So what do us frugal weirdos do for entertainment? I think people assume we just sit at home in the dark, reading library books, and eating food out of the trash. But we only do that sometimes, I swear;)! In truth, Mr. Frugalwoods and I live a life of frugal luxury and engage in a plethora of fabulous frugal pursuits. Our recent very frugal day trip is but one rich example.

A lovely view from the Friendship of Salem's bow
A lovely view from the Friendship of Salem’s bow

Last Saturday, Mr. Frugalwoods and I elected to take a little sojourn to Salem, MA, which is an hour drive from our home in Cambridge. We’ve set a goal of exploring our New England region in greater depth (full disclosure: we’re not doing so hot on this goal so far, unless you count mountains hiked) and this was the perfect opportunity to tick a city off our list.

Naturally, we frugalized our trek to such an extent that the only money we spent was on the gas to drive there and $3 to park for the day. Sadly, there’s no free parking in Salem for non-residents–I know this because I researched it extensively in advance. Who doesn’t read municipal parking websites for fun :)? Since we adhere to a $0 entertainment budget, this outing was well within the bounds of our guidelines for extreme frugal living.

Mr. FW looking at some art at a wedding
Mr. FW looking at art during a wedding

The most notable aspect of this expedition is that our friend E works at the famed Peabody Essex Museum in Salem and was able to secure free tickets for us. Since the museum charges $18 per person, this was an amazing opportunity for us frugal weirdos! A huge thanks to E for hooking us up! We toured the museum’s Yin Yu Tang Chinese House, all of the galleries, and particularly enjoyed the special exhibit of works by Thomas Hart Benton. We also lounged in the museum’s atrium and munched almonds we’d brought from home, thus cleverly avoiding the pricey snacks vended by the museum’s cafe.

Mr. FW and I are great lovers of art and we try to visit museums anytime we’re able to (translation: anytime they’re free or cheap). While neither of us knows a great deal about art, we were both involved with our college’s art museum–Mr. FW was employed as their assistant photographer and I served on their student engagement committee (which, coincidentally, happened to serve pizza at meetings… ). In fact, you might be surprised to know that we actually own two pieces of real art that we paid a real artist real money for. They were our wedding gifts to each other seven years ago. Yet another example of investing only in things that matter to us and bring us joy.

While not everyone has a friend who works at a museum, almost every museum offers free entrance on certain days/times. Often, museums will designate an evening every week when the admission price is waived and frugal folk from miles around can saunter through the galleries free of charge. Additionally, our public library has museum tickets available to “check out,” which provide either free or greatly discounted admission. I don’t think this is unique to Cambridge, so check and see if your city does the same!

The Friendship of Salem's mast!
The Friendship of Salem’s mast!

No day trip is complete without food (especially when a member of the party is pregnant and constantly ravenous… ) and we actually began the day by eating. I’d intended to hold off on feasting until after visiting the museum, but my stomach dictated otherwise (and Mr. FW accused me of being hangry). So, we kicked off our jaunt with a picnic in the Salem Commons.

We loaded our cooler with sandwiches and a salad, which, true story, actually constituted a double frugal bonus since they were free leftovers from a meeting at my office. Why other people don’t want free leftovers is beyond me, but I’m always happy to save food from the trash (oh whoops, I guess we do eat from the trash on occasion… ). We also brought along a few bottles of our homemade seltzer, for a touch of true picnic class. And voila! A free lunch in lieu of $20+ spent at a restaurant.

After devouring our picnic, we ambled over to the visitor’s center to inquire if there were any free events we could take partake in. I’ve discovered that visitors’ centers, despite their reputations as hokey meccas for fanny packs, contain valuable info–namely, what’s free in town. Most places have a few frugal attractions and I’m always keen to sniff them out.

The Salem Custom House
The Salem Custom House

Sure enough, the National Park Service offers free tours of the Friendship of Salem ship and the Custom House. We opted to walk on over to the harbor for these tours and scoped out the quaint historic homes along the route. It was a very peaceful, quiet walk since most of our fellow tourists instead paid to take a trolley to the destination. Yet another frugal win for walking!

