When money’s tight, it’s easy to immediately cut back on the things we most enjoy, but this needn’t be the case. There are lots of ways to grab a cheap getaway or cut-price entertainment so you can have fun without breaking the bank. With top tips from Ashley Lennon from SkintintheCity, this is a must read for all!
How can you have fun for less money?
It needn’t cost a fortune to have fun with your friends and family. It’s all about planning ahead and being a bit creative. Check out our hints and tips for a free (or at least a very cheap) day or night out.
Register with film preview sites Show Film First, See Film First and Entertainment One Films to get the opportunity to view new films at your local cinema for free when they first come out.
Joining The National Trust gives you a year’s access to over 300 gardens and houses in the UK, and if you pay by direct debit you could get three months’ membership for free. Individual memberships cost from as little as £42 a year, with a family pass from £72. If you visit one property or garden a month, that works out at £6 a time per family, and dogs are normally allowed on leads. Not bad.
Check out local opportunities for country walks and bike rides. Grab a picnic and get going. The Sustrans website lists all of the UK’s footpaths and stores suggested routes for anything from a leisurely amble to a full on expedition.
Come Dine With Me has taken daytime television by storm. Groups of friends and neighbours are imitating the ‘dinners-on-rotation’ format up and down the country. Ask three other friends if they’d like to take part, and draw up a weekly or fortnightly rota for hosting. It’s fun to email your guests the menu in advance, like they do in the programme. It’s less fun to score your hosts’ efforts afterwards, so you could easily avoid that bit. Not exactly a free evening out, but cheaper than four three course meals at a restaurant… and potentially much more fun.
Try and get standby tickets for your local theatre, or look out for cheaper priced performances. The opening night of a show is often midweek and open to the press; ticket prices can be much cheaper on these nights. If you’re heading into the West End, try pot luck and head to the ticketing booth in Leicester Square early evening to see what tickets they’ve got left. Last minute tickets will sell at a fraction of the cover price and you might end up seeing a show you’d never dreamed of going to.
Ever fancied applauding in the audience of a British TV show? Get on the waiting list, then. It’s usually free! Alan Carr’s Chatty Man, The Graham Norton Show, The Jonathan Ross Show and Russell Howard’s Good News are just some of the shows you can sit in on for diddly-squat. Register online with SRO Audiences.
How to get cheap holiday deals
Sometimes we need to really tighten our belts and forego that summer getaway or winter escape altogether. Other times, however, we just need to approach the issue from a different angle.
As always, planning ahead will save huge amounts, and this is no less the case when booking a holiday. The only exception to this rule is going for a last-minute holiday. If your nerves will hold out until two or three days before you plan to travel, you can really make a steal.
Early bird deals are always available online and at the travel agent’s office, but sites like LastMinute.com often come up with a huge range of affordable holiday options that can leave the big tour operators’ deals in the shade.
Booking accommodation and transport separately can save money, too. Use a comparison site like Opodo to choose flights from. Don’t rule out no-frills airlines, and travel without checked in luggage wherever you can. It’ll carve a wedge out of your airfare and you’ll be one of those smug travellers who wheel their baggage straight off the plane and out of the airport…
Coupon sites like Groupon and Wowcher also put out daily getaway deals, and TeletextHolidays.co.uk is another good site to look at for budget deals. If you can be flexible on travel times and choice of airports this will help a lot, as often the best deals are from regional airports.
Consider bed and breakfast or apartment rentals over hotels when you travel, too. You could end up with lots more space and better facilities than in a hotel. AirBnB.co.uk is a great site for finding city accommodation the world over. Setups range from cheapo sofa-surfing to whole high-spec apartments at your disposal – all at the fraction of equivalent hotel prices.
If you like to ski in the winter but can’t stomach the sky-high prices, consider going by coach with an operator like skiweekends.com. They offer packages for anything from a couple of days to a fortnight away in the Alps, and you’ll save a few hundred pounds on the airfare at least.
Bargain packages available at the moment
We don’t know about you, but a holiday or special occasion always feels even better when we know we’ve got ourselves a really good deal, but living it up on borrowed money can be a dampener. Saving money needn’t always mean going without altogether, but it’s good to know when to sit one out.
