17 Ways to Have More Fun for Less Money

When you’re on a budget, it is important to cut back on how much you spend on nonessentials. But are there ways to do it without sacrificing your quality of life?

American households spent an average of $3,008 on food outside home in 2015, according to the latest numbers available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey. We also dropped an average of $2,842 on entertainment.

But we can do better. With planning, creativity and some easily adopted habits, you can balance the need to save with the equally serious need for fun. Following are 17 ways to save money while having fun.

1. Dine out strategically

Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com

Enjoy restaurant meals while saving serious money by eating lightly. It’s easy to overeat at restaurants anyway, and ordering less is widely accepted today as a means of maintaining health.

Here’s how to care for yourself and your budget:

  • Take the edge off your appetite by having a healthy snack before leaving home.
  • Share an entree, halving the cost of the most expensive part of the meal.
  • Order appetizers and dessert and skip the main course. Or enjoy just a drink and appetizers.
  • Try pricier restaurants at lunchtime, rather than dinner. Often they offer a similar menu, but with smaller portions and lower prices.
  • Planning helps you avoid ordering on impulse: Read a restaurant’s menu online before leaving home. Many have menus on their websites, or check Zomato or AllMenus.

2. Embrace the happy hour

vm2002 / Shutterstock.com

Happy hour — when bars and taverns offer discounted drinks and cheap or free food in the late afternoon — is enjoying a resurgence in many cities.

Search online for the name of your town and “best happy hour” for reviews of the best local spots. Happy hour prices are offered during limited hours, so order moderately and keep an eye on the clock.

For tips on smartphone apps that can help you locate the best happy hours, check out “8 Restaurant Phone Apps That Save You Time and Money.”

3. Explore culinary school restaurants

Cooking
dotshock / Shutterstock.com

Culinary academies and community colleges in many cities have restaurants that are open to the public. These allow student chefs a chance to train in a professional atmosphere. Prices can be low and the quality high.

For instance, the restaurant L’Ecole (The School) is a training ground for would-be chefs attending the International Culinary Center in New York. According to Fodor’s Travel, graduates include famed chefs Jose Andres, Jacques Pepin, Emily Luchetti, Dan Barber and Wylie Dufresne.

4. Check restaurant websites

David M G / Shutterstock.com

A restaurant’s website is a great place to learn about dinner deals, happy hour specials, coupons and promotions. Sign up for a restaurant’s emails to receive special offers and notices of events.

For more ideas, read “15 Ways to Cut Your Fine Dining Bill in Half.”

5. Use entertainment books

Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com

Many cities and local charities sell books with discounted coupons for restaurant meals. Or buy The Entertainment Coupon Book (which is now in digital form) — a collection of hundreds of two-for-one coupons and half-off discounts at restaurants and entertainment destinations. If you eat out often, you’re likely to get your money’s worth and then some.

6. Purchase dining certificates

Dining out
Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock.com

At Restaurant.com you can purchase certificates that significantly reduce the cost of dining out. Pay $4 for a certificate worth $10, for example.

However, read the fine print carefully, as there may be catches, such as a minimum purchase. Get additional dining discounts by subscribing to Restaurant.com’s newsletter. Here are “6 More Tips to Save at Restaurant.com.”

7. Order to go

Prostock-studio / Shutterstock.com

Buying a restaurant’s entrees “to go” can save you half or more on the cost of restaurant food by eliminating the cost of the tip, drinks, appetizers and dessert. Take the food home and build around the entrees to make a meal.

Or, pack up your food and visit a park or museum on free-entrance days. Check their websites to learn when admission is free.

8. Rethink spending on live sports

Eugene Onischenko / Shutterstock.com

If you are on a budget, professional sporting events may be out of your league (especially if your team is near the top of its league.) According to Team Marketing Report, a site that publishes sports marketing information, average ticket prices for pro sports league games were:

  • Major League Baseball: $31.00 (2016)
  • National Basketball Association: $55.88 (2015-16)
  • National Hockey League: $62.18 (2014-15)
  • National Football League: $92.98 (2016)

Obviously, if you want to bring grandma and the kids — never mind buy yourself a beer — you can ring up a bill for hundreds of dollars. For far less, you could take in pro sports games at home — heck you could throw a game-viewing party — or watch them with friends at a sports bar. Alternatively, you could become a fan of local collegiate and high school teams.

