There’s no shortage of fun, expensive ways to spend a weekend. Even a low-key date night (consisting of drinks, dinner and a movie for two) costs an average of $102 across the country.
But having a good time doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. To prove it, Grow challenged me and five Acorns employees to spend a fun-filled weekend on a $50 budget. Here’s what we did, and what we spent, starting with my adventure in the Rocky Mountains.
Crossing items off my bucket list
Money spent: $47.89
My husband and I were getting ready to move from Colorado to Washington state, so I wanted to spend my challenge weekend crossing something off my bucket list: hiking to visit the wreckage of a WWII bomber that crashed on a training mission.
We had a low-key, no-spend Friday with Netflix because we left early Saturday morning for the two-hour drive. We spent $24.86 on gas, but that was it: We packed water and snacks from home, including some extra beers for when we reached the crash site. The hike took 4.5 hours, and was just as amazing as I’d hoped. We got home around 6 p.m., cooked spaghetti for dinner, then went to bed early.
I spent Sunday morning practicing my French, a hobby I’ve dabbled in since college. I’d just gotten a French version of “Game of Thrones” that I was eager to dig into. That night, we met friends to play trivia at Krazy Karl’s Pizza. Dinner there is very affordable: We got a pizza (voted best in Fort Collins) and a pitcher of beer for $23.03.
I loved this challenge. It forced me to do things I’ve been wanting to do, but don’t get around to often. In a typical weekend, I work rather than kick back and enjoy my free time. That’s one of my biggest regrets about leaving Colorado. Getting out and recharging, without spending a lot, was an awesome experience I’ll try again.
Getting outdoors and eating tacos
Shaun Lee, operations manager (Orange County, California)
For this challenge, I focused on free physical activities, starting with surfing on Friday after work. Surfing puts me in a great mood, and helps improve my mental clarity. Later, I went out for drinks to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I stuck to my budget by only ordering one $3 beer, which was cheaper than normal because the bartender is an old friend.
On Saturday, my friends and I hiked at Whiting Ranch, which offers an awesome view of Orange County. That night, my fiancé and I went to our friends’ house for dinner. They made pork tacos, and we contributed some stuff we already had: beer and avocados for guacamole.
Sunday, my friend Jackson and I took kayaks to the Dana Point Harbor to go fishing, which cost us $15.69 for a license. I’ve never done that before, so it proved a little difficult. (The ocean was bumpy, and I got seasick.) Still, not a bad way to spend a day and try something different. That night, I visited my parents and treated them to dinner from one of our favorite places, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos. It cost $30.68 for all three of us.
All in all, I had a pretty fun weekend, and didn’t feel constrained by the budget at all. (Granted, great weather was a big part of it.) I even think I could easily come in under budget if I tried this again the future.
Budgeting in one of the most expensive U.S. cities
Danny Potts, videographer (New York City)
At first, I was confident that I could easily stick to the challenge budget, but soon I realized how quickly food and drinks add up in NYC. Friday night, I went to happy hour: Two whiskeys, plus tip, cost $8.50 (and I got a free beer for being nice to the bartender). Then I got wings for dinner for $13.
The next day started off promising: I packed a sandwich, and headed out to film the Brooklyn Bridge and Union Square for a video. Later, I bought a bubble tea ($4) and ate dinner with friends at the Dirty Bird ($26.26). They have an amazing hot-wing sandwich.
Sunday, I was nursing a spending hangover. I’d completely blown my budget the day before, so I crafted my own Sunday Funday. I took my dog to the park, then biked from Brooklyn to Midtown Manhattan and back. For dinner, I invited friends over and barbecued in my backyard using food my friends brought.
My no-spend Sunday opened my eyes to how much fun you can have free. It just takes a little thought and planning. (It’s not hard to spend a few hundred bucks in NYC when you’re not paying attention.) The saying money can’t buy happiness has a little bit more meaning to me now.
Rethinking my budgeting skills
Sara Hlebain, senior operations associate (Orange County, California)
I kicked off the weekend by buying lunch (using a coupon) and a bottle of rosé, which I enjoyed at a community pool with a friend. Total spent: $12.87. Score.
