When some part of your budget needs to be trimmed to help pay off debt, the first place that people typically go looking, is entertainment expenses.
And the process usually goes like this: snip, snip … SLASH!
Treating a family of four to an NFL game? Um, no. Four “average” tickets in Chicago go for $528. Four in Miami? That’ll be $392. Even the cheapest “average” NFL seats, the Jacksonville Jaguars, still cost about $250.
Theme park? Not this year. Universal Orlando Is $160 per person. Disneyland in California is $100 per person. That’s just walking in the door. No food, no drinks, no merchandise.
OK, so how a visit to a big-screen movie with a large tub of popcorn and a drink? Maybe. It’s about $25 a head for ticket, popcorn and a soda.
Numbers like that are the reason entertainment comes under the heading of “disposable income’’ or money you can spend knowing that memories are all you’ll have to show for it. For some, a summer vacation at Disney World or a front row seats at a major sporting event, provide memories well beyond the money spent. For others, disposing of income on anything more than renting a movie is a waste.
Either way, it’s all about affording the cost. After the bills, the mortgage, the car payment, the groceries and (hopefully) some savings, the leftover funds can be used for fun, but they shouldn’t contribute to an increasing debt.
There are smart – inexpensive! – ways to have fun.
“It’s common sense, priorities, not overextending yourself, all of that,’’ said personal finance expert Ric Edelman, an author of eight books who has a syndicated radio show. “It’s like you try to teach to kids. You can’t have everything. Pick and choose. A little discipline. Sometimes, you need to do without or change your plan.’’
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spent $2,842 on entertainment expenses in 2015. That’s about 5.6% of total household expenditures on things like audio and visual equipment and services, pets, toys, hobbies, playground equipment, fees and admissions, plus miscellaneous entertainment spending.
“Different things are important to different people,’’ personal finance expert Laura Adams said. “Some people are more frugal than others. Certainly, you shouldn’t endanger your financial future. But you do need to incorporate some fun and invigorating things into your life. There are plenty out there that don’t break the bank.’’
It’s important to maintain a quality of life, even when digging out from debt. It’s also important to exercise proper judgment and yes, it’s possible to do both. In fact, there are many quality entertainment activities that are free.
A few ideas:
Play Board Games — Remember those? Dig them out of the closet. Have a family game night. Make a dessert and have some fun!
Visit a Public Library — Get a library card and have at it. Your local library is a place of books, magazines, DVDs and music that you can rent for free. Take advantage of it.
Volunteer for Something — As the old saying goes, when you’re in a tough spot, it’s usually time to give of yourself. It’s good for the karma. It’s good for the community. Plus, you will probably meet new people and learn new skills.
Return To College — Sometimes, you can find free lectures and free performances on campus.
Get Outdoors — There’s always a picnic at the local park, camping or a simple walk on the beach.
Use Your Imagination — Transform hiking expeditions into a search for fossils or rare bird sightings. Turn a family get-together into a potluck that features a slideshow of photos from family albums. Everyone will love it. Seek out free celebrations and parades in your town. If there’s a free movie night in the park, go and enjoy.
Free is wonderful.
If it’s free, it’s for me! (And you!)
But odds are, there will be a cost to many of your entertainment options. The key is minimizing those costs, not overpaying, negotiating when appropriate and making sure the value is at least equal to the payment.
Here are some things to consider:
Cable Television — Is your cable bill north of $100 per month? Way north of that? Logically, it seems ridiculous to be paying for the dozens of channels you’re not watching. You can cut the cable completely and shift to a site like Hulu to catch your favorite shows. Or you can at least drop the premium channels and pick up the can’t-miss shows on iTunes or Amazon. Or you can call your cable company, threaten a move to satellite and see if they’re willing to reduce your monthly cost. It’s worth a shot.
Drop Your Subscriptions — Many magazines or newspapers have a reduced rate online (or they might be free).
Use Coupons — Use them at every opportunity. Check out websites, manufacturer sites, store sites. Don’t pass up the free money.
Eat Well — If you must go out to eat, have an appetizer at home. You won’t be as hungry and perhaps you can split an entree. Also check out restaurant.com, which offers $25 restaurant gift certificates at discount prices.
Amateur Sports — If the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB has priced you out of the sports market, try college or high school sports. In some ways, it can be more entertaining. The cost is reasonable and so are the concessions. For professional sports, look to Stubhub or Craigslist just before the game. You could get a steal on ticket prices.
Movies In Bulk — Some discount warehouses (such as Costco) offer movie tickets in bulk. A sample deal is a set of 10 tickets for $75 (about a $25 savings) and the tickets never expire.
Good Timing — Some theaters, museums, galleries, zoos and parks have special discounts, such as standing room only or pay-what-you-can nights. Occasionally, there is free admission or a twilight discount (30% to 50% off).
Discount Learning — Your community recreation department or local community college are good resources. You could take an art class, learn a foreign language and develop a special skill — perhaps at a savings of hundreds of dollars.
The point is: Don’t let budget trimming cut the fun out of your life. There are plenty of ways for families to have fun, without spending a fortune.
In his 40-plus-year newspaper career, George Morris has written about just about everything -- Super Bowls, evangelists, World War II veterans and ordinary people with extraordinary tales. His work has received multiple honors from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press and the Louisiana Press Association. He avoids debt when he can and pays it off quickly when he can't, and he's only too happy to suggest how you might do the same.
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