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Simple pleasures that won’t cost you a dime

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 5, 2017


The average American consumer spends more than $56,000 every year. While a good portion of that money goes toward basic necessities, the total also includes a whole lot of impulse buys, meals out, Netflix subscriptions and trips to Starbucks. And although they might seem like minor guilty pleasures, each one chips away at your bank account even as it delivers a burst of happiness.

Why overspend when there are so many ways to enjoy life without spending a cent? Here are a few to try out:

TAKE A HIKE

You might describe taking a hike as "walking around in nature," but we’re especially fond of the Japanese term "forest bath" because it sounds so much more relaxing.

Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, is simply the act of spending time breathing fresh air, which features plenty of tree-produced phytoncides that can help bolster our immune system and reduce stress. A little walk in the woods can also improve your working memory and just plain make you feel more alive. Not a bad deal, right?

DAYDREAM

Daydreaming is among the most incognito guilty pleasures out there — no one really has to know you’re doing it. Until you spill your coffee or ask "What was the question?" for the third time, that is.

Though most of us got scolded for daydreaming in school, modern science tells us that it might actually pack some mental perks. People who daydream during undemanding tasks — a process psychologists call "task-unrelated thinking" — exhibit a better capacity for working memory. Just don’t do it while operating heavy machinery, or the money you’re saving might go toward your health insurance deductible.

VISIT A MUSEUM

Going to the museum isn’t always free, but it can be if you’re savvy. While many museums and galleries offer free days or times, you might even be able to score free admission as a hidden perk through your credit card, like Bank of America’s Museums on Us program.

While you’re taking in a slice of culture without paying a dime, you’ll do more than just enhance your worldly education; you’ll be reducing your stress levels as well — just a happy side effect that looking at art produces.

MAKE ART

Speaking of art, you should never feel guilty for making some of your own, even if your best work looks like Jackson Pollock’s drop cloth. Not only is making art fun and free, the act of crafting something with your own two hands can significantly reduce stress levels.

Best of all, you can express your creativity in any number of free or inexpensive ways. If you’ve got paper and pencils, you’ve got supplies. You can also break out the glue and scissors to make a collage or combine household odds-and-ends to create a found-object piece.

NAP IN A WARM BLANKET

You’ve just done your laundry and you’re knee-deep in the thrilling process of sorting and folding. That’s when that wonderfully warm, fuzzy blanket brushes up against you, and all your brain can chant is "nap," "nap," "nap."

So do it. You likely have that impulse because physical warmth — like the kind we feel in a hot tub or on a spring day — has a soothing, antidepressant effect. So, take 10 or 20 minutes and warm yourself up, both inside and out, without spending a dime.

WINDOW SHOP

If you feel like going on a spending binge, it’s OK to admit it to yourself. It’s probably not OK to act on that feeling, though.

Rather than max out your credit cards, indulge your materialistic fantasies with a little window shopping. Though you might think that window shopping will fuel your impulse-buying fire, all it takes is a simple mindset adjustment to actually save some money in the long run. Instead of dropping dough on the spot, consider your window shopping excursion an opportunity to really consider your wants, needs and budgetary battle plan. Get the thrill of imagining wearing that new watch, savor it, then move along to the next store.