5 apps for a fun but frugal lockdown

Picture of a tree in our back garden with snow on the branches

Staying out of the snow

How are your New Year’s Resolutions holding up, now we’re half way through January?

My main New Year’s Resolution was to stop sulking and look for ways to enjoy a fun but frugal lockdown.

This became increasingly hard after the schools closed and I sprained my ankle while out running.

(Pass on the sympathy, it was entirely my own fault for continuing to run a regular route that had transformed into a super slippy mud bath)

Home schooling has not been ideal for my productivity, so my ‘blog more’ intentions have gone out of the window. My ankle issues also made my annual ‘more fit, less fat‘ resolution trickier. Cheers 2021.

But hey, turns out obeying the ‘stay at home’ diktat is easy when you can’t even get out of bed. Dry January is also a doddle when you can’t get downstairs to the drinks cabinet. 

So despite what life and lockdown have thrown at me, here are my favourite apps and websites for a fun but frugal January.

Picture of sun loungers, parasols and pool in Corsica

Back when holidays abroad were still a thing *sob*

Learning a language: Duolingo

One of the few habits I’ve maintained from the second lockdown is spending a few minutes each day learning Spanish, using the free app DuoLingo. Since the New Year I’ve also been trying Japanese, in the hope that one day, however many years ahead, we’ll actually make it over there.

DuoLingo takes a high colour approach, complete with cartoon characters, celebrations and league tables. I like the variety types of question, with regular tests and story options. Lessons are short, so you can spend as much or as little time on it as you want.

There is a paid version if you can’t stand the ads, but it’s possible to do loads for free. I’ve enjoyed the app on my phone more than the website version.

Picture of the covers of two Georgette Heyer books with regency illustrations

Switching retro reading to a smartphone

Borrowing books online: Libby

I finally got round to signing up to borrowing ebooks and audiobooks from our library for free, via OneDrive and its Libby app.

I only needed my library card number to sign up. Just like a library, I can search what’s available, borrow up to 10 at a time, and put a ‘hold’ on items borrowed by other people. Reading on my phone also has the advantage that I don’t need my bedside light on, so can read early or late without disturbing my husband.

It’s also possible to read emagazines and enewspapers for free with the PressReader app, stream indie films with the Kanopy app and listen to music via Freegal. 

Do have a look at what your own local library offers.

I started the New Year in fine style, determined to read more worthwhile books rather than doom scrolling through Twitter. Check out lists such as ‘100 books to read before you die‘ or the Penguin’s ‘100 Must-Read Classic Books‘ for suitably improving suggestions. I had grand intentions about reading 50 chunky classics during 2021.

In practice, I got as far as starting Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and finishing an ebook of John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’, which has a truly depressing ending, before injuring my ankle. Since then I’ve retreated to comfort reading. It’s been MC Beaton and Georgetter Heyer all the way. I blame Bridgerton.

Picture of me in a regency costume

Bridgerton: the remake (with apologies to Bath costume museum)

Trialling TV services: Britbox

If we’re stuck at home in front of the TV, I decided I’d like to see some more interesting programmes and (shock horror) I was willing to pay a bit for them. Only a few pounds, mind.

During the first lockdown I caved into pestering from the kids, and finally signed up for Netflix. This time, I’ve even forked out the extra £2 a month so we could see Netflix on more than one screen. This was mainly so I could binge watch unsuitable programmes like Bridgerton on my laptop, while the kids were glued to Studio Ghibli, Community and The Good Place.

Luckily loads of the streaming services are doing January offers.

I tried a week’s free trial of MUBI, specifically so I could watch Metropolitan and Lady Susan, but boy was it worthy. Good if you like art films and subtitles, I reckon.

For me, Britbox is a better bet. I nipped in when Britbox was running an offer with a 30 day free trial followed by 3 months at £2.99 a month. I was tempted by Sanditon, but now my husband is devouring back issues of Dr Who.

Picture of a shelf of gin bottles


Keeping in touch: WhatsApp

One highlight of my sprained ankle is regaling friends and family with photos of its ever-changing colours and swelling, which has been fun for me, even if less so for them. 

Step forward WhatsApp, which has been a lifeline for keeping in touch during lockdown.

I have been very cheered by pics of remote New Year’s celebrations, my nephew’s 12th birthday scavenger hunt, offspring in Chewbacca dressing gowns (do they come in adult sizes?) and an essential lockdown gin bar.

Honourable mention to Zoom for quiz get-together potential, although I’m less keen on appearing on video.

Picture of my husband and son walking along the Railway Walk

Zombie-free running route

Starting running: Zombies, Run! 5K Training

Until injury stopped play, I was really looking forward to trying the Zombies, Run! 5 K training – available via the App Store or Google Play.

I swear by the NHS Couch to 5K podcast for getting me to start running at all (and restart, at regular intervals).

But Zombies, Run! and its 5K training offshoot introduce a storyline and zombies to run away from, as something to keep your mind off the actual, y’know, running. It also mixes in some exercises in between the running and walking. 

Will report back when I’m back in action.


Now – over to you. What are your favourite apps for a fun but frugal January? Do share in the comments, as I’d love some more inspiration.

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    • Faith
      18th January 2021 / 10:15 am

      That’s a great deal with EE, many thanks for flagging it up. Almost makes me regret my fiver a month for Virgin mobile.

  1. 18th January 2021 / 9:59 am

    Thanks for the heads up on the Zombie, Run app – I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead tv series so can really get into the missions (even so far as to look behind me when they say ‘Zombies are behind you!’. My evening walks in the dark are now quite exciting (and creepy) around the estate!

    Hope your ankle gets better soon!

    • Faith
      18th January 2021 / 10:14 am

      Thanks Weenie! Glad the Zombies, Run! app is livening up your daily walks 🙂

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    27th January 2021 / 7:00 pm

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