The new academic year has only just begun, but you already need a pick-me-up to cope with all the stress. Some light-hearted frolicking. Some fun to get by to Christmas. I know, I know. We have post-vacation blues here in adulthood, too. You thought life was beginning to look brighter, but now it’s back to the grind: classes, workshops, paper writing, cramming for tests, rinse and repeat.
Don’t worry. Even though I used to be a fresh-faced first-year student like you some years ago, I haven’t forgotten those glorious college days when funds were about as easy to come by as a unicorn in the wild. Among all the studying, extracurriculars, scholarship application, and hunting for internships, there was always time for fun – budget-friendly or even free. So today, I want to share with you some timeless wisdom on having the time of your life in college without turning your wallet inside out. Get your notebooks out, class, and let’s begin.
The magic of the big screen is undoubtedly irresistible, but nothing beats good company gathered to watch some classics or binge-watch the next season of a popular TV show. Moreover, hosting your own cinematic soirees is so much cheaper than going to the theater. Gather your squad, get everyone to bring their favorite snacks or chip in for supermarket popcorn – and voila, you have everything you need for a fantastic time. If you don’t have a streaming subscription to watch the latest releases, opt for websites like YouTube or Tubi, where you can legally stream some older movies and TV shows for free. No newest installment of the Marvel cinematic universe can rival another re-watch of the cult classic with friends who get it.
Potluck dinners where each one invited brings their specialty dish might not be as predictable as dining out, but that can be seen as an advantage. Where is the adventure in eating steak at the steak house? Please! I owe my acquaintance with Canadian poutine (which has nothing to do with the despicable dictator), Polish tomato soup, and Indian butter chicken to college potlucks. And Jake’s lime jello salad by his grandma’s recipe was… an experience that turned into a fond memory – in due time, that is. If the weather allows it, make it a picnic on the green. Nature is free! Frisbee, anyone? And don’t forget to take lots of photos! I promise you, you will create something that no money can buy.
Biking, hiking, visiting local parks, camping expeditions, short road trips with friends – explore the places around the campus and beyond while you still can. You think you don’t have time for that? Let me tell you, the time will only become scarcer after graduation. This might be more relevant for students who enrolled out of state, but even if you study locally, you still can get your share of excitement. Play a tourist in your own town – visit local landmarks, learn more about historic places, visit a museum, buy a treat from an ice cream stall on the corner, or ride a Ferris wheel. Better still – play a tour guide for your pals out of town and get some vicarious thrill from seeing everything for the first time through their eyes.
If you think I encourage you to splurge on a gaming console after getting your student loan payment, you are so wrong! First of all, that would be a horrible misuse of your student loan. Second, we are talking saving here, right? Go analog, folks! Board games, cards, parlor games – there are so many options to while away hours upon hours, especially when the weather is unkind, and hiking is out of the question. A little friendly competition never hurt anyone… or so they say. I still remember that foul move, Eugene. Anyway, our favorite one was BANG! (it’s a shootout game with hidden roles; get your mind out of the gutter!) And when you are tired of the same old, same old, most board games have expansion packs to level up your fun.
Open mic nights
Almost in every town, you can enjoy local talent for free at open mic nights. These are live shows organized weekly, monthly, or occasionally at pubs, bars, or cafés to encourage new talent. There’s always something interesting happening, whether it’s music, poetry, or stand-up comedy. Keep your eyes open for flyers on the cork boards around the campus, watch announcements on websites like openmikes.org, openmic.us, and eventbrite.com, or join local groups on social media to get regular updates on live music shows, student band concerts, drama society performances, etc. Another bonus: open mic nights are often paired with food and drink promotions, happy hour prices, and contests for the audience members, so you have snacks and entertainment sorted.
LARP quests on campus
This one might sound like it’s going to require thorough preparation: writing a scenario, creating atmosphere, drawing and printing out maps, coming up with some doable tasks, etc. Yet, if you want something lazier, you can find lots of low-plot quest ideas online: basically, scavenger hunts with a setup at the beginning and a reward at the end. This is a great way to explore your campus and get acquainted with your peers. You might want to ask a senior student or resident advisor for help with this one since they know some hidden places and less-evident landmarks, along with ideas on how to incorporate them into the game: closed gardens, quirky sculptures, historically significant places, or just spots marked for some reasons in student lore.
DIY arts and crafts
Not a people person? Totally understand. Introverted folks know that you don’t have to gather crowds around you for quality time. Yet what if you need something more inventive than a quiet evening with an improving book? How about taking up macramé or painting? Doll restoration, scrapbooking, jewelry making, paper crafting, punch needling, latch hooking, tufting, etc… There are lots of Dollar Store crafts that don’t cost much, are easy to make, and bring you hours of fun. It’s easy to dismiss crafts as something only children do, but this is so wrong! Arts and crafts are for everyone, and their benefits are manifold, including therapeutic effects. Research has shown that crafting stimulates dopamine production, improves mood, boosts self-confidence, reduces stress, improves mental agility, and helps against insomnia, acting as a natural anti-depressant. I mean, yes, please! I’ll take the lot. Katrina Norris, mental health counselor and advocate, likens crafts to meditation because during both activities, you focus on here and now, and time stands still, enabling you to forget all the stressors of daily life.
Yet even this is not all. If you get good at it, you can start selling your oeuvres on Etsy or some other online marketplace to fund your hobby or even supplement your budget.
Before you skip it as a completely useless idea, hear me out. Libraries are not just for studying. You know they have all sorts of magazines there? Like glossy fashion magazines? Music magazines? Hobby magazines: photography and stuff? They have movies, music, and games for hire. Some even have Nintendo Switch and Xbox games. Many libraries have free online classes and host virtual and live public talks, workshops, and other events. Also, the quiet. Libraries are such calm and restful environments that one must appreciate in the hectic and fast-paced world we live in.
Seriously, libraries are so underrated, and it’s time we saw them for the treasure they are. Moreover, many libraries have been doing a lot to become more accessible. For example, the Cleveland Public Library removed late fines in 2019 because, according to Executive Director Felton Thomas Jr., they wanted to “connect people to knowledge and ideas, not stand in their way.”
College life can be chaotic and stressful, and stargazing is a meditative practice. It’s like a cosmic massage for your overstrained nervous system. It’s especially fitting if you are a night owl like me. So, grab a telescope or just lay out under the night sky and explore the Solar system, the Milky Way, and the constellations. By the way, knowing your constellations adds some cool points. It’s a conversation starter, a source of fun facts at parties, and a way to add magic to your date nights. Stars are romantic, okay? Call me basic, but popular things are popular for a reason. Imagine spotting a shooting star together, sharing a “whoa!” moment, and making a wish… Priceless!
I know this one is somewhat niche, but if you are anything like me, learning a language can be a hobby and a source of fun. Once you remove homework, grades, and testing, it becomes an exciting game! Find a language exchange partner and teach each other. It’s both educational and fun! Not so keen on socializing? There are plenty of resources online and free apps like Duolingo. Before you protest that this is just another class, answer this: when was the last time your school offered classes in Klingon or High Valyrian? No one said this had to be a real language! I’m still waiting for them to add a course on Sindarin or Quenya, but sometimes play around with Swedish and Welsh, which are the next best things, if you ask me. Gwych!
Money offers many possibilities and comforts, but you don’t need deep pockets to make your college experience electric, have fun with friends, and create memories that last a lifetime. All you need is a good company, some local knowledge, and a dash of creativity. Have fun, save lots, and come here for more advice!