Image: Man holding out empty pockets. © Dougal Waters, Photodisc, Getty Images

January is when the bills for holiday overindulgences come home to roost. It might take every dime of ready cash to pay off the bills. Heck, it might even take more -- which means giving up fun for the next few months.

Or, rather, giving up expensive fun. There are plenty of ways to stay entertained without the use of credit or debit.

Ideally, some of the following suggestions will prove so enjoyable that they'll become part of your regular entertainment rotation. If so, you can set aside some of your monthly fun budget and pay cash for next year's holiday.

And if you're one of those sensible folks who didn't break the bank in November and December? Good for you! But you're still welcome to join in the free fun.

Image: Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman

Learn a new skill

Entertain your winter brain by picking up a new hobby, craft or ability. Some will save you money, and some might even earn you money. The Internet is bristling with ways to learn things as varied as toilet repair and search-engine optimization.

University-affiliated sites such as the OpenCourseWare Consortium and peer-to-peer organizations like Dave's Site are good places to start. Or do an Internet search for "free courses" on any topic that interests you.

A midwinter mind-stretcher with truly practical applications: learning a second language. Sites such as Word2Word and LearnALanguage.com provide coursework or links to language instruction.

Note: Be sure to consider provenance when choosing an online course. For example, I'd skip over a "nutritional supplements" class offered by a company that sells the supplements.

Be wary, too, of free courses that ask for a lot of personal information upfront, since they might spam you and/or sell your stats. Start a separate email address before signing up for any class or tutorial.

Get out of the house

You can cocoon only so long. Getting outside is an antidote to cabin fever. Bundle up and go bird-watching. Shoot some photos. Learn to identify constellations. Look around for organized winter activities.

The city of Manchester, Conn., floods a couple of man-made basins for safe winter fun. Vivian Dawson likes to fix a Thermos of hot chocolate and hit the ice for a little exercise and socializing.

"You run into everybody you know," Dawson says.

When was the last time you went sledding? It doesn't matter if you left your trusty Rosebud back home with the folks. Improvise a new one, suggests Andrew Schrage of Money Crashers, a personal-finance blog.

"Yoga mats and large storage bin lids make for great makeshift sleds," Schrage says. Those plus any kind of slope equals "an afternoon of awesome fun."

More than 100 national parks will forgo admission fees from Jan. 14 to 16. If you live near one (find a park here), look for events such as the ranger-guided snowshoe hikes at Olympic National Park in Washington state. Equipment is provided; although a $5 donation is suggested, it's not mandatory.

Don't want to go it alone? Look for activities via online communities like Meetup and GroupSpaces. In Anchorage, Alaska, where I am as I write this, there's a Meetup group that plans January hikes, snowshoe treks, fat-tire bike rides and even snowshoe softball (which is probably even more fun to watch than to play).

Can't find a local group? Start one. The sites are easy to use.