Trimming the Average Budget: Entertaiment

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.

If you enjoyed reading this, sign up for free updates!

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Vicky says:

    Excellent post!

    I joined my local dog club to help me in a lot of ways: I’m a social wallflower, and it helps me meet a lot of other people who are also into dogs.

    By joining the club I save a ton of cash off the cost of enrollment for classes. I also volunteer and learn a lot more about showing and competing in various dog sports – and I meet more people and dogs!

    I’ve also trained two of my dogs to become therapy dogs so that I can go out and share my dogs with people who don’t get to pet one every day.

    I have saved a ton of money by trimming the costs of my classes, training my dogs – including putting the CGC title on all of the, which has helped with my homeowner’s insurance, and it is a very low cost hobby overall.

  2. Nick says:

    “I want your help! In the comments, please let me know which of the tips you find most useful for trimming shelter costs.”

    Still wrong. It’s wrong in every article.

  3. Shannon says:

    What’s wrong Nick?

  4. If you’re a frequent reader, an investment in something like the Amazon Kindle might be up your alley. Especially if you don’t have access to a local library. It also helps to decrease physical clutter by not having hard copies of books that need to be stored.

  5. marta says:

    @Shannon: SHELTER costs.

    It’s the typo that won’t go away.

  6. Mol says:

    I believe what’s wrong is that it is trimming shelter costs on an article for entertainment. That is my best guess.

  7. Kate says:

    Great tips.

    The one strong caveat I would put in there is under “Don’t go high-end immediately”. I’m not advocating goign high-end immediately, but for some sports, it really does make a difference to go at least medium end.

    I found this was the case with me and cycling. I used to hate cycling as a kid and as a teenager. My mum would always refuse to actually buy a real bike, instead getting them at garage sales and people’s trash-day piles, figuring that a) we were kids, we didn’t need real bikes anyways, and b) a nicer bike would just get stolen anyways.

    It wasn’t until my stepfather gifted a gorgeous (to me!) racing bike of his (he needed to clear out the collection) that I discovered the joy of cycling. Instead of constantly having to fight my equipment, I could actually use it and enjoy it.

  8. Laura In Atlanta says:

    For me, an entertainment drain has always been books. What I do now, is check out the books I am interested in from the library, and if, after reading them, I decide I want to own them, THEN i go and buy them, usually fishing for a discount coupon online first.

    I also use paperbackswap.com a ton as well as shop at Friends of the Library sales and Goodwill.

    I thought of owning a kindle, but honestly, I can usually find used copies of the books I want for less than the price of a kindle book.

    I’m a BIG reader, reading nearly 130 books a year. So finding cheap books is a big help to my budget.

  9. gardenurse says:

    We have very good friends that we socialize with frequently (almost every weekend.) Our children are good friends as well. Instead of ‘going out’ to dinner, clubbing, movies, etc, we take turns at having the other family over, and pot luck it on most weekends.

    We love trying new recipes, and also have dietary issues to consider (I’m allergic to wheat, and have other food intolerances) and have never had a bad dish in several years. Neither family is responsible for the whole meal, just parts, and it feels like a ‘night out.’

    Afterwards we play cards, a board game, sit & visit, watch a movie, sit outside by the fire in the summer, or whatever. It may cost a little more that the ordinary meal at home, but not nearly what it would cost to go somewhere else to eat, and it usually tastes much better.

    We will lots of times cook together. It helps to keep the house clean on a regualr basis, knowing that company is coming over.

    I realize this may not be for everyone, but small very informal dinner parties with friends is a lot of fun, and not that much work. You’re saving money, building relationships, and having a good time.

  10. KC says:

    Is reading entertainment? It is for me – at least an hour a day. I look for books I want to read at the public library. I even look around in neighboring counties that have good library systems. Hopefully you can get a free card from neighboring systems – or at least a cheap card.

    If I can’t get the book I want from the library I get it new from amazon or used from some source – just depends which is cheaper including shipping. I always order $25 worth from Amazon to qualify for free shipping – so I might have to order 2 books I want.

    Then I resell the book on half.com. Usually I make at least 50% of the purchase price back. This keeps costs down and keeps clutter down – I rarely keep the books I read.

  11. Gretchen says:

    What exactly is “So what universal tips can be offered to reduce entertainment spending and actually be useful?” supposed to mean?

  12. Noadi says:

    I’m starting to wonder if Trent’s leaving that typo there to drive us crazy after the first couple times.

  13. Patty says:

    “If you’re a frequent consumer, look to renting.”
    This tip works for high turn over items like books or media but one should take caution with renting larger scale hobby items. Sure if its a rare game of golf then rent the clubs but if you are going to play regularly then it might be good to invest in a solid used set. Same goes with scuba equipment among other things. Another hobby item I can think of goes both ways though. My husband bought an expensive camera and basic supplies for this hobby but if he’s going to photograph an occasional wedding or graduation he’ll rent a special lens for the occasion.

  14. chacha1 says:

    LOL, Noadi, I wouldn’t be surprised. People make such a big damn deal about it.

    My favorite tip here, because it’s one that not everyone would include, is “join a club.” There are clubs for EVERYTHING, and these days, they generally include at least one person tech-savvy enough to put up a rudimentary web site so you can check on what they’re doing.

    Libraries are often a good place to find information on community clubs, and retailers of hobby gear can also often refer you.

