Extreme weather and recreational costs

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?

More about...Frugality

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
45 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
adult student
adult student
7 years ago

For me, it’s worst in the summer! My apartment is warm in the winter, but when it’s over 80 degrees I can’t even stand being home. Last year I made a list of free or very low cost cultural stuff with A/C in my area, and it was fun to go to a few museums, since wouldn’t normally be a “local tourist”; the library was also a good refuge. And although it wasn’t free, one weekend my spouse and I got so frustrated with the heat that we drove a few hours north and camped out, which was at least… Read more »

Kate
Kate
7 years ago

I cook. Homemade cheese, elaborate Indian spreads, roast chicken with homemade pie…

Phoebe@allyouneedisenough
7 years ago

I live in Wisconsin, so the winer is our tough time. I will say that no matter how cold it is, we still like to go for walks. We put on our warmest clothes, cover our faces, and head outside because the fresh air is worth it. We also like to go sledding, which is cheap (we have $5 sleds from Walmart), great exercise and really fun. Though when we want to get out of the house and don’t feel like bundling up, we do a few of the things on your list. We like to head to the mall… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
7 years ago

I just wish the library had comfy chairs! It’s really hard for me to sit “normally.”

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

What about your college/university’s library? I found our public library doesn’t have the greatest seating, but the local university has a lovely reading room. (But beware of parking fees.)

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Ooh, smart! And I already pay parking fees, because I work there.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

That’s right — I forgot you work for the university! Our public library now charges parking fees, so I figure I’ll go where it’s most comfortable. (Sometimes I prefer a kid-free environment too.) The summer is great because there are fewer students around and atmosphere is so much more relaxed.

C
C
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Honey, I realize this is not directly related to the post, but is there any particular reason why you drive to work rather than bike or do public transit? You’ve posted before that you have a 10 min commute, so it seems you can’t have much more than maybe a 5 mile bike ride to contend with, which is totally doable and would let you save some $$. Just a thought.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

C, I do bike sometimes. Now’s the time of year to do it, too, at least now that *our* bad weather is over with. I wrote this article last Thursday and it hailed Friday! Which was super frustrating because I was throwing an event for 30+ out-of-towners and had planned an outdoor lunch which I had to relocate at the last minute. Plus I couldn’t show off how amazing Arizona weather can be, which I was looking forward to. But yes, now that our (surprisingly) cold and rainy winter has passed, I need to take my bike in for a… Read more »

Phoebe@allyouneedisenough
7 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

Our public libray actually has a really nice seating area near the magazines with sofas and other comfy chairs, and even a fireplace. It’s pretty great!

Beth
Beth
7 years ago

I live near a forest preserve that has a wonderful indoor interpretation center. It is free, and my kids can see animals. However, it is geared to young kids.

The Norwegian Girl
The Norwegian Girl
7 years ago

During winter we spend most hours inside, but we try to go outside, even if it`s crazy cold and snowing! Just have to wear ALOT of warm clothes!
During summer I often find it difficult to stay inside, because Norwegian houses aren`t exactly built for the heat.they don`t exactly keep the warmth outside!!
So during summer I like to be outside, preferably by the sea. However, staying outside can be difficult as well, since I`m awfully allergic!

Juli
Juli
7 years ago

We live in Nashville, which I think is the best of both worlds. I grew up in Wisconsin so I am very familiar with seriously cold winters, and I went to college/grad school in Florida so I know crazy hot summers. Now our winters get cold but not usually so cold the kiddos can’t play outside. And our summers get hot, but not 110 degree hot. If the temperature is truly too extreme to be outside, I like to splurge on lunch or dinner at Chick Fil A. We can get one adult meal and one kids meal and that… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
7 years ago

I’m not one to go stir crazy but I suppose the library or lectures at a nearby hospital or college would provide a cure if I did. With kids, year long family memberships to science museums can end up being downright thrifty if you use them enough. Also, those dance video games are a great way for kids of different ages to play together.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
7 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

I can’t believe I left college lectures and other events off the list! I went to a lecture just last week, one of my favorite theorists. Ah-MAY-zing, plus there was free food!

Jamie
Jamie
7 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

In addition to lectures, the end of the academic year (June) is an awesome time to get some free entertainment at the local college/university because so many graduating seniors have free final-project performances. I work at a university, and at the end of the year I love going to the theater students’ self-directed shows, the film’s students’ viewings of their final short films, the choir and orchestra concerts, the dance recitals, and once there was even a digital music class that had an amazing indoor light show set to original music!

jxm
jxm
7 years ago

New England is a special beast – four seasons, but two of them can be giant pains the ass! Spring and autumn are unbelievably awesome – lush, breezy and colorful. Summer and winter on the other hand…ugh. Summer heat isn’t terrible, but it’s the humidity that kills. I’ve been comfortable in dry 110 degree heat, but 85 and humid causes psychotic spells. To negate that, we go to the beach. Sure, parking can cost some $$, but is free if you’re willing to hike to paradise. Pack a cooler with homemade fare (sandwiches and salads) and freeze bottles of water… Read more »

