January 8, 2012

Maximizing the Entertainment Budget

I usually go over our budget every couple of months to see how we’re doing, but I’ve been particularly attentive to it lately. Adding a new person to the family will bring a set of costs, especially since we’ll need day care even though I’m not ‘employed’.

The easiest thing to cut is the entertainment section of the budget. It may be tempting to cut it down to zero, but I don’t think that works very well. Going on a crash budget is a lot like going on a crash diet. Sure you can do it for short periods of time, but could you live without any sweets for the rest of your life? If you’re like most people, eventually you fall of the wagon and binge. And bingeing can be far worse for you than little indulgences here and there. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do for free (or near free) to satisfy your entertainment sweet tooth.

There is a semi recent survey on experiences making us happier than possessions. The happiness of experiences comes in preparing for and planning the experience, the actual event, and reminiscing afterwards. Happiness in terms of possessions is usually tied to the act acquiring Over time possessions tend to lose their appeal. What was once shinny and new loses a little bit of its luster when seen every day. So rather than splurge on a shopping trip, save up for a fun activity. It’s all about creating memories. Planning a trip to the zoo, museum, or hiking can be relatively inexpensive, and when it’s with someone you love, all the better! Make sure to bring your student ID for possible entry discounts.

You can extend the fun of activities by keep mementos, photographs or scrap booking. I love going back over old photos. I often make flash slide shows out of our vacations and enjoy watching them over and over. (Flash builder is free for students). Scrap booking can be expensive if you’re into all the page embellishments, but you can also use graphic software to organize photo layouts on a page and print sans add-ons. (Edited 5/14 to add: I recently discovered Windows distributes a free program called Movie Maker, which you can use to turn your photos into slide show movies! It’s much easier than flash if you’re not computer savvy, and best of all – free!)

We also started picking up redbox movies on the weekend. For just a dollar (+tax) we have an inexpensive date night at home, whereas our local movie theater is $12.50 for a non matinee, non 3-D adult ticket. There are a few movies that I was happy to watch at $1.30 and would have been disappointed had I spent $25 on. Still, I don’t think redbox will completely replace going to the movie theaters for us – some movies you just want to experience on the big screen in surround sound – but it is a nice alternative.

Once the baby comes, we might switch to Amazon Instant Video or Netflix Streaming, so we have the convenience of not driving to our local red box location. The drawback to both these services, however, is we don’t have a device capable of playing the movies on the TV, so there would be a startup cost in addition to the higher per movie cost. We also still have our old fashioned rear projection TV, and the more we watch at home the more we’ll feel the pressure to upgrade it.

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