Frugal Living 

How to Maximize Your Entertainment Dollar

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Over the last few months, my wife and I have been doing a lot of traveling by car. To help pass the time on the road, we’ve been borrowing a lot of books on tape from our local library. On our most recent trip, we finished Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol (we weren’t big fans) and have started on Ender’s Shadow (so far it’s been good). While both of the audiobooks cost us nothing, since they were from the library, we were able to spend hours enjoying a book (or not enjoying a book) at very little cost.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that The Lost Symbol cost over thirty dollars on unabridged audiobook from Amazon. Thirty dollars is a lot to spend on a book, audio or otherwise. I understand the reasoning, there’s a lot of production value that goes into converting a book to an audiobook (I thought it was a well done audiobook), but it’s actually quite cheap when you break it down to per hour costs of entertainment.

My closest analogy is video games. If you’re a fan of first person shooter games and own an XBox 360, chances are you’ve been playing a lot of Call of Duty: Modern Warefare 2. I know I have… like it’s older brother, COD 4: Modern Ware, it’s a fantastic game that has some fantastic replay-ability.

On the face of it, $59.99 per game (recently MW2 was lowered to $45), it seems expensive right? I mean one game for over sixty dollars after taxes? Seems absurd until you start comparing it with forms of entertainment.

Here are some forms of entertainment to compare it with:

  • Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol: $31.50 for 17 hours, 51 minutes, $1.76 an hour.
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2: $45, at 72 hours so far, $0.63 an hour (and lowering).
  • Cable Television – $60 a month, 161.5 hours a month (according to NielsenWire), $0.37 an hour.
  • Movie – 2 hours for $10, $5 an hour
  • Disney Theme Park – $79 per day, ~10 hours a day, $7.90 an hour

Renting vs. Buying Fun

Notice a theme? You’re either buying or renting entertainment. In the case of audiobooks and video games, you’re buying the entertainment and using it as long as you want. When you’re done, you can sell it or give it away for someone else to enjoy. In the case of the last three, you’re merely renting fun. You can’t sell your TV service or your movie watching experience afterwards.

When you think about it, the decision is a lot like buying or leasing a car. Do you want to buy the car, drive it incrementally for free, or do you want to lease it and effectively pay per use? With entertainment, do you want to rent fun or buy fun and enjoy it over and over? That’s why it makes so much sense to buy things like games, whether it’s video games or board games (or just a deck of cards!), if you want to maximize your entertainment dollars.

How to Maximize Entertainment Dollars

The key to maximizing your entertainment dollars is to try to borrow or buy items that provide perpetual entertainment – books and games (video or board games), rather than rent items that provide a very transient entertainment – such as events (movies, sporting events). When you spent $35 on a board game like Settlers of Catan or Dominion, you get near limitless playability for your dollar.

Sometimes we try to maximize the fun things we can do for free, like taking a stroll in the park, but for the things we pay for, we usually don’t think about maximizing our entertainment dollars quite the same way. A $59.99 game seems expensive because you’re spending $60 all at once, but you’re really getting to enjoy it over a longer period of time.

What are your favorite ways to maximize entertainment dollars?

{ 43 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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43 Responses to “How to Maximize Your Entertainment Dollar”

  1. Curio says:

    I’ve recently stumbled upon a variation of the Monopoly game called Monopoly Deal. It’s a portable card version of the game and is really fun. It sells for around $5.99 and for that price I think it has high value.

    The company that makes the game Settlers of Catan also makes a great game called Bohnanza, another card game. What I love about these card games is that you can easily pack them and take them anywhere for a good stretch of your dollar.

    • Curio says:

      Both bohnanza and settlers are german-style games. However, I need to correct myself, Bohnanza (Rio Grande Games) does not seem to be made by the same company as Settlers (MayFair Games).

  2. I actually liked The Lost Symbol quite a bit. I’m a fan of Dan Brown, though. Btw, $30 for an unabridged audio book isn’t terrible – some go for as much as $70.

