April is the cruellest month, said TS Eliot. But while he may have known a thing or two about poetry, he clearly knew nothing about the calendar – January is obviously the worst.
It’s cold, dark, we’re all back at work and most of us are flat broke. In fact, research by the deals website VoucherCodesPro found that just a few days into the year a quarter of workers had just £25 a week left until payday.
And even if you’re not as broke as that, most of us are recovering from Christmas and have no cash to splash on having fun.
But there are some ingenious ways to have fun without paying a penny. Here are some of my personal favourites…
This is one of the most addictive hobbies I have ever stumbled into. Unbeknownst to the rest of us, there’s a free treasure hunt going on under our noses, sometimes under our very feet. And it’s easy to get involved.
Members of the geocaching community hide containers and then publish their coordinates on the website Geocaching.com. Using your phone, SatNav or any other GPS-enabled device, you then attempt to find these caches.
Sometimes they contain a treat, like a badge, and sometimes there’s just a log book so you can register that you found it.
I first heard about it sitting in a beer garden one afternoon, watching several people wander in and lift up a stone in the corner. They all looked genuinely thrilled to find their elusive cache and, once I knew what they were up to, I had to try it for myself. It’s free, it’s fun and it can be a real inspiration for going exploring.
See some stars
If you keep an ear to the ground (and an eye to the internet), there are amazing free events happening across the country. Often these events are staffed by experts and enthusiasts who have incredible knowledge – the kind you’d pay a lot to access normally.
One of my favourite examples just now is the BBC’s Stargazing LIVE project. Across the country, there are lectures and events to help people understand our universe and learn about the night skies.
Most of these events are free, although there’s a small charge for some.
Forget museums, visit events
And speaking of free events, it’s not just the BBC that’s laying on amazing, educational events for the entire family – the country’s museums are too.
Most lists of free fun include ‘go to a free museum’, but if you’ve been to a local free attraction one more than once then it might not feel like a treat anymore.
However, many museums offer free events and classes, giving you a far more exciting insight into the subject – and sometimes even a more hands-on experience.
For example, the former passenger steamship the SS Great Britain, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, is now a museum ship docked in Bristol. It runs weekly free storytelling for pre-schoolers and you don’t even need to book.
Or the 20-21 Visual Arts Centre in Scunthorpe is running a free sculpture workshop for all ages next week.
I often use the BBC’s ‘Things to Do’ website to find local free events in my area, and my toddler loves them.
Sneak some free education past your kids
When the weather is wet and cold, kids get bored fast, even with all their new Christmas toys. That’s when many will start pestering their parents for new computer games or Sky subscriptions, to while away the hours until the sun comes out again.
Obviously no parent wants their child to spend all day glued to a screen, but most of us let our kids spend some time playing with a computer.
The good news is that there’s a way to keep the cost down without buying hundreds of new games and DVDs. You can even sneak some learning past them.
Museums and galleries across the country offer free online games and educational resources, and the website Show Me brings them all together in one place.
You can play and learn about the Fire of London, Buddhist traditions, evolution and more. My personal favourite is Parliament’s ‘Be an MP for a Week’ which might be for kids, but I have found pretty compulsive.
If your New Year’s Resolution was to learn a new skill, then don’t let cost hold you back. From book groups to writing circles to amateur dramatics, there are loads of free groups out there.
Some are free, some require you to make a donation towards your tea or squash, but none will cost as much as a formal class.
I joined one last year. I pay 50p for a cup of tea each time and occasionally volunteer to bring biscuits. In this group, I have access to professionals in the field willing to spend time critiquing my work and sharing tips. Many people pay for college courses that don’t teach any more than that.
Get online and search for local groups addressing your interests. You’ll be surprised at how many enthusiasts are willing to give up their time.
Have you tried any of these activities? What do you do for fun when you’re broke? Share your ideas and comments with other readers using the comments below.