Living frugally can come with some negative connotations. Extreme couponers and spartan minimalists, for example, are great at saving money, but what quality of life do those savings buy you?
That’s where no-spend weekends come in. They don’t require lifestyle overhauls. Like intermittent fasting for your budget, they just require that you take some time to slow down, be thoughtful with your money, and devote some of your energy to improving other parts of your life — which includes making time to have fun. The best things in life are free, anyway.
No-spend weekends can have a big impact on your budget, too. Because so many of us spend at least five days a week at work, the majority of our spending is done during the weekend (or whichever days you have off). The idea of the no-spend weekend is to put off all expenses from late Friday to early Monday, cutting back your spending significantly.
Before you jump into your no-spend weekend, make sure you are prepared. Starving yourself and your family is not the focus here. Ensure that you have enough food in the fridge/pantry to keep everyone well-fed for the weekend. Also, try to balance expenses after the weekend is over and live a normal life. Don’t go overboard online shopping on Amazon Wednesday night just because you saved up during the weekend.
With those rules in mind, here are 9 fun things you can do — solo or with family and friends — on your no-spend weekend.
1. Get Physical
While going for runs or working out at home are no-brainers, they don’t actually fill an entire Saturday and Sunday. So, you might also consider hiking trails close by, going to the playground with your family, or taking advantage of free sports venues in your town like tennis courts or soccer fields. Biking around is also a great exercise and an excellent way to spend a couple of hours, and you can easily combine it with other activities. Moving around by bike is the easiest and most enjoyable way to close distances over the weekend, not to mention the cheapest.
2. Check Out Local Cultural Events
If you check your local community calendar and a few Facebook pages, you’ll probably find loads of free cultural activities in your city. Sporting events, live theater, concerts, or lectures are all great ways to spend your time. Most museums also have a free entry day at some point during the month, which is usually during one of the weekend days or on Mondays. If they don’t, at least one of their exhibitions is almost always free for the general public to visit.
3. Catch Up with Friends
Do this the old-fashioned way, either by visiting them in person or by taking a long walk with them around town. Avoid coffee shops or other venues which cost you money, and try to focus on the actual social interaction.
4. Binge-Watch Netflix
While this isn’t technically free, if you pay for Netflix each month, you have the option of staying in during the weekend and catching up on all the shows and movies you wanted to see. Even with the basic subscription, you have thousands of hours of movies and shows for binging — all without leaving the comfort of your home.
5. Cook Something New (With Ingredients You Already Have)
This can mean anything from learning to make bread, new drinks, or an entirely new steak recipe. The key here is to avoid going to the grocery store, and only using the things that are already available in your home.
6. Clean, Declutter, and Organize
Perhaps cleaning the house is something you do every other weekend or so, but how often do you take the time to declutter your online life? Spend a few hours deleting people from Facebook who you don’t really know, unsubscribing to newsletters you never read, and cleaning and defragmenting your hard drive. This will take up more time than you think.
7. Learn a New Skill
The beauty of the internet is that you can learn virtually anything you want for free. Websites like Coursera, Udemy, and Skillshare offer thousands of hours of college-level courses for no cost. Alternatively, you can use this time to start learning new languages or practicing useful skills like car repair.
Since you’re doing this exercise to save money, why not start tracking your spending? You can do this in multiple ways, either by using free online apps or creating your own Excel spreadsheet. Either way, creating an updated budget will take up a good few hours of your time.
While you’re budgeting, you can always identify places where you can further reduce your spending. In many cases, you might find you just need to send an email to, say, your credit card company or phone service provider to drop services you don’t actually use.
And as you’re saving money, take some time to figure out what you can do with those savings. Perhaps you’re saving up for a big vacation, or maybe you just need to put money aside for an emergency fund. Or, maybe it’s time to start thinking about investment opportunities and ways you can make your money work for you.
9. Think About Your Career
When was the last time you sat down and actively thought about your career, or even reached out to people in your industry whom you look up to? If your career has been on autopilot for the last couple of years, it would be great to sit down with yourself and think about where you want to be, and the steps you can take to get there.
These are just a few things you can do during this no-spend weekend, all of which won’t cost you a single dollar. If you start these activities with the right mindset, you’ll find the weekend will blow by while you’re having fun, being productive, and spending quality time with your friends and family — which is precisely what weekends should be all about.
Casey Meehan is a writer and business owner who likes to talk about everything under the sun — from writing music to entrepreneurship to investment strategies. He explores the latter by covering financial news and offer trading tips at his blog StockHax.com.