Winter on a Budget

Making the Most of Winter Even if You Don’t Make the Most Money
Picture of author
Amanda Unrau
colorful winter coats hung in a store window

So you’ve finally decided to fully embrace the winter season, only to discover that everything looks expensive. Now you’re overwhelmed and frustrated and you feel like you need to get a part time job in order to participate in most activities.

Not to worry! There are plenty of ways you can avoid dropping all your money while still enjoying the season.

Here are nine affordable ways to make the most of winter:

  1. Find local free nature-themed activities. State parks and nature centers often have free or reasonably priced activities for children and adults. Check out their website or sign up to receive newsletters via email to stay notified of upcoming events. A local nature center here in Wisconsin holds monthly events, classes, and youth programs. They also offer rental equipment. This is where I first tried out snowshoeing, before deciding to purchase a pair of my own snowshoes. To search for a state park where you live, head to Many cities and communities have nature or ecology centers. With an annual membership fee, you have access to trails, are able to borrow equipment, can attend members-only events, and are eligible for discounts on summer camps and other activities. Many offer reduced rates for families.

  2. Stay up to date on local sales or resale shops. Often, communities will have a seasonal sale where residents can sell or purchase used winter sports equipment such as skis, snowboards, and snowshoes. The town I grew up in had a winter sale like this every fall. If that isn’t an option, consignment or resale stores such as Play it Again Sports carry a wide variety of gear for your favorite winter activities, including snowboard boots, hockey sticks, snow pants, winter coats, and ski goggles.

  3. Visit a local winter festival. Admission is often free or cheap, and it is a great seasonal activity. There are often free samples and you may discover ideas for crafts or recipes you can recreate at home.

  4. Take in the lights and window displays. Hop in the car or go for a walk in the neighborhood to check out the holiday lights and decorations. Take along a mug of coffee or cocoa to stay warm. Zoos and botanical gardens often have professional light shows that are free at a low cost per car. Many stores decorate their windows for the holidays. Bundle up for a walk down main street “oohing” and “ahhing” over the intricate designs. This is one of my favorite ways to get out of the house on those long winter evenings.

  5. Host a bonfire. Mix up the usual indoor gathering and avoid spending more than you’d like to at a restaurant. Instead, invite friends over for hot dogs and s’mores. If you have a projector, tell guests to bring sleeping bags and set up an outdoor movie.

  6. Try a new ski location. The average price for a single-day lift ticket in Colorado is $143! Itching to hit the slopes, but don’t want to pay the high resort fees? Try public parks or national parks. Some parks have ski areas, and the entry prices are much cheaper. Plus, there are other activities for those non-skiers in your group.

  7. Plan a traditional snow day. Sleep in, make pancakes, build a snowman, go sledding, have a snowball fight, watch movies, bake cookies. The options are endless! This is a great way to spend the day as a family, and includes a mix of indoor and outdoor activities.

  8. Use what you have. Those old ice skates collecting dust in the back of the closet? Dust them off! Always enjoyed ice fishing? Now is your chance to take it up again! If you have the equipment for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, or another activity, you can get back to it. And since you already have the gear, it is practically free. Here in Wisconsin, you don’t have to drive far to find a variety of locations for outdoor activities.

  9. Make a hot chocolate bar. Set out a lineup of toppings: marshmallows, whipped cream, cinnamon sticks, candy canes, chocolate chips, caramel sauce, etc. You can even add an element of competition by appointing a panel of judges to declare the best cocoa recipe. Take this outside to the backyard. Don’t have a backyard? Do it in the parking lot or head to the park.

There’s no need to stay cooped up with the winter blues just to avoid emptying your wallet. You don’t have to blow your budget to make this the best winter yet!

What are some of your favorite affordable winter activities? Is there anything you would add to our list? Let us know!

Come back and check out the rest of the blog for more ideas and to read reviews of winter-related products. We’ll help you find the best options when you are ready to spend your hard-earned money. Sign up for an account to receive snow forecast alerts and our latest blog updates via email.