How to Make the Absolute Most of Fall on a Budget

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

– L. M. Montgomery

It’s fall.

Pumpkin spiced everything dominates the aisles at local grocery stores, the leaves are changing and starting to fall, burnt orange flowers are set on the neighbors’ front porches, and Halloween decorations are starting to crop up around town.

You know who loves fall? The five thousand marketing firms across the United States who push all the seasonal “necessities” on us. Which is why you end up at your house with pumpkin spiced cookies, granola, beer, coffee, and popcorn . . . not that I’ve ever had that experience.

There’s nothing wrong with these marketing gimmicks we buy into, but they can be a little hard on our wallet—and they’re not necessarily the best parts about fall anyway.

If you’re looking to have a memorable and joyful fall season this year, here are some ideas that aren’t sponsored by Target or Starbucks (although I still plan on enjoying a pumpkin spiced latte or two):

Have a Bonfire

“If a year was tucked inside of a clock, then autumn would be the magic hour.”

– Victoria Erickson

I’m not sure what it is about bonfires that makes them so magical, but they really are one of my favorite parts about fall. If you don’t already have a fire pit, they’re not expensive (the cheapest one I’ve seen is $30). You can also ask your friends in case any of them already has a fire pit and would be interested in helping you host. Bonfires are an excellent excuse to have some people over and drink hot chocolate (which can but doesn’t have to be spiked with peppermint schnapps), and they are often conducive to meaningful discussions and great stories. Another perk about bonfires is that you don’t have to have a big home or worry about everything being perfect for your guests—just lead them straight to the backyard, no vacuuming necessary.

Go on a Picnic

“. . . I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house. So I have spent almost all the daylight hours in the open air."

– Nathaniel Hawthorne

Before the winter comes, my goal is to spend as much time outside as I can, soaking up the sun and pleasant weather before the cold and darkness (and low-key depression) hit.
Picnics offer an easy, inexpensive alternative to going out to eat and allow you to enjoy the beautiful fall weather. Pack a couple of sandwiches, some fruit (if you’re into that sort of thing), brownies, and maybe a few cans of that fall-flavored beer you bought on an impulse. Get a few friends or your significant other (or a book), and pull up a piece of grass at a nearby park. Bonus points if you can find a place with live music playing nearby (Spotify works, too).

Morning Coffee Dates

“Autumn mornings: sunshine and crisp air, birds and calmness, year's end and day's beginnings.”

– Terri Guillemets

There is nothing like crisp, bright mornings in the fall. As much as I love sleeping in as late as possible, there’s something so lovely about starting your day a little earlier during these cooler months. Set an alarm (or two or three), put on a sweater, and watch the sunrise from your front porch—mug in hand—or even agree to meet up with a friend at a local coffee shop or park with a view. It may require a bit of self-discipline, but the breathtaking colors and morning light will absolutely be worth it, in my opinion (coming from sleep’s number one fan).

Scary Movie Night

“During the day, I don't believe in ghosts. At night, I'm a little more open-minded.”

– Unknown

I’m not necessarily an advocate of horror movies. But there are some classic “scary” movies that can be worth re-watching this time of year. It’s another good reason to have people over, and it’s not much work on your part. Pick one of the oldies (Beetlejuice, Hocus Pocus, Bewitched, The Addams Family . . . ) to enjoy together. You can also try a good suspense film, too, if you want to be spooked without gore (anything Alfred Hitchcock will work). Bonus points if everyone wears their pajamas.

Apple Picking

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the Earth seeking the successive autumns.”

– George Eliot

This one may require a little more time and effort, such as looking up an orchard close by, picking a day that works for a group of people, and making the trip out there. It’s a great mini-adventure to go on with friends or family, and you come home with some delicious apples (which can go into a much more delicious pie)! Win, win, win.

Hike

“People that love fall, they go crazy for the foliage: ‘The foliage! Let's drive by the foliage. It's so beautiful the way the leaves die. They're so pretty right before they fall to their death.’ We think it's beautiful. It's the leaves' hospice. It also helps that the leaves can't talk. If they could talk, they'd be like, ‘Aaaahhhhh! Get me chlorophyll! Why are these people driving by and smiling at me? You monsters!’ We're rather insensitive to the leaves' tragedy. They die, they fall to the ground, we just rake them up. ‘Kids, you want to jump on this pile of dead leaves? No? All right, I'll just light them on fire.’”

– Jim Gaffigan

Hiking is great. You get a workout, you get to explore, you can check out the foliage (people love foliage), and you can breathe fresh air. . . and you don’t feel so guilty about eating several pieces of apple pie (see above) afterward. Oh, and it’s free! You may need to spend some time looking up trails near you, just remember this doesn’t have to be the climb up Everest—a bigger park with walking trails will do.

Pick up a Book

“There is something incredibly nostalgic and significant about the annual cascade of autumn leaves.”

– Joe L. Wheeler

I know you have a thousand books you’ve been wanting to read but just “haven’t had time,” because that is exactly where I am. Finding time to read seems to be one of those things we always want but never really achieve. It is difficult since we have a thousand other (often easier) entertainment options, not to mention limited downtime. That being said, I encourage you to join me in spending less time on Netflix and more time with our noses in a book. It really is so enriching and, I believe, makes you a more interesting person. It doesn’t have to be something by Shakespeare or Aristotle—although I would be impressed. Just pick something that’s been sitting on your shelf for a while and sit down in a comfy spot wrapped in a blanket.

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

We are so lucky to have the different seasons and the goodness and beauty that each of them brings in their own, unique way. It is something I think I take for granted. It’s also easy to get caught up in the marketing schemes that fill our homes with the right colors and flavors but fail to bring true joy or warmth to our hearts. So this fall, I challenge you to slow down, pick one (or all) of these ideas, and ask some friends or your family to join you. This is what life’s about anyway, the memories with loved ones, not the pumpkin spiced latte.

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