Money Saving Advice
There's more than one way to get most for your money. For more than 20 years, Gary Foreman has worked to manage money effectively. He's been a Certified Financial Planner and Purchasing Manager. He currently edits The Dollar Stretcher Web site and several newsletters. His mission is to help people "Live Better for Less."

The Dollar Stretcher: Cheap Entertainment

By Gary Foreman

Dear Gary,
What does one do for entertainment while paying off debts? We've tried almost every suggestion: playing games, picnics, etc. Most of the ideas seem to be geared towards young families. We've only gone away twice on what you might call a vacation. My husband and I deserve a vacation, a real vacation. I just don't see it in our financial forecast. I would be happy just to have some really good suggestions for entertainment. My husband does not have a frugal bone in his body and is not into handcrafts. All his hobbies are expensive. For months, he has been trying to talk me into letting him get a new Harley motorcycle after we pay off his truck. Please help me out. Dianne

Answer: Are Dianne and her husband entitled to entertainment? It's a good question. Most of us feel that we are. But it's a concept that's really only gained popularity in recent years. In previous generations, it was fairly rare for any but the wealthy to take a vacation trip.

Entertainment in the home, too, has changed dramatically in the last 80 years. Prior to radio, people talked or read when the day's work was done. Now most people feel that they should sit back and let someone provide entertainment for them. Either through media (TV, video, the internet) or by buying into expensive hobbies.

So what should Dianne and her husband do? They probably need to take a fresh look at vacations and entertainment, get a little creative in their thinking and ask a few deep questions.

For instance, all vacations don't need to end at a theme park. There are ways to spend less. Natural vacations are cheaper. You'll save by camping, hiking, climbing and other natural pursuits. Man-made entertainment is generally more expensive than the wonders of nature. After all, a sunset is free.

Try exploring something different. The National Park Service website asks for volunteers. Some positions include housing, food and reimbursement for transportation. You can find them on the web at

Day trips are a great way to get away from your routine without paying for motels. Many people live within a short drive of tourist-type destinations. Often we don't bother to visit them. Especially scenic locations or company tours and museums.

Looking for fresh ideas? Figure out what you hope to get from a vacation. Here's a hint, fun isn't a valid answer. Sure, we all like fun. But not everyone gets pleasure from the same events. My wife likes ballet. I like antique and custom car shows. I can usually look at the cars for free. She takes a few hours vacation time to catch a cheaper matinee performance.

So what do Dianne and her husband enjoy doing? What makes that activity pleasant? If they can answer those questions, they'll have a golden opportunity to put some fun into their lives without ruining the budget.

Look for something creative. There's an exhilaration in creating something! You don't need to be artistic. For instance, a garden can be a creative experience. Start with seeds. Utilize compost and other natural methods. Your cost will be kept at a minimum. You might even grow some vegetables that would help reduce your grocery bill.

Not into gardening? Then how about finishing crafts that other's have started but didn't have the time or talent to complete. You can find them at yard sales every weekend for pennies on the dollar.

Or perhaps you're more mechanical. Maybe you'd enjoy repairing old lawnmowers and edgers. There's something about hearing a dead engine return to life. And you might even turn a small profit by selling the ones you fix.

Take hubby's love of Harleys. What specifically is the attraction for him? If it's working on the bike, then perhaps an adult ed course could make him happy. If it's the riding, he might want to find an older, used bike. If he likes both, a possible solution would be a Harley that's currently not running. Buying a new bike is almost certainly the worst option in terms of enjoyment received for the money you spend.

The bottom line is that you need to think about what you like and why you like it. Trying to buy entertainment or sitting around watching the tube will not be satisfying. Only expensive. Don't believe it? Then consider that Americans spend over $30 billion a year on film, music and videos.

Finally, not to pick on Dianne, but she and her husband may have contributed to this problem. Many people go into debt willingly. They run a balance on their credit card or buy a car with payments. When you do that you commit to putting that payment, including the interest owed, into your budget later. And you've put it ahead of other expenses. That commitment can easily crowd out any spending on entertainment.

Just to avoid hate mail, let me be clear. Not everyone goes into debt by choice. Some are thrown into bad financial situations by medical bills or other unexpected problems. But losing your overtime, getting laid off or divorced are not unexpected problems. Life is full of bumps. Being in debt is usually a choice that was made earlier.

Hopefully Dianne and her mate will be able to take a look at what makes them happy. Once they do that it's possible they'll find some inexpensive choices to put the fun back in their lives.

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Gary Foreman is a former purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher Web site Contact Gary at You'll find hundreds of free articles to save you time and money. Visit today!