Entertainment For Less

There?s a ?stealth expense? that chews through budgets and often leaves us with an empty bank account or even a little deeper in debt each month; its called entertainment expense, and at least part of the problem may lay in the fact that we?re usually reluctant to even view it as an ?expense?. Maybe this is the case because entertainment has a way of defining us?it?s often who we are, which has to be something more significant than just an ordinary expense, doesn?t it? That’s why we need to focus on entertainment for less.

We can be meticulous about budgeting for housing, groceries, utilities and a host of other expenses, but entertainment is often?to borrow a political phrase??off budget?.

Entertainment diverts our time into stimulating activities in ways that usually won?t happen through working at our occupations, managing our homes or many of the other more mundane tasks we participate in as a matter of survival. People have sought to do this since the beginning of humanity, but the one thing that?s changed radically is our contemporary willingness to break the bank to make it happen. That?s the part of it that we need to control!

The most basic purpose of entertainment is to have a good time; we need to get past the idea that we need to spend a lot of money, or even any money at all, in order to make that happen. We all have a need to be entertained but there are inexpensive ways to do it, and then there are the other ways?the ones that often lead to debt.

Entertainment as an addiction

I?m not a psychologist, but I?d be willing to wager that much of the spending on gold-plated forms of entertainment these days is an attempt to compensate for weaknesses in other areas of life, such as stress, lack of companionship, lack of community, or other voids. This goes beyond the realm of simply looking to have a good time, to the point that the planet is now crawling with entertainment addicts. And like all addictions, it must be controlled.

Replace costly entertainment habits with less expensive ones, and we can do that simply by engaging in more participatory activities, and by increasing the amount of time we spend with people. Bigger picture, much of the reliance on entertainment might be replaced by reducing stress in your life, by increasing connections with family and friends and with involving yourself more with the community and the world around you.

Do these things, and you may find yourself craving fewer restaurant meals, amusement park visits, trips to bars, and all of the other entertainment activities that can suck a budget dry.

Instead of eating out, going to the movies, to the mall to shop or to costly amusement parks and other venues, come up with some inexpensive alternative activities you can engage in so that you can still keep yourself entertained but without spending a bunch of money to do it. Don?t be afraid to consult with family, friends and coworkers for more activities?see what others are doing for entertainment, especially those of a more frugal persuasion.

Compile a list to help you when you?re looking for something to do?this will help you to develop some new habits and attitudes toward entertainment, at least until it becomes set in your mind.

Eight activities for under $20

To help you get started, here is a list of activities which will get you out of the house and into the world without bleeding you dry:

  1. Visit with friends and extended family?your house or theirs; we?re social creatures so people are the best source of entertainment
  2. Head out to the local park or a nearby beach; pack a lunch, bring your bikes, in-line skates or a ball or two, and spend a couple of hours just taking it easy and enjoying the outdoors
  3. Window shop at the mall; bring $10 with you and remove your credit and debit cards from your wallet; sometimes just being out and about is all we really need
  4. Plan ?Family Night In? with a home cooked dinner and a video, or cook a nice dinner at home, then go out for dessert afterward?which is just as much fun but much cheaper than a full restaurant meal
  5. Go hiking in a state or national park?you don?t need to be an athlete to walk, and you can do it at your own pace and enjoy nature as you go
  6. Pass some time in your local library, or at one of the chain mega book stores; you can browse or read for hours and no one will ask you to leave. Some large book stores also have coffee shops, and you can always get a cup for under a couple of dollars.
  7. Hang out with family or friends at Starbucks or some other coffee house
  8. Pack a lunch or some snacks and spend the afternoon or evening at your local neighborhood or community swimming pool. At our community pool, daily admission is $3 per person, $12 for a family of four, and there aren?t a whole lot of places you can go for less than that.

This is just a start?work on expanding the list, and I?ll bet you could come up with at least 20 activities you can engage in for less than $20 each and many of them free. A lot depends on your own personal preferences, but the more possible activities you can come up with, the less expensive your entertainment will become, so be purposeful in developing a list.

We?ve found over the years, that doing several low- or no-cost activities in combination can make for an enjoyable day. You can have a picnic in the park for dinner, window shop at the mall for a bit, hang out at the bookstore for a while, then go to Starbucks for coffee and dessert?an enjoyable evening for under $20.

The more options and combinations you can come up with, the less likely you?ll need to go to the movies or an amusement park.

What are some other ways you can think of?or have done yourself?that you can entertain yourself or your family for not a lot of money?

( Photo courtesy of dionc )

8 Responses to Entertainment For Less

  1. You got a great list there Kevin. A few that my friends and I enjoy.

    BBQing at a park – Pack up the BBQ bring some hotdogs burgers etc, and just enjoy a nice relaxing afternoon at a park. If you have everyone bring an item or two, then it can be a great way to spend the afternoon on the cheap.
    Board game night – My friends all enjoy board games and so about once a month or so we’ll have a board game night. Board games can be somewhat expensive, but when you play them over and over they more than make up for their cost.
    Movie night – We all enjoy movies, so whenever one of us purchases a new movie we have a movie night where we all bring our movies and watch it together. This also works great with movies on TV with DVR.

  2. Ace – thanks for the additonal suggestions! The board game idea is a great one. You can really get lost in the enjoyment of playing them in a group, and it can be a lot more fun than going out on the town. The social aspect of having friends over to play is the key part.

    I’ve often thought that setting up a movie exchange might be a good idea. Most of us have videos and DVDs we never or hardly watch any more, but collectively between a few people, the inventory would probably approach that of a video store.

    You can make up a list of movies you have, exchange lists within the group, then borrow them back and forth.

  3. Another great thing to do by yourself, with a group of friends or with family is to volunteer. Spend one day / night a week or month volunteering somewhere. It’s free and chances are you’ll end up feeling great by helping make someone else’ day.

  4. Great tips. I love the extra advice about taking out your credit cards when window shopping.

    I love to go to friends’ houses (or have them over our place) and just talk or play board games.

  5. Ouch!! Entertainment as an addiction – what are you trying to do, convict me or something? 🙂 Great post, love the ideas!!

  6. Jenna – That’s an oustanding suggestion! Since much of our “need” for entertainment is tied to lack of community connection, what better way to fill this need than by helping others.

    Khaleef – Removing the credit cards is something I can do easily. Just being out among the living seems to scratch an itch, and it doesn’t need to cost more than a few dollars.

    Jason – The idea of “Entertainment addiction” is a conviction for me too! It’s a strong term, but I think that in this day and age, that’s exactly what we’re looking at. We’ll cut this expense and that expense, but often it’s just to free up more budget for entertainment.

  7. My wife and I made a commitment, out of a desire to be “gazelle-intense” and get out of debt, about 5 years ago. We started “living like no one else” which including slashing the entertainment budget to a ridiculous amount.

    We haven’t been the same since. There are so many great free activities to do. And the great thing is that if something comes up that we want to do that costs some money, it isn’t any big deal (usually) to fit it into the budget.

  8. Jimmy – What you and your wife have done is to break free of the common notion of what entertainment is. The entertainment industry has sold us on the idea that entertainment costs money and that we should be fully prepared to pay for a good time.

    Once we accept the idea that entertainment equals a lot of money, it’s just a matter of what it is we’ll spend that money on. You’ve broken that cycle and shown that it can be done, and probably let go of a whole bunch of other nonsense in the process.

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