The High Cost of Entertainment

One of the things I remember the most about being broke when I was younger was that I couldn’t afford any entertainment.  I went from being a single guy to supporting a family of three on my single income.  It took every dime I made just to pay the bills.  When I first got married, we used to go to dinner every Friday night.  But, this just piled up a balance onto our credit cards.  Soon, I had to break the news to my wife that we just couldn’t afford it.  This wasn’t very popular.  But, tough times called for tough measures. 

Now that I’m a little older and have climbed a couple of steps up the corporate ladder, I have some discretionary income to spend on entertainment.  The biggest problem is deciding what to do with our entertainment budget, because everything has become so expensive.  A night on the town or a weekend getaway can quickly add up to clobber your budget.  The real trick is finding affordable entertainment, so you can enjoy the moment, without stressing over the cost. 

Rock Concerts

Live Concert

Image by Stig Nygaard

I have always been a huge fan of rock concerts.  When I was a teenager, we used to hang out on the Sunset strip in Hollywood and catch all of the up-and-coming bands.  I saw the Motley Crue at the Whisky, before anyone knew who they were.  I think I spent more money on concerts as a teenager than anything else, including my car. 

Last night I took my wife to a UB40 concert.  This is one of her favorite bands and it was her first time seeing them perform.  This was my second time.  I saw them way back in 1984 at the Hollywood Palladium, when the first Labor of Love album came out.  They were awesome, by the way, and I would love to see them again. 

Concerts are worth the money to me, because they are a one-time historical event, at a specific moment in time.  There is the venue, the music and the people you share it with.  Each concert is unique and special.  I never regret a dime that I spent on concerts.  Except for that Rolling Stones concert in 1989, they have all been well worth the money. 

Dining Out

It took me years to pay off those Friday night dinners from my credit cards.  So, that left a lasting impression that sticks with me to this day.  I enjoy dining, but it can be expensive and the food is usually not very healthy.  Of all the entertainment options available, dining out seems to be the least memorable.  It’s almost as though I forget about the dinner as soon as I get up and walk away.  Some restaurants have great food and atmosphere, but they usually have high prices to match.

I don’t consider this our best entertainment value, so we don’t spend a lot of money on nice dinners out.  I enjoy a nice dinner with my wife at home just as much and I have no problem cooking or doing the dishes.  We do grab lunch or dinner together fairly often, but it’s usually simple and inexpensive.  It’s about being together more than the food.  The only time we eat a nice dinner at a restaurant is when we are travelling or for a special occasion.  That’s when it makes sense to spend the money.

Sporting Events

I used to be a sports fanatic.  I grew up a Dodgers fan and switched to the Angels, when I moved to Orange County.  We had rotating parties every Monday night to watch football.  And, we would get together for every playoff game, whether it was football, baseball or basketball.  I was also a huge race fan.  I grew up in Ontario, California, where they used to have a speedway.  We got autographs from Richard Petty, Mario Andretti and many others at the Holiday Inn near our house. 

This year, I lost my enthusiasm for sporting events.  It started with the hockey strike a couple of years ago and it just went downhill from there.  Between the crybaby millionaire players and the extortion artist owners, nobody respects the hard-working fans, who pick up the tab.  I even went to spring training this year to generate some enthusiasm, but it didn’t help.  This was our last year for buying Angels season tickets.  We have decided to spend our entertainment dollars elsewhere.  We may catch a game or two, but we won’t be spending thousands on tickets, food and merchandise.

Books, Music, Movies & Media

When I was younger, I used to spend a lot of money on albums, then CDs.  I still have quite a collection that I spent a small fortune on.  I also started collecting videos, until I realized that I rarely watched them more than once.  I am an avid reader, especially finance and motivational books.  I have a bookshelf full of books and a media cabinet full of CDs and DVDs all gathering dust.  I don’t want to sell them, but I don’t have the time to enjoy them either.

I don’t regret all of the money I spent on these items, but I wouldn’t say that it was wise.  I have slowly recovered from the expensive habit of collecting media.  Instead I “consume” it from the Internet and satellite.  I do spend quite a bit on Internet service and satellite TV.  But, this enhances my family time, which is very precious to me.  We rarely ever go to the movies.

