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Bennett Shafer, City Year Seattle alum '18by Bennett Shafer, City Year Seattle alum ’18

How in the world am I going to live on a stipend? Those were the words I uttered to myself when I started City Year. It may sound daunting at first—budgeting to make my bi-weekly stipend work, but it will be an incredible experience. Honestly, you may be amazed by how many things you can do for free or for just a few dollars. Here are some of my favorite ways to maximize fun while living on a budget.

Free Museum Days

I believe that museum exhibits should be free for all to see and you (or your students’ families) should not have to pay for expensive tickets. If you’re someone who hates paying for museums (like me!) then see if your local museums offer free admission days. Many libraries allow you to reserve or borrow free museum passes, too! Check with your local recruiter about the site where you’re interested in serving as museums in some of the City Year sites offer free admission when you present your City Year nametag, as well as other free localized benefits.

Explore Local Parks

Parks give you the space and the chance to relax for free. A pretty good combo if you ask me. Bring a book and a blanket if you’re looking for some personal time. Or, invite some friends to join you in a nice game of ultimate frisbee. Parks are also great for a picnic with that special someone!

Go Camping or Hiking

There are 58 National Parks, 154 National Forests, and 10,234 state parks across the country. No matter where you’re living in the United States, chances are you are close to a campground. Lake Wenatchee Campground in Washington State is a personal favorite of mine! Getting away from technology and exploring nature has been the best way for me to practice self-care. There is nothing that calms me down more than the mountains just outside of Seattle. Put the cell phone down, bring a deck of cards and enjoy the simplicity of the outdoors.

Check Out the Farmers Markets

What’s better than fresh produce? Not much, in my opinion. Get to know local growers and score great deals on produce at your local farmers market. Shopping for groceries has saved me heaps of money since I do not eat out as much. Also, some farmers markets double your E.B.T. dollars!

Host a Board Game Night

Instead of going out to have fun, bring the good times to your house or apartment. Board games are classic and can be a tremendous icebreaker for getting to know your teammates. My board game suggestion is Gubs! It is a game that requires wit and luck to protect fictional creatures (called Gubs) from being harmed by your opponents.

Two City Year Milwaukee AmeriCorps members, one male with blond hair and glasses and one female with brown hair, walking through the hallway of a school while wearing the new uniform, including black pants. Read on to learn about 8 things to do while living on the AmeriCorps stipend.

Join an Intramural League

One of the best things I did while living on a stipend was joining an ultimate frisbee league. It cost me around 30 dollars to play in the Men’s Winter League, and it was a great opportunity for me to get to know new people in Seattle. Some intramural leagues may cost you a few hundred dollars but are still worth it! Frisbee helped me relax and get my mind off tasks at work. If you spent some time saving up, intramural leagues could be a great opportunity to find a solid community. Just know that it’s possible to occasionally splurge on a budget when it’s for something that’s important to you, like investing in your self care.

Go to Open Mic and Trivia Nights

Head out to one of your favorite restaurants or cafes that offer some mid-week entertainment. Most open mic and trivia nights are free. Restaurants, bars and cafes will usually post events on their Facebook pages or websites. Invite your friends to join and show off those talents!

Find a Used Book Store

This is a great place to scour the shelves to find good books for your students (or yourself). Even if you go on a gigantic shopping spree, you’ll likely end up spending under $20. Bonus: used books make great gifts for your teammates, manager or partner teacher, too.

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