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There’s no denying that for many of us, times are tight. Many homes have a basket by the door full of unopened bills. Bank accounts are in overdraft. Every week the charges at the grocery store are a little bit higher than the week before, and for less food. Kids want new clothes and that latest video game, the car needs to be fixed, and people’s jobs are draining the very life from them.
It is vital to take time out of the day to relax. It rejuvenates you, improves your health, and calms your mind so that you can think more clearly. Relaxation, creative activities, and family time can actually be frugal endeavors and not distractions that take away from your efforts to make ends meet.
It can also support your mental health to have productive, enjoyable hobbies during stressful times.
When you have a million and one things to do, though, sometimes it’s difficult to force yourself to stop. This is because stress releases two hormones into your body: adrenaline and cortisol. Excesses of these hormones can cause blood pressure spikes, food cravings that lead to weight gain, and heart disease, to name just a few of the pitfalls.
So, you’ve got to unwind. You need a hobby.
But not these hobbies.
But beware. Some hobbies end up costing you money with nothing to show for it. Lots of people spend their time doing things like playing golf or tennis, going to concerts or night clubs, playing pool in a bar, drinking alcohol with friends, or shopping. All of these things have their place, of course, but as a regular part of your daily routine, they can certainly add up in price. If you already stressed about your finances, these hobbies will give you a brief respite, but in the end, just cause your stress to be worse because of all of the money you’ve spent.
Other hobbies kill off a few brain cells as you sit there, passively entertained in an altered state in front of the television or a video game. These things may not really cost you a lot of money, but in the long run, will do little to alleviate stress.
Studies have shown that watching television induces low alpha waves in the human brain. Alpha waves are brainwaves between 8 to 12 HZ. and are commonly associated with … brain states associated with suggestibility…Too much time spent in the low Alpha wave state caused by TV can cause unfocused daydreaming and inability to concentrate….Advertisers have known about this for a long time and they know how to take advantage of this passive, suggestible, brain state of the TV viewer. There is no need for an advertiser to use subliminal messages. The brain is already in a receptive state, ready to absorb suggestions, within just a few seconds of the television being turned on. All advertisers have to do is flash a brand across the screen, and then attempt to make the viewer associate the product with something positive. (source)
Passivity actually opens up the door to your brain and allows you to be programmed – it becomes easier to convince you that you need these things that are being advertised. It inhibits your critical thinking skills and leaves your brain craving even more time in this low Alpha state. This is the reason that some people sit blankly in front of the TV for hours every night until they fall asleep on the couch and then get up to do it all over again.
It’s important to choose your spare time activities in a manner that enhances your brain function, instead of reducing it. In a world where, for many, entertainment means playing on your iPhone or sharing photos on Facebook, opting for industry for your downtime can be an unusual choice. But, choosing productive hobbies is a great way to relax. What’s more, if your brain is engaged in an activity while you view a television program or movie, then you are not as susceptible to messages, either subliminal or blatant. This means that you don’t actually have to keep the TV turned off at night – you just need to refrain from zoning out in front of it.
Now, I can’t say that I never indulge in a little bit of binge-watching. I do, on a regular basis. The difference is, I don’t just sit there. (Actually, I’m pretty much incapable of simply sitting there watching something.) I take the time that we spend watching a show to accomplish those mindless things that I just don’t enjoy doing, like mending, organizing my sewing basket, repairing broken items, or completing a frenzy of food prep.
A brief lesson from young Ben Franklin
In 1726, 20-year-old Benjamin Franklin sought to cultivate his character. He listed off the thirteen virtues that he believed were important to living a good life, one of which was industry.
Franklin wrote of this characteristic,
“Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
He believed that the pursuit of productivity would build character and help the practitioner to lead a more successful and moral life. In his autobiography, Franklin wrote, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”
Think back to the days before television. People worked hard all day long, producing food, cutting wood, cooking, hunting, building…it was a full-time job to survive and thrive. In the evenings, by candlelight, they could stop and put their feet up for a while. Books were not widely available like they are now, so families passed the time by performing stitchery, carving, making furniture, mending things and creating items that made their lives more pleasant and beautiful. Sometimes a family member would read aloud, play an instrument or sing. Time was of value and not to be wasted, and there was rarely money to spare on an “evening out”.
Opt for activities that enhance your frugality
Nearly 300 years later, we can apply Franklin’s philosophy of industriousness and productivity to our lives today. When choosing leisure activities, consider opting for a productive hobby.
It should either…
- Teach something
- Create something
- Repair something
- Improve something
That leaves the door wide open to a broad range of choices. If you tend to be an overachiever, then you can relax without the guilt of worrying about all the things that you “should” be doing instead of chilling out. As a longtime student of cheapskatery, I’ve found that most people who are effectively frugal have hobbies that are productive and don’t enjoy wasting time, even leisure time.
Sometimes your hobby can even turn into an additional source of income. Many people have been extremely successful in setting up starting their own Etsy empires or participating in the craft show circuit.
Some productive hobbies to choose from…
Not only can some of these hobbies be an enjoyable way to pass the time or add to your economic bottom line, but they can provide beautiful, lower-cost options for gift-giving, which is a frugal bonus.
Not only should you, yourself, be indulging in these pastimes, but you should be passing these skills on to your children. When you do, you are creating not only useful and lovely items but irreplaceable family memories. Our living room was always filled with pretty baskets which all hid the supplies for various crafts and hobbies. Of an evening, you could most often find us creating while a movie or music plays in the background.
- Sewing clothing, curtains, and soft furnishings
- Knitting, crocheting, and weaving
- Repairing broken items
- Making soap and other personal care items
- Building furniture
- Making pottery
- Drawing and creating art
- Playing an instrument
- Making cards
- Making jewelry
- Making ammo
- Welding and soldering
- Learning a language
- Caring for animals
- Playing a word, math, or strategy game
- Marksmanship (archery and firearms)
- Preserving food
- Practicing outdoor skills like hiking, camping, tracking, and foraging
- Automotive repair
- Embroidering or cross-stitching
- Upcycling old things into new, useful ones
- Crafting greeting cards
- Refinishing furniture
- Playing games with the kids (this can be educational and fun at the same time)
What are your productive hobbies?
This list is certainly not comprehensive. If I’ve left off your favorite spare time activity, take a couple of minutes to tell us about it in the comments section. How do you unwind? What do you like to do in your spare time?