    One really cheap option for audiobooks is Librivox ( They get volunteers to read chapters from public domain books and piece it together. It’s actually flows better than you might think, and often you’ll get the same reader for a half dozen or so chapters. There’s no advertising or anything – they’re just nice people.

    I reviewed Librivox about a year ago ( and it has consistently been my most-Googled article, so there definitely appears to be demand.

    I have one Audiobook (The Lion’s Game by Nelson Demille) that I’ve probably listened to 6 times. 25 hours per session X 6 = 150 hours of entertainment … and I got it on sale for around $25.

    • Jim says:

      Did you listen to the audiobook? I found it had a lot of irrelevant sections where he was just showing how much research he did. At times on our ride I’d lean over to my wife and say “oh, Mr. Brown did a lot of research for this book!” on those looooooong drawn out passages.

      Also, I think being able to see the symbols (not that I would’ve understood them) would’ve added to enjoyment of the book.

      • No, I didn’t listen to the audio book, I read the dead-tree edition.

        Have you read/listened to much Dan Brown stuff in the past? He does tend to have a lot of background information in his books. Maybe those sections read better than they listen.

        Yeah, it would have been nice for you to have the symbols.

        • Jim says:

          I think that’s the difference, with reading you can skip it if you want and if you lose track you can re-read. With audio, you have no choice. 🙂

    • echidnina says:

      I love Librivox! I listen to audiobooks while knitting, walking to school or riding the bus. With Librivox, I’ve had the chance to ‘read’ a lot of classics I never would have picked up otherwise – like Dracula or The Brothers Karamazov.

  3. Soccer9040 says:

    Has anyone ever played Acquire? Its an older game, but recently refreshed and re-released. I have a feeling that some of the readers here might like it.

    If I had to compare it to a game, I would say its monopoly, but with an ending. Check it out.

  4. Board games are a great investment. They can be played for years and only cost a fraction of what video games or movies cost.

  5. I have 6 or 7 editions of Trivial Pursuit. I’ve paid full price for 1. The rest have all been purchased at Goodwill for a fraction of the cost. They’ve always been in great shape, with nearly all the pieces.

    Not only is Trivial Pursuit entertaining, but it’s also educucational.

  6. Shirley says:

    We started out with board and card games nearly 50 years ago when there wasn’t much else for entertainment on a rainy day. I still remember the laughter and hey-waits that they brought about.

    Now our grandchildren are using and enjoying some of our original purchases. We sure did get our money’s worth! Board games can last many years if treated with respect.

    • ziglet19 says:

      My parents recently cleaned out their game cupboard, and I brought home several games that I played as a child. Definately getting our money’s worth out of those ones!

  7. zapeta says:

    I know I’ve gotten hours and hours of use out of various computer and board games. I have computer games that are several years old that I still play on a regular basis. I feel like I’ve gotten my moneys worth and then some, plus since these games have great replay value I don’t feel the need to buy as many new ones.

  8. Something that I do with my friends is that we’ll often swap games once we finish them or get tired of them. This is great because you can get all that entertainment value for free!

    While I agree certain games provide continued entertainment, you mentioned COD2, a lot of games that lack multi-player features have much less replay value. This can be applied to any form of entertainment, and should be an important factor when making a decision.

  9. dmeanea says:

    There’s a diet trick which could be adapted to this topic. It’s often helpful when faced with culinary temptations to think about how much time you’d have to spend exercising to burn those extra calories. Similarly, you could consider how many hours you’d have to work to pay for the entertainment you’re considering. Weighing that trade-off may help you determine whether it’s worth doing, or you’re not that interested in it.

  10. jsbrendog says:

    my library has audiobooks (although i can’t handle them, i tried, but audiobooks just aren’t for me) which is cool. i just love having a tangible book.

