This post is by staff writer Honey Smith.

Although I live in Arizona (where it’s sunny and 65 right now), this has been a nasty winter for much of the country. The storm known as Nemo led to power outages, flight cancellations, and at least nine deaths. As I write this, Winter Storm Saturn is still pummeling the Northeast, to say nothing of what the weather has been like in Chicago and elsewhere in the country.

When it comes to a big storm, pretty much your only choice is to get out your emergency kit, hunker down, and wait it out. GRS has run articles on emergency preparedness on a budget over the years. Whether it is due to a hurricane (like last year’s Sandy) or prompted by wildfire, it’s vital to be prepared.

However, this article isn’t about that.

Spending six months in snowy/icy/super-cold weather isn’t an emergency, but it also doesn’t sound fun. And while many of you are probably green-eyed at my local weather update above, believe me, the tables will be flipped by summer, when we are making headlines for the number of days in a row above 110 degrees.

Extreme weather is expensive. While many of you are currently strategizing how to lower your heating bill, in summer everyone in the southern parts of the country will be trying to slash their summer expenses.

Yes, you can set your programmable thermostat strategically low or high. However, in many parts of the country there are simply times of year where the HVAC is going to be running 24/7. This is especially true if you have pets or a member of your family works from home (our electric bill has gone up noticeably now that Jake has a home office, for example).

But this article isn’t about that, either.

Entertainment during long periods of extreme weather

What about those times when you’re not in emergency mode, but it’s in the teens (or the hundred-and-teens) outside? Those times when the heat and cold don’t necessarily prohibit local travel, but do limit your ability to enjoy frugal outdoor activities like parks (or even your own backyard)?

It’s obviously more frugal to entertain yourself at home. I like to cook new vegetarian recipes from scratch, read novels, and play video games. I’ve logged over 300 hours on my favorite game, which cost $50. Jake’s logged in about 200 hours on that particular game. Even if you include the cost of the game system, that’s a pretty good bang for the buck.

I also like to watch Netflix streaming (which in my case is another way of saying “Grey’s Anatomy”) or play board games with Jake (we have quite a collection). Our dog needs four to six walks a day (regardless of temperature) now that she’s old, and the cats are always ready for a snuggle. I follow about 100 blogs in my Google reader. I write for GRS, do sporadic SEO work for my friend’s business, and just landed my first ongoing solo SEO client.

But sometimes, you go stir-crazy. You just need to get Out. Of. The. House. What I want to know is, what do you do for cheap/free entertainment when the weather precludes outdoor activities?

Most places that have climate control (heat or air) either require you to pay to get in, or are strategically designed to tempt you into spending money, even if that wasn’t your plan. I’m thinking of:

  • Movie theaters
  • Restaurants/bars/coffee shops
  • Gyms
  • Malls
  • Even the grocery store!

These, of course, are the society defaults. If you want to get out of the house and save some money during times of year where weather isn’t conducive to being outside, you need to get creative.

Getting out of the house on the cheap while staying warm (or cool)

Waiting until you’re stir-crazy to try and think of options for entertainment away from home doesn’t work for me. It’s like deciding what to make for dinner after I’m already starving. I become too frustrated to think logically and make less than optimal decisions when there’s no reason for that. Just like I know I get hungry every night around 6, I know July and 115 degrees are coming. My life will be considerably easier if I plan for it.

Here’s a starter list of frugal, HVAC-included outings. I’ve included not only the source of entertainment, but also some pros and cons. There are different types of restlessness, I think, and knowing which one you are suffering from can help you choose your activity accordingly.

The library

  • Pros: Free access to books, magazines and DVDs, giving you not only access to entertainment, but help winning the War on Stuff.
  • Cons: You have to be quiet while you are there. You are doing the same thing you can already do at home, just in a different location.

Community theater

  • Pros: If you get involved in the production side, you can make friends and learn something new.
  • Cons: You have to be pretty outgoing to enjoy this, and there can be hidden costs (socializing, chipping in for the cost of the production, etc.). Requires an ongoing commitment (not a spontaneous, one-off source of entertainment).

Volunteering

  • Pros: Helping a cause you believe in; your time may be more valuable to the organization than money.
  • Cons: Likely requires an ongoing commitment, often during business hours (not a spontaneous, one-off source of entertainment).

Church events

  • Pros: Community building, family-friendly.
  • Cons: Must be religious and/or share traditional religious values.

Museums

  • Pros: Culture, being a tourist in your town. Not all museums are free, though you can look into events like Museum Day. Additionally, my Bank of America account qualifies me for their Museums on Us program, which “offers Bank of America and Merrill Lynch debit and credit cardholders free general admission on the first full weekend of every month to more than 150 of the nation’s best-known cultural venues across 91 cities.”
  • Cons: Access, depending on where you live. Hidden costs (lunch, parking).

Rotating pot-lucks/board game/movie nights

  • Pros: Just because you’re bored of YOUR house doesn’t mean you’re bored of your friends’ and family members’ houses! Plus you get to see your friends and family, and they get to see you.
  • Cons: They have to invite you. You can make this easier on your host by offering to bring one of your own board games, a movie, or some food to share.

Quite a few times I found my fingers wanting to drum out advice about local parks (I live across the street from one), free hiking trails (which abound in my region) and yard work (which beautifies your home as well as being a workout). Then I forced myself to remember that goes against the premise for this little exercise.

Where do you go/what do you do when you’re going stir-crazy and the great outdoors is out of the question?