Updated on 09.17.14

Frugally Considering a Tempting Purchase

Trent Hamm

I don’t play video games that much at this point in my life because, frankly, I don’t have very much time for them. I perhaps play for four or five hours a week. Usually, it’s when the children are about to nap or drifting off to sleep, and I play so I can be within earshot of them. A few times a week, I’ll play an online game with friends for a laugh (and usually be the worst player on the team), mostly as a way to keep in touch with people who are spread out.

Still, there have been a few games over the last few years that I have really enjoyed. Two examples: Heavy Rain is an amazing murder mystery, and Flower is probably the best single example of “video game as art” that I’ve ever experienced.

However, two of the most memorable games I’ve played over that time frame were Mass Effect and its sequel Mass Effect 2. Together, the two games tell an amazing and deeply engaging interactive science fiction story that I deeply enjoyed and which resonated with me for a long time after playing the two games. The best video games of the latest generation have genuinely crossed the line into deep, compelling storytelling, and this series is a shining example of this.

Last Tuesday, Mass Effect 3 came out, concluding the story of the main character of the series, Commander Shepard.

One might simply assume that because I’m in a relatively good financial position and because I enjoyed the first two so much, I would automatically buy the third one. Truth be told, I don’t own it yet and I probably won’t for a while.

The thought process that led me to not buy the game is actually a pretty good example of the frugal mindset at work, so I thought I’d share it with you.

First of all, I made the observation that once a video game is released, the price of it slowly drifts downward over time. For example, I’ve watched the price of Civilization V slowly drift downward over the past eighteen months, from a $59.95 price at release to a fairly steady price between $20 and $25 right now. Simply by waiting 18 months, a person can often save 60-75% on a major new video game title.

There’s also the factor of game sales. Many stores and gaming services put different games on sale at various points. For example, with the abovementioned Civilization V, I’ve seen sales for the title recently going as low as $7.50. That’s an 87% off sale.

Simply put, waiting for a while after the day of release will save you significant money on a game.

So, the question is whether or not there’s real value in buying the item on the day of release. Does playing the game right now add any value for me? Other than the personal impatience to play the game, there isn’t. I have several gaming friends, only one of which actually owns the game at this point. There is no social reason to play the game at this point. Instead, most of my friends are simply waiting until they see the game at a sufficiently low price.

So, there’s a reasonable financial case for waiting for the purchase, but that still doesn’t change my desire to dig further into the story and enjoy the gameplay. I find the storyline deeply engrossing and the gameplay entertaining.

The thing is, if I love the previous installments in the series so much, why not just replay them? They’re sitting there on my shelf. While I have fond memories of the storyline, it’s been long enough since I played them that I don’t remember some of the finer details. Playing them again now accomplishes several things at once: it allows me to derive more enjoyment from something I already own, it allows me to freshen up my details of the storyline, and by the time I finish the two games (again), the price of the third will be much lower than it is right now.

I do this with the various fantasy series that I read. I’ll get on the waiting list for the newest installment at the library and start re-reading the whole series while I anticipate the newest volume. Quite often, I’ve re-read the series (and enjoyed myself) and refreshed the story in my head just in time to pick up the new volume at the library.

Plus, between then and now, there are a number of small gift-giving occasions where my immediate family will exchange gifts. My children always select an item for Father’s Day, for example, as well as one for my birthday, and if my gaming skills are particularly rusty, there’s always Christmas. We tend to focus a great deal on getting each other desired gifts, and while my children won’t read this post, they will be aware that I am playing Mass Effect. That way, instead of buying two items purely for fun, only one is purchased, saving us money.

Many basic principles of frugal shopping are on display here. Use what you already have. Wait for a sale or a lower price. Think about a purchase before you make it.

Those principles have moved me from just automatically buying things like Mass Effect 3 and instead conserving my money and making more sensible choices.

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  1. Andrea says:

    Trent says “I don’t play video games that much at this point in my life” and then goes on to say that he plays them for 4-5 HOURS per week… I’m confused. Isn’t 4-5 hours kind of excessive? Is he implying that he used to play video games even MORE than this?

  2. Matt says:

    On the re-reading a series line… I’ve tried this with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series a couple times, and it’s pretty hopeless at this point. The series is so dang complex and long – and periodically abandons a storyline for several hundred pages – that I can’t keep track of everything in my head. Fortunately there are online summaries…

  3. Adam P says:

    To Andrea: 4-5 hours per day would be excessive. Ask a WoW addict (or their partner) for instance if 4-5 hours per week is excessive and they’ll laugh at you.

    I go through cycles. I’ll not play any games for months at a time, then say, TES V: Skyim came out in November and I put in nearly 100 hours in a month, then stopped.

