The Cheapskate’s Guide to Productive Hobbies

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Author of Be Ready for Anything and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course

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.

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 – mass media uses this as a tool, by promoting ideas (like gun control, acceptance of the “big brother” philosophy, or the politically correct flavor of the month). 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, stepping outside the path of the herd and 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 which are productive and don’t enjoy wasting time, even leisure time.

Productive hobbies not only improve your brain, but they can better your chances for thriving in a post-SHTF world. The ability to create or repair something will improve your standard of living and provide you with valuable skills for barter should an economic collapse occur. Time spent teaching your children these skills will, in turn, pass down arts that would otherwise be lost to generations of the future, while helping your child become a critical thinker and problem solver.

Often your hobby can 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 is full of attractive baskets which all hide the supplies for various crafts and hobbies. Of an evening, you can most often find us creating while a movie or music plays in the background.

  1. Reading
  2. Sewing clothing, curtains, and soft furnishings
  3. Knitting, crocheting, and weaving
  4. Carving
  5. Repairing broken items
  6. Mending
  7. Making soap and other personal care items
  8. Building furniture
  9. Making pottery
  10. Cooking and baking
  11. Writing
  12. Drawing and creating art
  13. Playing an Instrument
  14. Singing
  15. Making cards
  16. Making jewelry
  17. Fletching
  18. Gunsmithing
  19. Making ammo
  20. Welding and soldering
  21. Learning a language
  22. Caring for animals
  23. Playing a word, math or strategy game
  24. Marksmanship (archery and firearms)
  25. Exercise
  26. Gardening
  27. Preserving food
  28. Practicing outdoor skills like hiking, camping, and foraging
  29. Hunting and fishing
  30. Automotive repair

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?

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • What you are referring to is flow. Absorbed in the task, you find yourself unstressed and totally engaged in the work before you.

    I will admit. I love to climb a learning curve and create and make, and have been doing so as soon as I was able. I have had to reduce my interests for lack of time. Putting up food and other chores need to be addressed. I do not refer to them as hobbies, and my family will admit that I do not have hobbies, but rather passions.

    My Passion list includes ART, specifically water color and graphite-I am draw and paint realistically. SEWING and hand embroidery, making and repairing clothes–I have always repaired more than I have made,as well as household goods and gifts, KNITTING, for clothes and winter items, but also for “therapy” aka stress relief. SPINNING is also therapeutic. I have spun on and off over the years. I am looking forward to spinning the fleece of the new breed of sheep we have. MUSIC. I am a late bloomer playing an instrument. It is much fun, but hard work.

    I will also add games. Playing board games with family and friends is therapeutic and off the grid.

    I have not listed my better-half’s skill base, but, together we cover much on your list.

    While we have passed down many skills to our now adult children, we have, by example, shown them the importance of skill.

    I am not so certain about interests being inexpensive. I only buy supplies when I can purchase them on sale purchasing the bare minimum, but no matter how I try, the cost adds up greater than expected. It is the most difficult to keep the cost of art supplies down.

  • Over a year after you wrote this piece Daisy. New Year’s resolutions hitting me on January 2, 2017 and your article is my first research into good hobbies for the frugal (by necessity!). Lord please let this year be awesome and more fruitful and fun for all of us in the name of Jesus! Amen! I am saving a link to The Organic Prepper to start of 2017 with success!

    • Hi Elizabeth! Be sure and subscribe to the newsletter 🙂 I send out tips and info almost daily, and some of it is for subscribers only.

      Welcome, and happy New Year! 🙂

  • I sew and mend. I have make curtains, quilts, pillows, clothes, dog beds, my wedding dress, christening gowns, p.j.’s, burp cloths, pot holders, cushions. I can’ t remember everything, I started sewing at 13. My mom was an expert seamstress, but she died when I was 8. I think I just thought what she made was so nice. I had to out of necessity. We didn’t have much money. There was a lot of trial and error. I have done for my children, friends and family too. When you mend things it saves so much money. I have a serger and can do a lot with that. I garden,can foods, embroider. Sewing has saved me the most money, I believe it is becoming a lost art. I don’t know any young women who sew.

  • I have all sorts of stuff for hobbies, maybe too much, significant other likes to sit in front of the damn TV though, is really distracting, and makes it tough to be productive and work on a project when the other half is watching tv chilling,,,
    I guess i need to just ignore her and get my hobby on,
    Been wanting to do some leather work, have tons of hides to use and all manner of hardware, thread, lace, even a huge Cobra sewing machine,,, or maybe crank up the knife grinder and metal saw and make something sharp n pointy!

    • That sounds like a lot of fun to me. We watch Netflix some, but I usually try to do something productive at the same time, like crocheting, writing letters to an older friend without a computer, doing artwork, etc. Okay, maybe not that productive but I hate just sitting there.

    • “Make something sharp and pointy”

      Now you’re talking my language! I treated myself to a birthday present this year. For under $25.00, I bought myself a roll of hardware mesh and a 6″ x 12″ x 1/4″ piece of plate steel. The hardware mesh I used to make myself some crawdad traps so I could catch bait for my fishing hobby.

      The plate steel I used to make a spear point. That project is still ongoing at about 75% complete. Using not much more than an angle grinder, I cut the rough shape of the blade and ground in the edge profiles. Went to the woodlot and cut straight saplings of various species for shaft material and using a 36 grit sanding disc on the grinder shaped the shaft for the head. The last major step to complete is forge tempering the spear head. I’m just going to dig a hole in the ground for a forge and fire it using leftover coke from my demolished blacksmith shed and cheap vegetable oil for the quench.

