For twenty years, my life has revolved around raising my kids and running my preschool. Both of those pursuits have brought me a sense of purpose and great joy amid the challenges.
But what now?
With one kid in college and the other not far behind, life is changing. I’m seeking new sources of meaning, including committing myself to this blog.
Still, I’m looking at long stretches of time alone in my house once the preschool day ends. My dog, Obi, keeps me company. (He also drives me crazy, but that’s another story …).
Obi, though, can’t provide what I really want: human companionship, adventure, entertainment outside the confines of my computer screen.
Sometimes, girls just want to have fun! (And guys, too).
Do you? Are you at that point in life where you want to pay attention to the domain of “play,” a domain that likely got short shrift for many years as you raised kids, or built your career, or just tried to get through the day-to-day?
If you’re looking for free or cheap entertainment and adventure – excuses for getting out of the house, trying a new skill, enjoying the arts – here are some ideas.
Interested in theater, films, or music? You’re in luck. There are many ways to scratch your “arts itch” for low or no money.
Getting to see a play or listen to a concert for free in exchange for putting playbills together, helping audience members to their seats, and doing some light clean-up after?
What a deal! I’m in.
It’s easy to apply online for a volunteer usher position at smaller local or regional venues. I recently tried this out at the Huntington Theater in Boston. As an usher, I saw Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead for free, and I didn’t have to make a long-term commitment.
The job was easy. I had to arrive an hour early, then “guard the door” once they opened the lobby to audience members, making sure no one entered before the stagehands got the theater ready. Once those doors opened, I passed out playbills and helped people find their seats. Then I got to sit in an empty seat and watch the show.
It was fun. The only problem was parking – there’s none nearby, and I ended up paying $25 to park in a lot. Ouch! Next time I’ll take the subway.
Volunteer ushering doesn’t require a long-term commitment. I can do it once, or twice, or more. I will definitely do it again when the Huntington or another local theater stages a play I want to see.
Ushering at the larger venues? That’s more difficult.
I don’t think I’m going to be seeing the Boston Ballet for free any time soon. Most of those venues hire paid ushers. But hey, if you have the time and are willing to make a longer-term commitment, you could apply for a job.
Want to see David Byrne’s new show, for example? The Emerson Majestic in Boston is hiring ushers for $12.90/hour. Could be an easy, fun side hustle with the extra benefit of seeing top-notch shows for free.
Libraries offer many fabulous resources – including theater passes to local venues. Does that surprise you? It did me.
If I had been quicker on the up-take, I could have reserved two free passes to Six from my library, and wouldn’t need to usher. Unfortunately, they were all gone by the time I checked the library’s website.
Check with your local library to see if you can nab a free pass to a local theater production. If one’s available, jump on it before it’s gone.
Buying Extra Tickets and Re-selling Them
This one is brilliant. It never occurred to me before I heard about it on the ChooseFI Facebook group, and if I’m feeling brave, I’m going to try it.
You have to have a good sense of what will be popular, and watch closely for release dates of blocks of new tickets. All those $590 seats for Hamilton? Someone bought them originally for low(er) money when they first went on sale. The super-expensive tickets show up only on the resale market.
If you and a friend want to see, say, Jagged Little Pill in New York (I do!), you could buy four tickets instead of two. Once the original block of tickets is sold out, you put your two extras on StubHub, and if you price them right, you make back enough money to cover the tickets you’ll use.
How’s that for a hack?
This one involves some risk, which diminishes considerably with knowledge of the market, so you have to do your research. But what a great way to go to the theater for free!
Museums on the Cheap (or for Free)
Once again, use your library! If you have kids, you probably remember getting passes to the Children’s Museum from the library when they were little. Libraries offer discounts or free passes to many more museums. Check with yours to see what you can save.
My library offers passes to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Harvard Museums, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Science Museum, the zoo, and more.
Free Admission Dates
Many museums also offer free admission on certain days of the week. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, for example, is free every Wednesday after 4:00. Museums often offer discounts to active duty military, veterans, and their families. Check before you go!
If you travel, the cost of membership in one of your local museums might be worth the money. Many offer reciprocal admission at museums across the country.
For example, Boston’s Museum of Science participates in the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Passport Program and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) reciprocal admission program.
With your membership card and an ID, you can visit other science museums at least 90 miles away from your home institution – for free.
A basic membership for two people at the Boston Science Museum costs $95. If you visit the museum without a membership, it will cost you $37/person ($30 if you’re over 60).
Assuming those costs are comparable at other science museums across the country, if you and a family member or friend visit your local museum once a year and even one other in a different location, you’ve more than made up the cost of membership.
Seeing Movies for Free
Want to see advance screenings of new films? Production companies want to fill the theaters when they roll out a new movie, so many offer free passes.
For some sites, you have to check their website regularly to find out about upcoming showings. Others will send emails to announce new events. Either way, if you see something that interests you, jump on it right away as they apparently go very quickly.
Another way to see movies for free – and even to get paid for going to the theater – is to sign up for Market Force.
They’re a company that pays people to do market research. You complete an online job application (including giving your SS number and, if you want direct deposit, your bank account info). That scared me a bit, but after researching the company and seeing many positive reviews and articles touting them as legit, I threw caution to the wind and went ahead and submitted my application.
You can pick and choose the jobs you want to take – no need to see action/adventure shoot-em-ups if you lean more towards deep dramas or rom-coms.
Responsibilities include things like letting Market Force know what previews and/or advertisements the theater shows before the movie, counting the number of people in the audience, or reporting on audience reaction.
Easy peasy – and you get paid to see the movie.
I’ll update this post once I actually see a movie as a Market Force contractor.
Want to get together with a group of people interested in the same pursuit and learn a new skill, but not pay much (or any) money?
With a little leg work, you should be able to find many opportunities.
As Simple as Doing an Online Search
Start with Google, and search for free in-person classes in your area. My search led me to Eventbrite, where I found a gluten-free Thanksgiving demo and tasting, as well as yoga, women’s self defense, mindfulness meditation, salsa dance and gardening classes – all for free!
Many of these companies likely offer free classes as a sales magnet, so be prepared for the pitch. Still, a lot of them sound like fun for a one-time “try it.”
Join a Meet Up
Another place to find community while trying new things is Meetup.com. People get together to learn and socialize around everything from playing the ukulele to board games to badminton to life drawing.
Some of these meet ups attract a younger crowd, but I’ve attended Meetup.com sponsored bike rides where hair color in the group tended toward grey. Often Meetup.com events are free; other times they ask for a small donation to defray costs.
And of course, there’s always Groupon. I’m on an adventure quest – 60 adventures in celebration of my up-coming 60th birthday (if you want a laugh or two or would like to follow my quest, you can see reviews of each adventure here).
Groupon has been a life saver. I’ve gotten discounts to dance classes, a helicopter lesson, a mosaic-making session and more.
So get out there and enjoy!
While many of the suggestions here work best if you live close to an urban area, I’m sure endless ways exist to have free or low-cost fun no matter where you live.
Let me know your ideas and I’ll update the post.