In this week's installment of our Taming your budget-busting bills series we look at your entertainment costs and ways to have fun without breaking the bank.
A nice meal in a fancy restaurant. Tickets to see your favorite group in concert or a big splashy Broadway musical. Treating your significant other to a night out on the town.
Everyone has a guilty (spending) pleasure that they love to indulge, but when personal finance advisers look at household budgets one of the first things they will tell you to target for belt-tightening is spending on entertainment.
Americans spend on average almost $3,000 a year on entertainment, or about 4% of the family budget, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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Entertainment isn’t like spending on housing or groceries. It isn’t a necessity but it is one of the things that bring us the most pleasure. For many, it's one of the main reasons we work so hard — so we have money to go out and have fun.
How cruel that the most enjoyable spending is also the most expendable.
There are, however, ways to cut down on your entertainment spending and still have a good time. It just takes some creativity and thoughtful planning.
So think outside of the box and have some fun. Here are some ideas:
Going out to a restaurant
Eating out can put a big dent in your budget, so if you are serious about cutting costs you should limit how often you dine out. But there are ways to lower the cost of a night out at a nice restaurant:
• Instead of dinner, consider going out to that fancy restaurant you have your eye on for lunch instead when prices are lower. Many restaurants serve a cheaper lunch menu as late as 4 p.m., so make it an early dinner.
• Many restaurants offer special nights, like half-price burger night or half-price bottles of wine specials. Check your local restaurants for these special deal days.
• Go for happy hour specials and eat at the bar instead of in the dining room.
Going to events: Theater, concerts, sporting events and more
• Find fun, free events in your area. Many communities offer a wide range of events that are free or have minimal charges. Events range from lectures to community plays to sporting events and art gallery openings. Some of the best places to look: Local colleges and universities, city libraries, parks and recreation offices, community calendars and web sites, local tourism agencies and chambers of commerce.
• Volunteer. Usher at your local theater, take tickets at sporting events or offer to help out in the office.
• Seek out discounts. Ask about discounts for seniors, students, military members and other groups. Memberships in certain organizations, like AAA or AARP, come with savings benefits, according to personal finance site NerdWallet. Check out web sites that offer discounted tickets like Goldstar.
• Check for special nights. Many theaters offer pay-what-you-can nights or cheaper preview performances. Some venues also offer last-minute rush tickets for unsold seats at lower prices.
• Go on an off day, when prices are cheaper instead of the more popular Friday and Saturday nights.
Instead of sitting in a seat and watching something, think about getting active outside. Consider some of these free activities and get some exercise:
• Hiking. Depending on where you live, you can catch scenic mountain views, beaches, waterfront vistas or downtown walking trails.
• Bicycling. Dust off your bike in the garage or rent one and check out the town.
• Sports activities. Throw up a net and play volleyball or hit the local basketball or tennis court.
Entertaining yourself and others at home
• Trim back your entertainment services. The cost of cable can be a big drain on your monthly budget. Consider cutting back or cutting the cord altogether. Here’s how:
- Five steps to cutting your expensive cable TV bill
- Cutting the cord? How to pick your streaming services
• Check out the offerings at your local library. Many public libraries offer free online movies, ebooks, music and more.
• Organize potluck dinners. You get to socialize and spread the cost of dinner out since your friends bring food. Everybody wins.
More tips on taming your budget-busting bills: