wait a moment

The dollar-an-hour rule.

One of my blogging buddies, J. Money, recently published a post that bounced off a comment from yet another post.

(Blogging: Sometimes it’s a Ponzi scheme.)

That comment was from a guy who believes that entertainment should never cost more than a dollar an hour.

For example, a video game that costs $70 (!) needs to be played for at least 70 hours. A $60-a-month cable bill should mean your household watches a total of 60 hours of TV per month. And so on.

In “The ‘buck an hour’ rule,” J. Money noted that $1 was “a bit arbitrary and perhaps simplistic.” Just for fun, he took at look at some of his own ongoing expenses (only some of which were actual entertainment).

“It wasn’t pretty,” he admitted cheerfully.

Netflix yes, local newspaper no. Cellphone good, coffee not so much. Gasoline nope, currency collection nyet, historical society donation nein.

You never know when some “random thought” could affect a habit, J. Money concluded. So I decided to examine some of my own entertainment costs.




We tend to go on Tuesdays, when tickets are $5.75 all day long. Since movies don’t generally last 5¾ hours, this one’s an automatic fail. But it’s one I’m willing to accept.

(Possible workaround: Buy a discounted gift card to your movie palace of choice. I’ve saved anywhere from 8 to 30 percent this way. Find the deals at an aggregator site called Gift Card Granny.)




This one’s a total pass, because it costs nothing. When the weather isn’t horrific, DF and I like to take walks. Often that’s just around the neighborhood, putting in a mile or so in late afternoon/early evening. (Except in winter, of course, because late afternoon is already pretty dark. I have enough wariness about ice in the daylight, even when I’m wearing my spill-forestalling YakTrax.)

At times we might drive to a place like Glen Alps, the jumping-off place for a bunch of hikes, and take a short stroll or just drink in the view. Or we can go to Kincaid Park and maybe become wedding crashers.


Meals out


In the abstract, this one’s a big ol’ fail. Even if I pay $6 or $7 for a meal, it’s not going to last six or seven hour. Once a week or so, my pal Linda B. and I meet at our favorite lunch spot, Harley’s Old Thyme Café, and take turns picking up the check.

What’s life without a little sin? Besides, I’ve budgeted for these two meals out each month, and Harley’s has a great backstory: The fellow who ran it wanted to retire, and his cooks, at least some of whom are immigrants, bought it from him. Every time I eat there I’m supporting not just a local business but also an American dream.

(Possible workarounds: Discounted gift cards, again, if you eat at chain restaurants. Look for coupons in the blue Valpal envelope, in local shopper publications and online.)




Both DF and I enjoy cooking together, so takeout never happens. This, in turn, helps me feel comfortable paying for lunch out a couple of times a month. So do the frugal hacks that keep our food budget low, including but not limited to:

  • Buying stuff in bulk from Costco
  • Buying everything else on sale (just stocked up on thick-cut oatmeal at 68 cents a pound at Fred Meyer)
  • Buying stuff on sale with store and manufacturer coupons
  • Buying stuff with the monthly Kroger senior discount

(Possible workarounds: Any of the frugal hacks noted above. You could also Google “quick easy recipes with [favorite ingredients]” and/or download the free “Good and Cheap: Eating Well on $4 a Day” cookbook from food scholar Leanne Brown.)




Absolute pass, here. We already own a bunch of books (some long-since-sunk-cost, some gifts and some found while dumpster wading). I’m also a big fan of the public library; in fact, I wrote much of my second book there. In other words, reading costs us $0 per hour.

(Possible workarounds: Look for a Little Free Library in your neighborhood. Check out sites like Project Gutenberg and Open Library for free e-books. Go to Amazon.com and search for “free books.”)




This one’s a pass, thanks to my long-suffering bestie. Linda B. has cable and will DVR any shows she thinks I might enjoy watching with her.

(Possible workarounds: Again, the public library: Borrow entire seasons for some DIY binge-watching. Streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, which have saved my daughter thousands of dollars. Or try Amazon Prime Video: Sign up for a free trial and see if the library has enough to keep you entranced; if you have a Medicaid or EBT card, there’s a discounted version of Prime that costs $5.99 a month instead of $8.25.)


Theater, music and opera


Both local and national productions are definitely a fail in terms of the cost-per-hour comparison. But supporting the arts – especially local arts – matters to us.

(Possible workarounds: Check out the cost of season tickets, which may save you a few bucks per seat. Search for pay-what-you-can performances. Inquire about discounts for bulk purchases, and then get a bunch of friends together, and also about military, senior and student discounts.)


Art openings


Maybe it’s called First Thursday, or Artwalk, or something else in your area. Here it’s referred to as First Friday, and it’s when local galleries (both college and commercial) and the city art museum open new shows on the same day. Huge pass here, because all it costs to attend is the gas to get us from place to place – and as I’ve noted before, it’s both a frugal and a cultured date night.

(Possible workarounds: None. How can you beat “free”? Bonus: Some of these openings even feed you.)

Readers: Do you ever sit down and figure out the cost of entertainment? How many of your pastimes cost little to nothing, and how many could run you into the poorhouse if you weren’t careful?

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