5 Cheap Summer Activities For Broke People

I worked in retail for most of my adult life, and now I write for a living, so to alleviate what can be total, absolute boredom in the summer, I’ve had to come up with ways to have adventures and keep my brain stimulated without spending much money.  Of course, you can always go to the beach, but the last time I did that I got sun poisoning, so I like to have alternatives.

I know a lot of people who are taking up new sports ($), going to street festivals ($$) or music festivals ($$$), and traveling ($$$$).  Meanwhile, I’ve learned to make the best of my community and my shallow pockets thusly:

1. Go on a street art tour of your city.  I am a huge proponent of street art!  And I’m not talking about murals that have been commissioned by your local municipal government (although they can be super cool too) — I’m talking about art that artists put up anonymously and illegally. Getting familiar with the work of your local street artists makes it so that no matter where you go in town, you can find a familiar face in the art that’s up, and looking for new pastes, tags, and stickers is like going on a treasure hunt.  Be sure to bring your phone to share your discoveries on Flickr!

2. Tailgate at outdoor music venues.  I went to a concert at Northerly Island (a waterfront venue on Lake Michigan) a few weeks ago but only stayed for the first act.  While my boyfriend and I were leaving, we saw people hanging out on the benches around the harbor and in the park around the venue and we said, “Why didn’t we think of that?”  OK, sure, it seems cheap, but once you can afford something better than the lawn seats, you can make up for it!  Besides, it gives you a chance to enjoy your city, enjoy music, and enjoy the company of fellow music fans without the misery of being confined in a venue space.

3. Scavenge.  I have a friend who’s a master scavenger — he’s gotten tons of furniture, books, jewelry, and thousands of dollars of cash for the cost of the effort of keeping his eyes open and carrying a flashlight and utility knife to slash open abandoned couches (although I should note, he’s foolhardier than most people). This is a thing nowadays – for example, there’s also a whole culture of “freegans,” people who get their food mostly from dumpster-diving.  Of course, when you scavenge, you’re more likely to find a weird little oddity (I found a disassembled Sonic Screwdriver toy, a pocket knife, and a book on Santeria the last time I went), but it’s a fun way to get to know your neighborhood and find home furnishings you might want.  Tips: Always go with a friend, scavenge on the weekends closest to the first or last of the month (moving days, in other words), and carry a flashlight, ample batteries, and your ID.

4. Have a potluck picnic with your other broke friends.  Everyone knows it’s cheaper to cook at home than to go out to restaurants, but by having a potluck picnic you can cut down on your eating-out costs while skipping the hassle of leftovers and spreading the love with your buddies.  It’s a win-win-win!  Who needs a patio when you can have a whole park?  Pack some portable speakers and assign who gets to bring the sandwiches, fruit salad, and lemonade, and you’re on your way to the chillest afternoon ever.

5. Find local group bike rides. I can’t speak highly enough of the growing bike culture in the U.S.  It’s about time!  Bikes are awesome for the environment, a healthy way to commute, and just friggin’ fun to ride.  Better yet is group bike rides – they serve as opportunities to make new friends, public demonstrations for environmental causes, and a really unique way to engage with your community.  Critical Mass is the best-known movement of group rides and is a great way for beginners to learn group cycling lingo, but chances are there are smaller group rides you can look up in your area. Chicago’s online cycling hub is The Chainlink, for example, or there’s the New York Cycle Club, or the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.  Look up some info on your local bike culture and get riding!

Rebecca Vipond Brink is a writer, photographer, traveler, and maybe a little bit of a cheapskate.  You can follow her at @rebeccavbrink or on her blog, Flare and Fade.

[Photo of woman riding a bicycle via Shutterstock]