See what's happening in your community

In December and January, The Simple Dollar is posting a daily series focusing on specific activities you can do right now to set the stage for a great 2011. Out with the old, in with the new.

Melissa Phillip / Houston Chronicle / AP / File
Alex Saha, 3, made bubbles at least 60 other children at the Heights Library in Houston on July 20. Librarian Sara Pope said one part dishwashing soap and 10 parts water makes the best bubbles. There are tons of free or inexpensive family activities like this, but they're often not well advertised. Look around your local library or other community centers to find your neighborhood's free fun.

Find out what’s going on in your community.

I am constantly astounded as to the wide variety of activities going on in my own community and in surrounding communities. Quite simply, there are more interesting activities going on than I possibly have time to participate in or attend. Ultimate frisbee leagues. Free concerts. Free golf. Free lectures.

Once upon a time, I always felt like there was either nothing to do or that the only activities I could do outside of the home were expensive – go to a movie, go to a club, or something like that. In truth, though, most communities are teeming with things to do.

You just have to find them.

Here are some of the techniques I use to keep abreast of the events going on in my own community.

Use the internet Search the internet for your town name (and nearby communities, too) and the words “community calendar” or “activities” and see what you find. Many cities maintain a web site that includes some sort of community calendar and, beyond that, local newspapers often have similar pages as well that note upcoming local events.

That, of course, leads right into my second tip…

Check the local newspaper Local newspapers are usually treasure troves of event listings of all kinds. Browse through a local newspaper or two to see what sort of events are mentioned. Some newspapers – like the one my parents subscribed to as a kid – actually have a “community calendar” section loaded with interesting stuff.

Visit the websites of nearby colleges and universities If you live near a large university, you’re in luck – most of them have an abundance of activities available to the wider community. I live fairly near Iowa State University, so I regularly attend lectures and other events held there in the Union. You can find out what’s going on there by simply visiting the website of those universities and colleges and reading their calendar of events.

Stop by the post office Many activities are posted on the bulletin board at your local post office. At the same time, the local postmaster will often have great ideas as to where to go to find more event listings.

Visit the parks department In many towns and cities, the parks and recreation department runs ongoing activities of all kinds, from sports leagues you can participate in to youth leagues you can coach and referee in.

Stop by city hall The city hall in many towns often has a community calendar on display, listing activities in the town. Even if such a calendar isn’t available there, asking the people working at city hall for further ideas can be a great boost to your search.

Stop by the library The library in many towns offers group meetings, lectures, and activities of various kinds. Stop in there, check out their calendar, and see what’s on offer.

If you do all of these things, I virtually guarantee you’ll have a giant list of low-cost entertainment and activities in your community, most of them free and most of them completely outside of your bubble of awareness. From that list, I’m willing to bet there’s quite a few activities you will enjoy.

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