    For me, the $20-$25 savings of waiting a year to play a game I’m eagerly awaiting isn’t worth it. Delayed gratification is a great thing (pun) but only when it gives an award of some significance. In my budget, $20-$25 isn’t much. I’d rather play the game soon after release so I can discuss it with my friends who are playing it at the same time (almost as much fun as playing it, due to the social bonding).

  4. Misha says:

    Yeah, 4-5 hours per week is less than an hour per day. I wouldn’t call that excessive at all, really. Would you consider 4-5 hours per week of reading or TV watching or hobby sewing excessive? Probably not, so why are you applying a different standard of “excessive” to any other similar hobby? A lot of people wouldn’t even consider 4-5 hours of TV per DAY to be excessive, and certainly not abnormal.

    Matt, Wheel of Time was what I first thought of in that vein as well.

  5. Tamara says:

    Oh Skyrim. It’s been my obsession of late.

    I think waiting a /year and a half/ for a game I really, really want so I can save $20 is pretty excessive. That’s barely more than a dollar a month savings. I’m more likely to buy it soon after release (not on release day unless there’s a fantastic sale or perks), put a couple more dollars in my savings account for the next 18 months and then spend those 18 months enjoying my new game.

    Now if you have to quit adventuring because you took an arrow in the knee, you can save all sorts of money…those potions really add up!

  6. Adam P says:

    On books, I don’t wait because the price drops I wait because I like paperbacks instead of hardcover. Hardcover books are such a rip off and annoying. It’s easier to delay gratification on books because of that fact. I like when I go to airports and they have softcover “airport” versions of new releases (at higher than paperback prices). I’d pay more money but not for hardcovers which are uncomfortable to read (especially in a bathtub).

  7. jim says:

    4-5 hours of video games per week is not excessive. Why would someone think thats excessive?

    I use the same tactic as Trent to save money on video games myself. I’ve paid $10 or less for almost all the video games I’ve bought in the past couple years. Waiting to buy the games works best if you’re already behind the times on video game purchases. I just bought a NCAA 2010 football game. Its 2 years old so you can pick it up cheap used. Playing the 2010 is just fine for me since the last version I had before that was for 2003. But if you’ve been playing the latest and greatest games then the 2010 version would look poor by comparison to 2011 and 2012 games. Also I think if you play a lot of games then its harder to wait so long. As others have said spending another $20 for a major hobby is certainly worth it.

  8. jackowick says:

    Some titles, like Skyrim, have a huge value in hours for your dollar; I don’t mind buying them on release. But I noticed in the past how I had “stacked” my “vital” games and at one point I had 4 brand news games, of which I was focussing solely on one. As a grown up with an office job, I now use Gamefly and then if I want a new game, I don’t “buy” a new game until I finish it or decide I’m done. So over the past year I’ve only bought “new” Batman:arkham city and Skyrim. All my others are now either gamgefly or $5 used bargains. And I never keep more than 10-15 games on my shelf at once.

    To some who don’t play games, the numbers may not make sense, but given that I have friends from 18-35 who average one new release each week, from $40-60, I know I’ve saved a ton of money.

    But remember, in terms of entertainment value, a $300 game system is $8 a month over 3 years… a $60 game like Skyrim has logged me about 100 hours over the past 4 months. Compared to a $20 DVD I watch once or a 2 hour movie date that costs $40 for tickets and food, video games do have a lot of economic return.

    Not to mention I can still get $20-40 when I sell my copy of Skyrim on ebay and move to my next game…

    And as far as Mass Effect goes, I know they will bundle the games at some point and will probably pick them up later… once I’m done with whatever AAA game I’m currently playing.

    And I will admit that in one point of my life many years ago, I was easily spending $500+ a year on games, 8-10 games at $50-60 each, less than one a month… it’s a ton of money. Gamefly costs under $200 for the year, but I have a lot more games available, as fast as a I can consume them.

  9. cathleen says:

    I too was surprised by the statement that 4-5 hours of video games for a grown man with three children wasn’t excessive. My own opinion, I just wanted to let the first poster know someone else thought the same thing.

    Having said that, it’s his choice to do that instead of work out, clean the dishes (which he mentions once in a while as something he doesn’t do as regularly as his wife) and his wife doesn’t complain then it’s none of my biz :)

  10. Adam P says:

    Video games are played by “grown” men and women, Cathleen. We were raised on videogames, and they have grown up too. They now eclipse the movie industry in revenue, if I read that statistic right. So you might want to shift your opinions into 21st century reality. Videogames are not just for kids anymore. And certainly not just for the kid-less adults, either.

