Frugal NationFrugal Nation

18 cheap ways to beat stress

Relax and unwind with one of these tactics. Some of them don't cost a dime.

By Donna_Freedman Jul 31, 2012 12:14PM
Image: Worried Woman (© Thinkstock Images/Jupiterimages)Having a bad day, a bad week or what looks to turn into a bad decade? So was Susan Gregory Thomas: Five years ago, her marriage imploded, leaving her with two young kids and barely enough money to pay the mortgage.

The advice her mother offered? "Get a treat, now." Never mind that you're in a financial quagmire -- find something that makes you "feel special, sparkling with delight."

Thomas did, and it didn't cost a thing. Not at first, anyway.

She wandered the beauty section of a major department store, "inhaling the glittery splendor," Thomas recalls on the Daily Worth, a personal-finance website. She began saving change in a jar and eventually had enough for a few makeup items. And she never missed a mortgage payment either.

To which I say: Good for her! Letting a bad day stay that way just means that tomorrow you'll wake up into a bad morning.

I'm not suggesting that all problems can be solved with a positive attitude or a new lipstick. But small diversions can take you out of the stress for a while.

A single hour’s R&R can make a huge difference, even if it's a situation with no clear end in sight: illness, say, or long-term unemployment. That hour doesn't have to cost a lot -- and it might even be free.

Inexpensive diversions

1. Have a picnic.
Eat your sandwich in a shady spot near the workplace or, on a weekend, carry your lunch to the nearest park.

2. Attend an open-mike evening.
Look for music or poetry readings at a coffeehouse, bookstore or bar. You might have to pay a cover charge or buy a coffee, but it's pretty cheap entertainment.

3. Go to school.
Colleges and universities have fewer activities during summer semester but you will still likely encounter art shows, lectures, music and other activities. Some might even be free.

4. Visit a dollar store.
Buy a kite or a generic Frisbee, then fly it/throw it. Take home sidewalk chalk and have an art contest with the neighbors. Get some bubble bath and take a long, long soak. (Post continues after video.)
5. See a pay-what-you-can show.
Comedy, theater, music -- all sorts of things might be available for whatever you can afford to spend.

6. Get a massage.
Watch for a daily deal; I've seen massages going for as little as $29. You won't believe the difference, especially if you carry stress in your shoulders and jaw. (Can't afford it? Trade shoulder or neck rubs with a friend.)

7. Camp out.
Not up for a wilderness trek? Borrow a tent and pitch it in the backyard. Younger kids will think this is the coolest idea ever -- being outside in your pajamas! Sleeping in the yard instead of your bed!

8. Host a games night.
If you haven't got any games, check the thrift store. Serve a few basic refreshments, or provide beverages only and ask people to bring snacks. "Games are a priceless way to interact with friends and family while creating lasting memories," notes Casey Slide in a post on the Money Crashers personal finance site.

9. Go birding.
Yes, really. "It's actually a cool sport. You and your date get to trounce around in nature with the sun on your face and the wind in your hair," writes a blogger named "Mr. Everyday Dollar" in a guest post on Budgets Are Sexy. And yes, there's an inexpensive app for that, or free birding books at the library.

Fun that's free

10. Watch a comedy.
A writer named "SavvySugar" suggests this in "12 frugal ways to end a bad day on a good note," a post at MSN Money partner blog Wise Bread. Laughter "can distract you from the negative events in your life," she says. If possible, get that comedy when you . . .

11. Hit the library.
Spend an afternoon reading magazines, and pick out a book (and a DVD?) for later.

. Visit the "drive-in." If it's not too stinkin' hot or buggy, set up a TV in your driveway and watch that comedy outside. Neighborhood kids may toss their bikes on your lawn and join in the fun. Serve popcorn, the world's most frugal snack.

13. Read a classic.
Make it a funny one, if possible -- Mark Twain's essays, say, or something by H.L. Mencken. No library? Download a free e-book.

14. Take pictures.
Got a camera or a camera on your phone? Set out with a specific mission ("This afternoon I will photograph only red flowers"), which will force you out of your own head and into the moment.

15. Run through a sprinkler.
If you have a lawn, put on shorts or a bathing suit and cool off the 7-year-old way.

16. Spend time with an animal.
"Animal therapy will beat retail therapy any day," according to SavvySugar. Don't have a pet? Offer to walk a neighbor's dog.

17. Wash your car.
Get your kids or your partner into the act. Squirt each other with the hose, too -- it'll help you cool off. (That's your story and you're sticking to it.)

18. Take a walk.
A little exercise may take your mind off the stressors. You might also see a lot of red flowers to photograph.

What's your favorite inexpensive (or free) stress-buster?

More on MSN Money:
Jul 31, 2012 1:09PM
Check the local museums.    I know in our town, they have one free admission day a month and they have a HUGE turnout.    And exhibits change frequently so you are not looking at the same thing every time.    And it's a great way to meet new people.
Jul 31, 2012 11:28PM

Recently, I've been listening to music on Youtube.  I type in a song title or a singer's name, then watch/listen to the videos.  I've also stumbled across new artists while trying to find song titles I can't quite remember.  That's really cool!

Also watching cute or interesting animal videos is fun, too.  Old clips/episodes from bygone TV series, scenes from movies I love bring back memories from happier times.

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.