Challenge accepted: Try keeping your weekends money-free

Not sure how to start? Introduce yourself to your neighbors. Write a letter to an old friend. Walk through your house and take care of any maintenance tasks you see. Make a loaf of homemade bread or a batch of laundry detergent.

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    In a May 2012 file photo, Lois Bryden, left, supervises students from left, aQuinnlan McDonald, 12, Jeren Kellar, 11, and Hope Frank, 11, baking bread in her fifth grade class at Redding Elementary School. The class gives the bread made away as community project. This weekend, instead of going out to a pricey restaurant, try staying home and baking bread. It's delicious. And practically free.
    Aaron Piper/The Tribune/AP
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I used to truly relish the weekends in my life. I would get off work at 4:30 or so on a Friday afternoon and just be gleeful that I had all of those hours between then and 7:30 on Monday to do whatever I wanted. My job was often stressful, so those hours became a real respite from the stress. I’d try very hard to fill it with things unrelated to my work.

Usually, that would mean a big buying spree on Friday evenings.

I’d usually stop and pick up some special foods for the weekend – maybe a couple six packs of craft beers and some special (read “expensive”) items to grill. I’d hit the bookstore and buy a couple books to read. I might even pick up a new video game to play or a DVD to watch.

Saturday would usually find me engaged in some activity that cost money, such as a round of golf or a day out on the town with Sarah. Sunday afternoon would usually be spent consuming the rest whatever materials I had purchased a couple days earlier (but rarely actually getting through all of it).

As I became more conscious of my atrociously bad spending habits and the negative impact they were having on my financial state and my plans for the future, I couldn’t help but notice how financially disastrous my weekends often were. If I was burning through $100 per weekend, that’s $5,200 per year. That would cover payments on a fairly pricy car or cover a large portion of the mortgage.

Sarah and I decided to start challenging ourselves to have “money free weekends.” During those weekends, our goal was to not spend any extra money beyond what we would ordinarily spend with typical meals at home and time spent at home, too.

We didn’t do this every weekend, of course. At first, it was a monthly event.

Over time, we began to really appreciate the money free weekends. We always found interesting things to do that we hadn’t been doing before, and we certainly appreciated the impact that a money-free weekend had on our bank account.

Gradually, money-free weekends became more and more frequent, until the majority of our weekends were money-free weekends. They became the new “norm.”

Today, we don’t actively choose to have money-free weekends, but almost all of our weekends are fairly close to that, anyway. The activities and routines we discovered during those weekends were so enjoyable and had such a positive impact on our finances that we’d far rather spend our weekends doing low-cost or no-cost things than spending money like we once did.

Want some suggestions? Go introduce yourself to your neighbors. Write a letter to an old friend. Walk through your house and take care of any maintenance tasks you see. Learn about a new topic using OpenCourseWare (or similar tools). Make a loaf of homemade bread or a batch of homemade laundry detergent. Go hiking. Toss around a Frisbee. Read a book that’s been sitting on your shelf for a while. Go on a long walk through your neighborhood. Start a natural collection. Attend a religious service. Do some volunteer work. The list of ideas is nearly endless.

Want some more ideas? Here’s a list of one hundred things to do during a money-free weekend, a list I compiled a few years ago. I encourage you to immediately skip the 80 or so you find boring (after all, no two people have all the same interests) and focus on filling your next few weekends with the remaining 20 items.

An enjoyable day spent without spending any money is a great day for yourself and for your wallet.

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