  11. cathleen says:

    I am keenly aware (I work in Silicon Valley)
    My opinion is just that. 4-5 hours of a hobby each week would be excessive to me if other items of importance or goals are not being accomplished.
    4-5 hours of movies would be the same to me.
    4-5 hours of reading entertainment mags would be the same to me.
    4-5 hours of sitting in front of a TV ditto.

  12. Adam P says:

    SO – where do you get from this that Trent is not meeting his goals or other items of importance then?

    This finger wagging when a person wants to spend 30-45 minutes a day on a hobby he gets pleasure from (and bonds with other friends to boot) is ‘excessive’ in my opinion.

  13. Josh says:

    I wonder if Trent’s new group of friends give each other high fives when they score a good deal on a video game?

  14. Tracy says:

    Everyone should have at least an hour a day for personal hobbies … hobbies not related to ‘important tasks or goals’. Something that’s just for them, to mentally relax, to just *enjoy* themselves and life.

    Sometimes that’s not possible for people (particularly those working multiple jobs)- but they SHOULD have it.

  15. cathleen says:

    Tracy, I agree.
    But that would mean that video games for 4-5 hours per week is his only hobby and that’s clearly not the case, form his own blog.

    I couldn’t care less what *anyone* does in their spare time. But to say 4-5 hours is not excessive for ONE hobby, when presumably there are other hobbies as well, when exercising gets ” fifteen minutes to half an hour each day” (TSD 12/27/11) to me that’s excessive.


  16. Tracy says:

    It does :)

    Even if there are other hobbies that also take their own time, I just don’t think 4-5 hours a week is excessive for a single hobby. I actually don’t think it’s all that much time at all.

  17. Johanna says:

    How about two uses of the word “deeply” in a single sentence? Is that excessive or not?

  18. Tracy says:

    Johanna, that is deeply excessive.

  19. Steven says:

    I don’t think 4-5 hours a week is excessive, provided he’s accomplishing everything else that he’s supposed to do, wants to do, and says he’ll do. What someone does with their spare time isn’t my business, but (and I’ll get attacked again for mentioning exercise and fitness) Trent has consistently failed at accomplishing his annual fitness goals. It’s his choice to make video games a priority over other things. I just wish that’d he’d just admit that some things are more important (games, reading, etc) than others (exercise, fitness.)

  20. Misha says:

    Johanna, how about four uses of “simply” in the entire article?

  21. Adam P says:

    Usage of “simply” is his thing. Simple Dollar and all. But his over use of adjectives and general redundancies are really sad from an aspiring novelist.

  22. MattJ says:

    #11 cathleen

    I am keenly aware (I work in Silicon Valley)
    My opinion is just that. 4-5 hours of a hobby each week would be excessive to me if other items of importance or goals are not being accomplished.
    4-5 hours of movies would be the same to me.
    4-5 hours of reading entertainment mags would be the same to me.
    4-5 hours of sitting in front of a TV ditto.

    Your opinion of how much time is excessive seems not to hinge so much on whether the person is engaging in a hobby, but rather how much you approve of the hobby. TV/movies, video games, and even some kinds of reading are not cathleen-approved.

    I haven’t touched a video game console of any sort for quite some time, but I watch quite a bit more than 5 hours of movies/TV per week, so I guess that’s a non-approved ‘hobby’. (Except I really don’t consider it a hobby – watching TV is R&R in my opinion)

    For the 2 people out there who might be interested, my hobbies and the approximate time I spent on them last week are:

    Dancing: 13 hours – including 2 hours of practice with my dance partner, and 3 hours hosting my organization’s monthly dance (just so you know, it was an unusual week)

    Volunteering for a local dance club: 5 hours – this includes setting up before the dance I hosted, as well as cleaning up afterword. It also includes other related tasks such as preparing food for the event, picking up decorations, and writing the monthly newsletter.

    Rock Climbing: 15 hours includes two 2-hour sessions in the climbing gym and an all-day Saturday trip with my gf and her kids to climb outdoors, picnic, and hike.

    Caving/Cave Rescue: Took a back door to climbing and my dance responsibilities last week, but typically I would spend 5 or more hours on this hobby (with a decrease in the others, of course)

    Despite all that, I still managed to spend more than 5 hours in front of the TV, resting sore legs, shoulders, hands and feet. It doesn’t seem excessive, and, if I decided I had to make a lifestyle change and had to cut back, it wouldn’t be on the relaxation I get when lying down on the couch after a hard evening ‘playing’ at my more vigorous hobbies.

  23. MattJ says:

    You know what? Re-reading the sum of what cathleen wrote, I think that writing my post as a reply to her is probably unfair. Please disregard any overt or covert criticism of her opinion you find in my previous post.

