Updated on 12.28.09

2010 Resolution #4: Reduce My Entertainment and Hobby Spending by 50%

Trent Hamm

In an effort to talk about the power of goal-setting along with some methods of setting and achieving goals, I’m going to discuss my four resolutions for 2010 this week.

In 2009, I really overspent on my hobbies. My board game collection expanded significantly. I picked up several new video games and computer games. I picked up several new items for the kitchen that were fairly pricey (Le Creuset isn’t inexpensive). Perhaps worst of all, I purchased quite a few books that I probably could have easily checked out at the library.

These purchases weren’t impulsive and they weren’t things that I could not afford. We still spent far less than we earned for the year. My concern is that I don’t really need this much stuff and, more importantly, that I’m subscribing to lifestyle inflation, something that’s dangerous to our long term financial health.

Just before Christmas, I used some statements and totaled up my entertainment and hobby spending in 2009 – and the total was shocking to me. I need to make some changes, and 2010 is the right time to do it.

Making the Goal Specific
My total entertainment and hobby budget for 2010 is going to be exactly half of what I spent in 2009 on such expenses. That’s going to be a fairly dramatic change, especially given that I’ve already committed about 30% of my 2010 total to a year’s worth of piano lessons.

For this, weekly and monthly budgets and spending limits won’t work all that well. Even in 2009, I usually would go for weeks without buying a thing, then buy one or two fairly expensive items. The real trick for me is to spread out the gap between buying those expensive items and find other ways to pick up items I’m interested in for my hobbies.

Breaking It Down Into Microgoals
So, how can I reinforce this big goal with microgoals? Mostly, it’s just a matter of channeling the things I might spend money on into less expensive channels.

For example, I intend to visit the library with my kids every other weekend. In the past, our visits would be monthly – or even less frequently. These longer gaps between library visits meant that I would run out of borrowed reading material much more frequently and would then turn to other sources for books – some of them expensive. By going to the library more often, I head this desire off at the pass. Similarly, my first stop for book shopping will be PaperBackSwap, not Amazon.

I also intend to get more involved with board gaming groups in Ames and Des Moines, which will give me an outlet to trade some board games I don’t play for others I might play instead of just buying them on occasion. I’ll also focus more on video game swapping instead of just picking up new, interesting titles.

Just giving up hobbies and activities I enjoy is a route to failure. Instead, I just need to find less expensive outlets for those hobbies and activities.

Feedback and Adjustment
Each month, I’ll total up my entertainment and hobby spending and compare it to where I should be at that point in the year. This will give me a very good idea as to whether I’m spending more than I should or if I’ve really got my spending in check.

If I find that I’m spending too much, that’s a good time to try a “thirty day plan” and completely go on a hobby spending diet. This will encourage me to enjoy the things I already have instead of striving for new things.

If I’m spending well below my target (and I’m happy about it)… isn’t that a good thing?

Good luck with your 2010 goals!

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  1. Jill says:

    Your post this morning discussed how you deprived yourself of buying any books, and how that was something to improve upon. This post you talk about how you bought too many and that’s what you need to improve upon. Interesting contradiction… maybe you’re buying the right amount and you need to look at something else.

  2. I’m interested in seeing some numbers instead of percentages.

  3. JASON says:

    I can understand the board game situation. this seems to be my particular vise as well and it does not help to be within easy driving distance of both Origins and GenCon. While I would like to cut back on purchases I think I will still look elsewhere to make the cuts first.

  4. Des says:

    @ steven #2:

    I doubt Trent will post actual numbers, but we can guesstimate from the information provided. In my area, a piano lesson costs anywhere from $20 to $40 on average and are generally held once a week. At $20, that would mean an annual cost of $1,040. If that is 30% of his total entertainment/hobby allotment that would put it at about $3,500 for the year. If we went with the high estimate of the cost of a piano lesson, we would get closer to $7,000 a year. My guess would be an entertainment budget of about $300 to $600 per month.

  5. Lorraine says:

    I’m confused… this seems at odds with the post from this morning. If Trent is giving himself permission to buy the $8 book he wants rather than wait for it from the library (as he says this morning), how is it that he so overspent this year on entertainment, including books, this year? And how can he cut back by 50% while buying the $7 book that he wouldn’t have before? I find I vacillate between buying all kinds of stuff for myself on impulse and then going months living like Scrooge… not a recipe for happiness, I know — I get the worst of both worlds. If anything, these two posts show how difficult and full of contradictions resolutions about money are, especially when confronted with things you want and can rationalize needing… Trent, want to clarify or ‘splain the inconsistency here?

  6. George says:

    > For this, weekly and monthly budgets and
    > spending limits won’t work all that well.

    You didn’t explain why such budgets won’t work for you in this instance.

