Please enjoy this guest post from my Get Rich Slowly co-worker, Kristin Wong. Kristin recently founded Brokepedia, a guide to saving money on damn near everything.
This year, I vowed to start exercising more, but I hate exercising. I thought if I bought a gym membership or yoga classes, I’d be more inspired to get off my butt. I’m very motivated by the thought of wasted money. But that trait also keeps me from paying for exercise when I can just as easily head to the park and jog for free.
I’m certainly not knocking anyone’s spending decisions when it comes to the following categories–I pay for some of them, too. However, if you’re looking to cut costs, or if you’re on a super tight budget, you may want to consider this list of things we buy that are actually free.
I already mentioned this, but I was surprised by the cost of gym membership, so I thought it was a topic worth diving into a bit more.
Personal trainers and Pilates instructors are definitely useful to the field of fitness. But if you’re simply looking to get off your butt a few times a week, and you also happen to be cash-strapped, working out doesn’t have to cost anything. According to stats from U.S. News & World Report, the average cost of a gym membership is $55. And 67 percent of people don’t even use the gym memberships they buy.
Jogging trails, public parks, dancing your face off—none of those cost a thing. When you’re on a budget, exercise is an easy cost to cut, because you can still get it without paying for it.
Even though we already pay a water bill, most of us pay for drinking water, whether it’s bottled or filtered. Lots of us don’t trust or simply don’t like the taste of tap water. But is it safe? Well, opinions vary. There are reports warning that the tap water safety is at risk in some cities. Still, for the most part, experts agree that the EPA-regulated tap water in the United States is perfectly safe to drink.
I’ll admit, I don’t drink tap water. I’ve always heard, mostly from my mother, that tap water is contaminated with who-knows-what. After years of living with that idea, I accepted it as fact despite never actually looking into it myself. To each her own, but people spend a lot of money on something they could get for much less, if not free. Here are some interesting facts that make me want to switch to tap:
- “People spend from 240 to over 10,000 times more per gallon for bottled water than they typically do for tap water.” (NRDC)
- About one fourth of bottled water is bottled tap water. (NRDC).
- “The Food and Drug Administration has little authority to regulate bottled brands…While municipal water utilities are required to provide public reports of test results, bottled-water makers are not.” CNN Health
A couple of years ago, my bank started charging a $12 monthly fee if you keep less than $1,500 in your checking account. Essentially, this is a way to charge people for banking. Should you have a $1,500 cushion in your account anyway? Probably. Is it the bank’s business where you put your money and how much you decide to sock away in what account? Hell no.
Not only are most banking accounts now free of fees, some of them even offer interest. If you’ve been paying fees on any of your accounts, it might be time to reevaluate your banking.
Over the summer, I visited the Metropolitan Museum in New York with my mom. We paid something like $25 each.
“You paid?!” exclaimed my Uncle Danny, a native New Yorker.
“Yeah. You have to pay,” I said. And he just laughed.
It’s been kind of a controversial topic, but many museums obscure the fact that they’re legally obligated to be free. At the entrance of the Met, there’s a huge sign listing their fees. In smaller font, below the numbers, it the word “recommended.” Apparently, native New Yorkers joke that the only people who pay to go to the Met are tourists.
Many people have argued about whether or not all museums should be free to the public. This post isn’t about that, so I won’t get into it. The point is that many of them are free to the public. So if you’re broke and think you can’t afford to appreciate art, culture and history, you might be wrong.
Books, movies and magazines
Maybe this is an obvious one, but local libraries offer so many free resources that are easy to forget about. For example, during a trip to Europe this year, I thought I was being frugal by buying some second-hand travel books. Know what would’ve been even more frugal? Renting them from the library. I thought about this after the fact and felt like a fool, but it’s a good reminder that the library is an awesome resource for media. Libraries offer lots of other freebies, too: classes, movie nights–even financial literacy programs.
Our spending can become so automatic that we often don’t think twice about some expenses. If you can afford it, there’s certainly nothing wrong with a gym membership and fridge full of Evian. But if you find yourself spending more than you’d like, it might help to review your budget and pick out the things you buy that could very well be free.
What kinds of things do you buy that are actually free?