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Blog: Simplify Your Life
Frugal Living 101 -- Entertainment

Matt and I don't spend a lot of money on "stuff" (there's just no room for conspicuous consumption when you live in a 29-foot Airstream!) But we do enjoy having lots of "experiences" -- so we have to work hard to keep our entertainment and travel budget under control. Fortunately, I've figured out how to keep on enjoying all the culture and food and amusement our society has to offer without going broke!

Having Fun On The Cheap

If you think that enjoying life has to cost a lot of money, you've never been out with me! Matt and I manage to cram more serious fun into our days than anyone with so little disposable income has a right to. Some "frugality experts" will tell you that you have to limit yourself to movie night at home or packing a picnic in order to save money -- I say bollux! While I certainly enjoy a potluck gathering with friends or a DVD-date now and then, I'm not about to give up going to the theater, museums, theme parks, concerts, zoos, and great local restaurants for the sake of pinching a penny! You can still do all these things when you're on a budget -- you just have to be ready to pounce on the good deals as they pop up. Remember, living frugally is not abstention -- it's about eliminating the unnecessary expenses so you can afford to partake in those activities that are worth the cost. Here are a few ways to find fun at a discount.

  • know your priorities (I personally think that one of the biggest budget-breakers when it comes to entertainment is being drug along to an expensive activity just because your friends wanted to go -- this has happened to us more than once -- we've been talked into pricey dinners at restaurants we didn't care about, concerts featuring musicians we didn't especially like, and movies that we knew were going to suck, in order to please another person -- certainly, group recreation is all about compromise -- but when you're being asked to fork over money you don't want to spend for an activity that doesn't interest you, you need to speak up -- tell your buds that you would love to get together with them, but that you'd like to plan something else -- explain that you're saving money, admit that you aren't that excited about the event, even lie and tell them you've got other plans that night, whatever you're comfortable with -- but don't allow yourself to be railroaded into spending your hard-earned entertainment cash on something you're likely to regret or possibly resent later)
  • learning to share (I don't have to tell you that restaurant portion sizes are absolutely ridiculous these days -- very rarely do Matt and I get two full entrees when we eat out, because it's just too much -- I would be happy to buy a smaller meal for a smaller price, but restaurants don't offer that option because they can make more money selling you more food -- so we either get one entree to split, a couple bowls of soup and an appetizer, or a few "small plates" like you get at a tapas restaurant -- the same goes for "tasting" events -- on pub tours, we share a pint at each stop -- when traveling through wine country, we share a tasting at each vineyard -- that way, we each get to try more different kinds of drinks, and it takes longer to reach our legal limit! -- and if you don't have a built-in food partner, just invite a friend along to split the cost with you)
  • happy hour (even if you aren't a big after-work drinker, happy hours are a great way to eat at a nice restaurant for less -- most places offer "small bites" for just a couple of bucks each, along with their 2-for-1 beverages -- pick up two or three sampler-sized plates to split, and you've got an entirely acceptable early-evening meal)
  • free admission days (attraction tickets have gotten so expensive, I don't understand how families with a bunch of kids can afford to go on vacation anymore! -- but most museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and parks offer random "free admission" days throughout the year -- these might be just for local residents, or they may be open to anyone -- some are even regular monthly events, like a "free first Friday" in which the facility stays open late and offers special activities -- the National Park Service gives free admission to all of its facilities twice a year -- the Smithsonian Institute provides free admission to its affiliate museums each fall -- Target sponsors a number of free museum days around the country -- and Bank Of America credit card holders can visit a variety of museums throughout the United States at no cost)
  • festivals and art walks (in my opinion, there's no better way to spend a free day than wandering around a cultural festival -- and during nice weather, you can find something to keep you occupied nearly every weekend -- enjoy live performers, look at beautiful art, let the kids play in a bouncy-house, and just soak up the carnival atmosphere -- but be aware of fairs that exist just to make you spend money -- I personally can't stand festivals that are nothing but vendor and food booths, with no entertainment and nothing to really do -- I'm not interested in paying an admission fee for the privilege of spending more money buying food and shopping for crafts! -- and if you haven't ever been to an "art walk," you should definitely see if there is one available in your town -- a group of galleries stay open late, offering free wine and munchies and entertainment, welcoming anyone and everyone to view their works -- it's a fun way to discover new artists you had never heard of before, meet interesting people, and infuse your week with a little culture for free!)
