Outside the Oreo

Lauren Piro

Economic crisis or otherwise, college students often bare the burden of pinched pennies and shrunken or empty pockets. My debit card – and even my WildCard – both have lost the new-plastic sheen they had when I first opened the envelopes in which they arrived. Instead, they are looking rather tired lately, as is my wrist from swiping them far too frequently.

So, when window shopping in Suburban Square or perusing the Reading Terminal Market offerings or fare without satiating your watering mouth just aren’t cutting it anymore, why not try out these activities – free (or almost free) and substantive.

Be an (Art) Snob:

If your idea of a quality afternoon at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is scoring that Rocky-steps photo op and nothing else, congrats on maintaining a stuffed wallet (and a low standard for enjoyment.) But for those of us looking to actually peer inside one of the largest art museums in the country, the $10 student fee can be pretty steep, especially if you also need to travel from the Main Line.

An insider tip: Go on a Sunday when you can “pay what you wish all day,” according to philamuseum.org. The Ceremonial Teahouse in the East Asian Art wing and the brooding surgery paintings in the American Art corridors are must-sees.

Care to get your art fix on a more local level? Check out exhibitions at any of the many galleries the Philly area boasts – many of which are on the Main Line. Entry to the shows is normally free and a complimentary nosh often accompanies the opening of a new exhibit.

Get to Know Philly’s Own Big Ben:

With a city so rich in American history, it’s no wonder that good ol’ bifocal-wearing, kite-flying Ben Franklin’s likeness appears on everything from monuments to coffee mugs here. It would be a disservice to yourself not to experience some of this history – especially when this opportunity is so cost-efficient. Among other historic sites in the area, tickets to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are free. Go early to pick up day-of tickets at the Visitor Center to avoid needing a reservation – and the $1.50 fee that comes with it.

If Thomas Jefferson’s chair and tri-corner hats aren’t modern enough for you, visit the home of today’s Philly politics and government – City Hall. Here, tours of the building’s interior are free as well, and maybe you’ll even get a glimpse of Mayor Nutter.

Swoon Over Crooners:

Music-minded ‘Novans should find little trouble in this city locating venues to take in the latest of their musical genre of choice – but for a price. Tickets for shows at the Tower Theater, the Electric Factory and the like run well into the double-digits, leaving us dining hall card-swipers and ice cream scoopers left with only our iTunes (or worse, bit torrents) to enjoy.

Even an intimate set showcased at Milkboy in Ardmore can cost as much as 10 bucks, but a locally known name and a pimped-out MySpace Music page does not define your love of music, right?

Milkboy’s open mic nights are free and the acts just as musically worthy as those you’d shell out some extra cash to see. Or sign up your newbie guitarist roommate and have fun giggling – I mean, cheering him on – over a latte.

Quoth the Raven:

For those of you who prefer spending expense-free quality time with the written word, get away from your couches and crossword puzzles to explore the life of the man who put the “poe” in poetry (c’mon, you’ve got to chuckle at that one.) Continuing to celebrate its grand-reopening and bicentennial in the coming months, the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site invites visitors to experience works and commentary on the frightening poet within the stage of his Philadelphia home.

To hear some new Poe-like stories, check out the event the site is sponsoring this weekend, “19 New Tales inspired by Poe.” Both admission to the event and the site are – you guessed it – free.