Finance Globe

U.S. financial and economic topics from several finance writers.
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Invest in a Fun Family Activity

It can be easy to laze the days away in front of the TV, but at one point many of us begin to wish we had a gratifying hobby or activity to enjoy. Aimlessly shopping is another way to pass the time, but often we'll eventually come to a realization that we are spending too much money out of boredom, and are being "rewarded" with stuff we really don't need or want - just extra clutter to deal with.

So what are the other options? By doing some research of what's available in your locale, you may find that they are many activities that can be enjoyed for free or at a very low cost, such as grabbing some books from the local library, or going to a free summer concert in town.

There are "consumable" activities that may not seem like very big expenses. But you pay for these types of activities once and enjoy them once. They can be a nice break on occasion, but if you do these things on a routine basis, you may find that the recurring cost over several year's time could have been invested in something even more exciting.

For example, going to the theme park can easily cost a small family a couple hundred bucks with admission, snacks and parking. Taking the family to the "pizza and games" parlor can become spendy when the kids' only mission is to earn as many tickets as possible to "buy" a plastic toy that can be bought for a fraction of the cost from a real store. And taking the family to the movie theatre - with the ticket, snacks, and drinks - you're doing well if you can keep it under fifty bucks per movie.

But, there are also plenty of fun things to occupy you and your loved ones over and over again if you're willing to make an investment. The size of that investment will depend on how basic or high tech you plan on going with your supplies and gear, and the cost to get outfitted for your new activity multiplied by the number of family members to be outfitted.

You don't have to buy the top-of-the-line gear unless you have money to burn or are sure your new activity is something you're going to stick with. Some low-budget stuff is still a well-made product for the price, and some is just junk at any price. Most hobbyists are fine with entry-level gear, but do your research before you buy.

I've given a general cost as a guideline only. Don't hesitate to look for the gear you need in store sales, thrift stores, garage sales, classified ads, and online auction sites. You can save a lot of money by not being in a hurry to purchase and keeping an eye out for good deals.

Mountain biking
Check into the trails in your area - mountain biking can be a great way to get some exercise, fresh air, and beautiful scenery at the same time. These bikes aren't cheap, but with good care will last for many years of service. A high-end titanium-frame mountain bike will run several thousand dollars, but an aluminum-frame bike will still be very light for the average user and prices start at around $500 or so. If you plan to buy new, dealers give a nice discount for last year's model in the fall when the new models come out. A helmet will run another $30-$100. If you can't ride to the trail from your home, you may consider a bike carrier for your vehicle - depending on type - $30 and up.

While it's often thought of as an expensive hobby, kayaking can actually be very affordable. Once you buy the gear, you won't have any other expenses - other than maybe having to pay the state park a few bucks to get to the lake. Plastic recreational kayaks - which are recommended for beginners and are very tough and low maintenance - start at around $300, and expect to pay another $100 for a basic paddle and life preserver. Rent or borrow before you buy to be sure it's something everybody will enjoy - but many find they are hooked once they try it. On calm lakes and mild rivers, recreational kayaking is a safe, affordable activity for family members of all ages.

Hiking is another good way to get out and enjoy nature, and can be done for next to nothing if you already have some basic active wear. Hiking shoes aren't even needed, sneakers with good tread and a water bottle are all you really need for short walks on established trails. For longer day hikes, you may like to wear a day pack to carry snacks, extra water, a light jacket, a small first aid kit, sunscreen, bug repellent, and other supplies.

This can be a really inexpensive activity for the whole family if your town, community, or neighborhood has tennis courts you can use for free. Tennis rackets can be found as cheaply as $20 each in the big box stores up to a couple hundred for nicer, lighter-weight rackets. Balls will need replaced after lots of play but that won't cause much grief at only about a dollar a piece. For the amateur tennis player, comfortable, breathable clothes and good supportive shoes are all else that is needed.

Play music
Learning a new instrument can be a rewarding way to tap your inner creativity, and you can typically find entry-level used instruments at a very good price - after someone else tried it and didn't stick to it. Pawn shops tend to have a good stock of brass instruments, guitars, basses, and other stringed instruments - but try to bring a friend who knows about the instrument you're interested in before making a purchase. You can be ready to jam with a several hundred dollar investment for many instruments, but to make good progress you may consider lessons - typically $20 and up for a half hour per week.

You can have a garden for nearly free if you have friends who can give you seeds and divisions from their own gardens, you can do it for relatively little if you buy seeds for all your plantings, or you can spend big bucks on a garden if you buy full-grown plants and shrubs. This is one of those hobbies that can be a never-ending expense if you really get into it. That being said, by growing your own fruits, vegetables, and flowers can be a very rewarding hobby that produces something for you to consume or something that is beautiful to look at.
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Friday, 03 February 2023

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