Budgeting for Gaming
When I first became a gamer with a job, lo those many years ago, it marked a new phase of my life. No longer did I have to wait for one of those two special days, my birthday and Christmas, to request a new game. I had the privelege, no, the right, to walk into Babbages or EB, plunk down my own money, and walk out with a game. Suddenly, the gates were thrown open to me. No begging, no pleading, no waiting. It's a blessing, and most of us probably take it for granted these days. Do yourself a favor and watch the youngin's next time you're at the store. Look at that kid staring at the tiny screenshots on the back of the box, look forlornly at his mother browsing around the telephones or something, and sadly put the box back on the shelf. Allow yourself to be reminded of the pain, and you will be more appreciative next time you pull out your wallet.
Now that you've "come of age", you're faced with a new responsibility. You need to manage your finances. You need to control your spending so that income is greater than outgo. This is especially important when you've got a joint account with someone, because you're spending his or her money too. If you don't reign things in, the repo man will come and put your XBox on the back of a flatbed truck and you can kiss your DOA volleyball girlfriends goodbye. This is the article you know is going to hit you where it hurts, so you might as well get it over with now.If you want a long and exciting gaming career, you're going to need to learn to budget. This means tracking what your expenses are and determining where you will have to make sacrifices to buy Warcraft Worlds when it comes out. Everyone's priorities are different, but we all have mandatory and discretionary expenses. Mandatory expenses are things like your rent, your car payment, groceries, and toilet paper (yes, this is mandatory). Discretionary expenses are things like that new pair of Pumas, upgrading to that Nextel i95, and, here it comes, feeding your console. Track your spending for a couple of months. There are plenty of free forms and calculators online you can use. However, it doesn't have to be anything fancy. Notes on a napkin will work just as well.
Write down all of your mandatory expenses, and pad them realistically if you don't know a specific number (ie. utility bills). Add them up and subtract that amount from your monthly net income. Now do the same with your discretionary expenses. Using general categories will assist you in covering the majority of your expenses. If you end up with some leftovers from your net income, you should probably think about setting some savings goals. You should think about setting savings goals no matter the result of your tracking, but sometimes you just need to get a handle on things first. If you've got more expenses than income, you need to make some adjustments. Don't try and weasel any money out of your mandatory list. There's a reason you wrote those numbers down, and you should probably trust yourself. You will quickly discover your priorities as you pull a few bucks out of "Dining Out" to slip into "Gaming". This is okay. You're allowed to do this as long as you bring your total expenses in line with your net income. Once you get the numbers working, spend the next month focusing on living within the budget you created. I know what you're thinking. "But no matter how I worked the numbers, I still ended up with only $40 a month for gaming. I can't even buy one game for that!" Don't panic.
It is often a shock when you are faced with what appears to be an arbitrary limit on your gaming. Believe me, though, this is a very important limit, and you will survive. I've listed a few basics below, but the most important skill is to plan your purchases wisely and ahead of time. Impulse gaming can be your enemy (unless of course you saw Battlefield 1942 for $15 at WalMart).
Ways To Stretch Your Gaming Dollar
- You don't NEED any game - Unless it's the latest Sims expansion, you probably don't physically need any particular game. This is true though your friends, the TV, and the Internet will all attempt to convince you otherwise.
- Wait a week or two - Give a new release some proper shelf time. Many stores, and Best Buy, in particular, have a sale on a new release after a week or two. $10 off for only having to wait a week is a pretty good deal. The extra time also allows the thousands of critics to voice their opinions in your favorite forums. They could save you from even wanting to buy the game.
- Two words: Bargain Bin - Are you a running a little tight on your budget this month? Are you saving up your "allowance" this month for a new release next month? Do some dumpster diving in that big box at the front of the store. Yesterday's hits are yours for the picking now. The folks in the forum will happily help you separate the wheat from the chaff.
- Rebates really work - Take advantage of rebates. That doesn't mean simply buying the game with the rebate sticker. You actually have to fill those things out and mail them in for them to work. Force yourself to spend five minutes before you install the game (or while you're installing the game) to get your paperwork together and drop that envelope in the mail.
- Do your homework - Read the previews/reviews. There are a hojillion (thank you Gabe) out there. And pay attention to who actually writes the reviews. Don't buy a game because IGN gave it a 9. Buy the game because Matt Casamassina gave it a 9 and everything that Matt Casamassina has liked, you've liked. Another generally good place to look is gamerankings.com, since they provide a good overall view of the quality of a game.
- Don't believe the hype - Just because it's The Game of the Moment in your forums, doesn't mean you should get it. Trust your instincts. You know what kind of games you like. If today's release wouldn't normally be a game you would play, don't buy it yet, despite all of the hubbub.
- Finish the games you have - I'm guilty of violating this one...repeatedly. Why play your old game when there's a shiny new one out? This one begins to make more sense as you try to stick to a budget. If you spent all your allotted money on a game that you're stuck with, you might as well learn to love it.
- Never buy games with credit - This is a common sense no no. If you don't have the money for a game, don't buy it. Even if you know you will have the money for it by the time the bill is due, you should probably just hold off on the purchase. The princess won't die if you wait another two weeks. Just stick to your budget and learn the pleasures of self-denial.
- Finally, plan ahead - You know where to find the release lists. You are all so hungry for gaming news that no game ever ships without you knowing all about it. Take advantage of that knowledge and plan ahead for the games you know you'll want. Since you already know how much you can spend per month, it is a simple exercise to know how long ahead of time you're going to have to start saving for PS3 (now, for instance).
Be proud of being a gamer with a job. You've earned it, but be smart about it. Good luck to all of you. I'm been working on putting this into practice, and it's been an uphill battle. Practical money skills will save you a lot of heartache throughout your life, though.