  15. lurker carl says:

    That typo, often mentioned yet left uncorrected for many postings, leads me to believe someone is not reading comments.

  16. Kay says:

    My husband and I like to go to performances (theatre, ballet, symphony, etc.) and have always found ways to do it cheaply or for free. As students, we could get awesome deals on great seats. Now, we can still get rush tickets (an hour or two before the performance) for a substantial discount. Our favorite option is ushering. We would arrive about an hour before the show, help show customers to their seats, and then watch the show for free. We were able to see amazing shows this way plus meet all kinds of fascinating people. Granted, most of the people doing this were retirees, but we were not and we loved it.

  17. Angie says:

    I have to think he’s leaving the typo there on purpose now. Or he’s on vacation and the posts are on auto-pilot. What are the odds Trent does/doesn’t address the typo? :)

  18. kristine says:

    Criminy! At least spell check the headline! I’m no stickler, but jeeez! Something must be going on with the author- no change in that shelter cost thing, seems like comments are unread, no spell checks…

    Are hobbies included in this? Some hobby expenses can actually save money in the long haul- cooking for fun, sewing, writing…

    Also- I recommend the lost art of letter writing. A leisurely written letter is reflective and warming, and receiving a real letter is even better!

  19. Sara says:

    I like the last tip (“If you’re a frequent consumer, look to renting”). I subscribe to Netflix, and the monthly cost for 10-15 rentals is about the same as the price of one new DVD (maybe 2 or 3 on sale).

  20. Gretchen says:

    I’ve been convinced Trent doesn’t read the comments since the brown paper wrapping day when so many people asked where he got the stupid paper.

    I seem to recall, reading is not in the entertainment category since it is in it’s own category. It’s certainly my main entertainment expense. Well, time wise anyway.

  21. MichelleO says:

    Perhaps Trent is specifically soliciting for suggestions regarding shelter costs and that’s why he hasn’t changed his request at the bottom of the articles. We are only assuming that his requests are related to the article that immediately precede them, and are, therefore, in error.

  22. Angie says:

    @MichelleO – maybe, but I think enough people have brought it up that it’s worth 5 seconds of his time to correct us one way or the other.

  23. I would be surprised if Trent doesn’t read his comments. 20-50 isn’t really that many to get through. I can totally understand how blogs authors that get 600 comments on every post, like on Pioneer Woman don’t read every comment, but the comments here aren’t usually that overwhelming.

  24. The part I like the most is the “maintain what you have” part.

    In other words, take care of your stuff! Its beyond me that some people I see try to live so frugally, but treat their possessions like crap.

    Knowing preventative maintenance tips on all your possessions is a key to a long shelf life.

    Great series, by the way

  25. Jules says:

    We go see movies in the theater. It’s expensive, but we pick the films we want to see only after extensive discussions, and we buy popcorn in the theater, too.

    It sounds really expensive, and it is. But movies are a rare treat for us (maybe twice a year)–we have to go when our schedules permit, and when there’s a movie worth seeing–and it’s always a ton of fun for us.

  26. deRuiter says:

    Some hobbies can actually generate income. Know a lot about horses? The local stable is generally looking for people to hire to teach beginners on leadline. Like dogs? Do some dog walking for money and you don’t need to be tied down with your own dog, ditto pet sitting. I’m not talking about a commercial enterprise here, just doing these things for people in one’s circle. Into gardening? An amazing number of people will buy your excess produce. Skilled at furniture repair? Fix others’ antiques for money.

  27. Steffie says:

    For safety’s sake if you are going the ‘used/secondhand’ route with equipment please make sure that it hasn’t shown up on a recall list etc. Read up on the hobby and the equipment first to get knowledge of brands and customer satisfaction etc. It would suck to have your mountain climbing equipment fail because of poor quality!

  28. Claudia says:

    If painting is your new hobby, I would suggest purchasing at least one good brush to start with, decent paints -not the cheapest or most expensive and with water colors good paper. You will get better results and not be as frustrated. I agree with Trent you can always add high end as you progress. But student colors, cheap brushes and cheap paper are not good choices.

  29. Shevy says:

    Reading does not fall under the category of entertainment for the purposes of the chart we’re discussing (compiled from Bureau of Labor Statistics data). Books, papers and magazines have their own line item.

    Entertainment covers fees & admissions, TV/radio & sound equipment, pets/toys/hobbies & playground equipment and other equipment & services (ranging from hunting and fishing gear to boats or boat trailers to photography equipment, including developing pictures).

    While I find Dog to be highly entertaining (he “catches” a tossed football in between his front paws and throws it right back by butting his head into the ball as he holds it) I find paying vet bills far less so, although they fall under this category. I buy him high-quality food (nothing on the list is a byproduct or “meal” i.e. ground up bits that would normally be considered garbage) and I go to an alternative vet who takes blood titres so as not to vaccinate unnecessarily, gives homeopathic meds, etc. But I save money by bathing and grooming him myself (Dog is a poodle with hair that grows and must be cut). The last time I paid to have him groomed (a couple of years ago) it was $53 and it should be done every 6 to 8 weeks.

    For fees & admissions to things like zoos, science museums, planetarium, etc. look at memberships. Usually, if you go even twice a year a membership has already saved you some money. Kids love to go every 2 to 3 months and you can with a membership. It’s also a great suggestion for grandma & grandpa to give as a present if the cost is still too steep for you. And it’s clutter free!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>