9. Try tribute bands

urbazon / Shutterstock.com

Love live music, but can’t afford the prices big-name acts charge? Explore the world of tribute bands. You may be able to check out a knockoff of your favorite performer for $10-$15 per show. And many of these bands are good!

10. Attend matinees and embrace local theater

Pavel L Photo and Video / Shutterstock.com

Nothing can replace an electric performance by professional actors in a resident theater company. But the price of live theater can be steep.

Depending on the company, the seats and the performance, ticket prices can rocket past $100. You can enjoy live theater for less by attending cheaper weekday matinees.

Another way to enjoy live theater on a budget is to experiment with attending local amateur and student theater performances. Keep an eye on local newspapers and magazines for reviews tipping you off to the best performances.

11. Revel in HD streaming at local movie theaters

melnikof / Shutterstock.com

Some of the world’s best plays, dance performances and opera are available in your town thanks to HD streaming in local movie theaters. For example, you will find works broadcast live or taped from the Stratford Festival, the Bolshoi Ballet, the New York City Ballet and London’s National Theater Live.

Ticket prices vary by location but are a fraction of the cost of a live performance. Sophisticated camera work and upgraded sound and video give HD viewers a better vantage of the stage than even attendees at the live performances would enjoy.

Check local newspaper and magazine entertainment sections and websites to find performances near you.

12. Find cheap movies

Goncharov_Artem / Shutterstock.com

So much free quality entertainment is available online that you hardly need to leave the house. But sitting around in your sweats eating homemade popcorn gets old.

You can enjoy a movie house without the pain of high-priced tickets by patronizing matinees. Find ticket prices on your theater’s website. Many cities have “dollar theaters” that play second-run films at bargain prices. Check local newspaper and entertainment websites or search online for your city and “cheap movie theaters.”

For more on finding free movies — the ultimate bargain — check out “15 Super Easy Ways to Save Big Bucks at the Movies.”

13. Volunteer

Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com

Volunteering at local events gives you free admission to the concerts, festivals and plays you want to see. Offer your services to the sponsoring organization as an usher, ticket-seller, coat checker or program distributor.

“In exchange, volunteers not only get to see performances for free but also may acquire backstage access,” says AARP in an article on cutting the cost of entertainment.

14. Check out the library

Comaniciu Dan / Shutterstock.com

Local libraries are a rich source of free reading, listening and viewing. Well, they are not entirely free: Our taxes support them, so getting your money’s worth is another reason to use the library.

In fact, you may even be eligible for membership in two libraries: one run by your city, another by your county. Among the many money-saving perks:

  • If your library doesn’t have a book you want in its catalog, ask your branch to borrow the book from another library system.
  • Find sales of cheap used books and sources of free books and periodicals at library fundraisers and free book bins.
  • Library bulletin boards post free and low-cost local events.
  • Download electronic books and music.
  • Electronic database subscriptions let card-holders read popular and obscure newspapers, periodicals and journals online.

15. Find free e-books and audio downloads

Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock.com

The volunteer Project Gutenberg offers free downloads of around 46,000 e-books. These are free because the books’ copyrights have expired and volunteers have digitized and proofread them.

No fee or registration is required, but a small voluntary donation is requested to keep the gift going. Also, the project needs volunteers to help digitize books or read them aloud for recordings.

Affiliated projects around the globe offer tens of thousands more books, including audio books, in many languages.

16. Try a coupon site

Evan Lorne / Shutterstock.com

There are many coupon sites and cash-back sites such as Ebates and Swagbucks that will save you money on myriad purchases.
Groupon
, LivingSocial and other daily deal sites sell coupons for discounted prices at restaurants and for entertainment and recreational experiences. You’ve got to exercise some discipline to save money on these sites, though. It’s scarily easy to buy, buy, buy, while telling yourself you’re getting great deals.

