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Cheap Thrills: 10 Ways To Enjoy Life In A Recession

Americans are officially saving more these days, with the personal savings rate rising from near zero to almost 5% in late 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Long addicted to conspicuous consumption—and prodigious borrowing—we’ve relearned the value of deferred gratification, and whether we’re motivated by necessity or prudence, this is probably a good thing. But the downside is that being frugal often isn’t much fun. Sitting home in front of the television can get kind of boring (and doesn’t do much for the waistline, either). Here, then, are 10 cheap thrills, fun ways to get your juices flowing again while spending little or nothing.
  1. Get passionate about local sports. The cost of taking your family to a single professional football or baseball game can run to several hundred dollars. So consider attending high school, college, or even minor league pro events. Go often, get to know the players, and pick out tomorrow’s stars. And don’t forget women’s teams, and less familiar sports such as lacrosse, rowing, and skiing.
  2. Look for the arts close to home. The same principle applies to dance, theater, and classical music. But if watching a high school orchestra saw its way through Beethoven isn’t your idea of high culture, find out whether there’s a nearby conservatory or professional arts school that opens performances to the public for free or a nominal ticket price. The Juilliard School in New York, for example, offers a calendar packed with the best and brightest students strutting their stuff in wide-ranging artistic disciplines.
  3. Organize your life. Everyone has a spare room, basement workshop, garage, or junk drawer that calls out in reproach whenever you walk by the mess. Imagine how much better you’ll feel if you finally tackle the job, which will require much more in the way of sweat equity than cash outlays. Buying a few shelves, pegboards, and organizer gadgetry may be all you need to transform a wasted space.
  4. Cut your cable bill with Netflix and Roku.If you’re paying through the nose for HBO and Showtime mostly for the movies, consider this alternative. For as little as $10 a month, Netflix lets you order a DVD online, keep it as long as you like, then send it back in a postpaid mailer and receive the next choice on your list. And though turnaround takes only a couple of days, in the meantime you can choose from thousands of films streamed instantly—at no additional charge—to your computer and thence to your TV. All you need are a wireless internet router and a receiver like the one Roku ( sells for $80 that lets you watch movies and TV classics from Netflix, Amazon, and more.
  5. Cook with friends and neighbors.If your town doesn’t have a gourmet club, you could start one. Typically you’ll create one course for a monthly feast enjoyed in the home of a club member. For the cost of the food and a few hours in the kitchen, you get a cheap night out and have a chance to meet or reconnect with a local crowd.
  6. Get in shape (but cancel the gym membership). Local recreational groups often sponsor adult basketball leagues and clubs for rowing and running. For minimal cost, you get camaraderie and regular exercise doing something you enjoy.
  7.  Go to the library. “Free public library” may be right in its title, and your local branch exists to let you borrow not just books but also magazines, music, and movies. It may have online resources, too, and libraries have spent the recession finding ways to help their constituents, providing everything from money-saving tips to job search networking.
  8. Make a charitable contribution of time, not money. It may be gratifying to write that year-end check, but rolling up your sleeves to take an active role—whether by volunteering a few hours a week or taking a seat on a nonprofit board—can be even better (and cheaper).
  9. Rediscover a dream. Youthful visions of grand endeavors—as a writer, inventor, chef, or adventurer—very often get sacrificed as you start a family and heed the call to earn, earn, earn. But it’s almost never too late to rekindle long-dormant passions, particularly if you find yourself between jobs.
  10. Reconnect with old friends.If you join Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social networks, you’re bound to hear from people you knew in high school, work colleagues from long ago, or even an old flame or two. Take the plunge, get back in touch, and see what happens.

This article was written by a professional financial journalist for Legend Financial Advisors, Inc. and is not intended as legal or investment advice.

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