“When I get a little money I buy books, and if any is left I buy food and clothes,” Desiderius Erasmus has been quoted as saying. If he read like I do (more for fun than for education), he was budgeting for entertainment before necessities. He certainly would not be alone. Today, many people continue to buy DVDs and concert tickets even when they’re trying to cut down on spending.
Kim and Jason’s Escape Adulthood blog recently commented on our apparent need for entertainment, saying that “even in a period as tough as the Great Depression, people will spend their last nickel on FUN.” They cite P.T. Barnum getting people to pay for circus admission; other sources have used the cinema as an example. (Movie houses weren’t empty in the 1930s; on the contrary, they became more popular.)
Based on the salaries we pay big-name actors, athletes, and musicians, it’s obvious that our culture places a high value on entertainment, but is it really a necessity on par with food and clothing? Some would say yes. Historically, people who worked hard for their sustenance and had little time for frivolities (miners, farmers, shepherds/cowboys, etc.) were still known to enjoy community dances, group singing, and storytellers. They might not have spent much money on entertainment, but they made it a priority. Perhaps we do have an inherent need for some fun now and then.
In fact, entertainment sometimes becomes more important when money is tight and stress is high. It could be escapism – when life gets tough, it’s much easier to go to the movies and imagine a fairytale ending than to stay home and address problems that seem overwhelming. It could also be fatalism – people believe (often erroneously) that they can do nothing to improve their financial condition, so they might as well go out and have some fun before the money runs out: Why not go to Disneyland today if I’m going to declare bankruptcy tomorrow?
For whatever reasons we crave entertainment, leaving some room in a budget for a little fun isn’t a bad idea. Making a budget too tight can easily lead to frustration, and many abandon their plans to take care of their finances when they start thinking they can’t ever enjoy themselves. When your income is needed more for other things, however, you can find less expensive alternatives to your favorite forms of entertainment. Check out books from the library (and enjoy the free programs they offer!) instead of going to the bookstore. Watch movies on TV or rent them instead of going to the theater. Attend sporting events and performances at the local high school instead of paying for their professional counterparts. You can also find new, inexpensive ways to entertain yourself – start looking for ideas.
So, Erasmus, it’s okay to budget for entertainment. Skip a meal or two if you have to. But don’t spend it all on fun – save some for other necessities.