20 Affordable Entertainment Options as a PhD Student

Pursuing a PhD is a challenging and often stressful journey. Amidst the intense workload, it’s crucial to take breaks and find ways to unwind.

However, as a PhD student, budget constraints can make it difficult to afford typical entertainment options. Many of us have been there. Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable ways to relax and have fun — these are things that I used to do, and still do that are relatively inexpensive.

I like being frugal.

Here are 20 options to consider:

1. Public Libraries

Most public libraries provide access to a wide range of books, magazines, and journals. But, what we discovered is that there are many other things that you can find in public libraries. We joyed getting movies (when Netflix did not exist), seeds, and clubs for our kids when they were small. We loved our public library, and our kids had a lot of fun at it. Engaging in reading and discussions can be a great way to unwind.

2. Campus Events

Universities frequently organize free or low-cost events, such as guest lectures and workshops. Keep an eye on your university’s event calendar and attend these events to socialize and learn something new. I actually try to stay away from many events now because I like to separate work and play, but there have been many things that we still participate in from time to time.

But, maintain your mental health and create healthy boundaries from work.

3. Student Discounts

Take advantage of student discounts available for various entertainment options, including movie theaters, museums, amusement parks, and concerts. One of the advantages of being a PhD student is that you are actually still a student (sort of). Many businesses offer discounts to students with a valid student ID.

We exploited this discount on everything! Use it as much as you can.

4. Walking & Outdoor Activities

Actually, this is our biggest form of entertainment. Explore local parks, hiking trails, and nature reserves. Outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and picnicking are often free and provide a great way to de-stress and enjoy nature.

I spend as much time walking as possible. It is free medicine.

Listen to this podcast episode about walking!

5. Campus Recreation Centers

Most universities have recreation centers with gyms, swimming pools, and sports facilities that are free or affordable for students. Participating in sports or fitness classes can be a fun way to stay active. I know lots of people do this. I used it a lot as a PhD student as it was quite inexpensive, but remember. You will see other students and faculty there. It can be weird if you are nervous about working out in front of people.

6. Geocaching Adventures

I have never done this, but I am always wanted to. I also have friends that do it. It seems super fun — I am just lazy. Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity involves using a GPS or smartphone to find hidden containers, called “geocaches,” placed by other participants. It’s a fun and adventurous way to explore new areas, enjoy the outdoors, and engage in a global community of treasure hunters. Many geocaching apps are free, and the experience can be as thrilling as you make it, often leading you to interesting and off-the-beaten-path locations. Let me know how it goes!

7. Free Concerts and Performances

Many cities host free concerts, theater performances, and festivals, especially during the summer. Look for community events and enjoy live entertainment without spending a dime. We do this a lot, and went to most festivals in our home town. Our favorite thing was to go to farmer’s markets and events on Saturday morning. It is still a super fun thing to do! Our favorite thing was the Rosy Rhurbarb Festival!

8. Museum Free Days

Many museums offer free admission on certain days or times. Take advantage of these opportunities to explore art, history, and science exhibits. We did not do that much because we were in university towns, but whenever we travelled to the big city, we would go to a muesum or too.

9. Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteering can be a rewarding way to spend your free time. It allows you to give back to the community, meet new people, and often comes with free access to events or activities. My wife and I are always doing something, and keeping busy with volunteering with friends, family, and our community.

The idea is to stay as busy as possible, and everyone wants free labour.

10. Streaming Services

Share streaming service subscriptions with friends or family to split the cost. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ offer a wide range of movies and TV shows for affordable entertainment at home.

Of course you can see the R3ciprocity Project on Youtube!

11. Cooking or Baking

Experiment with new recipes and host potluck dinners with friends. Cooking and baking can be a fun and inexpensive way to socialize and enjoy good food.

Actually, most of our time is spent cooking or cleaning up after cooking. It is a vital part of our life!

12. DIY Projects

Engage in do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, such as crafting, knitting, or home improvement. These projects can be both entertaining and productive.

My wife loves to vacuum. We do the yard work around our house. I used to spend my Saturdays cleaning bathrooms, and the house. I put in lament flooring, and painted. We did cement work outside.

You name it, we did it.

Watch this video if you are building anything.

13. Game Nights

Host game nights with friends using board games, card games, or video games. It’s an affordable way to have fun and bond with others. These are easy – we had poker nights a few times, and were always blast.

14. Podcasts and Audiobooks

Listen to free podcasts and audiobooks on platforms like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Audible (which often has free trials). I use RSS Feed. They can provide hours of entertainment and education. My wife likes murder podcasts, and I like things related to business. I was a big nerd when Podcasts came out, and no one listened to them. Now everyone does.

By the way, check out the R3ciprocity Podcast.

15. Photography

Explore photography as a hobby. You don’t need expensive equipment—your smartphone camera can suffice. Capture interesting moments and places in your surroundings. If you walk, you will see and hear a lot of great stuff.

16. Meditation and Yoga

I used to belong to one yoga group that worked on donations and another free group called F3. If you get out and about, you can find some great people. Practice meditation and yoga at home using free online videos or apps. These activities can help reduce stress and improve your mental well-being.

17. Writing and Blogging

Start a blog or journal your thoughts. Don’t be afraid. You will be surprised what will happen. Writing can be a therapeutic and enjoyable way to express yourself and share your experiences with others. The R3ciprocity Project would not exist without me starting this!!!

18. DuoLingo

Participate in language exchange programs like DuoLingo to learn a new language and meet people from different cultures. I am learning Italian–it is easy to waste time learning. These programs are often free and provide a unique learning experience.

19. Second-Hand Shopping

Visit thrift stores, garage sales, and online marketplaces for affordable shopping. We have friends that actually make a substantial amount of money by buying and selling used clothing. You can find unique items and save money. It is a fantastic hobby that provides hours of fun!

20. Gardening

If you have access to a garden or balcony, try gardening. Growing your own plants can be a relaxing and rewarding hobby. I suck a gardening, but I try. My wife remembers to do much of the gardening, and we have a nice garden.



As a PhD student, it’s important to find ways to relax and have fun without breaking the bank. These 20 affordable entertainment options can help you balance the demands of your studies with the need for leisure and relaxation. By exploring these activities, you can stay refreshed, motivated, and engaged throughout your PhD journey. Remember, taking time for yourself is essential for your overall well-being and academic success.

Learn to be okay with yourself — you do not need money to have fun!

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