Making weekend plans: Think past the ads

Sometimes the easiest plans to make are the ones that have been marketed to you. They're also the most expensive.

By , Guest blogger

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    There are many popular hiking trails within close proximity of the Phoenix metropolitan area, such as Camelback Mountain shown in this file photo. Guest blogger Trent Hamm suggests looking at your city's parks and recreations website or at a community calendar to find ideas for cheap weekend plans.
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This week, The Simple Dollar is running a short series on some of the key moments in my financial turnaround and how you can experience those moments as well. For a full description of this, see the first article in the series.

My weekend planning has always followed the same general structure (at least since I graduated from college). I’ll sit down with Sarah on Friday evening, we’ll throw a few ideas off the top of our head, we’ll pick one or two of them, and that’s what we’ll do. Saturday and Sunday follows that same general structure, though Saturday’s options usually revolve around chores.

Before my financial recovery, the options we’d throw out were often expensive ones. “Let’s go golfing Saturday afternoon.” “How about we go over to Jordan Creek on Sunday?” (Jordan Creek being the relatively expensive shopping area in the Des Moines Metro.) “How about dinner and a movie on Saturday night?”

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The problem was that by just relying on the ideas that came off the top of our head, we were by default preloading ourselves with activities that were fresh in our minds from marketing. We’d listen to the radio on the way home on Friday night and hear talk of a great new movie or restaurant. I’d drive by the golf course on the way home. She’d hear an ad for Jordan Creek on the radio.

Since these happened to be the easy ideas to recall, they were usually the ones we did. It wasn’t because they were the “best” options, they were just the options that popped into our heads.

I know that my parents did much the same thing. I also know that a lot of our friends did the same thing, too.

So, what’s a better solution?

Make a Weekend Plan
The approach that works best for us is simply “pre-loading” our usual weekend activity brainstorm with activities that are free or extremely low-cost.

Of course, to do that requires both some forethought and some research. My solution to this is to simply keep a “note” on my phone that lists such activities.

How do I find them? It’s pretty easy – it’ll only take a minute or two with your web browser by just visiting three websites.

First, visit the website of your municipality’s parks and recreation department. Many cities have parks and recreation departments that have lots of free activities for all skill levels. You can also find out about trails, facilities, parks, and other such features of your community that you might not know about that are well worth exploring and utilizing.

Next, visit the website of your municipality’s library. Libraries have tons of resources available to you for free if you just step up to the plate and take advantage of them. Free books, free CDs, free DVDs, free magazines, free classes, free meetings – it’s all there, just waiting to be used.

Finally, look for the “community calendar” for your city. Just search for the name of your city in Google and add the phrase “community calendar” behind it. You’ll find a listing of great activities in your area going on in the near future, many of which are free.

Beyond that, you should try similar searches for communities near you. We often utilize resources in neighboring communities and often use things in the Des Moines area as well.

Of course, while I’m doing this, I’m usually taking some notes. Even better, I’ll do this while Sarah and I are brainstorming. Instead of merely relying on whatever half-baked ideas pop into our head, we turn instead to some options that aren’t expensive.

That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything “fun,” which is a response I often hear to suggestions like this. All we do is look at the free activities first. If one of them registers as “fun” to us – and one of them usually does – we do that. That way, we’re doing something fun without spending money.

Even better, this contributes to a sense that not spending money is the norm, and that spending money is the abnormal activity, which is also something worth demonstrating to our children.

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