Surging living costs mean many are going to find things tight this autumn and winter – and spending on socialising might drop to the bottom of the priority list.
But keeping socially connected is hugely important for our health and wellbeing. As Simone Thomas, founder of Simone Thomas Wellness (simonethomaswellness.com), points out, staying home all the time “can further feelings of isolation and sadness”.
Bolstering connections and breaking up our routines can help us cope with worries about money and the future too – so how can we do this while spending relatively little or even no money at all? Here are some ideas…
Make the most of outdoor catch-ups
“You don’t need to spend a fortune to have a good time, simply wrap up, make a coffee, take it out in a travel cup and meet friends in the park, on the beach or even on the football sidelines as your kids have a kick about,” says Thomas. “It’s the connection that is so important for us, and yes you might need gloves and hat, but there’s nothing like that feelgood boost of catching up as you get some fresh air.”
Check out community meal projects
Neighbourhood Facebook and WhatsApp groups, newspapers and noticeboards are good places to find community projects that are happening in your area. There might be something you can go along to with friends, or to spend time with new people.
“How about bringing friends along to a FoodCycle meal? We offer free, three-course meals made from surplus food for anyone in the community,” says FoodCycle CEO Mary McGrath. “Lots of people think our meals are just for those that are homeless or suffering from food poverty, but a massive part of what we want to achieve is just making sure people feel connected. By coming along, you’re not only helping us save food that would have ended up in the bin, but potentially brightening someone’s day by sharing some food and conversation with them.”
FoodCycle currently has 55 projects across the UK (find info at foodcycle.org.uk). You could also sign up to volunteer. “[It’s a] nice way to socialise, you’ll meet lots of great people, help your community and also still get to eat the delicious food,” adds McGrath.
Become a volunteer
On that note, volunteering in general can be a great way to flex those social muscles (as well as gaining other skills and rewards).
“Volunteering – particularly with the elderly – is a great way to boost your wellbeing, reduce stress and broaden your support network by making new friends,” says Will Donnelly, co-founder and care expert at later living marketplace Lottie (lottie.org), whose own research recently found that there’s been a 400% increase in Google searched for ‘elderly volunteering near me’ over the last 12 months.
“There’s lots of ways to volunteer this winter with the elderly – both on your own or alongside friends – including at your local care home or through an organisation such as Age UK,” Donnelly adds.
As sport and exercise psychologist Dr Josephine Perry (performanceinmind.co.uk) points out, sport has a huge social element.
“There are great psychological benefits for exercisers both in terms of performance and enjoyment by exercising with others. Joining in football, turning up on a Saturday morning at parkrun (parkrun.org.uk) or joining in a group cycle ride are all free and give you a great way to connect with others. Exercising with others can improve your technique, and can be great for your mental health as it’s a pressure-free way to chat and listen and feel connected.
“It’s essential we continue to connect with others throughout winter – especially a winter where we could potentially have lots of worries or stresses,” adds Perry, whose new book, The 10 Pillars Of Success, highlights ‘a sense of belonging’ as being key. “When we don’t feel like we belong, we risk loneliness, worse health, poor mental health and reduced opportunities. So the more we can focus on finding cost-effective ways to build our sense of belonging, the better equipped we are to come through the cost of living issues.”
Bring back nights in
For Alicia Currie from Hen Weekends (henweekends.co.uk) and Stag Weekends (stagweekends.co.uk), nights in are “one of the best ways to socialise with friends on a budget”.
There are plenty of ways you could make things fun and keep costs low by all chipping in or taking turns. Some of Currie’s favourites include games nights, movie nights and dinner parties. You could start your own book club or wine-tasting nights, or do an at-home spa night. “Think manicures and face masks,” says Currie. “You don’t need to attend an expensive spa when you can do the treatments yourself.”
Be a picnic pro
“Picnics are not just for summer,” says Jessie Moore, founder of Pocket Wanderings (pocketwanderings.com), who fell in love with sunset picnics at local beauty spots during the pandemic “as a way of getting out of my flat – but it’s also a wonderful low-cost way to see friends and enjoy a special evening”, she adds.
“Get everyone to bring a flask of tea, coffee, hot chocolate – maybe add some Baileys or other liqueur for a more decadent hot drink! Essentially, use what you have in the cupboards at home. Food is optional depending on how much money you want to spend,” says Moore. “To keep costs low, get everyone to bake something at home for a truly wholesome evening.”