After paying for the costs of college, there might be very little room left in your budget for fun activities. Yet, a school year with all work and no play can be exhausting. Luckily, there are many ways to have a good time without breaking the bank. Check out our list of 36 fun things to do with friends that won't hurt your wallet.
1. Go hiking
Hiking is a free or low-cost activity that can be done in your local area. All you need is a water bottle and a decent pair of hiking boots or sneakers to hit the trails. Depending on the length and difficulty of the trail, you can choose to take a backpack with a snack for the halfway point. Hiking with friends has many benefits, including stress relief and breathtaking scenery.
2. Host a clothing swap
Invite your friends over for a clothing swap night. A clothing swap is where you can exchange items from each other’s closets that you no longer wear or have duplicates of. While you shouldn’t bring stained or damaged items, sweaters you rarely wear or pants you've outgrown are acceptable. Hosting a clothing swap is a fun and sustainable way to refresh your wardrobes without spending money.
3. Catch up over coffee
A simple way to go on an affordable date with your partner or hang out with friends is to meet up for coffee. There might be a cozy cafe in your city where you can sip on a caffeinated beverage and chat about anything from sports to movie releases. Coffee shops are also the perfect spot to do some people-watching or even catch up on some studying or work.
4. Attend an open mic night
Whenever a club on your college campus or a local organization hosts a free open mic night, you should attend. The event could feature slam poetry, stand-up comedy, or other verbal arts. This is a great opportunity for you and your friends to showcase your talents or simply sit back and enjoy the show.
5. Start a book club
If you and your friend group like to read, you could start a book club to share your love of literature. Save money by renting books from the library or searching for secondhand copies at your local thrift store. Once everyone has read the book, gather to discuss the most intriguing parts and bond over your shared viewpoints.
6. Create a vision board
Vision boards are an artsy way to represent your future goals and desires. Creating one with your friends can make the experience more memorable. These boards can serve as a visual reminder of inspiration and motivation to strive for your dreams. To avoid spending too much on materials, ask everyone to bring an old magazine. You can tear out letters, words, and images from them to create a board that represents your goals.
7. Go camping
There’s nothing quite like going camping with your friends. To enjoy the great outdoors, you'll need to have a tent, sleeping bag, and other outdoor essentials. You could all pitch in to purchase a new tent or see if any of your friends have one available. Once you have these items, you can go camping several times as a low-cost way to spend time together.
8. Have a home spa day
A fun way to spend time with your friends is to host a home spa day. Give each other manicures, apply face or foot masks, or try another relaxing spa activity. Not only will you save money by not going to a professional salon, but you and your friends will get to prioritize the self-care that you've been neglecting from the comfort of your own room.
9. Search for free local events
If you're looking for a fun and budget-friendly outing with your friends, start by researching free local events in your area. Check out what local businesses or the chamber of commerce have to offer. Whether it's trivia nights or live music, there's surely something to suit the best interests of your group and wallet.
10. Host a cooking contest
If you’re tired of the classic friend dinner, you can switch it up by holding a food contest. Whether you have a chili cook off, a cookie competition, or a barista battle, this could be a fun way to try new recipes and get a little competitive. Best of all, any leftovers can be shared among the group and frozen for a low-cost meal at a later date.
11. Break out the sidewalk chalk
Creating art with chalk is a fun and budget-friendly way to unleash your creativity. When you draw on the sidewalk in front of your dorm or apartment, your chalk art has the potential to brighten someone’s day and bring a smile to their face. The best part is that your art is not permanent, so you don’t have to worry about making it perfect.
12. Visit a botanical garden
Visiting a botanical garden is a great way to spend casual time with friends, and it's usually free. You can take a leisurely walk amidst the greenery or learn how to identify various species of plants. Remember to take some photos amongst the beautiful flowers and natural scenery.
13. Tour around your college town
There's more to your college town than just your campus. With your friends, you can take a walk, ride a skateboard, or go for a bike ride to explore on a budget. You may even stumble upon new restaurants and shops that you may have missed otherwise. Don't hesitate to check out the cheesy tourist attractions in your college town either. After all, it is your home for the next four years, too.