Vacation & Travel

I was very fortunate to have travelled for work, when I started my career.  I got to see a lot of great places, at the company’s expense.  It was an incredible experience and it developed an adventurous side of me that longs for more.  I met my wife while I was on vacation, half way around the world.  In a couple of weeks, we are going to Catalina for our 20th wedding anniversary.

Travel is the one area where I intend to spend a lot more time and money.  I want to see some of the places I’ve never seen and experience more of the customs and cultures of people around the world.  Right now, we spend a lot of weekends camping and taking small trips.  But, I want to expand our travel for longer trips and farther destinations.  Unfortunately, my profession makes it difficult to be away from the office for long.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that entertainment and experiences are an important part of the fabric of life.  Neglecting these sources of happiness for the sake of frugality is a mistake.  Money comes and goes, but experiences last a lifetime.

“Once a person has all the things they need to live, everything else is entertainment.” 

Neal Stephenson – American Author 

Recommended Reading

Bucksome Boomer – Is the NFL Elitist
Invest it Wisely – How to Take a Frugal Vacation in Paradise
Live Richly – Mobile Lifestyle

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28 comments to The High Cost of Entertainment

  • Bret,

    One has to emphasize your final thoughts. There is not much to remember from frugal years which is why it is very important to invest in memories, you get a guaranteed rate of return for lifetime!


    • Mich,

      I remember thinking I was getting ahead by being frugal, and I did. But, at some point in your life, time starts to become more precious than money.

  • Thanks for linking me as a recommended article!

    With the Internet, it’s much easier to consume media online. My girlfriend keeps telling me this as a reason to start giving away my books (I have already given away over 50%) 😉

    Travel is one area where I would be frugal in a sense of not staying at four-star hotels unless I had a nice discount, but not frugal in the sense of never taking them. Getting out there and seeing the world is important… and in your case, it led to a life-long romance! That is really neat.
    Invest It Wisely recently posted..Weekend Reading- Six-Month Anniversary EditionMy Profile

    • I go back and read my books every once in a while, so I will probably keep them. Or, I will lend or give them to someone who could use them.

      I have skipped vacations in the past for very long periods and I regret it now. We know how to travel frugally. We often camp in the desert and we sleep in the camper shell of our pickep. One day, we will buy a little motorhome. But for now, we don’t mind roughing it.

  • Don’t forget that travel is an important part of an informal education. There’s no replacement for seeing that landmark that most people only read about, or understanding firsthand how a different culture approaches daily life.

    It may not be practical for family travel, but have you considered something like CouchSurfing for living arrangements? Seems like it’d be more fun to stay with a local and make a friend along the way than just going to a hotel.
    Cognoramus recently posted..Predicting the Debt Tipping PointMy Profile

    • Right now, my kids are getting big at ages 21 and 17. In a few years, it will be practical and affordable for me to travel with my wife.

      We always stay with family when we are in the islands or up in Oregon. But, I would be hesitant to crash with a total stranger. We do like to live like the locals and we definitely aren’t 4-star people.

  • Bret,I couldn’t agree more with your conclusion. My husband and I often reference experiences we’ve had on vacations or shows we’ve seen.

    We make money to live instead of living to make money!
    Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer recently posted..Today’s Program is Interrupted By…My Profile

    • “We make money to live instead of living to make money!”


      Great quote. This is how I am starting to think, but it took me a while to learn this.

      I was sorry to hear about the Padres. Maybe next year.

  • I agree wholeheartedly that it’s not a good plan to avoid the entertainment budget. Doing things that bring lasting enjoyment will go a lot further in your overall happiness than just adding a few more dollars to your portfolio. There has to be some balance, which includes reasonable fun!
    Roshawn @ Watson Inc recently posted..Will Mortgage Rates Really Drop to 0My Profile

  • Hi Bret, thanks for linking to me!

    I agree that you have to have a balance between work and fun. I enjoy concerts but I don’t like to pay over $100 a ticket after fees. 🙁 I’ve worked to find less popular bands and smaller venues so I don’t feel like I’m paying an arm and a leg for a couple hours of entertainment.

    I don’t blame you about the season tickets. The owners totally don’t care about the average fan. Jerry Jones who owns the Cowboys got a $1 billion kickback from the city of Arlington Texas (suburb of Dallas) in order to put the new stadium there. He then jacks up the prices of all the tickets and charges $75 just to park. Many long term season ticket holders could no longer afford it, but as long as corporations buy up the seats, Jones doesn’t care.
    Jennifer Barry recently posted..Boomerang KidsMy Profile

    • I never pay close to $100 for tickets and I also like the small venues. I avoid the mega concerts, because they are too much of a hassle and you are too far away from the band. I like club concerts like at the House of Blues.

