WE are halfway through the first month of what is probably going to be quite a tough year and I think we all need to look on the bright side.

That’s not an easy suggestion, of course. We are either in a recession or heading for one, that’s what the Bank of England thinks. This week the charity StepChange has warned that people who borrowed money for Christmas could be paying the money back for years. And even though inflation has started to fall, prices are still rising at an astronomical rate not seen in decades. There’s no way that 2023 is going to be a picnic in the park for our purses.

So I have a suggestion – we need to enjoy more free stuff. This can be the year where we actively seek out the free events and moments that can help us all enjoy life, even when we’re worried about energy bills or rising food prices.

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What’s more, actively looking for free ways to have fun could also stop us from feeling motivated to splurge money we can’t afford on holidays or unaffordable luxuries just because they make us feel good in the moment. If we feel good generally, it’s not so tempting to spend.

If you’re feeling the pinch or you know that you need to cut back then join me and embrace some frugal fun! Here are a few suggestions.

Shared table dinner parties

If you like to regularly eat out with friends or meet at the pub then it’s unrealistic to think you can just cut that off. You’ll end up sitting at home, bored and frustrated on a Friday night and that’s not sustainable. Before you know it, you will be back at the pub spending cash you can’t afford. So find a cheaper alternative! Be proactive and invite friends round to yours for drinks and dinner, make it a ‘shared table’ event where everyone brings their own drinks, plus a different course or item to share. See if some of your social group fancy a regular Friday night, taking it in turns to host.

You will spend some money on drinks and nibbles, but it’s going to be much cheaper than hitting the bars.

Family games night

Parents and family members spend a lot on giving their children joy. Bowling, cinema trips, theme parks, none of it is cheap.

If you can’t afford that in 2023 then find free fun! Every child I know LOVES a family games night, especially if you can stretch to some cheap snacks and pop to give it a sense of occasion. Dig out some board games or borrow them from a neighbour and settle in for a few hours of family fun, adults and children together.

You very soon realise that, while kids love bowling or expensive games arcades, what they actually want most is simply quality time with their adults.

Find free museums, galleries and more

Scotland is absolutely packed with culture and there’s a lot you don’t have to pay for. Check out the Museum Association website and you can see a list of free museums across the whole country. Yes, there are the big attractions you immediately think of like the Museum of Edinburgh, but there are dozens of other fascinating venues too that are a great day out and give real insights into Scottish heritage.

Have you ever visited the Trimontium Museum in Galashiels? It has probably the finest collection of Roman military objects anywhere in Britannia. Or the Museum of Lead Mining in Biggar? People visit from all around the world to see Scottish history and you can too, without having to pay for entry.

And while you’re planning that day out, it’s my duty to remind you that Scotland has some of the most beautiful places to go walking in the entire Western hemisphere. Get out there and enjoy it.

Make new outfits for free

If you’re like me, you’re always on the lookout for a new outfit. When you’re having to budget more carefully, it can feel as if you never have anything new or glamorous to wear.

But almost all of us have clothes we never wear, languishing at the backs of our wardrobes. The anti-waste charity WRAP says that around a quarter of the clothes we own haven’t been worn in 12 months.

Those are clothes that you’ve liked enough to buy and they might work with other clothes to create new outfits and styles. Maybe instead of sadly browsing fast fashion websites online, we should all spend a more productive hour pulling out all our existing clothes and finding new ensembles that won’t cost us a penny.

Plan some free festivals

There are so many free events coming up this year and you can start planning for them and looking forward to them right now.

There’s Doors Open Day, with almost 1,000 events letting you explore amazing buildings across Scotland for free. Craft Scotland organises open studio events, where you can get into some artistic, creative spaces and see how they work.

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There are some good other examples on the Visit Scotland website, so be proactive and plan ahead. You will need to do some prep to avoid spending money at these events – there will be food and drinks and stalls full of stuff that the kids want to buy. But if you set the expectation that this is a free day out, if you pack a lunch from home and challenge yourself not to splash any unnecessary cash then you’ll have a great, cheap time.

Challenge yourself

None of these suggestions are ‘money saving tips’. I don’t think that any of us can get through 2023 simply by spending less on going to the cinema. But we still all need some joy and some fun, even when times are tight. In fact, especially when times are tight.

So perhaps a positive thing that comes out of this unusually difficult time could be that more of us learn to enjoy life without needing to spend money. Finding the fun in the free, the frivolous and with our families (if we’re lucky enough to have them) could be the most cost-effective way to feel some joy in the next 12 months. Challenge yourself to find free fun and then it won’t feel like penny pinching.

Felicity Hannah is a consumer affairs and personal finance expert