14. Hang out at a local park
Another low-cost friend activity is to have a park day. You can pack some food and picnic essentials, play disc golf, people watch, sunbathe, read, or engage in sports activities. With so many fun options, the park is the perfect place to spend time with a group of friends.
15. Complete a tv or movie marathon
With a tv or movie marathon, you get to spend a cozy evening at home. Grab a blanket, pop some popcorn, and settle in for a relaxing evening with your friends. The hardest part of your evening will likely be deciding what you want to watch. It doesn’t matter if you choose a classic movie trilogy or a new tv series. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely have a good time watching it together.
16. Learn a new language together
Learning a new language can be an exciting activity when done with a friend or a group of friends. With free language learning apps, the activity is both affordable and enjoyable. Your group can also hold each other accountable. Plus, once you've saved up for a vacation, you can travel together to a country that natively speaks the language you learned.
17. Have a game night
Game nights can be a fun way to unwind and have some fun with your friends. You can opt for a friend trivia night or playing board games, like Clue, Sorry, or Scrabble. For a less competitive evening, spend time putting together a puzzle. These game night activities can give you a way to relax while still enjoying the company of your friends.
18. Check out a museum or art gallery
Another cheap friend date idea is to check out a museum or art gallery. You and your group can even pretend to be art or antique critics to make the visit a little more fun. High school and college students can take advantage of student discounts or free admission days to save even more money on this friend outing.
19. Start a shared journal
Start a journal that’s passed among your friend group or long-distance friends. Here's how it works: one person takes possession of the journal and writes in it for a set period of time, such as a week. The current contributor can add journal entries, pictures, drawings, or other mementos to make it more personalized. After the week is up, they pass or mail the journal to the next person.
20. Go stargazing
If you and your friends are night owls, you can lie on a blanket and look for constellations in the night sky. For the clearest skies, you’ll need to travel a little ways away from the city streetlights to avoid light pollution. This activity can be a relaxing way to unwind for free. Stargazing can also be combined with another activity on the list, such as camping.
21. Attend a bonfire
A cozy way to spend time with friends is to gather around a fire pit and bask in each other's company. You could share ghost stories, sing songs, or simply enjoy each other's presence with the glow of the campfire. While you'll need to ensure you have enough firewood and adhere to safety guidelines, chairs are all that are required. If you’re feeling sweet, bring s'mores supplies as an added bonus!
22. Volunteer together
Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community while creating memories with your friends. There are a variety of volunteer activities that will be enjoyed by your group. For example, if you're crafty, you can write letters or send holiday cards to military personnel who are overseas during the holidays. Volunteering at an animal shelter can allow you some quality pet time while helping furry friends in need. Lastly, music lovers can sign up to help out at a music festival.
23. Have a craft night
Sometimes, after a long week of class and homework, you just need to de-stress by using your artistic side. You could paint canvases, make friendship bracelets, tie dye shirts, or explore another craft your group will enjoy. You may be pleasantly surprised at your friends' hidden talents. Plus, most of the leftover supplies like paint, brushes, and beads are reusable. This means you can enjoy craft night multiple times at no extra cost.
24. Join an amateur sports league
Consider joining an amateur sports league or participating in your college’s intramural activities as a group. Whether it's a one-day tournament or a weekly league, there's bound to be something for everyone, from flag football to card game tournaments. You’ll get the chance to let off some steam while spending quality time with your friends at little to no cost.
25. Try out geocaching
Geocaching involves using GPS technology to hide and seek containers at specific coordinates. With a geocaching app installed on your phone, you and your friends can embark on a pre-designed scavenger hunt. As you venture out, you'll find that some geocaches are more difficult to locate than others and may require clues to help you along the way. Fortunately, the app is free, and the only cost is the gas to get to each location. Once you find the container, you can log the date of your discovery and leave something behind for the next person to find.
