In the middle of a global shutdown, a lot of people are finding themselves with more free time…and less to do with it. Restaurants, stores, museums, libraries, gyms, and even parks and hiking trails are currently no-go zones in a lot of areas. Even just spending a day with friends is off the table.
The silver lining is that since everything is closed, there are few places to spend money. It’s like the No Spend November challenge, except it’s a couple months late and it’s mandatory.
You can embrace the challenge and still have fun at home with these free/cheap entertainment ideas. Some are even productive, and you might come out the other side of this experience with a new skill, habit, or hobby to show for it.
8 Cheap or Free Entertainment Ideas for Fun at Home
These have been some of my favorite cheap things to do lately, although my work schedule is still normal. Whether you’re on a hiatus, working from home, or looking for weekend plans, these are all social-distancing-approved.
Learn to Cook New Recipes
While you’re staying home and making an effort to shop less frequently, it’s a great time to use up some of the pantry and freezer items that have been around for a while.
Websites or apps like MyFridgeFood and Supercook make it easy to find recipes using food you already have. Just input your ingredients and they’ll do the work of delivering a list you can use.
You can also try cooking some more involved things from scratch that you’ve never tried before—I just made fresh pasta for the first time with nothing but flour, olive oil, and water (recipe here). Baking fresh bread is also cheap and satisfying.
Become an At-Home Bartender
We’ve all seen the memes about people’s recycling bins being full of liquor bottles, so you might already be working on this one! Learning how to mix your own drinks can definitely save you money over the long run as opposed to paying a markup at bars.
Depending on what you have in your stockpile, try getting fancier in your mixology than a rum & coke or vodka soda. Check out this list of 10 cheap drink recipes and their variants. If you want to get real professional with it, you can pick up a cocktail mixing set pretty cheaply online.
Dabble in Stock Buying on Free Apps
Disclaimer: treat this idea with caution…and maybe don’t combine it with the one above 😉
While the stock market is experiencing massive disruption and constant swings (as it is at time of writing, due to spring 2020 current events), a lot of investors are understandably feeling a little gun-shy. However, there is money to be made here, if you’re willing to take some risks.
The easiest way to buy stocks is by using a free stock-trading app that doesn’t charge any fees for trades. I actually have two, and can recommend them both:
- Robinhood — Easy, free stock trading app with a very simple user interface. Great for beginners. Sign up here and get a free Robinhood stock.
- Webull — A more advanced app for those who want more control and options (literally; they have options trading). Sign up here and get two free Webull stocks.
What I’ve been doing during all this turmoil is looking for stocks that have already taken a massive tumble, but are strong companies that seem likely to recover.
As one personal example, I had been keeping an eye on Boeing. They’re most well-known for their production of commercial aircrafts, so it made sense to me that the stock would crash as air travel has been grinding to a halt. But the company also makes a ton of military and telecommunications equipment, so I thought it was unlikely that the company would actually go under from this crisis.
In a matter of weeks in March 2020, shares of Boeing plummeted from about $350 to the $100 range. That’s exactly where I bought it using a limit order on Webull (just two shares—I’m more of a frugal peasant than a high roller).
A week later, it bounced. I thought it might still go higher, so I hedged my bets and sold just one of my shares at $184.
Spoiler alert: it did not go higher. Here’s the Webull stock graph as I write this on April 3:
As of now, I’m hanging on to that other share, and I’m prepared to hold it for a while (or even buy more) instead of selling low. I’m absolutely not a regular day-trader (let’s be honest, it’s basically gambling) and I prefer index funds to individual stocks for long-term investing…but making $84 on one stock in one week felt good, not gonna lie. Paying the short-term capital gains tax on it won’t feel as good, but hey, profit is profit.
Please only do this if you have a well-stocked emergency fund and don’t go all-in on anything. It’s risky, because of course no one knows what the market will do next. Your stock values could rocket up on a swing like mine did, or they could keep falling and take years to recover. It can be fun to research, speculate, and try to predict what industries will come out on top, but they won’t all be winners.