On our gratis tour, we learned that Nathaniel Hawthorne was an employee at the Custom House and it sounds like someone should have cued him into the wonders of early retirement. Apparently he was disgruntled, didn’t enjoy his job, and only wanted to write novels. I feel your pain, Nathaniel. Fortunately he did eventually do just that and published The Scarlet Letter (among other works). But think what he might’ve produced if he’d saved his dough and freed himself from the shackles of daily, mind-numbing employment!

A scale used to weigh goods at the Custom House
A scale used to weigh goods at the Custom House

Our day in Salem capped off with a circuitous walk about town to take in the sights. I’d printed off a number of maps and bits of historical info from the world wide web so that we could enlighten ourselves about this maritime town’s history. The internet is our constant source for entertainment and information–it’s amazing the breadth of knowledge that’s available online for free.

And thus completes a very frugal day trip. I’m often asked how we manage not to spend on entertainment, and to me, it’s elementary. We avail ourselves of whatever’s free and don’t engage with the rest. It would’ve been easy to spend upwards of $100 on this mini-adventure, but there’s simply no need. By planning ahead (securing free museum tickets, packing a lunch and snacks) and remaining open to whatever opportunities presented themselves (in this case, a visit to a ship and a Custom House), any frugal weirdo can execute a day excursion with nary a case of buyer’s remorse. Flexibility, the absence of desire for a “perfect” experience, and a general joie de vivre will ensure that you enjoy thrifty entertainment of any sort.

The Friendship of Salem in all her glory
The Friendship of Salem in all her glory


I’ve just realized that I lack a grumble to share with you this week. The problem is that “Weekly Woot” doesn’t have the same ring to it. But hey, I’ll take a week sans grumble anytime. Thank you for reading these sentences so that my whole post structure wasn’t thrown off. You guys are the best.

How do you entertain yourself in frugal weirdo style? What are your day trip hacks?

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  1. Salem is a great place to visit! I’ve been several times, and while I’ve never managed to do it quite as frugally as you, it is a great place to just wander around for some free fun. I especially enjoy window shopping in the cute shops in the downtown area.

  2. Looks like a great trip and nice job sticking to the frugal weirdness! We have not mastered the frugal days trip to your level, but do often pack meals to save on costs. With a family of 5, meals can be pretty pricey.

    1. Packing food is such a great way to save money! I can imagine that with 5 people, it’s a pretty fabulous savings 🙂

  3. OK, the thing that shocked me the most is that people don’t want free leftovers at work. At my job, people are scavengers – seriously, they walk around looking for the free leftovers from meetings… and I doubt anyone here makes less than 6 figures. I joke that we all have ‘perpetual grad student syndrome’.

    I regret never making it to Cape Cod when I lived in Boston for a few years. So, its great you all are trying to actively explore your neck of the woods! I did enjoy going to Halibut State Park up on Cape Anne near Rockport…. just a little further than Salem.

    1. Hahah, yeah, I don’t know why my office doesn’t destroy the leftovers, but I’m often the only one in there picking over the remnants. One thing I notice is that no one ever takes the leftover salad, so I’m always all over that. We’ve never been to Cape Cod either…. we’re pretty early on in this project of regional awareness ;).

  4. I love this; Salem is close by and I’m having my 6 yo granddaughter all to myself the week of August 3rd! I’ll put this on the agenda. She lives too far to see very often and I only see her probably twice a year. I’ve got a couple of frugal trips scheduled and we’ll use crafts and yard work for other times that we have free.

    Here’s a tip…whenever we have extra food (is that an oxymoron) from an event, it’s great to bring it to the Department of Public Works, the fire station and police station. They’ll eat anything and they are very appreciative.

    1. I hope you have a wonderful time with your granddaughter! How fun! And, great suggestion on donating food–I always hate to see any go to waste.

