How to have fun for cheap : Life Kit You don't need to spend a lot of money to have fun. Have you ever done a chocolate bar taste test? Hosted a themed hangout? Ideas to keep yourself entertained (and on a budget).

Free and low-cost ways to have fun this summer

Free and low-cost ways to have fun this summer

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A piggy bank with sunglasses relaxes on a miniature beach chair, with a small yellow cup to its side and a striped umbrella behind it.
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Play can help us adapt to difficult circumstances, collaborate better and problem-solve. But it can sometimes be expensive.

"Don't let money or time be the thing that decides whether or not you will have fun," says Emma Tempest, a positive psychology coach. "You can have fun almost in spite of those things if you really put your mind to it."

Here are 10 ideas from NPR staff members and play experts on how to have fun without spending a lot of money.

1. House swap. Swap houses with a friend or family member. Perhaps you know someone who lives in a different neighborhood or city you've wanted to visit. "You can get a feel of what they like. If they have a pool, you can take a dip or check out their DVD collection," says personal finance writer Nicole Dow. "That's a low-cost alternative to taking a full-fledged vacation."

2. Try a food challenge. Life Kit producer Sylvie Douglis likes to host themed food nights with her partner. Last year, they hosted their friends to taste Kit Kats from around the world (Canadian Kit Kats won). "Or you could go to your local bodega and try a bunch of different brands of the same flavor chip," says Douglis.

3. Throw a movie marathon party. Life Kit supervising editor Meghan Keane held a rom-com movie marathon at her house. It was a full-day event with a rundown of movies and a photoshopped invitation. Plus, lots of pizza. Friends could come for the entire day or just stop in to catch their favorite movie. On the list of films she screened: My Best Friend's Wedding, 10 Things I Hate About You and Moonstruck, among others.

4. Go to a park. Life Kit producer Margaret Cirino likes to get her friends together for a picnic. "I'll pack my little hammock and some snacks like strawberries and crackers. And we'll all lay out our blankets together and make one giant seating area and then just be there for hours."

5. Go on a penny date. Take a coin and assign left and right to each side of the coin. Then, go to a new part of town or a new city and flip the coin at every intersection. Let the coin take you on an adventure. Nicole Dow says going on a penny date can help you discover new stores, buildings and public spaces in your neighborhood or on vacation.

6. Host an art night. Cirino also likes to get cheap art supplies and pair the evening with a movie or a theme. "A lot of the time, we'll just get paper, and each have a little canvas and just paint for five minutes and then swap [canvases with each other]. And that's always really fun because the art is really wacky and weird."

7. Tap into your imagination. When Tempest was a school teacher, she'd take her kids to a mini-zoo, and she would "hear the children saying things like, 'Oh, I wonder what that fish is thinking.' " She says this inspired her to make up fun storylines for the people and things around her. Next time you're people-watching, make up backstories for the individuals you encounter.

8. Make up a game. Planet Money host Darian Woods likes to play a game that doesn't require anything but a group of friends. To start, have your friends pick a category like animals, types of vegetables or countries. Then, as a group, decide on a specific animal (or country or vegetable) and have each person rate the animal from one to ten without telling anyone their number. For example, maybe the animal you decide on is a crocodile. Each person should think of a number between one and ten to describe how they feel about crocodiles. Maybe you're scared of them but think they're sort of cute, so you give crocodiles a six in your head. The ranking scale is up to you. The group then guesses how each person would rate that particular animal out of ten. The point of the game is to get to know each other better and test how well your friends know your preferences.

9. Go to a museum. This idea comes from NPR producer Janet Woojeong Lee. She likes to go to local museums when they have discounted tickets. Sometimes, museums will also give out free tickets if you reserve ahead of time. You could also check if you can borrow a museum pass through your local library for cultural events.

10. Check your local publications. Check your local newspaper or events board online to stay up to date on low-cost or free community events and festivals. "A lot of times, farmers markets will have local people singing or playing an instrument. And that's a great form of free entertainment," says Dow. "And there's always free samples from vendors."


The audio portion of this episode was reported by Marielle Segarra, produced by Thomas Lu and edited by Meghan Keane.

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