Frugal Living 101 — Entertainment

by Ramona Creel

Having Fun On The Cheap

If you think that enjoying life has to cost a lot of money, you've never been out with me! Matt and I manage to cram more serious fun into our days than anyone with so little disposable income has a right to. Some “frugality experts” will tell you that you have to limit yourself to movie night at home or packing a picnic in order to save money — I say bollux! While I certainly enjoy a potluck gathering with friends or a DVD-date now and then, I'm not about to give up going to the theater, museums, theme parks, concerts, zoos, and great local restaurants for the sake of pinching a penny! You can still do all these things when you're on a budget — you just have to be ready to pounce on the good deals as they pop up. Remember, living frugally is not abstention — it's about eliminating the unnecessary expenses so you can afford to partake in those activities that are worth the cost. Here are a few ways to find fun at a discount.

  • know your priorities (I personally think that one of the biggest budget-breakers when it comes to entertainment is being drug along to an expensive activity just because your friends wanted to go — this has happened to us more than once — we've been talked into pricey dinners at restaurants we didn't care about, concerts featuring musicians we didn't especially like, and movies that we knew were going to suck, in order to please another person — certainly, group recreation is all about compromise — but when you're being asked to fork over money you don't want to spend for an activity that doesn't interest you, you need to speak up — tell your buds that you would love to get together with them, but that you'd like to plan something else — explain that you're saving money, admit that you aren't that excited about the event, even lie and tell them you've got other plans that night, whatever you're comfortable with — but don't allow yourself to be railroaded into spending your hard-earned entertainment cash on something you're likely to regret or possibly resent later)
  • multi-media savings (Matt and I never pay full-price to see a movie anymore, because there are just too many ways to get our film-lover's-fix for less — we might go to a matinee, as long as it's not an animated flick that's likely to be full of screaming children! — we often buy half-price tickets through a discount service like Entertainment.com, Groupon, or AAA — we borrow movies from the library — we are signed up to receive notice of free rental codes for Blockbuster Express and RedBox through a company called Cities On The Cheap — these are usually good once per credit card, so if you have multiple cards, you can rent a couple of movies at a time for $0 — just be sure to return them within 24 hours or you'll start racking up $1-a-day charges, which doesn't sound like much but completely defeats the purpose of a free rental code! — and of course, we participate in Netflix — the trick to maximizing these sorts of “membership” rental clubs is volume — let's say that you're paying $8 a month, but you let each DVD sit around on your coffee table for 2 weeks before returning it and receiving the next disc — you might only get to watch 2 movies a month, and you're paying $4 a rental for them — but if you receive a disc, watch it that night, and return it the next day, you could get as many as 8 films out of your monthly membership at $1 each — throw in a few instant download viewings, and you've got a real bargain!)
  • learning to share (I don't have to tell you that restaurant portion sizes are absolutely ridiculous these days — very rarely do Matt and I get two full entrees when we eat out, because it's just too much — I would be happy to buy a smaller meal for a smaller price, but restaurants don't offer that option because they can make more money selling you more food — so we either get one entree to split, a couple bowls of soup and an appetizer, or a few “small plates” like you get at a tapas restaurant — the same goes for “tasting” events — on pub tours, we share a pint at each stop — when traveling through wine country, we share a tasting at each vineyard — that way, we each get to try more different kinds of drinks, and it takes longer to reach our legal limit! — and if you don't have a built-in food partner, just invite a friend along to split the cost with you)
  • happy hour (even if you aren't a big after-work drinker, happy hours are a great way to eat at a nice restaurant for less — most places offer “small bites” for just a couple of bucks each, along with their 2-for-1 beverages — pick up two or three sampler-sized plates to split, and you've got an entirely acceptable early-evening meal)
  • free admission days (attraction tickets have gotten so expensive, I don't understand how families with a bunch of kids can afford to go on vacation anymore! — but most museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and parks offer random “free admission” days throughout the year — these might be just for local residents, or they may be open to anyone — some are even regular monthly events, like a “free first Friday” in which the facility stays open late and offers special activities — the National Park Service gives free admission to all of its facilities twice a year — the Smithsonian Institute provides free admission to its affiliate museums each fall — Target sponsors a number of free museum days around the country — and Bank Of America credit card holders can visit a variety of museums throughout the United States at no cost)
  • festivals and art walks (in my opinion, there's no better way to spend a free day than wandering around a cultural festival — and during nice weather, you can find something to keep you occupied nearly every weekend — enjoy live performers, look at beautiful art, let the kids play in a bouncy-house, and just soak up the carnival atmosphere — but be aware of fairs that exist just to make you spend money — I personally can't stand festivals that are nothing but vendor and food booths, with no entertainment and nothing to really do — I'm not interested in paying an admission fee for the privilege of spending more money buying food and shopping for crafts! — and if you haven't ever been to an “art walk,” you should definitely see if there is one available in your town — a group of galleries stay open late, offering free wine and munchies and entertainment, welcoming anyone and everyone to view their works — it's a fun way to discover new artists you had never heard of before, meet interesting people, and infuse your week with a little culture for free!)