  • leave off the extras (quite often, it's not the main event that costs so much when you go out, it's all the add-on's -- candy and popcorn at the movies, a t-shirt at the zoo, a souvenir program at each concert, an elephant ear at the fair, a dog and a beer at the ballgame -- these "little" expenses can add up in a hurry -- I'm not suggesting that you deny yourself something you really want, but take a second to ask yourself whether that purchase is essential to your enjoyment of the event -- did you come to see the show, or to eat overpriced, crappy tasting snacks? -- and could you enjoy the show just as much without it? -- it's also good to follow this rule of thumb when eating out -- restaurants make the majority of their profit off of drinks, appetizers, and desserts, but do you really need a 4-course dinner? -- I would personally rather enjoy a really good entree and let the other stuff go! -- if you just have to bookend your meal, why not serve drinks and appetizers yourself before going out, then invite everyone back for coffee and dessert after the meal?)
  • go for the combo deal (many times, purchasing a pass that combines a number of activities can save you big bucks, especially in a city that thrives on tourism -- companies like City Pass and Go USA have special arrangements with tourist destinations, saving you as much as 50% off the regular price of admission to their most popular sites)
  • volunteer (if you love high-brow performances but can't swing the cost of a season ticket to the symphony or theater or opera, there's still a way to get a good seat for less -- volunteer as a ticket-taker or usher or even a docent giving tours during off-hours, and you will probably be rewarded with free admission to the show -- just call it cultural "sweat equity!")
  • bring your own (concessions at events have become a multi-million dollar business in this country, but you aren't always required to buy your food and drink on-site -- you can almost always bring at least a bottle of water and a few snacks with you -- and even though you might not be able to tote a cooler through the front door, most places offer picnic-style seating just outside the gates -- Matt and I love to pack a gourmet "nosh" and take a break in the middle of the day to enjoy some stinky cheese, veggies, and hummus!)
  • getting outside (certainly, the cheapest and probably healthiest way to spend a day is getting some exercise -- going for a day hike or a walk around town costs nothing at all, and gives you a chance to see things that you would have otherwise missed in a car or on a tour bus -- I'll walk for miles when I'm let loose in a new city -- in fact, one time during a walk through D.C., I ended up in Maryland without even realizing it! -- but Matt and I also carry our sports equipment with us so we can take advantage of any other al fresco activities -- over the years we've acquired a bikes, rollerblades, tennis rackets, camping equipment, ball gloves, an inflatable kayak, boogie boards, and snorkel equipment -- it was totally worth the upfront investment, and now we're ready for anything -- plus, we never have to pay a rental fee to enjoy a little bit of nature)
  • staying home (of course, a night at home with friends or family can also be tons of fun -- grill out or have everyone bring a potluck dish -- pull out the board games,  play cards, or challenge your mates to a Guitar Hero competition -- pop some healthy popcorn and host a film fest in your own living room -- carve pumpkins at Halloween, decorate eggs at Easter, or trim the tree at Christmas -- there are so many ways to enjoy the company of those you love without spending a penny)

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posted on: 7/26/2011 11:30:00 AM by Ramona Creel
category: General Organizing Tips

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Simplify Your Life

by Ramona Creel

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About Ramona:

I have been a Professional Organizer for more than 10 years, I am a NAPO Golden Circle member, and I was the original founder of OnlineOrganizing. I have worked one-on-one with scores of clients and have trained dozens of newbie organizers as they got started in the industry. I provide both hands-on and virtual coaching to help clients improve their organizing skills and simplify their lives. I invite you to visit my website at http://www.RamonaCreel.com, and I challenge you to find one new idea that you can put into practice in your life, to help you become better organized, starting TODAY! I am passionate about coaching folks toward a more balanced, productive, and enjoyable life -- and I firmly believe that if I can do it, so can you!

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