7 Easy Entertainment Trade-Offs

We all want to live our lives to the fullest. At every major life stage, whether a birthday, New Year, or even a tragedy, you likely ask yourself whether you’ve really been enjoying your life as much as you could be. Think about—or better yet, write out—a list of activities, items, interests and goals that you’d like to liberate from your daydreams and make a reality. Do you want to visit a tropical island, buy a new mattress, spend more time with your loved ones, or learn to salsa dance? After you write your list, then estimate the cost, in money and time, for each item.

Here are seven ways to cut costs, along with ideas to "invest" that money to yield a more exciting, fulfilling life—without going into debt to do so.

1. Cut your cable, save $10-$120 each month.
My local cable company actually calls their bare-minimum cable service “Lifeline.” Fortunately, there are so many other ways to stay connected to the outside world that don't involve staying inside to watch it on TV. Here are some amazing things you can do with all of that extra time and money you’ll have if you ditch the cable, movie channels, and/or satellite dish service:
  • Learn to dance. The cost of group dancing lessons range considerably, but can start as low as $7 per class. You’ll make friends, get exercise, learn some new steps, and still come out ahead financially.
  • Attend a gallery opening. These are usually free, and usually provide free refreshments and music. With the time you save not watching TV, you can meet people, please your eyes and ears, and have fun.
  • Watch a play or concert. Before radio, movies and television, plays and concerts were "it." Every performance is different and the energy is intense. Of course this costs more than your average pay-per-view, but quality is more important than quantity. Without paying for cable, you could attend at least one performance each month—talk about something to look forward to!
2. Stop buying magazines, save $5 or more per week.
The headlines on newsstands are meant to reel you in and encourage you to buy on the spot. But magazines are expensive when you buy them at the store—nearly $5 or more each! And after a single reading, they get discarded. So what can you do instead of buying the latest gossip rag? Read more books. Someone once said: If you want to read more books, read fewer magazines. Good literature is usually found in hardcover form, not in the pages of a glossy magazine. If you need motivation or inspiration, join a book club. Remember to tote your book with you to the doctor’s office, the school car line, and you’ll become more literary by the minute.

3. Stop buying music, save $12 or more per month.
No, we're not advocating illegal downloads, and you don’t have to stop buying music completely. Continue supporting your favorite artists, but set a limit on your spending. With the money you’ll save, you can learn to play an instrument yourself. Guitar and piano lessons will increase your appreciation of music, exercise your brain, and teach you a new skill that you can share with loved ones.

4. Reduce your cell-phone plan, save $10-$50 per month.
How many of the calls you made within the last week were absolutely essential? If you use your cell phone only in cases of true emergency, you could cut down on your cell phone minutes (and texting surcharges) and put that money to a new use: like learning a foreign language! Knowledge of Spanish is becoming increasingly necessary in many professions, and knowing a foreign language broadens your travel options, too. Get even more bang for your buck by tackling that new language with a good friend. You’ll save money (split the cost of the book or lessons), be more likely to stick with it, and have a built-in practice partner.

5. Skip the movie theater, save $8 and up.
Tickets to a new release at a movie theater cost around $8. But throw in popcorn and a drink and you’re looking at over $25 for a movie for two. Instead, hit your local video store and pick up a flick for $5, or even better, your local library, which "rents" movies for free! Besides saving money, you'll have more quality time with your friends or family members, access to healthier (and cheaper) movie treats, and all the leg room you want. You can socialize before and after, pause for bathroom breaks, and laugh as loud as you want. Plus you won’t feel so guilty about neglecting your cable-free television set.

6. Eat in, save hundreds of dollars per month.
At first, skipping the restaurant might sound like you’re missing out on fun, flavor and atmosphere. But restaurant food is notoriously high in calories, fat, and sodium, too. So if you replace those restaurant meals with healthy home-cooked ones, the only one thing you'll be missing are a few extra pounds from your frame! Use the money you save to pay for a series of cooking classes, or to take that vacation you never thought you could afford.

7. Don’t be a clotheshorse, save $700 per year.
Sure, we all like to look our best, but it’s easy to get carried away and spend way too much money on our wardrobes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend more than $700 on clothes every single year. And the truth is that most of us wear 10% of our wardrobe 90% of the time anyway. Instead of dropping cash on a designer T-shirt, you could be splurge on a new haircut, gym membership or monthly massage. You’ll look and feel 90% better in that 10% of your wardrobe.

Finding the money to live all of your wildest dreams may seem daunting or even impossible, depending on your circumstances. But with a little creativity and brainstorming, nearly everyone can find a way to cut back on spending on certain items to try the activities and experiences you thought you couldn't afford.