The winter months tend to be expensive for various reasons, not least of all because of Christmas. Accounting for festive expenses in your usual budget can make things tight, but when you add higher utility bills, more frequent prescription charges and increased transportation costs, it’s easy to see why so many households find budgeting harder at this time of year.
Getting through the winter doesn’t have to be a slog, even if you have to be very strict with your finances. There are still plenty of low-cost ways to enjoy the season so we’ve compiled a list of completely FREE things to do, even when the weather is bad. By consciously incorporating these into your free time, you’ll not miss out on the upsides of winter, and you’ll save plenty of money too.
1. Visit free museums and art galleries
When it’s freezing outside, the rain is coming down sideways and the winter winds start picking up, the perfect place to be is indoors. Cinemas, shopping centres and restaurants are all great options on a day out, but can be expensive. Thankfully, most cities and towns have at least one museum or art gallery which has free entry.
These places may not have caught your eye before, but you may be surprised what can be housed in even small local collections. You could learn a lot about your local area and get to see items and works which are completely unique. You can find your nearest free attraction here.
2. Go stargazing
The winter months are favoured by astronomers thanks to the higher chance of clear skies and longer hours of darkness. It’s the perfect time of year to get out and observe the stars, planets and the Milky Way at a reasonable hour. If you’re a complete beginner, there are plenty of free ‘night sky’ apps which will tell you what you’re looking at. If you’d rather just take in the view, you’re very likely to see the odd shooting star, satellite and if you’re lucky, the International Space Station – if it’s passing above you on a clear night, you certainly won’t miss it!
Some of the most visible constellations in the UK during the winter months are; Orion the Hunter (look out for the three bright stars on his belt), Cassiopeia (made up of 5 stars and looks like a giant ‘M’ or ‘W’) and of course, Ursa Major (which looks like a saucepan). Venus is often easily spotted at this time of year – you’ll usually find it nearer the horizon, and it’ll look like a very bright, flickering star.
3. Take wildlife walks
As the nights are longer, dawn and dusk fall at more sociable hours than we are used to. If you’re an animal lover, it may be interesting to go out for a walk as the sun is coming up or going down. These are the times in which you’re most likely to see interesting local wildlife, as the nocturnal creatures wake up and the daytime creatures head back to their ‘homes’ to rest.
As vegetation dies down during the frosty weather, spotting wildlife is much easier and if there’s snow on the ground; even better, as tracks are easy to identify. In the countryside, you may be lucky enough to spot some rarer species, but even in urban areas, you’re likely to see foxes and deer. Take your camera with you – you never know what you may find. What’s more, the perfect shot of a robin or snowy landscape could be ideal for creating your own Christmas cards this year.
4. Build a bonfire
The winter months are the perfect time to enjoy a fire outdoors, whether that’s via a small chiminea in your yard or a big bonfire on your lawn. Sitting around a fire is not only wonderfully warming, but it’s also good for you.
Having a fire outside encourages everyone to spend more time out in the fresh air, and provides an opportunity for families to reconnect with one another. You could tell ghost stories, toast marshmallows and have fun creating shadow puppets. This also ties in well with stargazing – as long as the fire isn’t so big to cause light pollution.
Warning: Never build a bonfire or campfire on land that is not your own, unless you have express permission to do so. Do not burn materials which could release pollutants - not to mention being harmful to breathe in - such as plastic, rubber or electrical items. Always check your bonfire for hibernating hedgehogs and other sheltering creatures before it is lit.
5. Go foraging
Autumn and winter may seem like a time where things are decaying and dying, but they’re actually very abundant months for foragers. Apples, pears and blackberries all appear in the autumn, as well as numerous edible fungi and mushrooms. It’s obviously very important to be 100% sure what you’ve foraged is safe to eat, so always have a means to identify what you find; whether that’s via a field guide or the internet.
It’s not just food items you can forage for, however. Pine cones, sprigs of holly, and mistletoe can all be found out in the natural world at this time of year and are perfect for DIY Christmas decorations.
6. Create your own Christmas lights tour
Christmas is an incredibly important time of year for many households in the UK and many decorate the outside of their properties with fairy lights, fake snow and novelty decorations. Some go to extreme lengths and lots of effort to get their homes looking festive, which can cost a lot of money and take up a lot time. Unless you live on their street however, you’re unlikely to see it.
Why not take a drive through the surrounding neighbourhoods this December to check out the lights? You could turn it into a family game, where you rate each house and all pick a winner at the end. You may be surprised what you’re missing just up the road!