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VOL. 127 | NO. 150 | Thursday, August 02, 2012

Dana and Ray Brandon

Entertainment Costs Are Not Amusing

By Ray and Dana Brandon

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Ray’s Take If a family of four goes out for an evening at the movies, admission alone runs about $34, and you can add almost 24 percent more if it’s a 3D movie. All that’s before the sticker shock of the refreshment counter. Two hours later, it’s all over and you go home about $50 poorer. That’s a lot of money for a brief experience. Yet, even as families struggle through the recession, the average amount of money spent on entertainment admissions (along with video games and gambling) has increased 18 percent since 2000.

That doesn’t include the cost of television. The average cable television bill is around $85 and is projected to soar to $200 in just eight years. Add to that the cost of streaming media, rentals, and paid apps. All told, entertainment costs are taking a larger portion of income than ever, even though they are discretionary and the easiest things to eliminate from a strained budget.

Add up the dollars your family spends on entertainment in a month – movies, cable, rentals, video games, and paid downloads – you’ll probably be surprised at just how big a bite entertainment is taking. Looked at individually, each item seems pretty innocent. Add it all together and it gets serious.

Maybe it’s time to pull the plug on some of those costs. I’m not going to point fingers, as who’s to say what has value to others. But look at this budget item in the context of the family’s overall financial plan. If the college fund is on track and retirement goals are being funded, let the entertainment continue. If not, it may be time to review.

Take a hard look at your monthly entertainment costs and balance that against the actual pleasure you derive from those expenditures. Having a fixed budget number to work from might make it easier to avoid slipping into the “it’s just a movie” rationalization.

Not only could your budget benefit, you might find that seeking out new, less expensive means of entertainment could also result in more active, interesting, and fulfilling pastimes. That’s a win-win for anyone.

Dana’s Take We just returned from a group trip to the Grand Canyon. On the trip we saw two extremes of entertainment. At one end was the fun of playing cards and board games at night and at the opposite end was the isolating effect of individual media on the group.

As we drove through the desert, some of the kids’ eyes were glued to iPads, iPods and iPhones. It struck me that the “I” in all those devices could represent “me” as in “all about me.” The experience was diminished by the lack of interaction between the kids and the adults who paid for their trips.

When we look at the cost of media, include the social cost to family, relationships and manners in general.

Ray Brandon is a certified financial planner and CEO of Brandon Financial Planning (www.brandonplanning.com). His wife, Dana, has a bachelor’s degree in finance and is a licensed clinical social worker. Contact Ray Brandon at raybrandon@brandonplanning.com.

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