Sunday, March 1, 2009

March Frugal Action Item: Rein In Entertainment Spending

Time for another Frugal Action Item. In January we started out with an easy once-and-done switch from standard to compact fluorescent bulbs. Not too taxing and no discipline required once you make the change. Last month's Item was a lot more challenging. I asked you to both acquire new kitchen skills and change dining out habits. In March I'm shooting for something in between in terms of how much effort you'll need to put out. You don't need to learn a new skill, but you will need to make some changes in your routine.

The Frugal Action Item for March is still going to be a tough sell for some folks, which is why I am encouraging you to look at this as a one-month experiment. So here it is: Just for this month, use your local library instead of buying any books, magazines, instead of paying for another month of Netflix, cable tv, or heaven forbid, actual movie theater tickets. I know, I know, I can hear the moans and protests already. That's why I want you to treat this as an experiment.

Put your Netflix or Blockbuster account on hold, put the next book you simply must have on a wishlist instead of on your credit card. Get thee to thine local library. Look over the dvds they have available for the borrowing - completely free! Remember that dvds are heavily borrowed, so what you see available at any given time is only a fraction of the library's holdings. This is doubly true on Fridays and Saturdays. Browse the bookshelves and learn how to use the library to your own advantage. Examine their computer system. Ask questions. Find out about the process for putting in a hold for popular movies that are checked out when you look for them. You probably won't need to wait too much longer than you do for hot titles from Netflix. Learn how your library handles inter-library loans or purchase requests. What your library doesn't have in its own collection, it can probably borrow - just for you - from hundreds of other libraries. A little patience may save you a small bundle of cash.

If you miss the big screen experience, well, make your night at home with the movies special. Make yourself a killer bowl of popcorn, and cozy up with a loved one for some frugal together time.

I'm asking you to give this challenge a fair shake. You can always go back to your usual routine after a trial month if you and your family totally hate it. But pursue the experiment at least that long before you make up your mind. A lot of times we dismiss a change that makes sense because it means a disruption of our routine. Yes, getting to the library once a week may be new to us. But it may also easily save us $20 or more each month, and become something that we look forward to, if we only give it a chance. Consider the differences in the library experience versus the movie theater or bookshop experience. Is paying for a novel and having it around the house really so much better than reading it once and returning it to the library? Is taking in a flick at the theater with a whale sized portion of stale popcorn really worth $12, as opposed to watching a movie in your pjs at home? Your tax dollars are paying to support your local library, so you may as well benefit from it.

Alternative Action Item: If you don't have cable, a Netflix account, or you live so remotely that it's a 45-minute drive to the library in a direction you rarely go, I instead challenge you to have friends or family over for a cheap entertainment night of board game or card playing. If there are kids involved, give them an age-appropriate jigsaw puzzle to work on.

New to these monthly Action Items? Catch up with more here:

January: Compact Fluorescent Bulbs & Hot Water Pipe Insulation
February: Kitchen Competence
April: Go Paper-less
May: Solar Dryer
June: Raise the Deductible on Your Auto Insurance
July: Stay Cool Without Touching that Thermostat
August: Repair It!
September: Insulate
October: Preventative Health Care
November: Frugal Holiday Wish List
December: Plan Next Year's Garden


Anonymous said...

Kate, I love-love-love the library. I tell everyone that its our greatest gift, our right as an American, and the best place to go hang out if you have an extra hour. I can't imagine life without the library. If you have small children it is such a special place to take them. And its free. That is, if you return things on time or don't let your dog chew up a book. Although, I never begrudge them their fee as that is how the buy new books. Have I gushed enough about the library? I hope all your reader on this challenge.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with DiElla and am a big library user. But my son and I have found renting movies an expensive and frustrating experience and will not rent from the library again. I live in a large city in Southern California (Anaheim) and the library's policy is to allow you to rent the same video again if you find you have had problems. There is no choice and no refund and we find the DVD's horribly scratched up.

Kate said...

DiElla, I'm right there with you. I watch my return dates carefully, but when I do slip up, it's hard to begrudge a few cents here and there.

Anon, I have heard of some libraries that charge for DVD rentals. In that case I suppose it might be a wash to get a cheap Netflix subscription. It's a shame that some libraries must resort to this.