I live in ‘provincial’ New Zealand.
Whanganui has about 43,000 people. It’s not huge. I spent most of my teenage years dying to get out of it, so it was with some sense of irony that I found myself voluntarily moving back here with my own family after a 20 year absence. There were many reasons that D and I moved from Wellington, the coolest little capital on the planet. The cheap house prices were one. The family-friendly vibe was another. The fact that you can always find a parking space is an added bonus.
Moving to our home in Tawhero was definitely counter-cultural. People seem to think that if you live in a big city, you have ‘made it’. If you have a corporate job and a nice house, your life is a ‘success’. By this measure, D and I were indeed successful. The fact that we wanted to give up the trappings of success and move to small-town NZ blew some people’s minds. “You’ll get bored” I was told. “It’s career-suicide” someone said. “Why on earth would you want to move there?” challenged a friend.
Well guess what?
I’m never bored here.
I have, for some reason, always been one of those people who knows about all the cool stuff there is to do. I’ve lived in small towns, big cities and in three different countries, and I have always, always, always found plenty of ways to pass the time. For example, when I lived in London you’d rarely find me at home. Come Monday morning my colleagues would ask “So where did you end up this time Angela?” and I always had lots to tell them. I didn’t have a fat bank account. Much of the things my friends and I did for fun were free. I just knew where to find out the inside scoop.
Now of course, Whanganui is a far cry from London. But if I wanted to, I could do really interesting things every day of the week. There are family-friendly events on almost every weekend here, too many for me to keep up with. This past weekend alone there was an open day at the Fire Station (which had been refurbished) and a family dance party in the middle of town with dancing sensation, Tommy Franklin.
The firefighters put on several demonstrations
Tommy Franklin doing his thing
Getting ready for a mass high-five
Whether you live somewhere big or small, there is always free or frugal fun to be had.
How to find all that fun stuff:
- Community newspapers. These are a wonderful source of information. Lots of people don’t subscribe to their local newspaper anymore, but you can be sure that they read their local freebie paper. You will often see events listed in here that aren’t in mainstream newspapers, as event organisers on a shoe-string go where they will get more bang for their buck due to higher readership of free community newspapers. Similarly, if an event wants to attract families or those on a low-income, they know to advertise where their target readers actually have a chance of seeing it. Ergo, if you want a free or cheap event to go to, look in the free papers.
- Mainstream newspapers. If you don’t subscribe to one, check out their website or Facebook page to get up-to-date information about what’s happening in your town.
- Local Facebook groups. I’ve lost count of how many Whanganui-based Facebook groups there are! I find many events on a local FB page called Whanganui Mummies where mum’s will often share what’s happening around town. In your neck of the woods there might be other social media that are more popular, so head there first.
- Local radio stations. Not only will they know about all the big events happening in your town, they will often know about all the cool events (not always the same thing!) too.
- Join email lists. I am regularly updated as to what’s going on with several community groups, businesses, amenities and at our great Museum. I have been invited to book launches, art gallery openings, poetry evenings, in-store VIP customer nights, lectures, workshops, comedy nights, gigs and more. All free.
- Community noticeboards. Library noticeboards, supermarket noticeboards, noticeboards outside a church or cafe are all excellent places to spot posters for what’s going on in your town.
- Ditto your local information centre if your town is big enough to have one.
- Look around you. Quite seriously, look around you. Posters on lamp posts, on bus shelters, on the back of buses, billboards on the side of the road are the friend of frugulistas in need of something to do.
- Ask around. Simply saying ‘So, what are you up to this weekend?’ may yield instant results as your friend raves to you about an upcoming free bluegrass gig or invites you to go strawberry picking with them.
- Make your own fun. I once lived in a city that was very challenging due to cultural and language differences. It was hard work. But you know what? It was fine because I had a good bunch of friends. You can have fun anywhere if you have a few good people around you. Heck, even if it’s just ONE friend. Get together to visit an art gallery, or go hiking, to play a board game, to eat pancakes in your pyjamas at 2pm. This weekend we are hosting a fish n’ chips/movie night with a whole gaggle of children so us parents can get a break, crack open a bottle of wine and have a good old chinwag. Fun stuff doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.