30 September 2011

Frugal Friday: Entertainment

It's one thing to save on necessary items, but it's quite another to save money on the fun stuff. We probably spend much less than most people, but that doesn't mean we're twiddling our thumbs at night to keep ourselves entertained. Here are a few things we do to keep those expenses to a minimum.

1. Cable TV. Assess how much TV you actually watch in a given month and determine if it's worth that chunk of change. Most places will have a handful of network stations available with only a cheap set of rabbit ears. If you decide that you watch enough TV to warrant the expense, consider bundling with your internet and/or phone to save a few bucks. Shop around and ask for a better deal from your current carrier if you find a better rate with another company. Forgo the add-ons and extra channels if you never watch them! In some markets (my own included), the big broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX) are not available without cable. Cable companies in those areas are required to offer a basic basic package for considerably cheaper than the regular basic package that they usually advertise. They have to offer it, but they don't have to advertise it; you'll have to ask for it specifically.

1b. Internet TV. If you've only got a couple of shows that you want to keep up with and can't justify the expense of a cable package, see if they're available to watch online. Hulu is a great source for current and classic TV shows, and they even have quite a few movies. Network websites will also often offer episodes of their current shows for online viewing. The downside to this is that there is a delay between the initial broadcast and its online availability (usually just one day). BUT, you can watch it at your convenience, and you don't have to remember to set your DVR to record it. If sitting in front of your computer screen to watch a show or movie isn't appealing, consider buying an inexpensive HDMI cord to connect your TV to your computer.

2. Subscription services. We were Netflix subscribers for several years but canceled it last month when they raised their rates. On the other hand, Amazon recently added free streaming videos for Prime members. Now, this costs a bit up front, but you also get free shipping on Amazon purchases. Even excluding that benefit, it's still cheaper per month for the same streaming-only service that Netflix now offers.

3. Kiosk rentals. For only $1 per movie per night, you can get DVD rentals from freestanding kiosks. Blockbuster and Redbox are a couple of the big names. Even better, these companies frequently publish codes for free rentals! (You'll still need to swipe a credit card, though, for identification). We only get these movies when we have a free code. The downsides: Selections are limited, especially on the weekends. Also, movies are often due back by 8 or 9 pm the following day and you'll get charged the extra $1 if it's turned in even at 9:01.

4. The library. For books AND movies AND CDs AND audio books AND magazines. These items are usually all available for free. If you're late with your returns, the fine is much less than it would be with a traditional movie rental place. The downside: you're much more likely to get a scratched or otherwise damaged movie/CD than if you were paying for it. Our DVD player isn't very good at handling scratched movies, so we sometimes have to return movies unwatched.

5. Low tech entertainment. Board games, hobbies, crossword puzzles, crafts, etc. Entertainment doesn't have to involve the TV or computer!

6. Local events. Many cities big and small hold festivals and other events, many of which are free and open to the public. Check the local paper or be on the lookout for signs advertising the events. Even better if it's within walking distance of your house - you won't have to pay for gas or parking! Also be on the lookout for free or discounted admission days to museums, zoos, and local attractions. Always check out the websites for venues to see if they have coupons to print!

Any other savvy tips for saving on your entertainment expenses?

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