    I am actually reading the lost symbol now (pdf) and i enjoy it, but I enjoy it knowing full well it isn’t the greatest. For me the enjoyment comes from the symboliogy and hsitory and it leads me to read other books on the topics just like davinci code did and angels and demons did. it is a guilty pleasure that keeps the pages turning once i suspend my disbelief (kind of like a crappy, plotless, scriptless action movie devoid of any real acting.)

    you can’t go wrong with the orson scott card ender books. the first 4 were great, ender’s shadow was good too. I have not ventured into the ones that followed ender’s shadow yet but I am sure they will at least be enjoyable if not up to par with the great ones preceeding them.

    and on the boar dgame thing, i love clue, i have a great 70s classic version and we just picke dup clue 24 (yet to be played) and cannto find enough people to play with. why does no one like clue? clue rocks

  11. Cole Brodine says:

    Have you ever used Steam? It is a service that allows you to buy and download computer games. (On Windows only for now)

    They have specials all the time on games, especially older computer games. I bought Civilization 4 not too long ago on special for $13.60. I haven’t tracked how many hours I have into it, but it is quite a few. I bought Left 4 Dead for about $7.50 just after Thanksgiving, Assassin’s Creed for $5, and Torchlight for $5.

    The only downside I see is that you can’t sell them or share them when you are done.

    • Jim says:

      I’ve seen it around but my computer isn’t a gaming platform (weak video card) so I never tried it. Nice delivery system though and great prices.

  12. Mark says:

    My local library also offers DVD’s for rent for free. Sure not the best choices, but there a ton of good movies. You can also request a specific movie and put it on reserve, so that way when it is ready for you they send an email, just show up and it is waiting on the reserved shelf. All library’s are different (for example our county and city library’s just down the street have different rules), but you should find one closest to you and check it out. Also, you can donate some of those old dead tree books you never read and help them out.

    • Cole Brodine says:

      Our library will let us donate our used DVDs to them. Great thing for your kid’s movies after they out grow them. They will also let us request DVDs. The most popular requests are then added to the library collection (depending on money available, etc)

  13. stuarsj says:

    I use online games to entertain myself all the time. Just the other day I found the original version of oregon trail. Absolutely priceless. It was free and I played it for hours.

    • I loved playing that game on the Apple IIe back in the day.

      You could cheat, though. When you sold items, it didn’t verify quantity. If you had 3 wagon wheels, you could sell 10 (or 100m 1000, etc.). It would reduce your supply of the item to 0 (not to the negative, just to zero) and dump cash in your account.

      This was my first exposure to overflow errors. Selling 9999999999999999999 items could cause problems 🙂

    • echidnina says:

      I play flash games on a site called Kongregate… They have a ton of games, and a lot of them are really high-quality. All my consoles are way outdated, and whenever I get a gaming itch I head over there to play RPGs/Strategy/Sim/puzzle/whatever games for free 🙂

  14. Soccer9040 says:

    I’m about to travel and I want to take a few DVDs to watch, but the problem is my netflix isnt turned on right now because we wernt getting enough out of it. We rent everything from Redbox and then return it the next day.

    I want to figure out how to get a DVD on my blackberry so I can watch it on the plane. I’ve heard of people doing it, but I havnt tried. Any thought?

    **I know someone will say im stealing, but I dont think it is. I want to watch it, just not on my TV.

    • Cole Brodine says:

      You will need a program like DVD Decrypter or AnyDVD to get the DVDs onto your computer. DVD Decrypter is free online, but hasn’t been updated for quite some time so it doesn’t work with some newer discs. AnyDVD works on everything I’ve ever tried and is updated constantly, but is a bit pricey. You can find it online and they have a free trial.

      After you get it ripped to your computer you can use a program like Handbrake to encode them for your phone or Portable Media Player. If you do some searching you can probably find what settings you need to encode them with. DVDShrink is pretty handy for burning a copy of your DVD after it is ripped. I use this with all my kid’s DVDs so they don’t ruin the origonals. They are nice to take on trips too, so that if they get lost or stolen I still have the origonal copy back at home.

