8 Free-Or-Cheap Autumn Things You Probably Haven’t Thought To Do Yet

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Just like most other people in your life, I adore fall. My soul is probably the texture of cable knit. I’ll buy pumpkin beer as soon as I see it on the shelf in late August even though my body is still recovering from the humid hell that is the summertime subway platform. I dream of eating nothing but stew for weeks on end. I want to burn my tongue on every hot beverage imaginable.

Of course, liking autumn feels somewhat passé at this point; there’s nothing original about wanting a pumpkin spice latte or going apple picking. But I love the collective excitement about these seasonal traditions, how so many of us freak out and text each other the second there’s a chill in the air. When storefronts and restaurant menus start leaning in to warm colors, gourds, and root vegetables, I feel giddy. Give me all of the foliage tableaus and pumpkin ravioli, please and thank you. I find the familiarity of autumn, and the fact that all of our decorations and food this time of year are reflective of something that simply happens in nature, extremely comforting.

Fall also takes more forms than we give it credit for. There’s your mom’s orange and yellow wreaths and garlands, and prepping Thanksgiving-sized dinners for two months straight. There are also the days when the low skies and cool mornings make it okay to stay inside all day with coffee, a book, and a cat. If you want to spend your entire season in preparation for Halloween, putting up fake cobwebs and making treats that look like fingers, no one will stop you. There’s a type of fall for everybody.

I’m so excited the NYC weather is finally catching up with my pie-making, cider-sipping self, especially now that the first official weekend of fall is encroaching. Autumn can be a pretty expensive time of year to participate in, though. You may decide you want to go to a pumpkin patch, which sounds wholesome and lovely, but you want to get the real experience, which means you have to go somewhere far away and rural, and before you know it you’ve blown $40 just on the trip out of town — gas money, tolls, and the lunch you had to buy your friend with the car just to get him to take you in the first place. (Just me?)

There are so many ways to make your weekend feel ~autumnal as hell~, and they don’t even all include buying a million fancy hot beverages or trekking two hours to an apple orchard only to be forced to take a hayride and end up with straw down your pants. And while you shouldn’t let anyone shame you for treating yourself to a PSL this season, maybe it’s time to start taking your fall a little more out-of-the-box (while still keeping it affordable).

1. Make a spooky-themed day out of visiting someplace haunted. Haunted houses — the kitschy, fake kind — can be really fun to go to with a group of friends, but they can also be extremely crowded and pricey. Instead of overpaying for admission just to have a stranger in a mask chase you around with a chainless chainsaw, read up on some of the more chilling tales of the past in your area, then go visit those places and see if you can sense anything ~spooky~. For example, Washington Square Park in New York was built on top of what used to be a gallows and burial space of over 20,000 bodies. Now you know it’s possible to fill your Saturday afternoon with some IRL Stephen King shit.

2. Bake pumpkin in something that’s not a pie. I made this pumpkin cake a few years ago and still have dreams about it. Make an event out of making a dessert; invite people over to partake in a bake-off or a potluck in celebration of the first weekend of the season. If you don’t like pumpkin (gasp), use some other fall-ish fruit or vegetable, like sweet potato or pear.

3. Tailgate just for the hell of it. I don’t understand why tailgating, the absolute best part of sporting events, is only reserved for said sporting events. If I was allowed to show up to a dope tailgating session and leave before the football game, I would. And who says this dream can’t be a reality? Have a few friends all prepare a dish, pack a picnic blanket or a few portable chairs, then drive to a nearby park and chill the hell out with your chicken wings or whatever. You also won’t have to put up with drunken, rowdy neighbors, which may be the best part.

4. Treat yourself to a discount fall candle haul. Look out for stores like T.J. Maxx putting all of their fall candle supply on mega sale or clearance. Spend an afternoon smelling every single one and go home with all your favorites. Nothing makes a home as autumnal and cozy as a good scented candle, and you’ll spend way less than you would buying them elsewhere. No one needs designer candles. You literally set the things on fire.

5. Host a book and accessories swap. Get a few friends together to help refresh each other’s fall wardrobes and bookcases. I don’t know about you, but the start of fall always makes me want to drop a paycheck on new scarves and hats. Avoid this by swapping some accessories with friends — you’ll each get excited about having something new (to you) to wear, and your wallet won’t lose any weight over it. Do the same thing with your books; each of you choose one you love and want to share, and take turns rotating them throughout the season. It’ll be like an intimate, ongoing book club for the next few months.

6. Recreate Cabin in the Woods by renting a cabin in the woods. If you and a friend (or group of friends!) are looking for a relatively inexpensive fall weekend getaway, there are plenty of options on sites like Airbnb. The prices generally go up a bit with each person you add, but when you’re splitting the cost, it’s of course less expensive with a few more people. A few nights out of town going on nature walks and building campfires sounds downright therapeutic.

7. Turn your leaf-peeping into a crafting session. Go take a walk near some foliage and collect the prettiest leaves you see (that are already on the ground — don’t be a monster). Then buy a shadow box or pressing frame to preserve them in. Pro tip: if you go to a chain craft store like Michael’s, be sure to search for web coupons for your location before you head out. There’s almost always a 15 or 20% off one item coupon available, and they might have an even better deal on the specific thing you’re looking for.

8. Infuse inexpensive liquor for a season of festive cocktails. It’s pretty easy to mask the taste of cheap alcohol (especially vodka) with different spices, fruits and herbs. Decide what flavors you want to try — a little research will help you decide which go with which alcohol. A cinnamon and apple-infused bourbon sounds particularly divine, and it would definitely add to my already favorite cold season cocktail: hot apple cider with bourbon. I feel tingly just thinking about it.

Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at holly@thefinancialdiet.com!

Image via Unsplash

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  • GBee

    Great list. I will be trying out that pumpkin cake soon!

    • Holly Trantham

      Share a pic if you do! It’s so goooood

    • Roxanne Earley

      Also super great to add canned pumpkin to soups. Mom always called them “sunshine stew” and they taste magical. Affordable festive perfection!