If your goal is to destroy debt or build savings, you’re going to need to find extra money in your current budget. I’ve recently shown you 28 Tips to Save on Groceries, 18 Ways to Save on Clothes and 16 Tips to Save on Home Improvement.
Now it’s time to tackle another expense that can soak up the cash: entertainment.
In my latest book, “Life or Debt 2010,” I talk about how important it is to maintain your quality of life while finding the extra money to pay off debt. That’s because if you take away the things you love, you’ll be on a dollar diet that’s tough to stick with.
So, while cutting your entertainment bill isn’t hard, the trick is to do it without cutting the fun. Here are 26 ideas that might help.
You’ll get the first few from this 90-second news story about saving on entertainment. Check it out, then meet me on the other side for more.
Now, let’s recap those ideas and add a bunch more.
1. Cut the cable
Why should you pay for dozens of channels you’re not watching? See if you can get away with ditching your cable altogether and seeing the shows you can’t live without on a site like Hulu.
2. Drop premium channels
If you can’t cut the cable, at least consider doing away with premium channels. If you’re watching only one or two shows, drop the costly monthly plan and pick up the shows on iTunes or Amazon. You’ll probably pay less owning a full season of your favorite show than you would subscribing to the premium channel that airs it.
3. Ask for a lower price
You can probably negotiate a lower price for cable by threatening to move to satellite (or vice versa.) I actually did this on-camera: Check out “Cut your cable bill just by asking.”
4. Subscribe to magazines online
It’s usually the same content you’d get in paper form (more in some cases), for a lower price, sometimes even free. Plus, you’ll be doing Mother Nature a favor.
5. Play board games
Have a family game night. Board games are a great way to bond and don’t cost a lot. To save even more, you can pick one up secondhand or check out this incredible article from Microsoft Home Magazine that features videos, templates and instructions on how to create your own personalized board game.
6. Visit the library
Benjamin Franklin may be on the $100 bill, but he also started the first public library in the U.S. Use your local library for books, DVDs, music and magazines.
It doesn’t cost a dime, helps the community and improves your karma more than any other way you could possibly spend your time. You might even learn something. For example, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity can help you learn home improvement skills.
8. Buy songs, not albums
Buying a whole album can be a waste when you really like only one or two of the songs. Head to an online store like iTunes or Amazon MP3s and pay only for the songs you want to listen to. If you’re Web-enabled, sites like Pandora and Last.fm will supply you with an endless supply of music customized to your tastes for free.
9. Use coupons
This one may seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked. We put together a huge page of new coupons tracked by sites from around the Web. It’s a great resource, but shouldn’t be your only one. Check out other Web sites, newspapers and manufacturer sites for more. These days, “don’t leave home without it” doesn’t refer to a credit card; it refers to checking a coupon search engine.
10. Watch Netflix online
Subscribe to Netflix, but watch movies online. You’ll get a lot more out of your subscription without waiting for shipping, and without a limit on the number of movies you can watch (as long as they’re online). Don’t have the Web hooked up to your TV yet? Amuse yourself for hours trying to figure it out.
11. Have appetizers at home
Eating something at home before you go out for dinner will partially satisfy your appetite and perhaps allow you to split an entree, thus cutting your dinner bill by 50%. You can also find $25 restaurant gift certificates for $10 — sometimes $5 — at Restaurant.com.
12. Happy hour
Meet your friends, nurse a drink or two, and chow down on free or discounted food.
13. Amateur sports
Try attending amateur sporting events instead of the pros. There isn’t as much glitz and glamour, but you might see more heart. And one thing’s for sure: The hotdogs are cheaper and the parking is closer. Can’t do without the pros? Check Stubhub or Craigslist just before the game and you might find good seats for half the face value.
14. Profit from a hobby
15. Drive-in, matinee and discount theaters
Go to a matinee for off-peak pricing or check out a discount theater or drive-in. Prices can be almost 50% less than a new-release theater. Many also have free admission for children and lower-priced concessions. Use the theater database from Drive-ins.com to find a drive-in near you.
16. Buy movie tickets in bulk
If you see a lot of movies in the theaters, why not buy tickets in bulk? You can get a set of 10 tickets for AMC Theatres on Amazon for only $75. Where I live in South Florida, that’s a $25 savings. You can also buy five-packs of tickets from Costco, for both AMC and Cinemark Theatres, for $44.99 (a $5 savings where I live). Since these tickets never expire, they can also be a good way to guard against future ticket inflation. Finally, check out this MSN Money story about six ways to save on movies.
17. Don’t pay online ticket surcharges
Buying tickets for events online might seem convenient, but you can often buy tickets just as easily from the theater/museum/event directly over the phone, without paying that pesky surcharge.
18. Wait until the last minute
See if your local theater offers half-price tickets as showtime approaches. It’s a good way to snag a bargain.
19. Go back to college
Ironically, college is expensive only for students. Go back as a non-student and you can find everything from inexpensive performing arts to free lectures.
20. Potluck parties
When everyone pitches in, the party is not only easier and less expensive, it’s also more fun. Especially for the host.
21. Free concerts
Most cities have free concerts of some sort. Check your local paper’s entertainment section or search online for “free concert” with your city and state. You should also see if your local paper offers an e-mail newsletter of local events each weekend. Ours does.
22. Play sports
Play sports, or at least get out in the fresh air. If you get enough free exercise, maybe you can drop that expensive gym membership.
23. Visit a museum
They’re not only entertaining, but inexpensive and educational. Some even have free nights and discounted or free admission for kids.
24. Go to the woods
We’re often so preoccupied with paying for everything, we forget about simple pleasures like a walk in the woods, camping, or a picnic in the local park.
25. Discount days
Venues from zoos to museums often offer discount days. Some even offer free admission on certain days. Visit their Web sites or call and ask.
26. Pay-what-you-can places
The recession has spawned a new idea: Theaters and even some restaurants let you pay what you can for plays or meals. While mostly located in larger cities, it doesn’t hurt to do a Web search.
There you have it: 26 ways to save on entertainment. But the most important thing you can do to save on fun isn’t in this list. If you really want to save on fun, decide what you really consider fun to begin with. I’ve found that a lot of the things I’ve done for entertainment over the years cost a lot but weren’t really all that fun, at least to me. (Golf comes to mind.) I did them because my friends were doing them, or because I thought I was supposed to.
Want to save extra money and have extra fun? Simply recall the things you were doing during the happiest moments of your life; then start doing those things more often.
Money’s no fun. Imagination is.