How to Reduce Entertainment Expenses

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spent a little more than $2,500 on entertainment in 2011. If you are one of the many who spend too much, here are some easy steps to help you reduce your entertainment expenses.


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    Take a good look at your food budget. Restaurant eating accounted for the largest portion of America's discretionary spending in 2009, eating up $392 billion. [1] Often, a large part of what is spent on food is more about entertainment than to provide appropriate nutrition. Instead of making “going out to dinner” a family activity, make cooking dinner together at home the evening's entertainment. Home cooked food is much less expensive and can be a lot more fun! Some entertaining ways to cook at home include:
    • Baking and decorating cookies or a cake with younger children. Kids love to ice and decorate cookies and cakes. Buy plenty of sprinkles, colored icings, and small candies and let them go to work.
    • Teaching older children a family recipe by preparing it together. Many older children are interested in learning how to prepare family favorites, and what better way to learn than by preparing them together?
    • Making individual or personal pizzas. Using bagels, flour tortillas, French bread, or pizza dough, make a personal size pizza for each family member and allow everyone to top their own pies from a selection of vegetables, cheeses, meats, etc.
    • Experimenting with new things. For example, if you have always been interested in Indian cuisine, use curry in your cooking. Find new ways to prepare favorite vegetables or test out new recipes. Whatever your passion, explore it with your family by preparing a meal or a snack. You could have each night of the week follow a theme such as Italian night or picnic at home night.
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    If you do plan to go out to a restaurant, do some research first. Look for inexpensive options in your area such as happy hour or weekly specials. Search online for coupons or special deals such as early-in, early-out specials.
    • When eating out, one budget conscious approach is to share meals and to have a variety of side dishes rather than more expensive main meals.
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    Evaluate your cable or satellite service. Many cable and satellite subscribers are paying for hundreds of channels they will never watch. Reduce your bill by ensuring that your services are based on how you actually watch television rather than on what you think you'd like to watch (but then don't). You may want to:
    • Determine what channels you actually watch and switch to the least expensive package your cable or satellite company offers that contains those channels.
    • Consider a TV antenna, either a roof type or an indoor one that includes an amplifier. Most areas in the country can get ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and PBS and most of these networks will offer more than one channel. For example, PBS has 3 different channels. Pay TV only carries one.
    • Shop around. You may be able to find the channels you want for a lower price with another provider. Make some phone calls or check other providers' websites for packages and pricing.
    • Consider subscribing to a streaming and/or DVD delivery service. Services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus and Blockbuster allow you to stream movies and television shows right to your computer or television and/or receive DVD rentals by mail. If most of the movies and/or the television shows you watch are available, one of these services may be much less expensive than cable or satellite.
    • Look into watching all of your television online, free of charge. Many networks and cable stations offer free streaming of their most popular shows. Check your favorite station’s websites to determine if the shows you watch are available for streaming.
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    Analyze your phone bills. Are you paying for a home phone you never use, spending too much on your cell phone bill, or paying for long distance calls? Perhaps it is time for a change. Consider these options:
    • Disconnecting your home phone. If everyone now has your cell number, you have plenty of minutes to spare each month, and you have not heard your home phone ring in months except from a telephone solicitor, it may be time to cut off the landline and cut out that monthly bill.
    • Getting rid of your data plan. If you have email and internet service on your phone, you may be paying anywhere from 10 to 50 extra dollars per month for your cell phone service. If you already have Internet and email service at home and/or at work, consider dropping the data plan and saving a chunk of change.
    • Switching your home phone service to an unlimited long distance plan. Almost all phone companies now offer unlimited long distance plans for a flat monthly rate. Do some comparison shopping and stop paying for your long distance.
    • Using free internet phone services. Internet phone software such as Skype has made long distance charges and the need for a home phone a thing of the past. These software services allow users to place phone calls to other software users and landlines around the world at little to no cost.
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    Assess your internet service. Consider how you use the internet and determine if there is a less expensive way of meeting your needs. You may be able to shut off your service and use the free WiFi offered by many businesses, do your web browsing at the library, shop around for a better deal, or bundle your service with phone and cable to save money.
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    Stop watching movies at the theater. A trip for two to the movies can easily cost upwards of $30. Instead of watching movies in the theater, consider:
