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How to Have Fun on a Fixed Income

Consider these free or low-cost activities to help inspire frugal choices

But the couple haven't given up on their favorite activity: the theater. They belong to the Shakespeare Society, which puts on free play readings. And with more than a dozen community theaters nearby, they attend shows and invitational dress rehearsals free of charge.

"We love to go to the invitational dress rehearsals," says McLaughlin, a volunteer treasurer for the San Diego Association of Community Theatres. "Last month we saw Arsenic and Old Lace. It was well done."

'Pick up the local paper' 

Christina Gutt was hoping to continue working for another few years. But two years ago, at age 64, she lost her job as an assistant at a mutual fund research company in New York City.

"That's when I learned how to be austere," she says. "I stopped going to Lincoln Center and to Broadway shows. Instead, I opted for neighborhood concerts and plays at colleges and in churches. There is so much talent in this country that doesn't get the big break but is exceptional nonetheless."

In November, Gutt moved out of the city and settled in an apartment some 300 miles away in Rochester, N.Y. When she turned 66, she claimed her Social Security benefit and lives on $1,709 a month.

"Rochester has an extremely rich cultural life," says Gutt, who frequents both the large theaters and community venues nearby at a fraction of the cost of Broadway shows.

In addition, there's no shortage of city-sponsored events, particularly its variety of free festivals. From spring to fall, the city puts on the Rochester International Jazz Festival, the Rochester International Film Festival, the Lilac Festival, an Irish festival, two Greek festivals and several others.

Gutt says she also takes advantage of the many activities offered at a nearby community center, such as weekly painting classes that are reasonably priced, free lectures by former or current University of Rochester professors, and day trips, including visits to local wineries and museums.

"The best thing to do is pick up the local newspaper for the community calendar list," she says. "There's so much more going on than you would know."

'I get to be outside'  

For Rick Schrader, the greenery of Asheville, N.C., offers all the social activity he craves, from biking to hiking, camping to kayaking.

The 55-year-old mountain bike enthusiast has made good friends by joining a "meet-up" group that brings together people of all ages who like to ride. "Biking is an inexpensive way to meet people and have fun," he says.

Schrader, who works at home repairing dental equipment and electronics, says he's become more frugal as he nears retirement. "You think you're set, and all of a sudden, you get a wake-up call your portfolio balance was just cut in half."

For Schrader, being outdoorsy is cheap and pays off in other ways. He's lost 50 pounds in the last year and no longer needs cholesterol medication. When he's not cycling in the countryside with his meet-up pals, Schrader volunteers at local festivals, cooking hot dogs and doing whatever else is needed. "I get free food and beer," he says, "and I get to be outside."

Next: 8 free (or nearly free) ways to have fun right now. »

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