Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How to Hack Cheap Alternatives to Your Usual Fun Activities.

The U.S. economy has many of us on edge and feeling insecure. Even weekends and downtime can be a drag. After all, most ways that we kick back and relax involve spending money. And if spending money on recreational stuff is now kicking up your stress level--well, that sort of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

Here are some replacement activities meant to fake you out and let you have fun in similar ways.

Old economy: Shopping.
New economy: Shopping at the library!

For those who find the act of browsing, selecting, and purchasing things to be a high form of recreation (ladies, I'm talking to you!) the library could be a lifesaver for you. You get to wander around... pick stuff out... take it to the checkout, swipe your plastic, and leave laden with more things than you came in with. Come on, it's sort of like a trip to TJ Maxx! I highly recommend trying this when you're jonesin' shopping. Just make sure you return everything on time to avoid late fees!

Old economy: Drinks with friends at the bar.
New economy: Drinks with friends on your porch.

For the cost of one apple-cosmo-choco-tini, you can pick up enough sauce to show all your friends a good time. Invite the gang to your house instead of doing a night on the town. You offer snacks, your friends will bring something to share... and a fun time will be had by all. The only thing missing is the gang of desperados who "accidentally" brush up against you as your try to order a drink. Ew.

Old economy: Taking weekend trips (or what Bridget Jones would call Mini-Breaks).
New economy: Fun day trips. (Cue the Beatles song!)

Google Maps is brilliant for helping you find weird, cool attractions within 50 or 100 miles of your home. Strawberry picking? Barbecue festival? Water of any kind? Fun may be closer to home than you think. It's amazing how getting just 20 miles away in any direction can seem like you've traveled to a strange and different land. This works both ways, from cities to country, from country to city--even from city to neighboring city.

Old economy: Major Leagues.
New economy: Little League.

Is there a free or cheap equivalent of the sporting events you love? If your company no longer has box seats for the professional football team, or if you can't swing the $18 hot dogs at the big ballpark this year, opt for a local version. High school or local college games can be super fun. You'll love rooting for the youngin's, and the experience is pretty similar. Park, sit, cheer, eat nachos, halftime, eat more nachos, leave. Right?

Old economy: Buying video games/toys/clothes for your kids willy nilly.
New economy: Buy cool, old school things that are super cheap and super fun,

I KNOW it's tempting to buy for them. I know, I know! You want them to be happy! You want them to be spared the grief, the shame, the utter humiliation you once felt when your parents denied you some basic human comfort such as a Sony Walkman or actual name brand Keds. But a dollar saved is--thanks to Uncle Sam--more like $1.40 earned. And most of the dollars you spend on more stuff for your kids is a waste.

But you can see little Danny playing with this one thing! You see him interested, happy, engaged, laughing, even SMARTER from the presence of this developmentally appropriate toy in his life! Look at him there, occupying himself and leaving you alone!

NO! Chase this image from your mind. This plastic piece of crap will go where all plastic crap goes to die in your home: your floor. In pieces. And Danny is not going to pick it up, laughing, with apple-y cheeks. You are. Unless you slowly put it back on the shelf. And step. Away.

But the point of this post is about replacing fun things with cheaper, fun things. So instead of fancy high tech toys, how about checking out all the top toys from the past? I'm talking silly putty, Play-Doh, yo-yos, kites, bubbles, sidewalk chalk. For older kids, try Uno, chess, checkers, a soccer ball, or a magic set. You could purchase several of these items for the price of one Wii game. And you'll probably get as many hours of entertainment, if not more.

Old economy: Buying $400 shoes.
New economy: Just don't.

Sorry, there's no fun replacement for expensive shoes. I do love and cherish Payless, but it's not going to replace the Nordstrom shoe department anytime soon. If you're facing financial trouble, you're just gonna have to lose out on this particular thrill. But hey, who wants to be Carrie Bradshaw now that she's just in cable reruns?

What old/new economy combos can you think of? Remember, the idea is to get a similar rush, but to pay less!

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