    • Borrowing movies from the library. Many libraries now have VHS and DVD movies available for free––you just need to get a library card. If the library doesn't have a movie you want, you can usually request it.
    • Using movie rental boxes such as Redbox or Blockbuster. Movie rental boxes are now located in many pharmacies, groceries, and large chain stores and restaurants such as Walmart and McDonalds, and allow you to rent DVDs for just $1 per night. Just make sure you return them on time, since you pay a dollar for each night you keep the movie.
    • Watching movies on Pay-Per-View. Many cable and satellite companies offer Pay-Per-View channels where you can ‘rent’ movies for 24 - 48 hours for even less than the local video store would charge.
    • Subscribing to a streaming and/or DVD delivery service such as Netflix or Blockbuster. These services allow you to maintain a list of the DVDs you would like to view, and receive them one or two at a time by mail. The movies have no due date, and you may keep them as long as you like. When you are done viewing them, simply drop them in a pre-paid envelope and mail them back. Services start at as low as $8 a month.
    • Checking out the specials bin for ex-rentals at your favorite DVD rental store. Many toss out excess DVDs for very low prices within a few months of the DVD title's release––surely you can wait!
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    Stop purchasing new video games. Often a brand new $50 video game is left on the shelf to collect dust within a few weeks after the owner has tired of it. So instead of purchasing video games as soon as they come out, consider only purchasing older, less expensive games, buying your games used at a local video store or website such as eBay, or renting them from a local store or online mail service. Consider using app games instead––these are plentiful, cheaper, and allow for switching allegiances constantly without too much loss of money (and definitely no dust).
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    Watch the big game from home. Whether it is college or professional sports, basketball, or football, the big game can almost certainly be viewed from home, a friend’s home, or a local bar or restaurant. Save the money you would drop on tickets and high priced snacks, and watch the game on television. It is probably a good idea though to save your pennies for one special game of the season, so that you're not feeling completely deprived.
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    Stay out of bars. If you drink alcohol, you can save hundreds of dollars by drinking at home instead of at the bar. Even better, if you still love the socializing (and who doesn't), cut down on how much you drink and intersperse all drinks with water, a wake-up latte, and good conversation.
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    Cancel your subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. Most newspapers, news stations, and magazines maintain websites, which contain all of the same content they publish or broadcast. If not, you can read magazines and newspapers at your local library or through your library's online database. Check to see if you can get the information for free online, and cancel the costly subscription if you can.
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    Go easy on children’s entertainment expenses. There are many ways to entertain your kids for less. Keep in mind that your presence and engagement with your kids is the best gift they could ever have. Expensive toys can never make up for you always being too busy to play with them. Some ideas for cheap or free entertainment include:
    • Take a trip to the park. Parks and playgrounds are an endless source of free entertainment for young children. Bring a picnic and make it an afternoon.
    • Visit the library. Not only can you check out great books and videos, but the kids can also all play online at the same time, participate in story time and crafts, and get help with their homework. Libraries offer many programs and activities for children to learn and play. Check with your local library for information on programs it offers.
    • Bake together. Children, young and old, love to bake and decorate cookies, cakes, and pies. So spend the afternoon or evening in the kitchen snacking!
    • Make a craft project. Children love to draw, color, paint, cut, and glue. Look online for children’s craft ideas and spend a low cost afternoon making crafts.
    • Play a board or card game. Children of all ages enjoy board and card games, and many modern games are made so that both children and adults can have fun playing them. Or get out the tablet and play a game on it together.
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    Think local. You can find quite a bit of low cost entertainment locally, if you know where to look. Check local websites for Information on children's activities in your area. Some things to consider in the way of local entertainment:
    • Local musicians, comedians, and performers can be seen in parks, concert halls, outdoor theaters, community centers, and bars on almost any night of the week, and they cost less than half of what a concert or Broadway show does.
    • County fairs and city carnivals offer inexpensive, close-to-home entertainment throughout the summer.
    • City and community activities such as ice cream socials, free concerts or shows in the park, and covered bridge festivals are offered by many small and large towns. Check your city’s website, or check with City Hall for information on activities offered by your community.
    • High school college games and events. Many high schools offer admission to games, band concerts, talent shows, and dance performances at little to no cost. Colleges and universities also offer plays, music concerts, and ball game tickets at inexpensive prices.
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    Travel frugally. Staying with friends, vacationing during the off-season, and visiting low cost locations like developing countries, are all easy ways to save on vacation expenses.

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