    Seems like a savings account (for the occasional splurge) plus a monthly budget should work fine. If the monthly budget isn’t all spent, then roll it into the savings account.

  7. Gretchen says:

    I thought you were a huge library fan, yet you only go once a month?

    We have an awesome library system and I always have a pile of books (you can technically take out 100 items at a time), cds, movies on occasion.

    For reading books (fiction and non), I read. For craft books and cookbooks, I decide if they are worthy of purchase.

  8. Saagar says:

    Whats going on Trent, you post in the morning about not spending enough on books and post in the afternoon about overspending on the same. Time to probably check your pre-drafted posts before publishing …

  9. marta says:

    Add me to the legion of the confused re: today’s posts.

  10. Gretchen says:

    I also wonder why you specifically mention the Le Creuset.

    Regret? You can think you really want something for a long time and get it and find it’s not all you thought it would be.

  11. Laura In Atlanta says:

    You go to the library once a month? Goodness, I go twice a week!!!

  12. Jane says:

    “You can think you really want something for a long time and get it and find it’s not all you thought it would be.”
    I think this is oftentimes true. I think there is something in the wanting that is important. And once you fulfill that want, sometimes you miss wanting it, if that makes any sense. Or, like you said, you realize that it wasn’t really all it was cracked up to be. In my husband’s case, he shopped around for a long time for our flat screen TV. Once we bought it last Christmas, he expressed to me that he was actually sad that “the hunt” for the TV was over. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the TV we bought but rather that the actual search for the best deal entertained him.

  13. Nick says:

    Color me confused on today’s posts…

  14. friend says:

    Jane #12, I think that is very insightful.

    I am currently “on the hunt” for a coffeemaker to replace my defunct one… and am very much enjoying reading about all sorts of high-end coffee devices… and the coffee-snob mentality that says you should just use a French press, forget the electric drip.

    (In the meantime, I’m pouring water thru a filter in a carafe, and it makes fine coffee.) I don’t NEED a new coffeemaker, but it is really entertaining to look and get overinformed.

  15. Colin says:

    I would include cable/satellite into “entertainment”.

    I don’t have cable with the specific intention of spending that money, instead, on DVDs. Particularly easy now that pretty much every TV show is on DVD (there are some hold outs though).

    $50/month = $600/year; $100/month = $1200/year. That’s a good deal of DVDs.

    I also don’t go to the theater because two tickets is the same as buying the DVD. There is no such thing as a movie you *have* to see while in the theater. It is a want.

  16. friend says:

    P.S. Trent, two thoughts on this for you:

    1) I think you need some more fun in your life. Sometimes you seem a little dreary (and in the long Iowa winter, working from home could get really wearing — I imagine). You might want to rethink giving up fun/pleasure spending.

    2) When that new littl’un comes along, you’re not going to need a lot of entertainment. You’ll be in survival mode for awhile with your hands full.

    So… howbout front-loading your “fun” spending in Jan-Feb-March and cutting back naturally, as your family changes, in the spring?

    Happy New Year to you. You’ve given me a lot of fun, aggravation and good advice all year. I wish all the best in 2010 for you and your family.

  17. chacha1 says:

    #16 friend is right, you should consider front-loading that spending – as you have with the piano lessons. And – of course this is just my uninformed opinion! – you might want to consider some more active hobby, especially since weight loss is one of your other goals. Cross-country walking is free, sociable, educational, and fun.

    Re: entertainment budgets: they can be horrifingly enlightening when you run the actual numbers. A few years back I started using Quickbooks for our tax prep and realized we were spending an average of $800/mo on takeout and dining out. Plus, I was spending $100-$150 every time I went to a bead show or shop. We ratcheted down the food by a factor of ten (now we spend about $80/mo) and now I only let myself go to a bead shop if I have finished a sizable project.

  18. KC says:

    Don’t forget that certain books can easily be resold on amazon or half.com and you can regain a decent portion of what you spent on the new book. My order of purchasing books is this 1) get it at the library 2) if not owned by the library then buy it used 3) if used + shipping is more than the price of amazon with free shipping then I order it new with the intention of re-selling the book. I still get the experience of reading the book but not at the full price of the book or the added clutter of owning tons of books. I love my books, but I actually only keep a small portion of those I read.

  19. lis says:

    I too found today’s posts confusing together. One or the other, but not both. Also, I’ve noticed a weird trend lately – there seems to be a lot of “talk” from Trent about how this or that is so great, and then after months and months of this, he suddenly reveals that he doesn’t do it or doesn’t do it very often. Re: the programable thermostat, now the rarely used library. ???? I find it confusing.

  20. Bill says:

    @#6 George was completely correct, how in the world can’t a monthly budget handle this?

    We pay our term life insurance yearly but budget it every 1/2 month budget. For discretionary spending categories that accumulate we track it in a spread sheet.