      AFAIK legally, you are breaking the DMCA by breaking encryption on DVDs, even if you own them. I’m not saying it is right, but it is what it is. I’m fairly certain you would be breaking some other laws by ripping a rented DVD but I’m no lawyer.

  15. You’re not taking into account that each hour you spend on each of those activities is the same amount of fun.

    I personally admire the grand theft auto games for their expansive world and endless possibilities but I’d rather not spend hundreds of hours of my life playing a game I don’t find entertaining.

    And while your chart shows moviegoing to be a crazy expensive pasttime, one could argue that the experience of watching a movie on the big screen carries far more value than watching cable tv.

    As with anything regarding value, everyone has their own tastes and the most important criteria is finding the best value for what YOU value.

  16. eric says:

    Ender’s Shadow! It’s been a long time since I read that…

  17. Adam says:

    I would plee to Americans to take advantage of the ‘free’ media available in libraries.

    Here in the UK I’ve not found this to be the case. Public libraries allow us to take books out for free but I’ve been in one that allows you to take DVDs or CDs out for free: you have to pay ÂŁ2-5 for a week to ‘rent’ them -its still cheaper than buying though.

    That said, there’s so many free podcasts available on the net, my ears are already getting all the content they wish. 🙂

  18. Edwin says:

    The cheapest entertainment I’ve ever seen has to be people who play MMOs like a full time job (40 hours a week). Ignoring the initial purchase price, 160 hours of entertainment a month for $15 bucks, pretty cheap.

    Now of course that’s an extreme example but I’ve played MMOs for a very long time and even though I don’t play anywhere near 40 hours a week, it still ends up being cheaper than any form of entertainment out there.

  19. I’ll throw this one out there – writing.

    At the most basic level, you need a writing instrument and some paper. $5 worth of pens and notebooks will keep you going for a long, long time.

    I’m maximizing the crap out of my entertainment value from writing, with my blog writing and a start on a novel (I also write weekly fiction pieces on the blog).

    And once you’re done, you have a product that can (sometimes) entertain others.

  20. hoht says:

    Playing Dirty Minds with a boys vs. girls match. Now all that cost is chips & dip and a box of tissues.

  21. fishboyridesagain says:

    I often use a per hour or per use strategy when analyzing many things I may consider buying.

    The 65¢ snack at the vending machine really doesn’t bring that much satisfaction to hunger or to my taste buds (low utility), compared to the use I’m going to get out of those new running shoes. I am going to wear those shoes until they are falling apart: first as my runners and then around the house as my grubby shoes for house and yardwork once their cushioning isn’t good enough for running.

    If the shoes are put together well, I’ll get a lot from my dollar.

  22. Paige says:

    I was surprised to see that Goodwill and/or thrift stores were only mentioned once. Aside from renting books at the library, thrift stores are the best place to buy them. Our Goodwill bookstore is awesome! They have movies, music, and books. All of the books are organized and they are usually 2.99 (for hardcover) and under. Thrift stores are also the best place to buy games, almost all of our games have come from them and I never pay more than $3. That is maximizing your entertainment budget. 🙂

  23. moro says:

    The games getting worse all the time, there are only shooters and sportgames. In this context you pay the same or even more for an inferior entertainment product

  24. echidnina says:

    I’m a knitter, which is not necessarily a cheap hobby – people are always aghast when I tell them it costs me upwards of $15 for the yarn to knit a pair of socks!

    But I see it as a GREAT value – I get 20 hours or more of relaxing time that I really enjoy, and at the end of it, I get a pretty pair of socks that I can take pride in 🙂 To me, I’m not paying $15 for a pair of socks. I’m paying dimes on the hour to entertain myself, and getting a free pair of socks out of it too!

  25. FlyFisher says:

    Board games are an awesome cheap way to spend your time. Friends and family interaction and SO cheap for the amount of time you play.

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