Just as many of us began excitedly filling our social calendars again, after two long years of enduring a global pandemic, along came the cost of living crisis.
Suddenly, with the staggering cost of petrol, groceries and utilities, lavish meals out with friends or overseas holidays feel just as unrealistic as they did in 2020.
What does this mean for our social and recreational lives? Does the increasing cost of living mean that fun is a luxury we can no longer afford? Fortunately, the answer is no.
There are plenty of ways to nurture your inner child and have playful, fun experiences while saving money or sticking to a budget.
Here are some ideas.
Embrace the outdoors
If you discovered a new love of nature and the outdoors during the pandemic, congratulations! You now have a lifelong membership to life’s greatest free source of relaxation, restoration and recreation.
If you and your friends usually catch up over drinks, consider branching out with a picnic and an easy-to-moderate hike instead.
Pack lots of snacks, water, and sun protection and enjoy the scenery and the endorphins from moving your body and being out in the fresh air.
If you need inspiration, check out All Trails for some of the most scenic trails near you. If you prefer solo hikes, look for self-guided nature walks near you to enjoy the flora and fauna of Australia at your own pace.
If a trip to the day spa doesn’t feel like a financially savvy decision right now, it’s the perfect time to DIY.
Gather your friends for a home spa day, complete with the best homemade face masks, hair masks and body scrubs.
For inspiration, check out this list of 10 DIY beauty treatments you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home.
You’ll find a huge amount of nail art and make-up tutorials online, so have a fun night in with snacks and bubbles, all while perfecting your skills and finding new ways to express yourself creatively.
Enjoy a night at the (community) theatre
Seeing a theatre production is a great way to spend a night out. Unfortunately, they often have steep ticket prices and a chance of your session being cancelled if COVID takes out enough of the cast and crew.
Searching for smaller-scale productions like your local community or student theatre is a fantastic way to support emerging artists and see a show you may otherwise never have known about. Simply do a web search for community theatre in your area, and enjoy becoming a patron of up-and-coming performers.
If you have your heart set on a specific production, there are other ways to save money while seeing your favourite shows. Many productions offer discounted tickets to dress rehearsals, matinees, or off-peak sessions. You can even snap up cheap, last-minute tickets for the biggest shows using platforms like TodayTix.
Shop without splurging
If you’re missing days spent shopping with your friends, or alone, don’t despair.
Even if your clothing budget has been reduced as a result of inflation, you can still enjoy shopping without breaking the bank.
You could organise a clothing or accessory swap day with your friends, where everyone brings a few pre-loved items in good condition. Swapping items you no longer use for something used but new to you is a great way to refresh your wardrobe without spending money.
Op shopping is another low-cost and fun way to find great additions for your home or wardrobe. Grab your friends and spend a day travelling to various charity shops to find hidden gems that no one else will have.
You could even play a game of op shop roulette if you’re feeling daring. In op shop roulette, you and your friends randomly select items of clothing. You then swap the items you’ve collected and challenge each other to make them into an outfit. The results can be surprisingly stylish, or hilariously hideous. Either way, you get the same enjoyment as you would shopping in regular retail stores, minus the steep price tag.
If your wardrobe is already full to the brim with items you don’t wear, you might enjoy a community sewing class that teaches you how to repair or upcycle your favourite clothing. The challenge of repairing a well-loved garment, or upcycling something old into something fresh is rewarding and helps build skills and creativity while adding unique statement pieces to your wardrobe.
Eat out for less
If going out for a fancy dinner or a cosy brunch is one of your favourite pastimes, you’re not alone.
A report by Suncorp found that Australians spend about $52 eating out per week, a figure that is likely higher among younger generations. This was separate from the average $31 per week spent on alcohol.
If you still want to enjoy your favourite restaurants without breaking your budget, simple tips like skipping appetisers and serving hors d’oeuvres at home prior can make a big difference. You could also learn to make your own cocktails to avoid the steep markup on alcohol in restaurants and bars.
You can also keep your eyes peeled for happy hours, weekly specials, and discounts to enjoy the food you love for less. Services like Groupon, EatClub and The Fork all regularly offer special discounts for their members.
Browsing for great deals is a great way to save money and, as an added bonus, find new restaurants that you may not have discovered otherwise.
Reconnect with what matters to you
We all have different priorities and interests. Some hobbies or activities are worth splurging on, as long as you can make up for it elsewhere in your budget.
Saving money doesn’t have to involve sacrificing everything that brings you joy in life. However, it does require an honest reflection of your spending habits.
You may need to start considering what investments are worthwhile and where you could cut back without reducing your quality of life.
Budgeting or living leaner doesn’t have to make your life miserable. In many ways, finding bargains and ways to reduce your living expenses can be its own source of fun. You might find you get a satisfying kick out of buying something you need at a hefty discount or finding affordable alternatives to items you use regularly.
It sounds cliche, but living through leaner times offers a great opportunity to reflect on what truly makes life meaningful. For most of us, it’s not about the restaurants we go to, the clothes we wear, or the events we attend. It’s usually about the company, the laughs we share with friends and the memories we make with loved ones.
Fortunately, meaningful connections with others are free, and unlike many other sources of enjoyment in life, not subject to increasing interest rates or inflation.
TELL US: How do you have fun while saving money or sticking to a budget? Share your tips in the comments section below.