Azure holidays are offering 5 star stays in Malta for £99 per couple per week. Claim yours now
Ski Weekends is great for affordable skiing holidays. Book a week's skiing over Christmas from just £499 per person - a real bargain! Book now
Last Minute are offering weekends to explore European Christmas Markets from £79 per person. See what's on offer
5 top tips by Ashley Lennon from SkintintheCity
1. How to bag a cheap (free) holiday – house sit!
Desperate to leave rainy Britain behind for a while, but lacking the cash for a proper getaway? Housesitting could be the answer. The site TrustedHousesitters matches people wanting a break with people who need their home occupied whilst they’re away.
A registration fee of £19 is all that's needed to gain access to house sitting opportunities in almost 50 countries, then, from villas on the beach to city penthouses, you can stay in any of them for free. People often want housesitters to look after their pet whilst they're away, so if you're petrified of dogs or if cats make you sneeze your choices will be more limited.
And here's the bit I find most exciting: many of the house sits on offer are for fairly long periods, so if you're able to work remotely from someone else's place you could take an extended break for a good few weeks (months?) of the year.
2. Home swap
If all you want is a week or two in the sun – and are happy to welcome strangers into your home - try a home swap. With home swapping you can go pretty much anywhere in the world for a fraction of the cost you'd normally pay, staying in the kind of places that you could never normally afford.
From villas in Florida with an outdoor Jacuzzi and pool, to city pads in Berlin, all it costs is a small fee to the house swap agency, then your plane fares and some nice thank-you gifts for your hosts. Many holidaymakers car swap too, meaning no car hire costs. (But remember to tell your insurance company).
Going through an agency makes sense - one of the first and most reputable is Homelink. The only drawback? Having to thoroughly clean the house before going on holiday!
3. Take a lucky dip
Another great way to save on holiday accommodation is to use a secret location website, which offers you lucky-dip hotel accommodation. You specify the city and area where you want to stay and – hey presto! - the website matches you with a hotel, of a guaranteed star rating, for a budget hotel price.
You only find out exactly which hotel it is after you have booked, but with the guaranteed star rating it’s not going to be a dump. My friend Nicky is a connoisseur of this type of stay and has bagged luxury hotels rooms across Europe for less than a quarter of the advertised rack rate. Topsecret is one of the best known sites.
4. Get your culture kicks for free
If you want the best of the theatre shows but don’t want to pay full price then sign up to the mailing lists of all theatres in your area and look out for their preview nights. Many offer cut-price tickets for the first night of a new show.
The theory is that performances might be a little shaky on the first night and you won’t feel so miffed if the ticket has only cost you a fiver. I’ve been going to preview shows for years and have never seen a shaky performance yet – well, not one that any amount of rehearsals could fix. Theatres also offer preview tickets especially to draw in people just like you – ‘tastemakers’ who love to be the first to see a performance then spread the word to all their friends. So do both live theatre and yourself a favour at the same time and get previewing!
5. Swap dinner for tea
Once solely the preserve of powdered elderly ladies from the posher parts of town, afternoon tea has grown in popularity recently till it’s now the chicest thing in town. The biggest mystery is why we didn’t all embrace it years ago. From those darling trays of cupcakes, almost too gorgeous to eat, to dinky little sandwiches and the chance to drink champagne by the glass at a reasonable price, afternoon tea is like heaven on earth for skint girls.
It’s stylish, it’s delicious and you can combine it with an afternoon’s shopping. It’s also way cheaper than going out for lunch or dinner and somehow feels like much more of a special treat. Afternoon tea is very Sex and the City and a brilliant, relatively cheap, way to celebrate a birthday with a crowd of friends – much cheaper than dinner and more fun too. An added bonus is that there are always afternoon tea deals on group-buying sites like Groupon and Living Social – don’t ever pay full price for your scones!
Read more from Ashley at SkintintheCity
A massive thank you to Ashley for her great tips for nabbing a cheap holiday. Got a tip you’d like to share? Comment below – we’d love to hear from you.
I’ll be back soon with more thrifty money saving and money making tips. Good luck saving!