[Above is a photo I took of Whitley Bay.]
One of the reasons I watch every penny I spend on domestic energy and the weekly shop, is that I want to continue being able to get out and about. Lockdown was a stark reminder that cabin fever can set in very quickly if I’m cooped up. Even so, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune and with some ingenuity, it’s possible to take advantage of a whole range of free or reasonably priced opportunities.
1. What’s on locally
There are so many events organised by local authorities or independent groups. Keep an eye out in the local press or radio for advance warning. Here are just a few examples of fun events which cost little or nothing.
- The colourful Mela celebrations in most major towns and cities in the summer.
- Guy Fawkes Night is always an occasion. Most areas have some sort of display. Lewes, in Sussex, boasts more than a dozen bonfire societies, each of which parades with their ‘guy’ to the town field where the bonfires are lit.
- The Reindeer Parades at Christmas with the Grand Switch On of the festive lights. Magical even if you don’t have children in tow.
- Special days to honour the contribution of an industry to an area. The annual Durham Miners’ Gala (my favourite) is a tribute to the mining industry and those who worked in it. It is a day of marching bands, political speeches and family fun. [Below is a photograph I took at the Durham Miners’ Gala].
- Car boot sales, farmers’ markets and craft fairs where you could pick up a bargain, or something unique. It helps to support local businesses too.
2. Make the most of local facilities
Libraries, art galleries, museums and parks are interesting and productive places in their traditional roles, and many of them also offer classes and events. My interest in digital storytelling started in this way, with a free year-long course in my local Art Gallery. The same venue provides other classes such as weaving, as well as a weekly art trolley for children (useful if you are on grandparent duty). A lot of these activities are free since they are funded by bodies like The Arts Council and The Lottery Fund.
Some examples can be found on the Arts Council website here.
Most of these public spaces are wheelchair friendly with lifts and designated parking places.
There are several ways to access cheap cinema tickets. The one I use is the Meerkat code. You buy a 1 person/night single trip travel insurance, the reward is a 12-month cinema pass which will give you considerable savings in cinemas and restaurants. You can find out more about this tip here.
4. Shared lunch
Some years ago, a group of us used to meet up each week in our local café to share lunch and generally catch up. We all looked forward to it and as prices go, it wasn’t too expensive. Then, as we started to bring our grandchildren with us, even a modest lunch presented a bigger bill than expected. Instead, we decided to have a weekly bring-and-share lunch. For no more than £2 or £3 each, we had a veritable feast and each week it was in a different house, so no one person was overburdened.
5. Join up with neighbours
This could be anything from coffee mornings and bridge sessions to street parties. I live in a terraced house with an alley between my street and the next. Once this was home to little more than vermin and petty thieves. Then we became part of the urban greening movement. Now we have a leafy outdoor space where we can socialise, children can play safely, and we can enjoy our own green area. I made a short video to celebrate the alley between my street and the next, which you can watch here (Editor’s note: the video is brilliant and well worth 2’30” of your time!).
6. Public Living Rooms
Many councils allow community groups to take over empty shops for at-cost activities available to the general public. Of course, each one is different but generally, they tend to include an area to have a break from shopping, something to interest children and maybe a resource library.
7. Away Days
How nice it is to see a favourable weather forecast and on impulse, decide to get away for the day. So how can we enjoy a wonderful day at a minimal cost?
- Drive to the beach, countryside or nearby city
When my children were small, my paycheque was often paid at the end of a half-term week. I used to fill up the tank, pack our old wicker basket with the lunch we would have had at home, and add a ball and a couple of towels. We would spend a couple of days at the beach and another two on the moors. By day 5, when the petrol had all but run out, we visited a local museum or park. I still do this with my grandchildren. My daughter and son-in-law often drive down to Harwich, buy a portion of chips and eat them as the sun sets over the sea. Simple pleasures can be so fulfilling.
- Take the bus
If you’re lucky enough to have a bus pass, the world, or at least the country, is your oyster. Even without that, a saver ticket is available from most bus companies which allows unlimited travel in a designated local area for a very small price. A region-wide ticket from Arriva, stretching from Scarborough to Berwick and across to Carlisle costs £8.60.
There are lots of great deals on national coaches. Megabus, for example, charges between £2.95 and £7.06 for the journey between Bristol and London. National Express has similar fares. Their advice is to book early, be flexible on days and times, and avoid peaks. These fares are cheaper still if you have a 12-month pass.
9. Heritage Days
These are such a gift that they deserve a section of their own. Held over 9 days in September, they give free access to venues all over the UK. Visit, without charge, gardens, stately homes, and historical sites. Even better, some places which are normally closed to the public at all, like town halls, and masonic lodges, open their doors.
On a similar note, many areas offer the same for Local History Month each May.
Find out more about Heritage Days this year here.
10. Special Offers
Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert will keep you up to date with a whole range of offers throughout the country. For example, discover the best tips for saving money on days out here.
A useful Facebook page a friend sent me can be found here. It shares useful money-saving tips for the North East, but it’s worth having a look at and for similar pages as there may be something like this for your area too.
If you liked this article, do take a look at Sandra’s two previous ‘Counting The Pennies’ pieces:
We have become so resourceful in recent times, and many of you will have other ideas of how to make the most of the more leisurely years with which we have been blessed. It would be lovely if you shared them in the comments below.