  5. My sister works in Salem, and the parking situation is a constant frustration for her. 🙂 (She also doesn’t enjoy how crowded it gets in October!)

    Bringing food is key. I always have snacks in my purse, since I, too, can get hangry. (I don’t have the pregnancy excuse, though!)

    When our office hosts meetings for VIPs, I take the leftover salads home. There’s always leftover pizza from student events, but it’s truly the worst pizza on earth, so after bringing it home a couple of times, my husband actually asked me to stop.

    1. Haha, that must be some bad pizza! The VIP food leftovers are the BEST! I’ve brought home some truly gourmet meals before–roasted duck, chicken, pork, kale salads… the works! Oh man, I get so hangry with pregnancy–fortunately Mr. FW recognizes the signs and can save me from myself ;).

  6. Sounds like a great little day trip overall! It can be a challenge to have similarly frugal trips for us with the kiddos, but it can most definitely be done with a little work. We can usually find something that is free or cheap to do but often times it comes down to food costs beyond that. We simply pack a cooler with a meal and we’re good to go. We could easily spend the money on eating out, but not only does that cost but it also wastes time we could spend doing something else.

    1. You’re very wise to pack a cooler! I feel like food is the easiest expense to avoid and, you can usually save quite a bit of money by bringing your own. I’ll need to get your tips soon for how to take frugal trips with kids in tow :).

  7. You are not alone in parking search. Thankfully nearly all suburb parking is free around here and I’m getting pretty excellent at knowing the free parking in the city. Our wallets thank us 🙂

    What do you do for printing? This is one of many posts lately that recommends you print something to bring along. I have the worst luck with printers and refilling their toner cartridges. Please share your frugal ways.

    Also Woot Woot! for the museum passes. I wrote a month or so ago about why my library is awesome and the museum passes are part of it. I felt like I got a lot of blank stares on that piece so I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one with a kick butt library!

    1. Gotta love the free library museum passes! We were just thrilled to learn that ours has them. Such an awesome resource! Alas, I don’t have any tips on printing because Mr. FW is allowed to print personal items for free at his office, so it’s not an issue for us. I’ll have to come up with a frugal workaround once we’re no longer employed ;).

      1. I save a ton on paper. Right now I can bring home lots of paper from work and reuse the backside. Once kids are in school you can reuse the backsides of their papers. I’ve been doing that for years! I do get regular paper, 2 people in my house are in school and have to print reports, etc on non-reused paper. Just scored an awesome deal on new paper-Staples had a CASE of multi-purpose paper that had a $44 dollar rebate and free shipping if you are a member (which is free), plus a coupon code (23663) for another $5 bucks off, so I paid $3.99 for an entire case! You pay upfront but they have the easy rebate, you do it online, very easily! 🙂

        1. Good call on using the backside of paper! And, that’s a great price on new paper :). Thanks for the tips!

      2. Each town library has a different selection of museum passes available. Cambridge has one of the better ones, but if you have friends that live in other towns, check out what their library has to offer and invite them on a frugal outing. Often just the towns near an attraction will have passes. For example, Stoneham has passes to kayaking on Spot Pond and the Stone Zoo.

        1. Good call, I never thought about checking with friends in neighboring towns. We are indeed lucky to be in Cambridge, their list of passes is impressive and usually easy to get.

          1. You can usually check out the passes on each library’s website. Unfortunately, most libraries only let town residents check out the passes, so you need the friend to get them.

  8. I had an internship in Reading one summer and my favorite weekend exploration destination was Salem. There is so much to see and do! This was a flashback to a fun time in my life 🙂

  9. This week the kids and I hiked in a creek bed until we found water deep enough to swim and floated boats over the rocks in the running water. We “went to the movies”, which consisted of popcorn popped at home and a movie projected onto a king size white bed sheet.

    1. Love it. That sounds exactly like what we plan to do with Babywoods! We were just talking the other day about how “going to the movies” will be in our living room for her ;).