      The way team owners extort money from the government is a crime. The Dallas Cowboys and Florida Marlin owners should be tarred and feathered. My friends in Dallas are really bummed about the new stadium, because they can’t afford to go any more.

      • Bret,

        On the topic of sports, I have a riddle for you which doesn’t really have an answer. I live in San Jose, which has one major sports team, hockey. (it also has soccer, but that’s not major here in America as I write this!). San Francisco, the ‘landmark city’ of the Bay Area has two… baseball and football. Yet Oakland, a city smaller than both of the others, has three – baseball, football, and basketball. Yes, the 44th largest city in the United States just needs to get a hockey team to have all four major American sports.

        Sometimes I wonder…
        pkamp3 recently posted..Your Receipt- SirMy Profile

        • I have to admit that Oakland has great fan support for such a small city. But, the behavior of their fans is usually not so stellar.

          I suspect Oakland will lose one of their three sports teams, the A’s, if they don’t come up with a new stadium soon. Their is no loyalty from the owners to the fans.

  • If you’ve never regretted a dime you’ve spent on concerts (with the exception you mentioned), you’re a fortunate man.

    What was so bad about the Stones show? Or was the show good, but the price just indefensible?

    • No, the Stones show really sucked.

      First, it was in the LA Colluseum, so we paid $75 each to sit about a half mile away. Then, it was before the Stones cleaned up and they looked like they were ready to pass out. Mick Jagger was so wasted that he was singing the lyrics to three different songs. So, they turned off his mic and we got to listen to the backup singers all night.

  • Interesting post, Bret.

    From a practical standpoint, my mind tells me that I should be saving for my NEEDS, and treat my WANTS as secondary. Along those lines, I would treat a nice vacation or other entertainment expense to be a want, and a secondary or tertiary priority at best.

    However, when I look back at some of my life experiences, they involved spending money that intellectually should not have been spent. For example, taking a nearly 3 week vacation to Europe when I was much younger, and was spending much of my net worth doing so. On the surface, it’s counter to my practical view of things. In reality, it was one of the VERY BEST uses of money I have had in my life.

    In the end, I do agree that certain life experiences can absolutely be priceless. Sometimes such things need to be elevated to the forefront of our actions, logic be cast aside!
    Squirrelers recently posted..Squirreling Gone Wild 16- The Crafty WaitressMy Profile

    • Before I was married, my roommate took a leave of absence and went to Europe for a month. At the time, I thought he was nuts. Looking back now, it was the perfect time to do it. Once you get married and have kids, it’s no longer possible.

      I’m glad that you got to see Europe. I plan to go there in about five years. Now that my kids are grown and my house is almost paid off, these things are starting to become possible again.

  • I’ve gotten to the point I won’t pay the big fees for entertainers and sports people. If I can’t get it on TV, I won’t see it.
    The Biz of Life recently posted..Father and Son Film Outer Space- DIY StyleMy Profile

    • I think it’s over the top myself. When Mike Piazza first demanded $100 Million, it struck me just how much money these guys were making.

      A normal working fan earning $50K per year, would have to work from the time Jesus walked the earth to pay that contract. It’s way too much money. And, I don’t think they deserve it.

  • This is why the public library is my best friend. I can get any book I could ever want to read, plus I can rent movies for free, magazines, free wifi. Everything is free, but beware of your due dates, those can cost you. Thanks for the great article.

    • We have a really nice library and I never use it. I need to stop by and check out a couple of personal finance books I have been wanting to read.

  • PT

    Great post, Bret. You and I enjoy a lot of the same things. For me, frugality has always been about seeking value, regardless of price. And a great sporting event or concert that creates lasting value, is one of the most frugal things I can do for myself. That’s why it’s important to sift through what brings value to you, spend your money there (within reason, of course), and then cut costs mercilessly elsewhere.
    PT recently posted..The Best Low Interest Credit CardsMy Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by PT.

      I took my wife out for dinner last night and it reinforced why we stopped doing it. The food was really unhealthy and it cost us $50. But, it was our 20th anniversary last night and I wasn’t going to get off the hook without dinner. It was nice to be out together.

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