Candice
Candice
7 years ago
Reply to  jxm

“Just remember to leave your wallet in the glovebox.” Great suggestion JXM! This opens up a lot more entertainment options that might tempt you to spend money otherwise. Nothing like a frigid (or scorching) walk to the car to force you to weigh whether or not you really want to purchase something. You can get a cup of coffee at Starbucks for under two dollars and get free refills (if you use your rewards card). Coffee shops are a great way to get out of the house for under two dollars and are a great place to meet a friend… Read more »

Babs
Babs
7 years ago

Community swim pools around here usually empty out around 5pm when the kids go home. That can really cool you down for the evening.

barb
barb
7 years ago

Timely post for me.
I just discovered my library offers free Spanish/writing and meditation classes.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
7 years ago

I guess I can smugly link to this chart with our perfect Central California weather averages. But then again, this is a big part of the reason housing is so expensive here.

My Shiny Pennies
My Shiny Pennies
7 years ago

Winters for us are fine because we stay in and cook, watch movies from the library, or play boardgames by the fireplace. Summers definitely incur higher recreation costs since we like to go camping and take weekend trips to Chicago. Cold weather stinks but it forces us to stay home and not spend money!

jenne
jenne
7 years ago

re: the library…. you don’t always have to be quiet while you are there; watch for community programs in the library– though you should probably keep mum during film screenings and poetry readings. Look for free sample days/weeks at your local Y, or any free or low cost activities at museums, zoos etc. Scan online sources like Patch.com or print newspapers like the local Pennysaver for free and reduced cost activities. In really hot weather, ‘cooling shelters’ are often made available by municipalities. In hot weather, even visiting a park or public place with water features can cool you down… Read more »

Short arms long pockets
Short arms long pockets
7 years ago

Another plus about the library (at least our local one): A program that sponsors free museum passes.
Donations support the purchase of the passes every year and library members can sign up to use them any day of the year – first come, first served.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago

Many good suggestions, but I’d encourage people to dig a little deeper before being put off by the cons. For instance, local churches often hold community events — no one is going to try and convert you. Several of my friends have been involved in regular volunteer activities on evenings and weekends, and there’s always a need for one-off volunteers to help with special events. (I’ve been a volunteer usher, helped with auctions, participating in fundraising galas, etc.) The local rec centre where I am also opens up its walking track for free use much of the year, and my… Read more »

Beth
Beth
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

“For instance, local churches often hold community events – no one is going to try and convert you.”

Agreed! My church hosts an annual seasonal event, and it’s open to the community. No one is turned away because they belong to a different religion (or no religion at all), and we don’t push people to come back on Sunday, either.

Laura
Laura
7 years ago

On a lazy summer afternoon, I love reading and falling asleep on the couch on the back porch with a fan blowing on me and generating white noise. I guess I’m showing my age. 🙂

Giddings Plaza FI
Giddings Plaza FI
7 years ago

I love winter. I don’t think it’s tougher to find things to do. Besides the usual “small investments sports” like sledding, cross-country skiing, or snow shoeing (buy any of those second hand for very little $$), I also love having people over for potlucks, going for winter walks, doing home repair projects, and other activities. No need to ever be bored!

Julia
Julia
7 years ago

We live in Texas, so we have similar summar days that are just too miserable to be outside. Fortunately, we live on a ranch and have plenty of access to lots of entertainment. We do most of our outdoor activities either before lunch or late in the evening to avoid the big heat in mid day. We ride horses (obviously these are an expense, but we have them already), go fishing…ahh it’s nice to sit with your feet in the edge of the pond/tank, target practice (yes, ammo is on the expensive side, but cheaper than driving somewhere & paying… Read more »

LeRainDrop
LeRainDrop
7 years ago

Not that this is free, but since I pay my condo HOA fees anyway, I get to enjoy the gym, various club room areas, and the outdoor pool. I’m also seconds from an awesome public park, which offers lots of sun, shade, greenery, and tracks for walking/running or biking. There are a couple kids’ jungle gym/play areas, as well as a community pool, cheap-to-rent tennis, basketball, and bocce courts, a lake (though not for swimming in), various picnic and grilling areas, and big and small dog parks. Finally, there’s a great bargain on passes to the botanical gardens next door,… Read more »

stellamarina
stellamarina
7 years ago
Reply to  LeRainDrop

Oh yes….this reminds me of the wonderful big botanical glasshouses that many cities have on the mainland that are kept warm and full of tropical plants.eg….D.C. That is where I would head if I was living in snow. The other wonderful place is in the plant section of the Field Museum in Chicago. They have a room that has super authentic looking, fake tropical trees set up like you are on a tropical island. Take it from a person who has lived on a few tropical islands in the Pacific, they have totally made it like the real thing. Another… Read more »

michele
michele
7 years ago

Honey, you mentioned all the blogs you follow – ever think maybe to have a post to tell us what you follow, or could you post some here? I’m new into all this blogging, and have found some really good ones, but i’m always up for finding new ones to read and follow.

