This is part of an ongoing series about how to trim the budget of the average American. As this series focuses on such broad-based tips, some will work for you and some will not. You’re invited to mention in the comments the tips that you found to be the most useful for inclusion in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of this series.
Entertainment – $2,698
Clocking in at an average of $225 a month in a family’s budget is entertainment – and that excludes reading. Going out to shows, watching movies, listening to music, playing games, participating in sports – they’re all incorporated under this banner.
The breadth of this category means that what one person considers “entertainment” spending doesn’t overlap much at all with what others consider “entertainment” spending. Take me, for example – roughly half of my entertainment spending in 2009 was spent on board games, something which likely doesn’t overlap with a ton of other people.
So what universal tips can be offered to reduce entertainment spending and actually be useful? Here are some suggestions, no matter how you spend your entertainment dollar.
Focus on what you enjoy. What do you enjoy the most? Don’t pay any attention to what your friends find enjoyable – what do you find enjoyable? Don’t burn up your entertainment dollars in some sort of race to “keep up with the Joneses.” Instead, focus on accentuating the hobbies you personally find enjoyable. You don’t have to buy a giant flat-screen television just because your pals insist on watching in high definition. If they do, let them host the football parties.
Join a club. Joining an interest-based club is often a surprising money saver. Why? If you join a club, it will draw you more into a specific hobby because you’re spending social time with other afficionados. Quite often, time spent in such social activities is relatively inexpensive, plus such clubs are usually powerful sources for bargains and great suggestions when it comes to a particular interest.
Don’t be afraid of used items. You don’t need the latest and greatest items to thoroughly enjoy your hobby. There are quite a few board games I love to play that are beat-up old copies from the 1960s. I play golf with piles of old golf balls, many of which were actually fetched by my previous boss’s dog (seriously). For a long time, my wife used a homemade golf bag she made herself. Yet, in each case, we still thoroughly enjoyed the activity we were involved in.
Let others foot the bill when you dabble. Interested in trying a new sport? Before you go invest in a bunch of equipment, see what’s offered at your city’s parks and recreation service. Want to learn a new hobby? Visit stores that specialize in that activity and see what classes and groups are offered there. If you’re just dabbling in something to see if you like it, don’t immediately start shelling out the cash. Find opportunities to sink your teeth in a bit first to find out if it’s right for you.
Trade instead of buying. If you’re a movie buff and have friends that also are movie buffs, trade with them instead of buying new DVDs. Have a “swap meet” where you go through each other’s collections and borrow a big pile of DVDs from each other, returning them when you’re finished. You can essentially do the same thing with any sort of collectible form of entertainment, from video games to CDs to books. Similarly, there may be stores in your area that allow you to swap your used copies of items for other used copies.
Don’t go high-end immediately. Often, when people begin to engage in a new hobby, they invest in high-end equipment and materials with which to enjoy the hobby. They’ll buy shiny new clubs, loads of new balls, an entire kitchen full of new cooking supplies, and so on. Don’t. Start off using low-end equipment. Only move up to the high end when you’ve used the low end equipment enough that you can actually articulate and understand exactly how the higher-end equipment will help you go beyond where you are now. One should absolutely invest in higher-end equipment if they find themselves truly enjoying a hobby and can actually articulate real reasons why a high quality piece of equipment will improve their hobby. Until then, go with the entry-level stuff.
Master what you have. This simple technique went a long way towards trimming my video game hobby from one new game a week to roughly one game a quarter (and that one’s often used). If I buy a new game, I commit to finishing it before buying another one. The same rule can be applied to many hobbies – if I buy a book, I’ll read it before buying another one. If I buy a DVD, I’ll watch it at least twice before buying another one.
Maintain what you have. If you enjoy bicycling, take the time to maintain your bicycle. If you enjoy woodworking, take the time to maintain your woodworking equipment. If you enjoy playing on your computer, maintain it by running software updates and occasionally cleaning the dust out of the case. Investing a little bit of time and money now to keep your equipment in good shape means that the life span of the equipment will be greatly extended, saving you a lot of money over the long run.
If you’re a frequent consumer, look to renting. If you’ve already honed in on the fact that you deeply enjoy video games or watching movies or something similar, look for rental solutions instead of buying new ones constantly. Services such as Netflix and GameFly allow you to rent media for as long as you want with one low monthly fee which, if you’re heavily into those hobbies, is much less expensive than buying new items constantly.
I want your help! In the comments, please let me know which of the tips you find most useful for trimming these costs. I’ll include the top choices in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of the series.