  • leave off the extras (quite often, it's not the main event that costs so much when you go out, it's all the add-on's — candy and popcorn at the movies, a t-shirt at the zoo, a souvenir program at each concert, an elephant ear at the fair, a dog and a beer at the ballgame — these “little” expenses can add up in a hurry — I'm not suggesting that you deny yourself something you really want, but take a second to ask yourself whether that purchase is essential to your enjoyment of the event — did you come to see the show, or to eat overpriced, crappy tasting snacks? — and could you enjoy the show just as much without it? — it's also good to follow this rule of thumb when eating out — restaurants make the majority of their profit off of drinks, appetizers, and desserts, but do you really need a 4-course dinner? — I would personally rather enjoy a really good entree and let the other stuff go! — if you just have to bookend your meal, why not serve drinks and appetizers yourself before going out, then invite everyone back for coffee and dessert after the meal?)
  • discount services (the internet is a wonderful resource for half-price admissions to your favorite attractions — if you're familiar with those coupon books that the high schools sell as a fundraising tool, you'll love the Entertainment.com, website — you can buy an annual membership for the same price as a single coupon book, then have access to discounted tickets and buy-one-get-one meals at locations throughout the country — perfect for when you travel! — I'm also a big fan of “daily deal” websites like Groupon, as long as you're good at sifting through the myriad of sale emails to find those activities you enjoy — and we almost never go out to eat without using Restaurant.com — you might spend as little as $2 for a certificate that gets you $25 off a $35 meal — it sounds a bit complicated, but trust me, it's worth learning the system for the savings, and we've found some of the best restaurants that we never would have thought to through their site)
  • go for the combo deal (many times, purchasing a pass that combines a number of activities can save you big bucks, especially in a city that thrives on tourism — companies like City Pass and Go USA have special arrangements with tourist destinations, saving you as much as 50% off the regular price of admission to their most popular sites)
  • ask for a discount (if you know when you'll be in a certain area, ask the Convention And Visitor's Bureau about any discounts they have available — these folks are paid to help tourists make the most of their visit, and many times their member attractions give them passes to hand out — but you'll never know if you don't ask! — and don't forget to contact individual attractions directly — most will be able to point you toward a discount coupon on their website or a special deal available during your visit)
  • volunteer (if you love high-brow performances but can't swing the cost of a season ticket to the symphony or theater or opera, there's still a way to get a good seat for less — volunteer as a ticket-taker or usher or even a docent giving tours during off-hours, and you will probably be rewarded with free admission to the show — just call it cultural “sweat equity!”)
  • bring your own (concessions at events have become a multi-million dollar business in this country, but you aren't always required to buy your food and drink on-site — you can almost always bring at least a bottle of water and a few snacks with you — and even though you might not be able to tote a cooler through the front door, most places offer picnic-style seating just outside the gates — Matt and I love to pack a gourmet “nosh” and take a break in the middle of the day to enjoy some stinky cheese, veggies, and hummus!)
  • getting outside (certainly, the cheapest and probably healthiest way to spend a day is getting some exercise — going for a day hike or a walk around town costs nothing at all, and gives you a chance to see things that you would have otherwise missed in a car or on a tour bus — I'll walk for miles when I'm let loose in a new city — in fact, one time during a walk through D.C., I ended up in Maryland without even realizing it! — but Matt and I also carry our sports equipment with us so we can take advantage of any other al fresco activities — over the years we've acquired a bikes, rollerblades, tennis rackets, camping equipment, ball gloves, an inflatable kayak, boogie boards, and snorkel equipment — it was totally worth the upfront investment, and now we're ready for anything — plus, we never have to pay a rental fee to enjoy a little bit of nature)
  • staying home (of course, a night at home with friends or family can also be tons of fun — grill out or have everyone bring a potluck dish — pull out the board games,  play cards, or challenge your mates to a Guitar Hero competition — pop some healthy popcorn and host a film fest in your own living room — carve pumpkins at Halloween, decorate eggs at Easter, or trim the tree at Christmas — there are so many ways to enjoy the company of those you love without spending a penny)

© Ramona Creel, all rights reserved. Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity -- traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities -- clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you've always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it. You can see all these sides of Ramona -- read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order -- at www.RamonaCreel.com. And be sure to follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.