Good ideas on the cold and hot weather activities everyone!

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
7 years ago
Reply to  michele

@michele, it depends on what you are interested in, really. The blogs I follow fall mostly into 4 categories: 1) PF blogs (see https://www.getrichslowly.org/ask-the-readers-what-are-your-favorite-personal-finance-blogs/ for a list of those that other GRS readers like), 2) DIY/Home Improvement Blogs (YoungHouseLove is by far the best in this category, and I’d recommend even if you’re not planning on doing your own kitchen reno or building a deck), 3) Vegan cooking blogs, and 4) Defunct blogs that were formerly in one of those first three categories but that haven’t posted in a long time but I am afraid to delete because what if… Read more »

Peter Bells
Peter Bells
7 years ago

I love winter, sitting in front of the tv and the computer and looking at the snow outside.

Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
7 years ago

How about heading into the mountains, Honey? An hour’s drive from Tucson can get you pretty high up on Mt Lemon where the temperature might be 70 compared to 110 in the valley.

A day of hiking up there would be a pleasant reprieve from the heat and get you a lot of fresh air and outdoor exercise!

amelie
amelie
7 years ago

We bought a park pass so that we can enjoy our state parks whenever we want. If you don’t have one or don’t go often enough, you can pay a small fee to park and then you have free range of whatever is there. Many of the parks have swimming areas, BBQing areas and since it’s a state park, there is plenty of shade. You can also use their facilities in the winter for sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, etc.

Tiffany
Tiffany
7 years ago

When the weather gets really chilly with kids I like indoor olympics like how many times can you run up and down the stairs or up and down a hallway. It tries the kids out in a flash!

Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce
7 years ago

Great tips – thanks for this! Although seasonal change is always nice, thanks for reminding us of how we must also adjust our living patterns.

Jenn
Jenn
7 years ago

I used to go for drinks after work with coworkers, but we started to utilize our gym memberships instead. My husband and I negotiated a lower monthly fee and have determined an number of times we “have” to go per month to justify the cost. Twice a week is my minimum, but there are classes (yoga, pilates, spinning, zumba &c) included which is a huge savings compared to a per class basis. There are also classes and fitness bootcamps offered through city and community park organizations for really reasonable prices. My girlfriends and I also spend time looking through thrift… Read more »

Wm
Wm
7 years ago

I know you live in Arizona and what I am saying has got nothing to offer you. But when I was living in Chicago, I used to love walking to the nearby grocery store while it was snowing (moderately though). Since it remains in minus degrees several months in winter, when it hits 0 degree Celsius, I am so used to the cold weather that I can walk around in a hoodie and flip flops. Looking back, it seems pretty adventurous, but I did enjoy living in a place where the four seasons are clearly demarcated. Once we start embracing… Read more »

Me. Bonner
Me. Bonner
7 years ago

Holy cow, I feel like it’s a struggle just to squeeze in everything I want to in any given day. A full time job, a family with two little ones, attempting to do a couple half ironman races and just starting a blog are burying me, but I enjoy keeping busy! We’re in Southern California, so the weather isn’t really extreme, but when it’s cold/raining outside the boys (3 and almost 1, so it’s mainly keeping our 3yr old engaged) are entertained by art projects and building trains or blocks (or elaborate train tracks propped up on blocks with over/under… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
7 years ago

In the Seattle/Tacoma area there is free 1st Thursdays for many museums. The Frye Musuem is free all the time and offers free parking (which is a huge benefit in the First Hill neighborhood). The King County Library System offers a lot of free and low cost activities. KCLS has an awesome website with calendar and a decent presence on Twitter. Plus, if you like to read ebooks, they have a decent selection to check out for free. Seattle Townhall provides low cost lectures (usually $5). Indie book stores offer free author lectures from time to time. The city I… Read more »

Carla
Carla
7 years ago

I’m fortunate to live in the NW (Portland) where it’s relatively temperate in the summer; but can have a few miserable heat waves and of course, the 9 month rainy season. I have a chronic illness that wreaks havoc on my body when its hotter than 85 so I have to be creative when it comes to staying cool while getting out of the house. I do frequent libraries, coffee shops, museums and grocery stores (New Seasons!) when its miserable out. I can bring a couple of books, or my laptop anywhere and entertain myself without spending more than a… Read more »

RJB
RJB
7 years ago

Please don’t take this the wrong way, because I’m not trying to be a smart-aleck about it. But living in New England, I have never once heard anyone refer to the storms by those silly names the Weather Channel uses. Storm Nemo? Storm Saturn? We shake our heads and chuckle at whoever dreams up that stuff.

I apologize for the nitpicking, because this story has many terrific tips. Use even half of them and you’ll have a great time in almost any weather.

T
T
7 years ago
Reply to  RJB

I like the silly names. You can only have so many “Snowpocalypses” or “Snowmageddons” before they have no more meaning than “hey, it snowed somewhere sometime.” Naming the storm lets people clearly talk about its impact, big or small.

shares