and acquire all the specialised tools necessary. And it certainly can be an expensive way to spend your time, but in its most basic form wood working is just whittling, and for that, you need a) a sharp knife and b) a hunk of wood. There are free tutorials online that will get you started, and when you’re ready for something slightly more complex, you can find affordable woodworking kits that will take you to the next level for around $30.
If you’re going to start a hobby, why not start a hobby that pays for itself? You don’t need a sewing machine or a ton of specialised tools — you need a basic sewing kit and the time to learn some basic stuff, and you can be repairing your own clothes in no time. Once you get the hang of the fundamentals, you can slowly expand your skill set and collection of threads and tools until you’re doing more complex projects.
When you think of photography as a hobby, you might think you need an expensive camera, access to equipment and facilities, and lots of education. But the truth is that you can go pretty far with just a basic smartphone and some fundamentals. And there are plenty of free online tools you can use to edit and augment those photos. Without spending a dime, you can get some spectacular photos you can post online or display in other ways while expressing your creativity.
Geocaching is a hobby that’s ideal for folks who like to solve puzzles and be active. All over the world, people have hidden geocaches — typically small boxes or other containers — and listed their coordinates at a central site. Using your smartphone, you get the GPS coordinates of the geocache and go hunting for it. Once you locate the hidden treasure, you can swap out what’s inside for something else, or just put it back and log your find. It’s an entirely free way to make the world a slightly more magical place.
Yoga, hiking, or running
If you’re looking for a free hobby, why not combine that restless energy with improved health and fitness? You can start hiking trails near you any time, and there are usually trails for all levels of fitness and difficulty, so you don’t necessarily need to buy new footwear or other equipment. Running is another free hobby — and you don’t necessarily need an expensive pair of shoes to take it up. And you can do yoga in your own home for free using various online resources, or even find free classes near you organised by individuals or organisations.
The internet is ideal for learning to dance without spending a dime, and a little googling might turn up free dance classes in your area at a library, community centre, or even a local dance studio. Dancing is great exercise, and it’s one of those hobbies that pay off in real social dividends because you can become that person who burns down the dance floor at your next wedding or company holiday party.
Everyone has to eat. When finances are tight, we tend to assume all the joy goes out of our meals because we’ll be eating rice and beans for the foreseeable future. But the whole point of cooking is making food more interesting, flavorful, and enjoyable — and that applies to any level of ingredients. You can even cook some pretty impressive meals with just a microwave if you don’t have access to a full kitchen. If you do have a basic kitchen, though, you can find plenty of free cookery courses online that will give you a fundamental grasp of the basics, which will allow you to turn those bargains from the grocery store into both a fun project and a delicious meal.
Scrapbooking is an artistic hobby that involves creating visually interesting collages from scrap materials. Some folks employ it to memorialise the big moments of their lives — birthdays, graduations, and other special events. But you can scrapbook about just about anything, and it can even be a purely artistic expression where you use paper, ribbon, and other scrap materials to just make something beautiful in a book or on a page. Since it can be done with materials you have lying around, the only cost usually involves a bit of glue and perhaps the scrapbook itself.
People think gardening is expensive, but this isn’t necessarily true. Seeds are extremely cheap and can sometimes even be harvested from the vegetables and fruits you buy for your meals. You don’t need a ton of special tools, and you can often find plants on a clearance shelf at your local hardware or garden store that just need some attention and care to be brought back to vibrant life. A garden will beautify your living space — and if you lack outdoor space, you can still garden indoors.
Learning how to play a musical instrument (and, by extension, learning a bit about music theory) doesn’t have to be expensive. Not only is the internet crammed full of free music lessons for just about every instrument you can think of, but you can often find free or cheap instruments if you know where to look. Local library systems often loan out instruments, so it’s worth checking with your library to see what you can find there, as well.
Magic doesn’t have to involve a stage, huge sets, and complex tricks. You can still amaze people with sleight-of-hand and simple card tricks, and there are plenty of resources online to find free lessons. With just a deck of cards and some free time, you can learn some pretty nifty tricks that will challenge your powers of concentration and hand-eye coordination while giving you something to whip out any time you need to entertain yourself — or someone else.
Finally, there’s one of the oldest hobbies around: reading. With a library card or a Kindle or other eBook reader, you can read tens of thousands of books at zero cost to you. If you don’t consider reading to be a fun way to spend your time, you probably haven’t really tried — and best of all, you can turn this into a meta-hobby by using books to learn about other hobbies. Making reading your hobby can have a social aspect to it as well, as you can join or launch a book club (in real life or online) to read and discuss books with others.
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