End the “I don’t know — what do you want to do?” game with these affordable, get-out-of-a-rut ideas. There’s a pick for just about every personality, which might make you enjoy parting with your pals Andrew Jackson and George Washington.
By Candace Braun Davison
1. Play Pen Pals With Your Future Self
No, we’re not talking about the cryptic faxes Dwight received on The Office; with Seeds of Thought, you can write a letter to yourself — or anyone else — and for $15 or more, the company will mail it to you three to 20 years from now. It’s a time capsule where you can store the one thing you don’t want to forget, and the one thing you want to have accomplished by 2016 — or 2033.
2. Culture-Hop All Day Long
On Saturday, Sept. 28th, you can get into 1,500 museums across the country for free, as long as you fill out and print this ticket. The $21 will come in handy for gas, lunch and a commemorative, flattened penny emblazoned with your favorite museum’s logo.
3. Take Part In A Collective Runner’s High
As fun as they are, the multicolored, chalk-hurling, mud-slinging, army-crawling 5Ks that have become so popular can also come with a sizable registration fee. You may not look like a human tie-dye experiment at the end of a local charity run — like this Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer 5K in Texas — but fundraising races often offer early-bird registration for $15 or $20.
4. Make Cross-Country Homemade Cookies
Buy the ingredients for your favorite treat — we love this chocolate chunk variety — bake a batch, then send the extra nonperishable ingredients (and recipe) in a mason jar to a friend.
5. Become The World’s Best Babysitter
Treat your kids — or your niece, nephew or friends’ kids — to an afternoon on the town. AMC and other movie theaters offer discount matinees ($5 to $7, depending on where you live). You can plan your adventure to coincide with a restaurant’s “Kids Eat Free” night.
6. Channel Your Inner Artiste
Serious art class this isn’t, but that’s what makes a “Drink and Draw” night so satisfying: It’s a chance to try your hand at sketching models (while enjoying drink specials), in a judgment-free zone. Bars and restaurants across the U.S. are starting to offer these events as an alternative to karaoke and trivia nights.
7. Upgrade Your Home With The $8 Miracle Table
When is a table not only a table? When Young House Love bloggers John and Sherry Petersik get their hands on it. With this straightforward tutorial, you can turn a set of tables into a headboard, shelves or a two-tiered bookshelf — and make your house feel a little more you.
8. Feel Good About Crossing That Cuff Bracelet Off Your Wish List
TheHungerSite.com provides at least 25 cups of food to people in developing nations with each sale, of everything from scarves and chandelier earrings to bamboo wind chimes and soup bowls emblazoned with chubby cats. Plus, you can click the “Donate Now” button each day and the site’s sponsors will donate food for free.
9. Ditch The Dinner-And-A-Movie Third Date
…for an afternoon at your local bookstore with one objective in mind: Each of you must find a book you think the other would love. “You’ll learn so much about each other, and it’s a great way to show that you’ve been listening to what the other is passionate about,” says Jess Buscemi, half of the blogging duo behind TwentyDollarDates.com. Afterward, head to a coffee shop and talk about your picks.
10. Play Activity Roulette
Choose an event on Groupon or LivingSocial to try at random — preferably one you’d never otherwise consider. Recent examples from the sites: a cupcake tour ($20), bike rentals at a local park ($10), Brazilian waxes ($17) — even a Halloween jack-o’-lantern tour featuring 5,000 carved pumpkins ($10/person).
11. Take Care Of Yourself The Day Before An “I Can’t Believe I’m Doing This” Presentation
Once you’ve done all the prep work, head to the mall — but not for the reason you might think. Bypass the shops and invest $3 in one of those 15-minute, vibrating massage chairs (yup, like the one your Grandpa uses — they’re surprisingly relaxing). When you’re done, visit a nail salon and request a polish change instead of a manicure. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a traditional mani, but it only costs about $6 to $8 before tip. One final touch: Visit the makeup counter to sample your favorite perfumes. Research shows that women tend to feel more confident after spritzing their favorite scent. Some stores sell travel-size fragrances or body sprays at a fraction of the full-size price.
12. Eat Around The World
Food trucks aren’t just lunchtime staples in LA, NY and Miami anymore. They’re popping up all over the U.S.; and with them, comes food-truck festivals. Instead of chasing one truck all day, you can try dumplings, lobster rolls, Korean-Mexican fusion BBQ, or red-velvet ice cream sandwiches, all for about $2 to $12 per dish. It’s an eclectic-yet-delicious blend of flavors you won’t find on most restaurant menus.
13. Knock An Always-Wanted-To-Try-That Hobby Off Your Bucket List
Knitting, designing handbags, crafting flowers out of gum paste — whatever your DIY interest, there’s a good chance Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, Craftsy or Michaels has a course for it. All three regularly offer discounts that bring pricier courses — like cake decorating — down to $20.
14. Root for the Lesser-Known Home Team
There’s no faster way to feel part of a community than to don your local university’s colors and head to a sports game. (Seriously — just count the high-fives and random conversations that arise when you’re heading to your seat.) Many college football teams offer tickets as low as $10; and, in some cases, admission to other sports, like volleyball or softball, can be free, says Buscemi. That leaves you with just enough money to pick up a hot dog and soda at the stadium.
15. Turn Your Dining Room Into The Ultimate Game Show Where You Can Really Get To Know Your Friends (Ryan Seacrest Not Included)
First up, a battle of the minds: Heads Up! is a $1 app that takes charades to a ridiculous new level (and yes, it involves holding your smartphone up to your forehead, so the guessers look just as ridiculous as the actors). Next, a battle of brawn, sort of: a $14 desktop ping-pong kit transforms your dining room table into a table tennis court. You may want to hide the fine china. Leftover cash can go toward a crowd-pleasing appetizer, like these four-ingredient pinwheels.