How To Have Fun Without Spending (Much) Money
When money is tight
Not everyone is feeling the pinch of the recession. But most are, even as the government insists that recovery is on the way.
Having a good time is often seen as requiring that you spend money on, for example, restaurant meals, movie tickets, concert tickets, etc. However, there are quite a few ways to spend less money, or even none at all, and still have a good time with your family. If money is tight, try a few of the following. Or even if you have money - it can be amazing what we miss if we think we have to spend to have fun.
Enjoy a good walk
Even in urban areas, there is usually somewhere you can go for a walk. Most urban parks are taxpayer funded and do not charge usage fees (they do often make money by charging fees for events and the like or from concession stands).
Learn where the good places are. Take a snack or even lunch and spend a pleasant few hours out in the sunshine. Walking is also good exercise and can help reduce symptoms of depression. Take a digital camera if you have one (unlike film cameras, they don't cost money to use), or even a set of field glasses. Read up on area wildlife and watch for it. There are all kinds of things you can look for even in the middle of the city. If you want to get somewhere faster, then you can always bike or rollerblade.
Make the most of season passes
If local attractions (zoos, theme parks, etc.) have season passes or 'friends of the' deals that give free admission, then consider taking advantage of them. (If you're lucky enough to live in DC the zoo is even free...it's owned by the Smithsonian).
Most season passes pay for themselves in three or four visits. So, if you like going somewhere a fair bit, then a season pass is often worth it, especially if you have children.
Avoid first run theaters
If you're choking on $10 or $15 movie tickets, then look for a local discount theater. True, you may have to wait a bit to see the movie, but you'll still get the theater experience. Obviously, you can also wait to see movies on video or stream them. If you watch a lot of movies, a box to allow you to stream movies to your television and a subscription to a movie streaming service will also easily pay for itself.
Your local library may also have free video rentals, although the selection tends to be distinctly limited. Which brings me to...
Appreciate Your Library
Libraries are not just about borrowing books and even in these days of cuts and shortened hours, you should be able to find one that's open.
If you have young children, then the library may have an early literacy program that offers fun, professional readings. Readings of adult books also sometimes happen at libraries. Educational presentations are common and some libraries even have arts programs that can include comedy, spoken word and even dance programs.
Libraries may also have fun classes for low prices.
Hang out at the university
Even if you aren't a student, institutes of higher education may have a lot to offer. Does the music department do classical music concerts? Do they have a theater department? University plays are often well put together and you won't pay nearly as much as for a professional show. Universities often also offer free open lectures and some may have small museums to which they seldom charge admission fees. College sports are sometimes cheaper than professional events too.
Cheap (but good) eateries and discount theaters often cluster around college campuses too.
Go to the grass roots
Tickets to sporting events can be hideously expensive...but competition at lower levels can be just as intense as in the major leagues. Go to a minor league baseball game. Consider following college sports rather than their professional equivalent. Or high school, even if you don't have a kid in high school right now.
You could also investigate unusual and obscure sports such as lacrosse or field hockey. Going to the races can be amazingly cheap and even sometimes free at small claiming tracks, if you avoid gambling. If you love American football, consider supporting your local professional women's team. The prestige, money, and pressure are lower - as are the ticket prices - but the action is just as intense. And, of course, you can consider taking up a sport yourself or looking for pickup games and street games.
Embrace the Amateur
The final tip I would give is to always embrace the amateur. The small scale. The low level. Open mic nights may cost you only the price of a beer or two (and if you have the courage you can always give it a try yourself). When I was in college I used to find some quite decent musical performances by attending talent shows where the price of admission was to vote for the best act (And some amusingly terrible ones, too).
Embrace the grass roots. Take something up yourself. Learn to appreciate what you can find for values other than money and you will find you can have a lot of fun on a small budget.