If you want to try this, give yourself a set amount of “fun money” to trade with, and call it cheap entertainment you might earn a profit from! Maybe it’s $1,000 for you, or maybe it’s $20; just make sure it’s money you can live without. Better than Vegas, without leaving your house.
Do Puzzles and Board Games
I’m a board game nerd even when there’s not a pandemic going on, but when you are stuck at home, it’s a great way to engage your brain and spend quality time with your household. In fact, there’s a board game called Pandemic that feels like a very relevant one to play right now! Other good accessible board-game picks are Settlers of Catan, Karuba, and Splendor, which are easy to learn and quick to play.
If you don’t have a pile of games at home (or enough people to play them with), you can get a round of your favorites going with friends online at Tabletopia. You can also dig out puzzles to do with any number of people or to relax by yourself, or find a deck of cards and learn a bunch of two-player games with a lockdown buddy.
Stream Free TV Shows & Movies
You don’t need an article to tell you to watch more Netflix…but what if you don’t have Netflix (or someone to steal it from)? Check out my article on 12 free Netflix alternatives here. You can find a ton of classic movies, documentaries, and TV shows on free, legal streaming websites. The caveat is that you won’t always find the most popular and recent shows on these websites…but I mean, am I the only one who doesn’t really want to watch methheads abusing tigers? (Hashtag #TigerKing.)
Read a New Book
Personally, I feel like I read so many books throughout high school and college, and it’s been steadily decreasing ever since. When so many other things are demanding attention, it’s hard to just pause for an hour or two and dedicate the necessary focus.
But re-creating this habit really is worth the effort. Benefits of reading include better cognitive function, improved sleep, less stress and depression, and even a longer lifespan. During events like this, which are causing a lot of stress for most people, maybe trade an hour of watching the (usually negative) news for an hour of reading a book. It could be fiction in your favorite genre, or a nonfiction book to help you learn something new. Check out five of my top personal finance books here.
Deep-Clean Your House to Music
When was the last time you really got into the corners of your closets and cabinets, your HVAC vent covers, your oven racks, and other areas often skipped on a regular cleaning day? Good Housekeeping’s ultimate spring cleaning guide has tips on everything to hit during a big cleaning project. Since it is spring right now, being stuck at home anyway couldn’t be more timely.
Granted, scrubbing grout isn’t the most fun home entertainment idea, which is why I recommend turning up your favorite high-energy music while you do it. My genre of choice for staying motivated is German metal, because it’s like having a German yell at you, but in a catchy way. Thanks, Rammstein. (Caveat: if you share a wall with neighbors, wear headphones or blast at a considerate volume. We’ve all been the neighbors before.)
Make a Pile of Things to Sell and Donate
I know, Marie Kondo was so last year. But in the process of cleaning your house, why not spend a few extra minutes taking inventory? Psychologists tell us that clutter leads to more stress and worse mental health (and even physical health).
If you’re stumbling across things you didn’t even remember you had, you probably don’t need them. Turn the clutter back into money by listing things for sale on platforms like eBay, letgo, and Facebook Marketplace, as long as you make sure to arrange delivery in a CDC-approved way. If some things like clothing are hard to sell used, bag them up and wait until you’re able to donate them.
As long as staying safe and self-isolating is the priority, we’re all doing what we can to get to the other side of this experience without going stir-crazy. If you can make it out with a cleaner house and some new ideas for free entertainment, that’s just a bonus!
What are some of your best frugal home entertainment ideas? Let us know in the comments below.
Kate is a writer and editor who runs her content and editorial businesses remotely while globetrotting as a digital nomad. So far, her laptop has accompanied her to New Zealand, Asia, and around the U.S. (mostly thanks to credit card points). Years of research and ghostwriting on personal finance led her to the FI community and co-founding DollarSanity. In addition to traveling and outdoor adventure, Kate is passionate about financial literacy, compound interest, and pristine grammar.