    My apologies, cathleen.

  24. jim says:

    Like Trent, (and most people) I fail to exercise as much as I ought to. For me at least its not really due to lack of time or prioritization. Honestly I don’t exercise enough cause I’m generally lazy and I don’t like to exercise. I bet most people ultimately fail to exercise for the same basic reasons. If you don’t like exercise then you avoid doing it. You can always blame being too busy but theres ways to find time. For example you could stop reading blogs on the internet if you’re lacking time.

  25. MattJ says:


    I had the same problem you describe – I don’t like to exercise just to exercise, and I simply will not do it regularly. The solution for me was to adopt some physical hobbies that are fun and do those.

    That is, I go to the gym 3-4 times a week, but I never get on a weight machine, a stationary bike, treadmill, or any of that. Instead, I go to the rock climbing section and climb, or I go to the aerobics room and dance with my partner. I also go out dancing at ballroom studios and clubs, or go rock climbing or caving outdoors. I don’t even like to hike unless I’m headed to a cave or crag.

    So… um… don’t exercise. Just do fun things that happen to be exercise.

  26. Amanda says:

    “4-5 hours of a hobby each week would be excessive to me if other items of importance or goals are not being accomplished.”

    So in order to get around your dislike of hobbies, Cathleen, someone just needs to make their hobby related to a goal.


    My goal it to beat every video game I own.

    Now I can play 40 hrs a week and it’s not wasted time.

  27. Roberta says:

    The varying perspectives here are fascinating. My insight into other peoples’ lives continues to expand.

    Amanda – your comments about videogames, for example, were really interesting to me. Since I don’t play them, I do tend to think of them as being for children, and do not understand adults who play them. That view is probably colored by the fact that World of Warcraft and Call of Duty seem to be the two favorites among my (all male) offspring, and both leave me completely cold. Perhaps I would enjoy other types of games.

    Also, for the comments on 4-5 hours a week being spent on hobbies by various other readers, that was also an eyeopener for me. Fulltime work, growing children, church, school and community volunteer time and big dogs who need two daily walks seem to eat up almost all of my time, and hobbies like reading and sewing went by the wayside when I brought the first of four babies home 22 years ago. Maybe I should reframe things, and consider my life my hobby!

    Or are other people just more efficient with their time than I am? Like Matt – you mentioned an all day trip with girlfriend and kids on Saturday – which sounds like a great fun weekend activity. But how do you fit in a hobby with all the hands-on time children need during the week? Getting them ready for school, baths, homework, clean school stuff, kids lessons and activities take time too – and if you’re supervising all those things, the time isn’t readily available to do the things you might enjoy more. (And if you didn’t stay up with the laundry all week, then Saturday sometimes gets eaten up with that too, along with food shopping and other errands).

    How do so many other readers organize their time so much better than I do?

  28. MattJ says:

    #27 Roberta:

    Like Matt – you mentioned an all day trip with girlfriend and kids on Saturday – which sounds like a great fun weekend activity. But how do you fit in a hobby with all the hands-on time children need during the week? Getting them ready for school, baths, homework, clean school stuff, kids lessons and activities take time too – and if you’re supervising all those things, the time isn’t readily available to do the things you might enjoy more.

    My girlfriend’s kids live at her house. I’m not supervising any of those things. If we get married or if we decide to have them all move in with me, I’ll have to make some changes.

    I would say that your involvement with your church, as well as your community volunteer time (I certainly counted mine!) and your big dogs are hobbies as well. So, you have hobbies – they’re just different than the hobbies you used to have.

  29. Amanda says:

    Roberta, I don’t actually own any video games. I don’t own a single console. I don’t even own a TV to play them on. I was just pointing out the absurdity of Cathleen’s “logic.”

  30. Lilly says:

    I kind of just went through this same thought process when the price of Skyrim dropped from $49.99 to $39.99. I WANT to buy it, but I do NOT have time to play it right now. If I bought it, I would want to play it, and I would leave many other things unaccomplished to do so. I decided I’m going to wait until I actually have TIME to play it, and buy it then. The price may even drop more by then.

    Simply put – ;) – for me, it’s more of a question of time than money. If I have the time to play it, a game with great replay value (like Skyrim or Final Fantasy) is worth the price.

  31. Steven says:

    My gf and I recently purchased a Wii and a few games to go along with it. Which game do we play most often? The one that was included with the system: Mario. It’s provided a lot of entertainment for us. As a matter of fact, we have a friend over right now and we’re all laughing and having a great time playing it. We’re having a blast!

  32. Tyrone Biggums says:

    Waiting 18 months for a game you really would enjoy seems like a LONG time. Why not just buy it used on eBay for a discount?

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