  10. I haven’t traveled much to the east coast, but that is on our list! Mr. Budgets is weird about eating leftovers, he has strict guidelines on what he will and won’t eat. Leftovers can only be so many days old and the food must not have been sitting out for more than an hour. Let’s just say, I eat a lot of leftovers.

    1. Same here! We’re big fans of history and learning while we travel. Makes it all the more interesting!

  11. Your library offers the opportunity to check out free museum passes?! Oh goodness, I need to check this out stat with our local library. I also very much so need to visit MA. My mom has always raved about it, and it looks absolutely stunning. As far as entertainment goes, my fiance and I love finding new places around town to just go sit & read. We make our coffee from home, then set out to find a new atmosphere that we can spend hours at. It’s amazing the little spots you can find that provide a new atmosphere to enjoy one of your favorite leisure activities!

      1. Us too! It’s funny how bringing our coffee makes it feel very civilized and posh to read in the park :). Alyssa–you should definitely visit Boston! It’s a great place with tons of history, and, a lot that’s free or cheap.

  12. That sounds like a fun little day trip. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I would love to visit Salem – I think the witch trials that happened there were so interesting and I’d love to see any history they have about them. I definitely need to do more travelling in the future.

  13. We recently vacationed in New England, visiting NYC and Maine. We flew into NYC, spent a couple nights and then visited Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia NP. We drove through Salem after a one-night stay in Rockport on our way back to the city to catch our return flight. If you haven’t been to Rockport, I recommend checking it out during your quest to see more of New England! There was no traffic in town, and the beach is free (although you might have to pay to park if you aren’t staying someplace in the area). We LOVED it. We wondered why there seemed to be no nightlife (not that we’re big party animals), and it turns out Rockport is dry. Since you can only purchase alcohol with a meal, there are no bars. I think this contributed to the quaintness, peace and quiet. There were lots of local art galleries and shops to explore if you just like to look at what local artisans are creating.

    Love your blog!

    1. Thanks for the tip on Rockport–sounds like a lovely place! We also really want to get up to Acadia someday. There’s just so much to see/do in this region, which I really appreciate.

  14. How delightful 🙂
    I enjoy walking around places and just feeling their vibe sometimes. I am rather impressed with how many things you have been able to find for free.
    One of my favourite parts about living in the UK was the number of AMAZING museums that were 100% free! All the main ones that come to mind when you think of London were 100% free (Saatchi is private, had to pay for that one.)

    1. We loved that about London too when we visited! Free museums rank very high on my list of things I love :).

  15. I only passed up on work leftovers if they were not healthy, but otherwise…congrats on the frugal outing, although I don’t even think congrats are in order since you both are rockstars at it and do it with ease! 🙂

    1. Hahah, you’re too kind ;). I’m with you on passing up the unhealthy stuff–I leave the danishes and cookies behind (lest they add to my behind).

  16. It was a surprise to me to learn that other cities charge admission to the zoo and museums, having grown up in St. Louis where they are all free. I learned later this is because the land and buildings were bequeathed to the city after the 1904 World’s Fair with the rule that it must be free to the people. So now they get income by charging for “special areas” in the zoo and museum (which I don’t go to) and by getting people to donate. I also have visited other very pricey renowned zoos and museums, and I don’t think they are a bit better than the ones we have here.

    1. That is indeed a wonderful thing about St. Louis! I actually lived there in middle and high school and went to museums with my parents all the time. It’s a great city :)!

  17. The East coast is absolutely amazing for history. I miss being able to go anywhere and discovering something else about our country’s roots. Good for the two of you to go on an adventure of discovery together. Williamsburg was always a favorite for me.

    1. I adore the history here too. Having grown up on the west coast and in the midwest, I’m still charmed by the historical buildings and sites around every corner. It’s one of the things I love most about the region. Good to know about Williamsburg–we haven’t been there yet!