26. Pick seasonal fruit at a local farm
Visiting a local u-pick farm or community garden– where you can forage for your own berries or find the perfect pumpkin – is a unique and fun adventure with your friends. Make sure that the fruit or vegetable you want is in season before your visit. Admission fees typically include the cost of the fruit, making it a great value and an enjoyable experience.
27. Host a themed dinner party
If you're looking for ways to spruce up a typical dinner with friends, consider a themed-dinner party. Whether you choose a holiday party, make-your-own pizza party, or costume party based on characters from a favorite movie, a themed dinner party is sure to be a night to remember. Plus, you'll enjoy great food and great company for less than the cost of a fancy restaurant!
28. Go thrifting
When you love to shop but you’re following a student budget, thrifting can be an excellent option. You and your friends can visit local secondhand stores and pick out quality items for yourselves or each other to wear. Make it into a game by seeing who can find the best vintage clothes or who can gather the funniest outfit for under $20.
29. Have a tournament night
The perfect way to bring your friends together is a tournament. If you choose to have a video game tournament, like Mario Kart, you may need to locate a Nintendo Switch or Wii. On the other hand, a billiards tournament would require a pool table which many college campuses have. To make the evening more exciting, consider inviting other people who pass by to join in on the tournament fun.
30. Do some bird watching
An affordable activity you can share with friends is bird watching. With only binoculars and a passion for birds, you can witness the beauty of nature. The time of day, season, and bird species you're observing will determine the ideal location for your bird watching adventure. You can bring a field guidebook to check the species and distinctive sounds of the birds you're watching.
31. Sing karaoke
A fun, low-cost activity could be to invite your friends over for a karaoke night. While you could purchase a karaoke machine, you can almost always find the instrumental version of your favorite songs on YouTube videos for free. This is the perfect opportunity to have a good laugh at each other's performances and test your knowledge of the lyrics to your favorite tunes.
32. Take a free online course or class
Another educational but fun activity could be to take a free online course. Attend a virtual cooking class, brush up on photography tips and tricks, or even try a pre-recorded workout. With so many options available, you never know – you may just find your next favorite hobby while taking an online class with friends.
33. Watch a sports game
Many college campuses offer free or discounted tickets to students for sports games. You can save even more money by purchasing a ticket to watch a less popular sport, such as field hockey, rowing, tennis, or rugby. Enjoying the student section with your friends is a great way to show off your school's spirit on a budget.
34. Host a sleepover
Just because you’re in college doesn't mean you need to stop having sleepovers. You can always move your mattresses to a friend's dorm room or opt for a futon or couch. Watch a movie, talk about life, and then crash. You can make this a weekly or monthly tradition or take turns sleeping over at each other's places to mix things up.
35. Try each other’s hobbies
If you have an avid runner, a crochet enthusiast, a martial artist, or an origami fan as your friends, you should try each other’s hobbies. Even if it’s a one-time thing, trying each other’s interests might lead to a newfound appreciation of each other's pastimes. Not only will you get to spend quality time with your friends, but you can also save money by sharing the costs of some hobbies.
36. Make a scrapbook or photo album
Making a scrapbook or photo album with your closest friends could be a very sentimental experience. It's a wonderful way to preserve memories that you can cherish for years to come. You can print out your favorite photos and arrange them in a unique way or use a convenient online template to create your book. To make it even more special, you could create a photo album specifically to include all the pictures you took with friends while completing the fun activities in this list.
You don't need to break the bank to make college memories with your friends. Whether you're hanging out with your best friend or a close-knit group, there are plenty of ways to have fun without spending too much. Prioritizing budget-friendly experiences in college will save you money and help you create unforgettable memories that will last long after you graduate.
💸Time spent with friends is priceless. Yet, a million dollars could really bring your hangouts to the next level. Read how Students Answer 'What Would You Do With a Million Dollars?'
📝After taking a break with friends, make time to apply for college scholarships. Check out Steps for Writing an Outstanding Scholarship Essay.