Last month, my company had a staff event: dinner followed by a Jays game – all expenses on the attendee of course, since we’re in the public sector.
As the ambitious worker bee who understands the value of networking (it’s how I’ve literally gotten every job I’ve worked), I woefully signed up. By the end of the night, I had spent close to $60 combined on the ticket, one concession item, and dinner and a drink at the fancy Rec Room. $60! My girlfriend then reminded me that really isn’t that much relative to other people.
Pre-drinks. Dinner. Cover fees. Ubers. Shots. Brunch the next day. On any given night, a Torontonian could spend over $250 on their weekend activities, and can you blame them? Toronto is one of Canada’s most expensive cities and full of things to do and sights to see. It’s hard not to get tempted.
But there’s fun to be had on the cheap. Excluding my networking night out, I hit about $100 for the month for entertainment including activities with my girlfriend in June while still having some jam-packed weekends. So what did I do exactly?
The Toronto Library
Before you send me the “He takes his girlfriend to the library? Haw haw. Nerd.” comments, recall that you also pay taxes. Those taxes finance a lot of things and of those things are beloved libraries.
Naturally, as a tax paying citizen, I discovered my local library offers something called museum passes, where I can get tickets for two adults and usually up to two children under 17 to pretty much every museum in Toronto. And I literally mean every:
- Toronto Zoo
- Royal Ontario Museum
- Ontario Science Centre
- Aga Khan Museum
- Art Gallery of Ontario
- Textile Museum of Canada
- The Gardiner Museum
- Black Creek Pioneer Village
- Bata Shoe Museum
That’s a pretty epic list and something I certainly take advantage of in the colder months. All I have to do is line up on Saturday morning at my local library with my card in hand and I’ll get a pass. Note that there is a surcharge for any special exhibitions since your pass will only cover the base admission fee.
- The downtown Toronto museums tend to go first so line up early (45 minutes before library open is usually a good idea). The museums outside the downtown core are easier to get: I walked in at 2pm once and got an Aga Khan Museum pass with no problem.
- You can only take out one museum pass per week and you have to wait three months to take out a pass a second time (i.e. if you got a ROM pass on August 1st, you have to wait until November 1st to be eligible for another ROM pass).
- When going to the museum, you need your library card and photo ID on you.
- Some libraries don’t carry all the museums. Best to call your local library to see what they have.
Parks, Trails, and the Great Outdoors
You know what else your taxes pay for? All those parks just outside your doorstep!
There are some beautiful places in Toronto: the Scarborough Bluffs, Rouge Park, the Waterfront, Evergreen Brickworks to name a few. If you have a car and dare to venture even further out of the city, Kleinburg is home to the quiet but beautiful Bindertwine Park, Hamilton is jacked with waterfall trails, and Guelph has some pretty awesome viewpoints too. The girlfriend and I will typically pack a lunch and take a day trip out to either hike or cycle. The cost of gas is usually much less than spending for a day of paid activities in the city. Plus – for us Canadians, the summer months are short. Cherish them while they’re here!
Outdoor Cultural Activities
What pays for this? You guessed it: your tax dollars. Toronto is one of the best cities in the world for cultural activities and on any given weekend and there can be so many free things to do. This year I’ve spent time but no dimes on activities related to Doors Open Toronto, Waterfront festivals, Christmas Markets, and the Pride Festival. As a city so full of diverse talent and life, why not try and experience all of it?
Feel the need to catch-up with friends? Don’t spend $50 out on dinner. Buy a board game and host your friends instead, pot-luck style with the rule to BYOB. The long-term replayability (not sure if that’s a word…) of board games these days is pretty awesome. My favourites are the classic Dead of Winter. Board games are pretty great because along the way you might learn something new (or dark…) about your friends!
If you’re hesitant on dropping a large investment on a board game, Toronto is now full of board game cafes where you can pay a small cover to test a game with your friends over coffee.
Check out my post on the Best Board Games from the Frugal.
The movies are getting super expensive. VIP. 3D. 4DX. AVX. It’s impossible to keep track. The base admission fee at Cineplex is $13.50 now for a single ticket and prices can stretch as high as $25 for VIP or 4DX.
Tuesdays present a cheaper option of $7.19 per ticket with a SCENE loyalty card, but if you’re like me and can’t go on weeknights, always be checking the Cineplex site for gift card promotions. During the Mother’s Day ramp-up, they were selling $30 gift cards that came with coupon packets with coupons like 2 for 1s, free popcorn, free seat upgrades, etc. Whenever promotions like that roll around, I’m usually first in line stocking up on gift cards. I then use all my earned SCENE points on the fully priced movies.
Lastly for Virgin mobile subscribers, in the fall they usually bring back 2 for 1 promo codes, which you can claim every 2 weeks. If you’re not a Virgin mobile subscriber, consider making friends with one. I usually give out my codes if I can’t use them (partially because I’m a greedy Cineplex shareholder as well).
When Dining Out, Go Local and Skip the Drinking
My girlfriend and I are huge foodies. When we’re not cooking at home, we’re trying new restaurants or visiting old favourites.
Last month’s entertainment spend of $100 also included 2 lunches and a dinner, which you might think is incredible low, and it is, mostly because: 1) We dine at inexpensive local eateries and save the fancier places for special occasions and 2) We don’t drink at restaurants because Canada has some of the safest drinking water in the world and it’s almost a sin not to enjoy it. Plus the markup on alcohol at restaurants is almost criminal. Why spend $10.00 on a beer after tax and tip when you can get four tall cans of the same brew at that price?
Fantastic experiences await you on the cheap. So get out there and stay entertained, my friends!