With the hangover from the recession showing no signs of easing up money is still tight in most households. For many, that means cutting back on 'fun stuff' as paying bills and managing living costs take priority.
But just because you're tightening your belt, it doesn't mean you can't still enjoy yourself. Here Moneywise provides 15 ideas for fun activities that will cost you nothing at all.
VISIT THE CINEMA FOR FREE
Going to the cinema has become an expensive pastime, costing up to £15 a ticket in central London, and £10 in the rest of the country. However, you can see new releases for free by registering with websites such as seefilmfirst.com and momentumscreenings.co.uk.
You could get tickets for films before they’re even released. Tickets are usually allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
GARDENS AND PARKS
With summer coming to an end, this may your last chance to visit some of Britain’s gardens and parks when they are at their most beautiful. Most are free, and you can take a scenic stroll, fly a kite or observe the rich wildlife. Visit Sefton Park in Liverpool, for example, and see the beautiful Grade II-listed Palm House.
For more information about the UK’s parks and gardens, and associated events, visit nationaltrust.org.uk, royalparks.org.uk, english-heritage.org.uk or greatbritishgardens.co.uk.
GO ON TV
Television networks and production companies often release a limited number of free seats for television and radio shows, on a first-come, first-served basis. Popular shows such as Top Gear often have long waiting lists - but it’s worth signing up in case of cancellations. New game shows and early-stage regional competitions for shows such as Britain’s Got Talent are often the easiest to get tickets for.
Visit applausestore.com, tvrecordings.com, sroaudiences.com, lostintv.com and bbc.co.uk/tickets, and sign up for email alerts to be the first to hear when tickets are released.
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TAKE ADVANTAGE OF MUSEUMS
The wealth of fascinating museums across the country gives us the chance to learn about history, industry, nature, fashion, science and the universe.
In London, you can visit the Natural History Museum, the Imperial War Museum and the Science Museum, among many others, completely free of charge.
For information about museums and exhibitions, go to 24hourmuseum.org.uk.
LEARN A LANGUAGE
Learning a new language is something many people would love to do, but never get around to. A second language is a great skill but college courses can cost several hundred pounds, so why not borrow an audio kit from your local library or visit the BBC’s online language centre at bbc.co.uk/languages, which offers free 12-week courses for beginners.
HEAD FOR THE HILLS
The more adventurous can don their walking shoes or get on their mountain bikes and head for the hills for fresh air and exercise. The Lake and Peak Districts, Snowdonia and the Scottish Highlands all offer inspirational scenery. There are trails for all abilities, but remember to do your research first, take adequate clothing and water, and never wander off alone.
For more information, visit regional websites. For details on walking routes, go to walkingbritain.co.uk, or moredirt.co.uk if you’re heading out on a mountain bike.
DISCOVER YOUR ARTY SIDE
Immerse yourself in creativity and spend an afternoon soaking up art at a gallery. Many institutions, such as the Tate galleries in London, Liverpool and St Ives, are free except for major exhibitions.
Also, look out for work by local artists, and shows by art schools and colleges, which often exhibit students’ work in May and June.
You can discover much about the country’s political and historical landscape completely free of charge. Visit the Houses of Parliament to watch debates or judicial hearings, use the archives or tour the Parliament buildings. You can arrange to climb the Clock Tower (Big Ben) by contacting your MP.
There are countless heritage sites, natural and manmade, that tell tales of the past, such as the 95 miles of exposed rocks that make up the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and East Devon; the mysterious white chalk drawings around Oxfordshire and Sussex, and the early Roman monument of Hadrian’s Wall.
For more information, visit enjoyengland.com and parliament.uk. It is free to attend Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons, but tickets must be obtained from your local MP so you’ll need to make arrangements in advance.
Free festivals and community events are scattered across the calendar. Cities and towns such as Brighton often host their own festivals during the summer months, or you could head into the countryside for a local fete or fair.
For more information about events in your area, visit free-events.co.uk.
TRY YOUR HAND AT VOLUNTEERING
There are thousands of organisations and charities in need of kind people to lend a helping hand. From working as a mentor to underprivileged kids to helping disabled people with their shopping or exercising a dog for an elderly owner, there are limitless opportunities to give your free time to a good cause.
Check out volunteering.org.uk and do-it.org.uk to find out about opportunities in your local area, or visit your local community centre.
MAKE A LITTLE EXTRA AT CAR BOOT SALES
Your free time doesn’t have to be all about spending money, you can use it as an opportunity to make a little extra cash. Venture into the loft or clear out your garage and assemble all those things you no longer want or need.
Most car-boot sale sites charge a fee of £5 to £10 for a pitch, but it’s possible to make this up from your first couple of sales.
Visit carbootjunction.com for a directory of all the car boot sales in the UK and cost of pitching at each site.
Make money at car boot sales
Escape commercial campsite fees and pitch your tent in the wild for free. Wild camping in England and Wales requires the prior permission of the landowner, but campers do tend to be tolerated if they respect the land. This includes keeping out of sight, far from any livestock, not building open fires, staying for just one night, and following the wild camper’s code of ‘pitch late, leave early’.
In Scotland, you are free to roam as the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 makes wild camping legal in most cases when practiced well away from property and roads.
For details of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, see outdooraccess-scotland.com and The Mountaineering Council of Scotland mountaineering-scotland.org.uk/leaflets/wildcamp.html.
SET UP A GAMES NIGHT
Most people have a collection of old board games, such as Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit or Pictionary, at the back of a cupboard, collecting dust. So why not dig them out and invite some friends round for a games night?
If board games aren’t your thing, you could play cards or the games console you got for Christmas. When everyone chips in for snacks and drinks, it’s a fun, inexpensive night.
For rules on hundreds of card games, visit pagat.com.
JOIN A BOOK CLUB
There are thought to be as many as 50,000 book clubs in the UK. Some are for general reading, while others are devoted to specific genres such as crime, horror or romance. There isn’t a national directory of book clubs, but you can find out more from local papers, community bulletin boards or by word of mouth.
PLANT A VEGGIE PATCH
Save money and eat well by growing your own fruit and vegetables. Providing the frost has subsided, March and April are good months to start sowing seeds, such as potato tubers, which can cost as little as £5 for a 2.5kg pack at garden centres.
You can also buy seeds for everything from aubergines and cabbages, beans and tomatoes, to sow indoors, then move outside when the weather gets warmer.