Sunday, November 2, 2014

Gearing Down, part 6 -- Entertainment

When one's finances take a sudden turn for the worse, there's a strong temptation to cut out one's entertainment budget altogether. It's an obvious luxury, and with few exceptions, there's not an ongoing subscription of contracted monthly payments. So out it goes -- no more movies, no more video rentals, no more fun vacation trips to amusement parks or the like.

Except for one huge problem: cutting out entertainment altogether can actually make one's situation worse by creating the perception that pleasure has been cut out of one's life and is now forbidden. As a result, it becomes easy to feel down about life in general -- which makes it harder to approach tasks such as job hunting with enthusiasm, or just to cope with rough times and not sink into a downward spiral of depression.

This means that, in order to keep our spirits up, we need to find ways to have fun that cost little or no money. Which means we'll need to look close to home, in order to keep gas costs low.

Many of us go through life without even realizing the variety of activities going on in our own communities unless we are personally involved in the organizations that put them on. For instance, if we don't have children in school, how much do we know about the schedules of the local grade school, jr. high or high school sports teams? While some school sports, especially football and basketball, may have admission fees, track meets and baseball games (including Little League) are almost always free.

Similarly, how many people realize that their local jr. highs and high schools generally have bands and even orchestras that put on concerts at regular times? A few of them may have nominal admission fees, but often they too are free to all comers, and would welcome a few more people in the audience to appreciate their student musicians' efforts.

Information on schedules of these and other school activities such as debate team or scholastic bowl meets can often be had for nothing more than a call or visit to the school administrative office. Be polite to the school secretary or receptionist and you'll probably learn a lot more than you expected about entertaining school activities that are open to the public. School officials are often struggling uphill on limited budgets, so they really appreciate seeing evidence of community involvement in their activities, because people who perceive a personal benefit from the school are more likely to vote yes on referendums for budget increases.

Another great place for entertainment when you have no entertainment budget is your local public library. Obviously, you can borrow books, videos and other things with which to entertain yourself, but libraries also sponsor lectures, workshops and other activities for community members. Furthermore, they are also a good source of information about other free activities in the community, such as a community band or chorus that gives free concerts, or small local museums and art galleries that are free or have minimal admission costs.

Local faith communities often have free activities that are open to people outside their congregations. Free community meals are a growing trend in many ares. Unlike the traditional soup kitchen, they are not focused on charity. Instead, they are created as opportunities for community members to socialize over a warm meal -- which means that not only do you get to eat out without a restaurant bill, but you also have the opportunity to meet people and have lively conversations.

Churches, synagogues, temples and the like may also have concerts, cantatas, Christmas and Easter pageants, or other musical program. They will be of a religious nature, but generally are not heavy-handed about the preaching side of things. There may be a free-will offering, but don't feel obligated to contribute if you don't have the money, although even a token gift will be welcome.

With a little research, you can generally find plenty of activities in your local area to help keep your spirits up during these difficult times without having to break the bank.

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