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How to Have Fun Without Breaking the Bank

It is very important to plan to have fun. I know that sounds goofy coming from someone advising all kinds of discipline in budgeting. But, let's be realistic here. You work hard. You may have a lot of bills, but you only get one life. It is human, healthy and entirely natural to want to play as well as work. Plan for it so that you can get the most for your entertainment dollar -- and have more fun.

Entertainment is a mercifully flexible category. We do two things in our own family.

First: each family member gets an allotment of cash each month that they can spend as they wish. It's against the rules to account for this money to anyone else. Whether it is spent on stocks or tequila is no concern of the family's.

Second: We have a family entertainment budget. This is for all of us to go out as a quad or with the whole family -- including kids. One of the things we find the hardest to do is go out as a quad. I mean, we've got two small children and are extremely picky about who is good enough to watch our children.

Fun doesn't have to cost a great deal of money, of course. It is not unusual to take the kids to the park, grill burgers and push each other into the river. Innocent fun. For the price of some fries and a few sodas, we can also take the children to various fast food restaurants that have those really nifty playgrounds.

For vacations, if you belong to a warehouse store (and if you have more than five people in the house, you should), you can get good deals on car rentals, airplane tickets and other vacation packages. Camping is a cheap trip, if you're fond of it. (The Beast and I are. The Goddess of Giggle and The Prince not so much so, but they're good sports and like doing things as a family). Most vacation areas have campgrounds -- even Disney World. If you've not done much camping, talk to someone who has and try to borrow some equipment. Good camping equipment isn't cheap, but is worth it if you go a lot. Find out if you like it, first.

Everyone knows the deal about going to matinees when going to movies. Many areas have cheap movie theaters. Use them. And don't buy snacks in the movie theater. Yes, yes, yes, I know that's where those places make their money, but it's not your social duty to increase the profit of a business that is charging too high a price already.

When going to events, or amusement parks, it is much smarter to pack a picnic rather than buy at concessions stands. Most of these places make as much money as a movie theater on food. Don't pay the markup. And if the kids whine, a little snack isn't going to break the budget, but try to keep those larger meals down in price. Never pay full price at an amusement park. There are so many deals and discounts out there, paying full price means you've done some appallingly bad planning. And limit the dollars you spend on those games to win the poorly sewn purple polar bear.

When you go out to eat, don't buy alcohol. You pay for the bottle in two drinks, anyway. Also, appetizers should be avoided, unless you're planning to order a large one as a meal -- which is actually a cheaper way to go. When you get to dessert, either skip it entirely or share one. When you're not dining at the haute cuisine places, the portions tend to be huge and you know you're not going to really be hungry enough for a whole dessert, anyway.

Planning in advance is the key to making sure you get plenty of fun while still staying within your budget.

A portrait of the Goddess of Java rendered by the Goddess of Giggle

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