City living comes with a lot of high costs, but the city offers a lot in the way of entertainment. At times when we had little money, we were able to fall back on lots of free sources of entertainment to keep us from being bored while we were trying to stabilize our finances. Small towns offer some of these things too, so even if you live in a small town, look into some of these options.
* Go to any free festival you find interesting. Over the years, Trucker and I have gone to countless festivals and have never paid a penny to get in. Big cities often have fantastic festivals, and rarely charge admission. In my experience, mid-sized cities are more likely to charge admission, although there are free festivals to be found. I love going to art festivals or blues festivals. Sometimes, I go to other festivals just to broaden my horizons and experience something new. It's a great way to have fun without spending a ton of money. It can even be free if you eat before you leave and bring beverages from home.
* We love to get out deep into the woods for an all day hike, but sometimes car trouble or gas prices keep us from making the journey. On those days, we make a day of walking and exploring in the city. We'll pick a direction or a street and venture out. I pack a snack and a couple water bottles for the journey and we'll usually have a bit of spending money, although we leave the cards and big bucks at home, just in case. A couple of weeks ago, we walked to an ice cream shop to get $.50 cones before walking home. Other times we'll walk to get coffee and then walk home, foraging for wild berries as we go.
* Find out about free access to museums. In Chicago, you can check out passes at any library branch to get into different museums for free (up to 4 people). In my current city, there is no such option, but most of the museums have some option. One museum is free one (very crowded) day a year, another is free every Sunday (with free concerts in the summer!), and a few small museums are free every day. The summer reading program at the library offers a couple one-time free passes for two small museums after you read 4 books during the summer. These are great options for the curious city-dweller, with or without kids.
* Sign up for newsletters with local events. One trendy local site sends out a newsletter with every kind of event going on each weekend. Many of these are way beyond my price range, but there are almost always a few free events going on. Sometimes the events aren't up my alley; sometimes they are the perfect thing for a fun weekend.
* Enjoy the arts. Go to a gallery opening or hop. Watch an art demonstration. Take a long stroll through a neighborhood with a lot of galleries.
* Check with your local theatres. One theatre near us has free symphony performances a few times a year. Another had a free documentary viewing and a meet and greet (with free gourmet ice cream) with the local actor who made it. Yet another has $10 symphony tickets for several shows each year.
* There are likely more movie options in the city than in a small town. You have several theater chains to chose from, so call around for the best matinee prices. Maybe you even have a discount theater. Our's charges $2.25 admission; on Tuesday's it is $1.50! The fancy theatre downtown has a summer movie program. When you buy a strip of 10 tickets, it is only $2.50 each for a really nice experience. Lots of local parks have drive-in movies, so there are lots of movies to chose from. Bring your own popcorn and beverage.
* Art in the park. Many cities offer concerts and plays in the park. These can be fantastic. At one park in my city, it's an all-out thing. People bring short tables and pile them with fine food and pop open a bottle of wine. It's fantastic and costs nothing to get in.
* Find some coffee house culture. Poetry readings or concerts at coffee houses are incredibly frugal events. Often there is no cover, and you can sip your coffee while you enjoy the entertainment. Cost out can be as low as $1.50 a person.
* Go to the library. Not just for books, movies, CDs, magazines, internet, and ebooks (although, certainly check these out while you're there!), the library can be a fantastic source of entertainment. Ask about concerts, movies, lectures and classes at your branch or nearby branches. In one city I lived in, there was a month of financial classes for free at various branches around the city. We bused it out to several events to learn as much as we could. Made for an educational night out and gave us things to talk/dream about on the bus ride home.
* Go to book releases at coffee houses or book stores. These are great fun, depending on the type of book. The best book release I ever went to was for a true-crime mafia book (Trucker and I are obsessed with Mafia movies, so the real-life stories of people we'd heard about was fascinating).
* Take a walking tour of your downtown or a historic neighborhood. Do your research before hand, then venture out. Make sure you know some good trivia to impress your date/interest your kids. Try to hit places with fascinating stories, intricate architecture, or vibrant street art. Stroll around interesting little stores (unless you've got kids that would get bored or destructive) or maybe hit a tiny, very localized museum. If you'd like, take a bit of pocket money to pop into a candy shop or grab ice cream cones if you'd like.
* Visit an ethnic neighborhood for fantastic grocery shopping. I love to visit Chinatown to stock up on my favorite herbal teas. The prices are great, and it's fun. This can also help to kick you out of a cooking rut. Since you're just grocery shopping, it doesn't really cost anything out of the entertainment budget and if you do it right, can save you on your grocery bill.
Even if your expenses are high in other ways, city living does offer some great ways to economize in other areas.
Share your favorite frugal city fun tips in the comments.