It’s a myth that in order to have fun, you must spend money — no matter what your kids tell you! Over the years, we’ve spent a fortune at Disneyland, complete with several years of annual passes, and guess what? Some of our very, very best memories aren’t from Disneyland but from our primitive, family camping trips. My kids talk about kayaking in northern Idaho and the time we almost starved to death at Crater Lake (long story), but now that I think of it, they rarely mention Disneyland.
Hmmm…think of all the money we could have saved.
But entertainment isn’t just about Disneyland vs. camping trips, it’s also the everyday things we do, such as watch TV, go to movies, and celebrate holidays. Here are some of my own tips for managing these things on a tight budget.
- Get rid of cable TV. Put a digital antenna up and/or subscribe to Netflix. The antenna will allow you to get as many as a few dozen channels, including all the local networks, which is nice for keeping up with local newscasts. Our house is heavily shaded by trees, but we put our antenna in the attic, and believe it or not, it works just fine. You can add a booster if you have reception problems.
- Completely give up TV! I know that’s a completely radical idea, but I grew up without a TV in the house and turned out just fine. Expect a time of mourning and complaints of boredom, and that will probably be from your spouse!, but give it a couple of weeks, and gradually, that empty time will be filled with other activities, learning new hobbies, and maybe even more book-reading!
- A couple of options to cable, if you absolutely must have streaming TV channels, are Streambox and Amazon Fire Stick.
- For sports fans who simply cannot give up their cable channels, try Sling TV instead. Much cheaper than most cable networks, you can get ESPN and ESPN2, along with 20 other cable channels, for just about $20/month. (Fans of The Walking Dead will be thrilled to know this show is just one of many offered by Sling!) I’ve found Sling to be easy to use but there are occasional, brief snags in the streaming. Still, for $20 a month, we can handle it, and I’m back to enjoying episodes of Chopped!
- If you don’t have cable or any other TV device, for the really big games and tournaments, head to a sports bar. Limit yourself to 1 beer and enjoy the happy hour food prices. Altogether, you’ll likely end up spending in one, fun-filled evening less than what a month of cable would cost.
- For the ultimate in cheap video entertainment, rent DVDs from the library.
- Stop buying DVDs of movies and TV shows. All too often, those are watched once and then only occasionally after that. It just doesn’t make sense to buy when far more cheaper options are available.
- Ready for one more option for cheap TV viewing? Use the Chromecast app on your smartphone to watch anything on the internet.
- Make a list of cheap places to go for entertainment and outings: library, parks, free days at the zoo and museums, etc. It’s a myth that you have to spend a lot of money in order to have fun.
- At-home date nights don’t have to cost anything at all when you keep your focus on why you want a date night in the first place — to spend some quiet time connecting with your sweetheart. Send the kids to grandma’s house or a neighbor’s for a play date and enjoy the peace and quiet however you like.
- Another seriously cheap date is “going for a drive”. When I was a kid, this was something people did — they got in their cars and went on scenic drives together. For date purposes, this gets you away from the house and kids, the car is a quiet place for conversation, listening to music, singing along, and being together. The only expense? A few gallons of gas.
- Create a gift list in a notebook or on your phone and do your shopping for birthdays, weddings, an holidays far in advance. There’s nothing quite like having all your holiday shopping finished before the days turn cold and then being able to fully enjoy the beauty of the holidays without that feeling of panic as you scramble for last minute gifts. I really like this app for both iPhones and Android. Even though it’s labeled “Christmas List”, I use it year round to track all type of gifts.
- Celebrate holidays a day or two after the official dates and buy treats, paper goods, etc. highly discounted.
- I like to buy red and green M&Ms or Hershey Kisses after Christmas, and then use the red candies, plates, and napkins on Valentine’s Day and the green ones with our traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal. Do the same thing with Valentine’s Day and Easter candy — pink/blue are perfect for baby showers, yellow/green are nice to set out for Mother’s Day or a ladies afternoon tea party.
- Discounted chocolate candy can last a lot longer than you think if you vacuum seal it in canning jars. Here are instructions for doing that.
- Buy one gift card each month and stash them away for the holidays. At that time, pull them out and you have 12 gifts to give, OR use the cards to do your gift shopping!
- Check out my monthly series of past articles, “52 Weeks Savings”, with discounts, bargains, and deals for each month of the year. Here’s a sample month for June’s best bargains.
- Learn more about the 52 Weeks Savings Challenge here and customize it to your own income and circumstances with these tips.
- Join Survival Mom’s 52 Weeks Savings Club on Facebook. We’re over 2500 members and going strong!
- Dave Ramsey has solid advice for taking control of your finances. I recommend his basic book, The Total Money Makeover for an easy-to-follow plan and a quick, motivational read.