      The finished product will be an 8 foot spear with a 1-3/4″ shaft and a hardened steel point with razor edges all around. I’ve already rough fitted it and the weight and balance are impressive. I’m probably the only guy in my State who owns a fully functional home made spear.

      Best of luck in your future projects!


  • I do a lot on this list, but I also embroider items. I’m learning decorative lettering and making poster like items with sayings and scripture on them. I can’t stand to just sit idle with the TV on. My hands have to be engaged doing something.

  • I love doing Leatherwork in my spare time. Not only it something that keeps me productive, it is relaxing…certainly more relaxing than watching television!

  • We live in Montana and heat with wood. It’s a productive endeavor. Love the feeling of having several years of earned fuel stored on our own property.

  • may i suggest adding “teach your craft” to the list. so many people don’t have access to folks who have needed skills…and practical skills along with music and art are seldom taught in school.

  • Knots.
    I have a strange fascination with tying knots.
    I have a few different types of accessory cord, rope, and practice tying different knots on a chair.

  • Things I’ve done:

    Learned how to use hand tools in my father’s farm workshop from age 4 on, once I was tall enough to stand on a box so I could reach the work bench, the vise, the grinder, the saws, files, brace and bits, wrenches, hammers, etc. Learned how to slow grind on worn out metal files to turn them into camping knives, spears and other tools. Made little wooden trucks that the neighbor kids preferred — they wanted to trade me their metal trucks for my wooden ones.

    Learned how to use powered woodworking tools in 7th grade shop class.

    Learned how to do research and public speaking in 7 years of high school and collegiate tournament debate competition. Learned how to use the free nationwide interlibrary loan system which has been around since before 1900.

    Learned much about outdoor cooking, marksmanship, and mountain backpacking in the Boy Scouts. Their library of merit badge booklets, still available for sale to the public, is a goldmine of how-to introductions to an incredible range of subjects.

    Took 10 years of piano lessons during the era when Broadway music, Gershwin, big band and classic music was still in vogue. Became good enough that my high school picked me to represent them (instead of my piano teacher’s son) at the district competition. That was the end of my piano lessons.

    Learned how to machine out aircraft and missile parts during one college summer job. The ability to measure the accuracy of finished parts to ten thousandth’s of an inch was an eye opener. (That’s .0001“.)

    Added to my understanding of welding, sheet metal repair, X-ray & ultrasonic testing, parachute repair, and jet engine maintenance during some USAF years.

    Once diagnosed a slightly failing inertial guidance gyro motor by using a wooden broomstick as a stethoscope.

    Used to buy Italian cars that had been wrecked, and take the pieces from several to make one complete, usable and saleable one. (When Dustin Hoffman ran out of gas in “The Graduate”, he was being an idiot.) This was back in the carburetor era.

    Stumbled into an estate sale that offered a 1950 cast iron Shopsmith (multi-function power tool for woodworking that featured a power saw, wood lathe, disc sander, horizontal boring mill, and vertical drill press). Since then I’ve accumulated a garage full of related equipment, including accessories such as bandsaws, belt sanders, jig saws, overhead routers, etc. I enjoy both restoring and using such equipment (for doing repairs or for creating new things). It’s also not difficult to convert that generation of machinery into foot-powered operation in case of long term power outage, just as such machines were used in the 1890s.

    Took a summer welding course for both stick and MIG welding. Never had a need to use that.

    Have built several different kinds of solar cookers, on the cheap.

    Have two treadle sewing machines from my ancestors, but have no idea how to use them.

    Am on my 3rd revision of a DIY book scanner, using Hovercam technology, inspired by the global community at That has all kinds of uses for digitizing prepper-capability print books.

    Once created an ebook using DOS shareware (back before Windows 3.1) so I could share a family genealogy project with my relatives.


    • I write novels and I’m an amazingly terrible amateur gardener. I also love to read and watch “how to” videos. Right now, I’m trying to muster the courage to use my pressure canner to can chicken breasts! One day…

  • I’ve been hand loading my own ammunition for over 40 years. Taught my son, and he hand loads too. Originally started for the economic reasons, found I could generate very consistent (hence accurate) rounds.

  • When I feel like just relaxing I would read or work word puzzles or do art. I draw and paint in varous mediums but prefer oils. I can sew and mend, crochet and knit, quilt, cook, bake, can, dehydrate, and love gardening and herbal medicine. Most of those are in the ‘work’ category. I am an amateur extra ham,
    can ride a motorcycle, make baskets, enjoy scrapbooking and card making and origami. I’ve never gotten tired of playing with paper. Also enjoy doing genealogy and research. I hope to learn welding next year. Obviously I don’t do all of these things all the time because there simply isn’t that much time. I like all kins of crafts. Maybe I’m just a dabbler. I’ve enjoyed teaching teenagers art too. There is just no time in the world to be bored. I can’t think of anything else at the moment. Interesting article.

  • I love journaling, scrapbooking and making Shutterfly books. Preserving our family’s history is especially important to me for our little girl.

  • My problem is when is whenever I do anything it never stays in the hobby stage lol! But I do one thing that I enjoy; when I watch anything dealing with shtf/teotwawki/apocalyptic, I take notes. Never know when the next zombie outbreak will happen. 😉

  • I make liquid hand soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, dish soap, and skin care products using essential oils. Today I’m going to try bars of soap using some beautiful molds. Got the recipe from Gaye Levy on her Strategic Living site. Tomorrow it will be a spray bottle of stink bug-b-gone. I confess though that since the TV puts me to sleep faster than anything, I put on the same documentary every night. The narrators voice puts me out within 10 minutes. I’ll probably never get through all of the episodes.

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