17. Get a (cheap) hobby

lOvE lOvE / Shutterstock.com

Find the right hobby, and you’ll have hours and hours of entertainment at your fingertips. The trick is finding one that doesn’t eat your budget alive. For ideas, check out:

Do you have some great ideas for saving on entertainment? Share them in comments below or on our Facebook page.

How to find cheaper car insurance in minutes

Getting a better deal on car insurance doesn't have to be hard. You can have The Zebra, an insurance comparison site compare quotes in just a few minutes and find you the best rates. Consumers save an average of $368 per year, according to the site, so if you're ready to secure your new rate, get started now.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
2-Minute Money Strategy: How Should I Invest My Retirement Savings?
2-Minute Money Strategy: How Should I Invest My Retirement Savings?

If retirement is on the horizon, you can’t afford to take too much risk, but you also need to make as much as possible. Here are your options.

4 Streaming TV Services That Cost $20 a Month — or Less
4 Streaming TV Services That Cost $20 a Month — or Less

Here’s how to ditch cable and satellite TV — and save a bundle — without giving up your favorite shows.

Believe It: You Can Save $500,000 in 15 Years
Believe It: You Can Save $500,000 in 15 Years

Even if you’re behind in preparing for retirement, there’s still a way to pull together a solid nest egg if you focus.

7 Mistakes Guaranteed to Ruin Your Retirement
7 Mistakes Guaranteed to Ruin Your Retirement

Make even one of these money mistakes, and you’ll probably end up eating ramen noodles in your golden years.

19 Purchases That Buyers Almost Always Regret
19 Purchases That Buyers Almost Always Regret

Think twice before buying these things.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
Will I Get My Ex-Husband’s Social Security When He Dies?
Will I Get My Ex-Husband’s Social Security When He Dies?

Two factors determine how much money is coming to you.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store
21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store

Dollar stores have great bargains on these familiar purchases. Yes, even pregnancy tests.

13 Brilliant Bulk-Buy Items on Amazon
13 Brilliant Bulk-Buy Items on Amazon

Every household should have these products on hand. Buying them in bulk on Amazon saves you cash.

6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman
6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman

Beware: The self-proclaimed personal finance expert has a track record that suggests more sizzle than steak.

5 Household Disinfectants That Can Destroy the Coronavirus
5 Household Disinfectants That Can Destroy the Coronavirus

You likely already have some of these products at home.

America’s Most Reliable Appliance Brand Is a Surprise
America’s Most Reliable Appliance Brand Is a Surprise

Have you heard of this appliance manufacturer?

This Type of Social Security Benefit Is Often Overlooked
This Type of Social Security Benefit Is Often Overlooked

The Social Security Administration is not helping certain people get money to which they are entitled, a report says.

Getting These 2 Shots Could Reduce Your Risk of Dementia
Getting These 2 Shots Could Reduce Your Risk of Dementia

These vaccines may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 40%.

8 Things That Are Free in August
8 Things That Are Free in August

As summer enters the home stretch, we’ve rounded up these sizzling freebies.

9 Everyday Problems You Can Solve With Vaseline
9 Everyday Problems You Can Solve With Vaseline

Forget expensive specialty products. Good ol’ petroleum jelly can address many common annoyances.

16 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
16 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile
7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile

A pandemic or natural disaster could leave you reliant on your existing food supply. Is your pantry prepared?

8 of the Worst Things to Buy at a Dollar Store
8 of the Worst Things to Buy at a Dollar Store

Not everything sold at dollar stores is a great bargain or a safe purchase. Here’s our list of products to avoid.

41 Things You Should Never Buy
41 Things You Should Never Buy

Some purchases are just plain dumb. Give yourself — and your budget — a break. Don’t spend money on this stuff.

Homeowners Say These 2 Kitchen Appliance Brands Are Best
Homeowners Say These 2 Kitchen Appliance Brands Are Best

One brand takes five of the top honors, while another ranks highest in three categories.

The 7 Best Things to Shop in August — and 5 to Avoid
The 7 Best Things to Shop in August — and 5 to Avoid

Here’s how to navigate August sales and discounts — which might look a little different this year

9 Indestructible Products That Are Worth the Price
9 Indestructible Products That Are Worth the Price

If you’re willing to pay a little more for these products, you may never have to shop for another again.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.