On Saturday, I bought coffee in the morning for $2.45, but made a sandwich at home for lunch before paddleboarding in the ocean for two hours ($18). It was a fun, good workout. I made another sandwich for dinner before going out for drinks. I promised myself I’d only buy one for $6, and stuck to it. The bar had pool and ping pong, which was a ton of fun, too.
Sunday, I read “Principles” by billionaire investor Ray Dalio in a park. His advice on weaknesses—to accept, but find ways around them—got me thinking. While I don’t think I’m bad with money, I wish I was more disciplined and want to scale back on my spending. This challenge is a good start because, instead of trying to spend nothing, I’m planning a mix of fun paid and free activities, which feels more sustainable.
That afternoon, I saw “Ocean’s 8” at the discount movie theater for $6.99. I also bought an Icee for $5.05, which pushed me over my budget by $1.36.
This challenge definitely made me think about how to stretch my money. I was proud of myself for thinking of ways to save, like using coupons and going to places, like the theater, with discounted prices. On a typical weekend, I usually eat out way more—probably spending closer to $100—so this was a welcome change.
A Father’s Day as a family of five
Oscar Godson, director of engineering (Portland, Oregon)
Budgeting can be tough with three kids, so my wife and I decided to keep our Friday and Saturday very low key—spending just $14.85 on fast food—and save up the rest of our budget for Sunday, which was Father’s Day.
That morning, we got snacks and made sandwiches to take to a local park in East Portland with tons of activities—climbable trees, a turf hill to slid down, bike tracks and a hand pump that pours water into a creek with little toy dams—all free.
My father died years ago, but he grew up in a now-famous house we always visit on Father’s Day. So after the park, we drove to the lake his house was on and bought food from Top Burger, which is the place to eat in the area. The fries are the best I’ve had anywhere. It’s also cheap: We spent $14.56 for food for all of us. On the way back, the kids wanted to see “Black Panther,” so we made it a movie night. We bought popcorn and candy for $12.74, and rented the movie for $4.99.
Total cost for Sunday was just $32.29. Add Saturday’s food costs, and we spent just over $47. We normally don’t do this much in one day because activities can be expensive as a family of five. But this challenge taught me it doesn’t have to be expensive, and I think we’ll plan these fun family days more often.
Enjoying great views over a three-day weekend
Jacqueline Pingul, support representative (Orange County, California)
I completed this challenge over a three-day weekend (including Father’s Day). I wanted to stretch my money across a lot of activities, so I decided to compensate by eating nearly all of my meals at home.
I kicked off the weekend with a 15-minute, giant balloon ride at Great Park in Irvine, Calif., for $10. It took me 400 ft in the sky with a gorgeous view of the Saddleback mountain range and the Long Beach coast! Afterward, I went to Long Beach to window-shop with a friend and strolled down to Retro Row, an eclectic neighborhood known for unique art and vintage shops.
Saturday, I hit the beach again. Luckily, Huntington Beach chili and salsa cook off was happening, so the strip was lined with vendors and capped with live bands on each side! Later, I woke up from a nap just in time to catch the free Sunset Cinema series outdoor screening for “The Jungle Book” at Carbon Canyon Regional Park. I brought snacks from home, but picked up some $4 tacos on the way home.
On Father’s Day, I made breakfast, then went with my dad on a casual hike at Peter’s Canyon before making our way over to the Anaheim Packing district, which had 27 food vendors. I bought dessert for everyone for $11.39 and paid for a valet, which was $3.
For that evening, I’d booked the ultimate Father’s Day activity: I found a dope Groupon deal for a 2.5 hour whale-watching tour for just $24. At one point, we were swarmed by a whole pod of dolphins, and we saw humpback whales! The weekend could not have ended more beautifully.
I would absolutely do this again! The biggest challenge for me was trying to resist the delicious food smells around me, but, for the most part, I was successful. The weekend made me grateful for the things I already had to make my experiences great, and forced me to look for opportunities to entertain myself in my community.