    I think it comes down to a budget (planning on how to spend your money) verses figuring out how you actually spent your money later.

    One is a budget(planning on how to spend your money), the second is not.

  21. Jules says:

    Is this really the way to get the most bang for your buck, though? I mean, you (and other PF bloggers) talk a lot about spending on the things that matter to you, and pinching pennies on everything else. And from what I know, board games and books are very important to you. So cutting this sort of money by that much (50%) doesn’t sound like frugality but more like cheapness.

    Also, keep in mind that statistically, the odds of your kids being good readers goes up if you have a lot of books in your home–irrespective of whether you read to them, or how much fun you make it.

  22. Pat says:

    Kids LOVE to be read to! You should be going (as a minimum) at least once a week. We go twice and the kids load up on books each time. I read some to them, they read some on their own (or just look at the pictures). This would save you major entertainment dollars. You can get movies, music, magazines there too. I’m a big fan of books-on-tape (CD) and we listen to loads of different types of books this way. You really need to spend more time at your public library. Heck you are already paying for the privilege in your taxes – take full advantage.

  23. Claudia says:

    I go to the library every Monday and sometimes again in the week. All of our books come from the library. Our library system allows us to order books from all the other libraries in our system (over 30 libraries)it usually takes no more than 3 days to get the books. (Occasionally more if there are numerous reserves) I assume these library systems to be quite normal as the last 3 places we have lived in Minnesota and Wisconsin have them. There is rarely a book I can not order within the system. Our libraries have an extensive collection of DVDs, VCRs and video games for lending also.

  24. Ward says:

    If you are interested in used books betterworld.com is a really good service. Very cheap prices, free shipping to the US and $3.97 to the rest of the world. They also donate a portion of the proceeds to literacy campaigns.

  25. As far as I know, what gets tracked uusally gets improved.

    Simply bringing more attention to this area should usually lead to at least some degree of success.

  26. jc says:

    Trent, I’m wondering if going to board game groups is really such a good idea if you’re looking to hold down your spending. It seems to me that

    (a) travel to those groups should count as entertainment spending (along with any incidentals along the way)

    (b) being around people who are passionate about board games is going to spark more interest in more titles, not less. you MIGHT be able to trade away a few, but you’ll also be interested in ever more.

    Half seems too drastic to me. You were more generous with yourself and weight loss, laying out an unreasonable goal and then trimming it down to something more manageable.

  27. stella says:

    For those of you who keep saying: Use the library.

    Again, there ARE costs involved in the library to consider. I cannot walk to any of the neighboring libraries (as is the case with many city dwellers). So that’s a minimum of $4.50 each way to pick up and return books, DVDs, etc. (And if you have to drive, there are costs involved in driving to/from libraries even if you tag on to other errands.)

    We, too, can order some books and DVDs (all are not available for this feature) but there are many more people competing for the same books, and now, with budget restrictions, you can only put 10 books on hold. At one point, no books were available on hold for over six months. That meant any books I wanted were hit and miss on a visit to any given branch. That GREATLY reduces what you want being available and also reduces the ROI of one’s time/money investment of a trip to a library.

    Finally, even if you get one or two DVDs, they are all due in a week. So if I’m lucky enough to get 2 DVDs and they are due in a week, that’s a cost to me of $9. For that same price, I can watch unlimited from netflix (much more on their streaming list than is ever available from the library!) for a month and if I’m careful how/when I watch, a minimum of 6 and possibly 9 “in the mail” DVDs can be watched. That really is a cost-saver for me and our family (We can have movie nites and invite friends over.)

    I will ALWAYS try the library first for a book I’m interested in and sometimes I actually end up purchasing a book after getting it from the library because I do want it for my own library.

    Paperbackswap has been great, but you have to be patient. We check out prices on amazon.com for used and also on ebay. For a few things you won’t see much difference in price between new and used.

    What I’d love to see (and what we used to have) is the old “paperback” bookstores in our neighborhood where you could exchange books and get used for really cheap. Alas, the rents are such that this does not work anymore.

    We also used to buy books at Salvation Army. UNTIL people stopped donating (they’re all selling them online now it seems!) and dealers started buying stuff in bulk.

    Buying local saved a lot more money than buying used online with the postage costs.

    Half of the books in our rather large library came from local purchases of used stuff. I miss that a lot.

    When it’s time to get rid of books, we first offer to friends and family. THen post on paperbackswap. Then donate to library and charities that will actually use them.

    PS: We used to spend quite a bit of time hanging out at local bookstores checking books out. In some cases, if we had enough visits, we did in fact get thru books (non-fiction). I didn’t feel bad about this because we also purchased a lot of books (albeit with a discount). We no longer have those visits because I could no longer feel good about using the bookstore as a library since we can no longer afford new books.

