Monday, October 22, 2007

Money-free weekends

Trent over at The Simple Dollar frequently advocates money-free or at least low-cost weekends. While I typically don’t really look for things that are free to do, I do try to save money during the weekend by making smart choices.

1. I become Suzy Homemaker.
This definitely isn’t for everyone, but I find it satisfying to take care of things on the weekend that I can’t get to all week. My two biggest “chores” are cooking and cleaning.

My new goal (as of two weeks ago) is to cook one new recipe per week. My busy schedule means that this will only happen on the weekend. So far, however, it’s working out really well—I made baked burritos this weekend as well as a nachos bell grande that might cure me of my Taco Bell addiction (in favor of my own creations!). I’m learning new recipes and gaining knowledge in the kitchen, plus I’m saving money by not eating out (the first time I make something truly horrible, that might change). This past weekend, I went to the grocery store three times, so I definitely didn’t have a money-free weekend—but the money I spent will keep me in lunches to take to work every day and that’s money well spent.

Cleaning is, to some extent, relaxing to me, and I think it’s a decent investment of both my time and money. Clutter has mental and financial costs, so decluttering my excess possessions is a great way to save money down the road, and maybe make money today (by selling things or donating them for a tax writeoff). Having everything organized so you don’t have to buy a second one of something you can’t find makes things less frustrating. I’m looking ahead to moving within the year, and I’m so irritated that I paid to move all these things I don’t want. A clean place is inviting and makes me want to stay in rather than spending my money on outside entertainment. I have a slightly higher standard of “clean” than any roommate I’ve ever lived with, and I don’t mind doing the extra work to keep things at my level, although I prefer not to do them with my roommate home (I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty, and I also don’t really want the help). My roommate is usually gone at least one day out of the weekend, so I’m free to crank up the radio and scrub away, both of which are FREE!

2. I take advantage of things I’m already paying for.
As a rule, I don’t watch much television. I’m not hooked on any shows and I don’t like to leave it on for background noise. However, I’m paying for cable and it’s not really negotiable (I live with a roommate, and this was a compromise I had to make). Since I’m paying for it, I might as well get my money’s worth, but preferably not during the week when I need to be doing other things. This past weekend I got a lot of money’s worth, as there was a marathon of the second season of So You Think You Can Dance, which I was pretty much glued to. This is a debatable Good Thing—if I’m watching television, I’m not reading a book, out in the fresh air, or otherwise doing something good for my body—but I definitely don’t spend every weekend glued to the set like that. In addition, our On Demand channels offer several workout options which I’m learning to take advantage of, and I also recently discovered the music On Demand channels—like radio without the commercials. Watching TV and tootling around on the Internet, both of which I’m already paying for, are definitely preferable to going to a movie and forking over $10+ just for a single ticket or otherwise paying for entertainment when I’ve got lots going on in my own living room.

3. I go exploring.
Sadly, I don’t do this as much as I used to, but probably 95% of the dates my boyfriend and I had during our first year together were exploring different neighborhoods of New York City. We had a set of cards with walking tours printed on them as well as a couple guidebooks, and we’d take the train to whatever stop we felt like and then go exploring. The only money we spent was on a meal and maybe a bottle of water, and we learned a lot about our new city and also each other (it’s a learning experience to see another person in a stressful situation like being lost, or tired and cranky, or in an area where they don’t feel safe). We found several of our favorite restaurants this way. We both look back very fondly on those times and still occasionally go exploring. Our real world jobs are now more demanding of us and we’ve gotten lazy on our weekends, but it’s definitely an option we still have and take advantage of every now and then. Anyone who lives in or near a big city should try this a few times.

4. I read.
I’m a library power-user and I’m a member of two book clubs, in addition to having to do a lot of reading for work. I read every day of the week, on the train, at lunch and before bed, but I can also knock out one full book or at least finish a couple I’ve already started in one weekend. I don’t buy books as a matter of principle—it’s a slippery slope for me, and my paycheck will not cover the addiction once it starts. Also, I’m still moving a lot, and books are HEAVY.

There are probably lots of other free or cheap things to do in my area: street fairs, shows, clubs and meetings. Of late, I’ve been more of a homebody, but I’ll probably try some of those things out at some point. This past weekend feels like a pretty successful low-cost weekend and I’m aiming to repeat that at the end of this busy week.

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