Fun for Less: 12 Ways to Save on Entertainment

With a little imagination and planning you can save wads of cash and still live large.

When you’re on a budget, whittling your spending on nonessentials matters. But so does the quality of your life.

How do you balance the need to save with the equally serious need for fun? With planning, creativity and some easily adopted habits. Following are 12 ways to save money while having fun.

1. Dine out strategically

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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 much the same menu but with smaller portions and lower prices.

2. Embrace the happy hour

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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.

3. Check restaurant websites

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

4. Purchase dining certificates

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At Restaurant.com, you can purchase certificates that can significantly reduce the cost of dining out. Pay $4 for a certificate worth $10, for example. However, read the fine print carefully. There may be catches, including that a minimum purchase may be required.

Also, watch local newspaper ads for restaurant coupons.

5. Order to go

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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.

6. Attend matinees

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Nothing can replace an electric performance by professional actors in a resident theater company. (See the League of Resident Theatres member companies by city.)

But the price of live theater can be steep. Depending on the company, the seats and the performance, ticket prices can range from less than $20 to more than $100. You can enjoy live theater for less by attending cheaper weekday matinees.

7. Embrace local theater

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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.

8. Find cheap movies

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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. And 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.”

9. Volunteer

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

10. Check out the library

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

  • Ask a library to borrow from another library for books not in the local catalog.
  • 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.

11. Find free e-books and audio downloads

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There are many ways to get e-books and audiobooks for free. To learn more, check out:

12. Get a (cheap) hobby

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Find the right hobby, and you’ll have hours of entertainment at your fingertips. The trick is finding one that doesn’t eat your budget alive. Hobbies that fit the bill include:

  • Ballroom dancing
  • Blogging
  • Herb gardening
  • Hiking
  • Knitting
  • Puzzles
  • Woodcarving
  • Yoga

Do you have more tips for having fun on the cheap? Share them in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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

Marilyn Lewis
Marilyn Lewis
After a career in daily newspapers I moved to the world of online news in 2001. I specialize in writing about personal finance, real estate and retirement. I love how the Internet ... More

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