  18. I always passed up on work leftovers because I hated carrying the extras in my backpack on my bike. I would make exceptions for chipotle though. My husband loves Chipotle and we hardly ever ate there (except when he had gift cards).

  19. Ha! First I think it’s cute that you scoped out parking ahead of time. Second, I can’t believe there is no free parking at all!

    We are hit or miss on free/ frugal entertainment. My desire to get things free wars with the ease of paying for things with the kids around. (My spouse is weaker than me).

    So the last two Thursdays, we’ve enjoyed free “concerts in the park” music. The concerts are funded by donors (companies and people). So I did have $5 to put in the pot, but the collectors never came around our way.

    Both days we opted for free parking instead of paying for parking. This parking ends up being about 1/2 to 1 mile from the park. (When our toddler was younger, we were more likely to pay for parking). I packed a picnic both times too, and we stuck to it! Water, crackers, cheese, salami, fresh veggies, homemade hummus, fruit, popcorn.

    The park has a playground, so of course much of the time is spent chasing the kids (we took turns).

    We did end up spending the $5 on the carousel on the way out. My 3 year old has never been on it (that I remember). He loved it so much there were many tears as we left “wanna go on horsey again!”

    So if we continue our trend, there’s one more week of concerts, plus carousel.

    1. Free concerts in the park sound delightful! And, your picnic sounds delicious! Packing food is such an awesome way to save money on an outing. Way to go!

  20. Great, frugal trip! You two will have to come to Saint Louis sometime soon–the ultimate free city! Our art, history, and science museums are all free, as well as our zoo. Like Linda said, it spoils you when you visit other places (*cough cough NYC*).

    And yes, we research parking, too. Chicago is a doable day trip for us and also happens to be a great place for walking around and soaking it all up without spending money. We use an app called ParkWhiz to see all our options, then pick the price point we’re willing to pay. Since we stay late into the evening (getting our full day trip’s worth!), we generally will pay more for secured parking, but I like that the app gives us lots of insight into our choices.

    1. Yay for St. Louis! I actually lived in St. Louis during middle and high school and so got to take advantage of all those wonderful free sites with my parents and friends. It’s a fun place :)! Good call on using a parking app–great idea!

  21. In the Boston area at least, the public libraries have museum passes that you can check out using your library card and that let you get into museums for free or at a greatly reduced rate. You have to plan ahead a bit, but it’s a great resource!

    1. Absolutely! It’s one of the things we love most about our good ol’ Cambridge public library :).

  22. Sounds like a wonderful day! This post brought back happy memories for me, as one of the first outings I ever went on with my husband’s family when we were first dating was a frugal day trip to Salem! My father in law is totally an old school frugal weirdo, and I still remember the simple but delicious picnic lunch he packed that day for us to enjoy on the commons! I absolute love walking in any new city, its the best way to discover hidden treasures. And I agree about visitors centers, they’re such a great resource!

    1. Oh how fun! That’s awesome your father-in-law is a frugal weirdo too–you’ll always know us by our picnics ;).

  23. What an awesome day trip!

    Our library recently purchased family passes to several local museum type places. So all we do it “check out” a pass ( valid for 3 days) and enjoy a place gratis!
    Today we ventured to a local, small museum that was fabulous ( and free to us). My son and I ate beforehand so no need for going out to eat. We even brought along an elderly neighbor who really needed a day out

    1. How fabulous! Our library offers free museum passes as well, which is such a great resource. I love that you took an elderly neighbor with you–that’s a very kind thing to do.

  24. One thing I have learned recently is Tourist Information/Visitors Centres are a wealth of frequently free and cheap things. Here in Australia there is usually one in each town, even the small ones. Not only will you find free maps, some times showers if you need one and toilets, free advice for where to go to find all the best things to see and do, but sometimes free other goodies. Recently I popped into one for a map in a town I was in. Free oranges ( of the take as many as you want variety) and coffee for $1. Of course frugal people take their own coffee but $1 if you are hankering is hard to beat. Often times these centres will have local souvenirs from the area such as jams, crafts etc beyond the generic touristy pap.