    That doesn’t stop tons of other folks who bring notebooks, netbooks, laptops and are clearly using books as textbooks.

    I’ve often thought that some bookstores should sell yearly memberships that allowed people to take out books like an actual library. It could still be an economical option for both the readers and the bookstore. The existence of libraries has certainly not diminished sales of books that’s for sure.

    I would personally love it if htere was an alternative option to a public library that had more of the books I wanted. I love libraries but I realize the inherent limitations, especially these days.

  28. Adam says:

    I don’t have a problem with the contradiction of the posts, but I do hope that you’re only cutting back on the entertainment/fun IF its not bringing you as much joy and pleasure as you would expect. Since you can afford it, if you like the games and books and other things you’re spending on, then it is, along with your family and friends and faith, the reason you get up in the morning and are alive.

  29. Lenore says:

    I finally signed up for Paperback Swap, and I htink I’m goin to like it. Of the seven books I listed, only one has been requested so far. I mailed it promptly enough, but how long do I have to keep the other six books around in case someone requests them? What I mean is, it seems kind of strange to have a pile of books in the corner that I no longer want but can’t get rid of until someone asks for them. They might not ship out for weeks or months, and I just wondered how everyone else handles this.

  30. Hank says:


    Do you ever worry aobut having too many New Year’s Resolutions? If I try and make more than 2 or 3, then I will lose focus. Just curious…

  31. Jenny says:

    Trent, I HIGHLY recommend board gaming groups. CABS (Columbus Area Board Gaming Society) here in Ohio has an incredible board game collection and you can “check out” a game to play at home between group gaming sessions. Plus you get to play lots of new games at the sessions and meet all kinds of people (including families). Have fun!

  32. Java Monster says:

    Lenore, I joined Paperback Swap a while ago, and finally withdrew. I estimate I spent at least $100 on mailing books out of the house, and ordered only about 2/3 that in the meantime. I received books that were sometimes mildewy (once) and water damaged (two or three times).

    I finally figured I’d get a better bang for my book bucks by selling what I could to Powell’s Books, and giving the books Powell’s didn’t want, like well-loved paperbacks, to the local Friends of the Library fund-raising bookstore. No money out of MY pocket anymore, and the good feeling of helping a library in my local area raise money. Heck, the FofL store has all kinds of paperbacks for a quarter each, and hardcovers for a dollar. Darned good deal, if you ask me.

  33. jadekitty says:

    @ Stella, something our local library has is a website called Library without walls. Where you can download the book in several different formats, (Pdf, WMA, MP3) so you can read or listen to the book. You can burn some to cd and others your can transfer to your ipod. I love it because I can be cleaning, or knitting and still listening to something entertaining/educational. (I live in Canada) It would be worthwhile to see if there is anything availible to you through your local libary. Oh and did I mention it’s free!

  34. Auntielle says:

    Java Monster (#32), that reminds me of a great idea I hadn’t thought of in over 20 years! Many years ago, I saw an ad in the newspaper, announcing a Book Sale put on by the library system of a neighboring city. You did have to join the “Friends of the Library” to attend the sale, but at that time an individual membership was only $5.00. I showed up the day of the sale, paid my $5.00 membership, and left with 2 shopping bags full of books for less than $10, if I remember correctly.

    When you pay postage costs related to belonging to PaperbackSwap.com, of course, you know exactly what books you are getting, unlike the Library Sale. But as Java Monster pointed out, you’re not guaranteed that the books you receive will be in good condition. At least at the Library Sale, you can see for yourself what shape the books are in. Plus, you’re helping the library to earn money to buy more books. Come to think of it, I have a TON of books in excellent condition that I need to part with. I’m going to take them to our library for their next sale. Thanks for the idea!

  35. eh438 says:

    Pay yourself an allowance! Could you spare a measly $10/week? Then spend it or save it without remorse or guilt or planning! Save it up for a few weeks for a larger thing. No explanation or excuse needed. Blow it once in a while for the delight of a purely wasteful thing! Again, no explanation necessary. Maybe you didn’t receive an allowance when you were a kid. I did. I received sixpence a week (England). I saved up my first pound (that was 40 weeks!) when I was about eight and spent part of it on a postage stamp album. I still have it. And don’t bother giving a portion of this particular allowance to charity, etc. This is YOUR-and-your-alone allowance. Go for it!

  36. friend says:

    I’m with @eh438 on this one. Not only do I think it’s a good idea for you, Trent, but I’m going to do it for myself! Small amounts, planned, no guilt.

  37. clayton says:

    I am a big fan of trying new hobbies. I think that mixing goal number one and this one together could make things easier. if you can find a fun outdoor goal like hiking or disc golf. You can do these things for cheap to free and you will be exercising. finding a new active hobby you like will also make you more likely to stick with it instead of just thinking of it as working out. Good luck on your goals.

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