Sometimes people will think that if you don’t spend any money, you don’t have any fun.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I remember reading about this phenomenon in my good old friend, The Tightwad Gazette, many years ago. A relative told the author, Amy Dacyczyn, that her family ought to have some fun. She struggled to think of any kind of more traditional “fun” she and her family had. And yet, they lived a fulfilling and happy life.
To many people, spending money equals fun. And not spending money equals deprivation. That’s not necessarily true – at least, it’s not true for everyone.
What Is Fun, Anyway?
When most people talk about having fun, they really mean spending money.
Going out to eat, heading to a bar, going skiing, heading on a vacation, shopping, taking a day trip – those are all fun!
Staying at home, reading a book, doing arts and crafts, baking, fixing old furniture, DIYing stuff around your house – not fun.
But who defined fun as spending money? I can eat like a queen at home for a fraction of the cost of a mediocre meal out. In fact, I could make a steak and lobster feast, with an elaborate dessert, for less than the cost of taking my family of five to Friendlys.
Why is eating at Friendly’s so much more “fun”?
Saving money, and having fun doing it, doesn’t mean sitting at home in the dark (to save on electricity). It’s not eating a can of beans for dinner while obsessively refreshing my account balances to see if my money has gone up today.
Instead, I can seek out free things to do in my state, like I did when I collected a ton of free things to do here in Connecticut. I can use some creativity to make art projects out of old baking powder cans and egg cartons. I can go shopping at thrift stores and try to find a desk, which will be higher quality and lower cost than something I get new at Walmart. Side note – I need a desk.
I can work on refinishing my grandmothers old rocking chair, or paint an old rusted decoration to look like new. I can head to the library and check out books, board games, backpacks filled with toys for the little guy, and even a Raspberry Pi. We can take a hike up a mountain, head to a used bookstore, or go to the beach (weather permitting).
I can take a road trip with my family instead of flying somewhere exotic. The list goes on, and on.
Spending money can be a quick and easy path to fun. But it’s also OK to find fun and joy in activities that don’t cost you money.
I’ve written before about the power of productive hobbies, but this point also belongs here. You can find fun in things that save-and make-you money.
What kinds of things? I already mentioned some above. Starting an online business can be fun. What about treasure hunting on the weekends for furniture to restore and sell? Or thrift store arbitrage-buying items at thrift stores to resell at a higher price? Heck, if I knew anything about fashion (which, let’s face it, I don’t) I could buy things at my local consignment shop and resell them on Poshmark.
Woodworking. Cake making. Art. Designing websites for local businesses. The list of productive hobbies you could have are endless.
Focus on creating instead of consuming. And reframe your idea of “fun”.
Kids, Money and Fun
One area where you can control just how expensive your kids are is in their costs for “fun”.
When it comes to kids, the universe will grant you many, many opportunities to spend money on them. Toys, clothes, and consumer goods
But where kids can be really expensive-or not-is in all their activities. Sports. Preschool. School events. School pictures. Camp. Birthday parties. Heck, just doing things together as a family gets expensive, particularly as your kids get older and you need to pay adult prices.
Eating out, vacations, amusement parks, museums, etc-as your kids get older these all become very costly. One of my kids is fifteen now, eats like an adult (15 year old boy, I’m sure you can imagine), and has to pay adult prices for everything from admission to meals to activities.
Sometimes these things can see like requirements, and you feel as if they’re not optional. If your friends, neighbors, and coworkers all spend money on certain things for their kids, you can feel like you should too. But don’t forget, there are many millions of parents who don’t pay for these things because they simply can’t afford them.
When I had my oldest son at 23, spending tons of money on toys, clothes, activities, birthdays and so on was not an option. And when my older boys were in elementary school, we were going through times when my husband was sick, and laid off. Free and low cost fun was all we could afford. So I got creative.
Even now, I see how happy my little guy is with his at home parties, painting boxes, building blanket forts, going to library activities, and so on. My middle son (in middle school) enjoys the free clubs his school offers in gardening, book club, and even a weekly free get together at the YMCA. And my oldest son is so busy with school (he leaves the house at 6 am and gets home after 5) he only does Scouting as his activity.
With kids, fun can be a chopped championship at home. It can be art, and making things out of stuff you’d otherwise toss. It could be making your own board game, heading to free events, and going to the library regularly. Free and reduced passes can give you chances for fun.
Fun might be teaching them how to build their own website, post their own YouTube videos, and sell things online to earn money.
You can teach your kids to find fun in creating, rather than consuming.
You Can Be Different
When the only way you can have fun is to spend money, you’ll have trouble getting ahead financially. You’ll get used to a certain level of entertainment, become bored, and then need to seek new forms of fun to stay entertained.
And the hedonistic treadmill runs ever on.
If you find you’ve become accustomed to a certain level of spending money to have fun, you could try using deliberate deprivation to increase your appreciation of what you already have.
So try to find free and low cost fun. Don’t worry if other people think you’re deprived. Frankly, what other people think doesn’t really matter.
All that matters is you, and your family, and your personal happiness and joy in leading a fulfilling life.
And you don’t need to find that fulfillment in spending money.