Thursday, January 31, 2013

City on a Budget: The Frugal Fifteen

By Caitlin Baummer, CVN AmeriCorps Program Assistant
Sometimes when recruiting, after describing the living stipend that volunteers receive, I was asked the question, "Can I still be a normal young person and, you know, do fun things?" My response was always "Absolutely!" I would even venture to say that I had even more fun because of my budget. It challenged me and my community to be creative and do things that we might not have otherwise tried. Here are tips from volunteers on ways to have maximum fun with minimum cash.


Colorado Vincentian Volunteers upon completion of their
Photo Scavenger Hunt
1. Experiencing Your City- Members of Colorado Vincentian Volunteers did a Photo Scaventer Hunt. Sarah, one of their volunteers, told me, "We were given a list covering a 3 mile radius. We divided into teams and were told to meet up at a local ice cream place at a certain time. There were clues such as getting your feet and the Capitol Building in the same picture... We were all new to Denver at the time so it was a great way to get to know the city."

2. Museums- Cabrini Mission Corps takes advantage of free or discount days for Illinois residents. Such days are usually listed on the museum website. If you're lucky, there might even be some museums that are free everyday.

3. Movies- RedBox might only be $1, but the Library is FREE! My community borrowed each of the Harry Potter movies before splurging to go see the Deathly Hallows Part II in theaters. Libraries are pretty good about carrying popular recent releases and they are a treasure trove for documentaries and foreign films.

4. Theater- Cabrini Mission Corps also recommended checking to see if your local theaters offer rush, lottery or limited-view tickets. If you have time and your program allows it, you might consider volunteering to be an usher. You may only have to do it a few times a year, but when you do, you can see the performance for free.

5. Local Arts Events- Many major cities have some kind of Arts Consortium that puts out a publication of upcoming events. The Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance released the Baltimore Fun Guide each monthCatholic Charities Service Corps Volunteers in Buffalo, receive Art Voice weekly!

6. Live Music- Ask some of the locals about lesser known area bands or underground venues that host free concerts. Who knows? You might see the next Mumford & Sons before they're big.

7. Speakers- Check out your local colleges and universities for campus-wide events. (We don't recommend just sitting down in random classes.) Campuses can also be great hubs for student performances and activities that are open to the public.

8. Festivals- Keep your eyes open when scanning through the paper for local arts festivals etc. They often have a little bit of everything going on. You could grab some yummy fried food or local goods from a vendor or have a great time just wandering around. Volunteers with Catholic Charities Service Corps enjoyed Frozen Turkey Bowling at a Winter Fest in Buffalo.

9. Food- Two words: Farmer's Markets. Sure you can look around for the cheapest grocery store, but what quality of food are you buying there and where did it come from? SOME supports their local organic farmers every week. If you need help, type your zip code into Local Harvest and it will tell you the various venues where you can support local produce in your area.
Episcopal Service Corps Volunteers enjoying a view of LA
from the Griffith Park Observatory

10. Nature- this might go without saying, but look for parks, trails and lakes in your area. It might mean going a little out of your way, but it can be very worth it, especially if you live in a busy city with limited green stuff.

11. Exercise- Investigate your community center for free classes. Maybe join an intermural team with your community. If there is a YMCA nearby, ask if they give discounted memberships to full-time volunteers. Good Shepherd Volunteers in New York were able to do this.

12. Clothing- take the time to search for thrift stores in the area. This is just one more example of how living sustainably can also be more cost effective. Of course there are the go-to's such as Goodwill and Salvation Army, but higher-end consignment shops can also have great prices. I recently stumbled upon Buffalo Exchange in my travels and fell in love- they have 44 locations throughout the U.S.

13. Relaxation- Volunteers at Bethlehem Farm go to free community yoga classes in a nearby city. If you can't find free classes, see #15.

14. Dancing- local clubs or restaurants may offer free or inexpensive classes before they open the floor up for the night. Townhalls and churches might also host monthly square and salsa night. Warning: you might be the youngest ones there by 40 years, but they are a blast!

15. Everything Under the Sun- Groupon, Living Social, Freecycle... there are so many ways to take advantage of specials through these sites. You just have to keep your eyes open.

Julie, from Catholic Charities Service Corps, leaves us with this thought, "One thing I have learned, that I didn't really see before, is that you don't need money to be entertained, I can still go out, have a blast, and spend a minimal amount of money, which is cool and convenient."