Frugal and free

It occurred to me recently that I haven’t been spending much money lately. In fact, I tend to keep a $20 bill in my wallet for weeks sometimes, when a few years back I could easily breeze through $80 in cash per week. So I thought I’d write about what I’d been up to that was having such a positive influence on my bank account.

First of all, I’ve been working quite a bit, and generally when I’m working I don’t have much time to spend money. :) I’ve gotten a lot better at bringing my lunch to work, which is not only cheaper but healthier and usually tastier. I either bring leftovers, a sandwich, or a single serving Indian meal from Trader Joe’s.

Here are some of the fun, free – or nearly free – activities we’ve been up to:

Hiking is one of my favorite spring outings. It’s usually the best time because the weather is mild and the flowers are blooming.

Free film screenings are a perk of our particular industry, but if you belong to a club, association, volunteer organization, or any work-related group, take advantage of what they have to offer.

Coffee with your Congressman is something my husband and I love because we are huge supporters of our representative (yay, Becerra!), and it’s walking distance to go to the meeting, find out what’s going on in Congress, and ask questions.

Science lectures at Cal Tech are another benefit of living in a big city with prestigious universities. Some recent topics: “Journeying to the Earth’s Past in the Isotope Time Machine,” “Evidence From Child Adoption” and “Making Molecules.” Again, these fascinating talks are about a 10-minute drive from our house with easy parking, making it a great mind-opening outing.

Getting together with friends for dinner, ping pong, or most recently a potluck brunch. Everyone brought delicious food while we caught up with each other’s lives and shared movie and book recommendations. We had a great time, and since it was an early-in-the-day affair, the lack of alcohol made us sharper and was certainly cheaper. My next potluck is going to be a “Pie Party” – everyone brings a pie, either sweet or savory.

Picnicking when a change of plans left us with an afternoon free.

Author readings at a local bookstore or downtown library.

Open houses when they’re in our neighborhood and we’re walking by. We’re not looking for a house so I’m not sure why we do this, other than to give ourselves the sense that we always have options. That’s important when you own a home and sometimes feel like it robs all of your time, energy, and money.

Friends’ art or photography shows come up every month or two and it’s always fun to see what people are up to and they usually offer snacks and wine as well. It’s a great free social event.

And with my “Little Sister” Mari:

Listening to music, either on CD, itunes, or Music Choice on television, which she just taught me how to use. She was surprised I didn’t know about it, but I told her I hardly ever watch TV. We had fun watching Adele videos, with whom I think every woman from 8 to 80 is in love.

Knitting scarves for friends and family, and baby blankets for donation. Mari has made a scarf for her little sister, her grandmother, and is working on one for her mom. I gave my first one to the friend who gave me the yarn, my second to Mari, and my latest to my dad for his birthday. I was really happy with it and I know he’ll wear it all the time.

Visiting the library* for music, Italian CDs, and YA books. She hadn’t even been interested in looking at books, but once we walked through the YA area, she spotted a book that was made into a movie she liked, and then another by the same author. She also wanted to check out a book of song lyrics, which I thought was fun.

Making granola. She wants to learn how to cook and she doesn’t like to eat meat so I’m compiling a list of easy veggie meals to teach her.

Next weekend we’re going to bring her with us to visit friends who live on the beach, cruise the boardwalk and people watch, and maybe go for a bike ride. Everyone remembers their first trip to Venice Beach, and I think she’ll get a kick out of it. Plus they have a daughter Mari’s age.

Doing so many things that are free or nearly free allows us to splurge once in awhile. I’m really excited about taking her to the musical American Idiot in a couple of weeks at the Ahmanson Theater in the Music Center downtown. Since it will be her first show and Green Day is her favorite band, plus we’ve got great seats, I’m pretty sure it will be a slam dunk (!!)

Depending on where you live and your interests, the options for frugal or even free activities are endless. Do you enjoy walks on the beach, playing catch with your dog, free outdoor concerts, or maybe cruising yard sales and visiting Goodwill? Please share your favorites in the Comments section.

*Reading is one of my all-time favorite activities, and it’s relatively frugal, especially if you buy used books, and free if you check out books from the library.


  1. Marie-Josée says

    What a rich and interesting life you have! I attended a few university conferences last year with my son, but I fell asleep during two of them! I was very interested in the subjects, but I changed jobs and we moved during that year and I guess I had accumuluted a lot of fatigue. Your suggestions are great and I particularily like the alcool free brunch pot-luck idea. My employer provides a free four-guest admission pass to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts which is just lovely. The City of Montreal also provides many free concerts and plays via Les Maisons de la Culture – I’m sure most major cities provide free cultural entertainement as well. Now, I just need to find the time and energy to enjoy all of these wonderful activities. My husband and I are just floored after our work-week, and then tending to all of our chores (food shopping mostly and cleaning) and entertaining.

    • Angela says

      None of these activities are very fun when you’re working too much! The tickets to the museum is a great perk, and free outdoor concerts in the summer are one of my favorite things.
      I know how it is after working a rough week- there’s no time for any of this! Fortunately for us, our schedule changes all the time. So whenever I’m super busy, I know it’s temporary.

      Thanks as always for your participation.

    • Angela says

      Ha! I love your list! I’m going to look for even more free options this summer. Love the bar/restaurant openings. And the wedding crashers :)

      thanks for sharing your list – readers, check it out!

  2. Terry says

    My grandson is over for spring break so we have been enjoying walks in the park.
    I’m glad you’re having fun being a big sister.

    • Angela says

      Terry, I hope you had fun with your grandson. A walk in the park is one of the best simple things in life, IMO. Thanks, I am having so much fun being a big sister!

      And thanks for commenting.

    • Angela says

      Oh my goodness, I don’t speak Italian. Maybe it means “are you going to study Italian?” or “How will you study Italian?” not sure. :)

  3. Beth Luft says

    I definitely remember my first and only visit to Venice Beach. George took me when I visited at age 13. There were people with leather pants and green mohawks beside us. It was fascinating to watch them peel the layers off to get into the water!

    I have lots of YA recommendations for Mari when she’s ready to expand her reading horizons!

    Oh, Happy Birthday! Love you!

    • Angela says

      Thanks Beth! Yes, one’s first visit to the Venice boardwalk is something never forgotten. I actually lived a few blocks away when I first moved to L.A. (until we were burglarized). It was a pretty dicey neighborhood back in the 80s.

      I will definitely get some recs from you – she has already read so many things I know about and I would love to learn some more contemporary stuff.

      Love you back! Thanks so much!

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