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3 Ways to Socialize When Money’s Tight

Try these fun, affordable ideas for staying connected.

Have you ever found yourself turning down an invitation or avoiding a get-together because of your budget?

While the cost of going out may seem like a good reason to stay in, there are plenty of ways to stay socially active without breaking the bank.

Try adding a line item to your household budget for social activities; it can help you feel less worried about spending. Use this budgeting worksheet from AARP Foundation to find some wiggle room — or create a household budget if you don’t already have a formal tracking system.

Once you figure out how much you can spend on social activities, make a plan to get together with friends, family, or anyone you’d like to get to know better.

We’ve rounded up some affordable ideas for socializing on a budget. Give one a try today.

Gather a Group for Free Admission Days

Playing tourist where you live can be fun, especially if you can score free admission to a local cultural attraction. With a little homework, you can find the best days and times to visit the zoo, museums, or botanic gardens in your area for free.

Although many places offer discounts to older adults, some also have free admission at off-peak times, either later in the day or on a certain day of the week. The website of the place you’d like to visit will likely have information on any available deals.

Many places also offer free admission once or twice a year for state residents. Again, these should be listed on their website, or check with your local library.

Bringing your own food and drink makes the outing even more affordable, so ask whether the facility allows it. Once you know the details, you can reach out to someone — or several someones — and invite them to join you for an affordable day out.

What to Say: The art museum is free next Wednesday and I’d love for you to join me. Does 10 a.m. work for you?

Host a Friendly Cook-Off or Bake-Off

A smiling Black woman with gray hair holds a pie she baked while another Black woman smiles back at her.

While traditional potlucks have everyone sign up to bring an appetizer, main course, or dessert, this creative twist amps up the fun while still keeping the costs down for the host.

Invite your neighbors, co-workers, or friends to “throw down” like Bobby Flay on the Food Network. (He competes with master chefs to see whose dish is best.)

Start by selecting a category of food for your cook-off or bake-off. We’ve listed some of the most popular dishes to try below.

Main Courses Desserts
Burritos Brownies
Chili Cake
Chowder/Soup Cookies
Lasagna Jell-O
Macaroni & Cheese Pie

Ask everyone to bring their dish fully cooked, and only needing a bit of reheating in the oven or microwave. Bringing soup or chili in a crock pot makes this task easy.

To keep the voting anonymous, assign each dish a number and try to have people place theirs on a table or counter without anyone else seeing them do so. Once everyone’s had a taste of each dish, the judging can begin.

If you’re the crafty type, making a trophy or special blue ribbon for the winner adds to the fun. Your local thrift shop may have something inexpensive you can use for this, too.

When wrapping up, feel free to suggest having another get together soon, featuring a different dish. In addition to rotating dishes, you can rotate who hosts so everyone gets a break from hosting duties.

What to Say: This was so much fun. Thanks for sharing your dish with everyone. How do you feel about doing this again sometime soon?

Start a Neighborhood Cleanup Crew

A group of four older white men and women wearing reflective vests and carrying trash bags to pick up litter on the beach.

Did you know author David Sedaris has picked up so much litter that his adopted city in England named a garbage truck after him? It all started as something to do as he logged his daily steps on his Fitbit, but it’s now his hobby.

Getting folks in your local community to pick up trash in the park or along a busy street is a great way to get to know people. Even better, the activity will help keep you active and doesn’t require any expensive equipment — just trash bags and rubber gloves for the group

To get started, ask volunteers to join you once a month. Hang a flyer like the one below in a coffee shop or post it online on a local Facebook or Nextdoor group.

To keep the emphasis on socializing, include some time after the clean-up for conversation at a public space, like a coffee shop or library meeting room.

What to Say: Thanks for joining our neighborhood cleanup group and helping keep our community in good shape. Now, tell me, when you’re not picking up trash, what do you like to do?

These are just three creative ways you can reach out without having to spend a lot of money. If none of these are your style, there are many other low-cost activities out there you can try; get some inspiration from this list.

As you look for ways to deepen your social connections, remember not to take rejection personally. The important thing is that you’re making the effort. It may take some time and a few tries, but the end result is worth it.

Mindfulness Tips for Easing Social Anxiety

Does the idea of inviting someone to join you for an activity make you feel nervous? Mindfulness can help.

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