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8 cheap, extraordinary entertainments

Anyone can host an evening of televised sports or video games. Why not try a different kind of fun?

By Donna_Freedman Sep 7, 2012 12:15PM
Image: Halloween (© Digital Vision Ltd/SuperStock)Summer is all but over, and in some parts of the country people have already started focusing on indoor entertainment.

Rather than plan the same old Pictionary tournaments or college football potlucks, why not surprise your friends with a rousing game of "Alien, Tiger, Cow"?

That's the name of an improvisational comedy exercise. Improv is a creative -- and free -- way to entertain yourselves for an evening.

Friends a little too inhibited for play-acting? Try one (or more!) of the other seven suggestions. Use some of the money you saved by not going out to provide nice refreshments.

And if times are supertight? Serve variations on the world’s most frugal snack

A life of the mind

1. Foreign language group.
Dust off your high-school French or German with a free online class such as the "FSI Language Courses," a series of classes developed by the U.S. government's Foreign Services Institute. Get together with a small group of friends to converse. Do this just for fun or with an eye toward taking a trip some day to a country where you can chat with the locals. (Post continues after video.)

2. Foreign film night.

Agree on a film (if possible, get it free from the library) and forgo the popcorn in favor of a potluck of foods popular in the country where the movie was made.

3. Book-and-film club.
Read the book first, then watch the movie. Discuss how they differed. Argue over which was better, if you like. Bonus frugal points for getting the book as a free download and the DVD from the library.

4. Write a one-act play. Invite friends over on a Friday and give each one a phrase or a theme. Toss around ideas for a while, then send them all home to write plays that last at least 10 minutes. Email the scripts back and forth, then spend the next few get-togethers reading them aloud. (This idea is based on the Alaska Overnighters, which assigns themes on Friday, rehearses all day Saturday and presents the shows that night.)

5. Smartphone cinema.
Use your phones to film that one-act play -- or something else. Set a scene from Shakespeare on a space station. Make a commercial for a product that doesn't exist. If you're getting good at improv, pull themes from a hat and capture the inventiveness that results. Bonus points if you upload it to YouTube. Extra bonus points if you can get it to go viral.

Hands-on activities

6. Do-it-yourself night.
Tell friends to bring whatever they're working on: knitting, duck-decoy carving, embroidery, model-building, jewelry-making or whatever it is you do. Everyone gets a glimpse of what goes into one another's favorite creative pursuits. You might even discover a new hobby if you start coveting somebody's Fimo sculpting.

7. Improv evening. It takes a very special group of friends to do games like "Actor's Nightmare" or "Crabtrees Conundrum." If you think it'll work with your bunch, check out sites like and Encyclopedia of Improv Games.


8. Culinary class. Friends take turns teaching the dishes they do really well, whether that's meat loaf or spanakopita. Everyone brings one ingredient from a list the teacher provides. When the dish is done, it's time to eat.

How do you and your friends entertain at home?

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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.