    1. I’m with you on the value of the visitor’s center! We find all sorts of great things and, we were so glad to learn about the free boat and house tours from the visitor’s center in Salem. No free oranges though–you’ve got us beat there :).

  25. Awesome. I love me some free museums. If we’re visiting somewhere for a week or so, I’ll have a schedule of each day of the week and a listing of all the museums that are free on a particular day of the week. Here in Mexico where we are right now, it seems like Sunday is the free museum day everywhere. We’ve visited some awesome ones for free. Well, I did donate 6 pesos or $0.40 USD at one, but we were going to spend that much on a bathroom anyway. This Sunday we’re going to the Contemporary Art Museum. For free. 🙂

    1. Nice! That’s exactly what we do when we travel too–plus, it helps build an itinerary pretty easily. We just go everywhere on free day. Good to hear your reports from the road :)!

  26. I have a Bank of America debit card ( first obtained when I was going to China for a semester). Bank of America sponsors free museum days the first weekend of the month all over the country…show your card, get in free.

  27. Thanks for the trip info! Have you checked the free Harvard museums? The art museums are free to Cambridge residents and the Museum of Natural History is free on Sunday mornings. I’m planning on bringing my younger two children to the Collection of Scientific Instruments at Harvard which is currently housing a special exhibit on navigation. This will appeal to my young Boy Scout who is fascinated with compasses! Traveling with children doesn’t always have to be expensive, we have been frugal travelers with our 4 kids for years. I love following your trips and rambles around the New England area-we live south west of Boston! Love the blog!

    1. Yes! We love the free Harvard museums! The newly completed art museum is awesome–we’ve been once and plan to go back. And the Natural History museum is a great one too. Thanks for the tip on the Collection of Scientific Instruments–we haven’t been there before, we shall have to check it out. I appreciate you reading and, that’s awesome you’ve done frugal travel with your kids :).

  28. I am a little late to the comment party, but I thought people might be interested in these suggestions.

    1. Find out if your employer donates to any local cultural organizations (museums, etc). Sometimes, those organizations give free admission all year-long or on specific dates to the employees of their donors. This is by no means a widespread practice, but it’s worth checking out. I’m fortunate enough to work for a large employer in NYC, and I get free admission to over a dozen museums (including MOMA, the Frick, the Museum of Natural History etc) and that admission ticket is often for more than one person.

    And if you are visiting a large city and have friends who work for a major employer there (see, there is a reason to be friends with investment bankers and accountants), ask if they’ve got free admission privileges to any museums. I occasionally spend my lunch hour at the museum, accompanying visiting family or friends, so that they can get in for free.

    2. Check out the access privileges that might come with a one-off or regular volunteer activity. A farm sanctuary where I volunteer as a photographer occasionally organizes a free bus from NYC for people who are interested in spending a half-day volunteering at the sanctuary. They get a free tour, free lunch, a day in the countryside, and lots of snuggles with rescued farm animals. There also are

  29. I recently took a bike ride to the beach, where I enjoyed free entertainment (people watching), a book I’d been dying to read, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a bowl of fruit. I then ventured back home, and spent a few hours at the pool. Spent $0 and truly enjoyed my frugal beach/pool day!

  30. Hello,
    I love your blog! I also live in MA and we enjoy the FFF (free fun Fridays) program sponsored by the Highland Foundation. Another place in MA that I thought you might be interested in is Extras For Creative Reuse in Lynn, Ma considering you like to reuse/recycle. They also have lots of wood for your husband’s projects. Thank you for writing. Its a bright spot in my day when I notice you have new posts! Christine

  31. I’ve attended dozens (maybe over 100) plays over the last decade and haven’t paid for one of them. How? Ushering! Boston is awash with playhouses that will let you see the play for free in exchange for an hour or so of ushering beforehand. The Huntington Theater, New Rep Theater in Watertown, ART in Cambridge. Probably others.

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