Take Control of Your Electronic Entertainment Budget

It seems like every few weeks there's a new "must-watch" movie or show. Competition between traditional and new production companies is driving the wave of high-quality content. I can't complain, but it's also hard to keep up. I have an ever-growing list of binge-able things to watch, read and listen to, and in the meantime, I'm paying bills for multiple streaming or cable services each month.

While the cost of single monthly subscription service might not seem like a lot on its own, the tally after adding up several monthly bills and calculating the annual cost can be surprising. If you spend $10 a month for music, $16 for several streaming services and $15 for audiobooks, you're looking at an annual cost of over $500. The cost of the Internet could easily double that, and adding cable might mean an additional $1,200 or more unless you're paying a promotional rate.

As long as my family's necessary expenses are covered, spending money on entertainment can be worth it. However, I've also noticed that unmonitored entertainment expenses can slowly grow out of control and I'll end up wasting money on a service I'm not using. I'd rather look for ways to save money, and then use the savings for something more meaningful.

Periodically reviewing how much you spend on entertainment, especially electronic entertainment, could be a good place to start.

Take stock of where you currently stand. Find your starting point by making a list of fixed monthly subscriptions and one-off outings that fall into the category of electronic entertainment. If you don't have a budget where you can easily look up this information, you can review previous bank statements or connect your accounts to a budgeting app that can automatically pull in your spending history. This might also be a good time to try several budgeting apps and start regularly using the one you enjoy the most.

You may need to edit the entries if you use an app, and some of the expenses could be subjective. For example, you might have gone out to the movies and dinner with friends. Whether you categorize the entire evening as "entertainment" or count the meal as part of your food budget is up to you, but try to be consistent and set your future budgets accordingly.

Give traditional cable or satellite TV expenses a second look.
If you haven't "cut the cord" -- canceled your cable or satellite TV service -- and you find yourself watching it less, now might be time to give the idea some thought. During the last few years many new alternative, and often cheaper, options have become mainstream, including free and a la carte sports programming. Even premium networks that were once only available to cable or satellite subscribers are sold on their own or as inexpensive add-ons to other services.

You may not want to cancel your entire service but you should ensure you're not overpaying. Consider how many channels you pay for, and which you regularly watch, and you might discover that you could be just as happy with a less expensive package. In either case, regularly calling your service provider and negotiating your rate could help keep your monthly bill closer to the promotional rate you originally paid. This same tactic could also work with internet service providers.

Consider splitting the cost with someone else. Some subscription entertainment services can be shared with friends or family. A few even offer several tiers of service, or family packages, that let you create different profiles and stream from multiple devices at once. Although the price might be higher for a multi-user account, you'll still save on a per-person basis.

Choose the person or people you share your account with carefully. In some cases, sharing an account with a non-family or household member could be a violation of the terms and conditions, and with some types of accounts, you could be giving the other person access to your debit or credit card number.

Make a list of free resources you can use. Knowing where you can turn to (legally) watch shows and movies, including recent releases, could put you at ease if you're worried about canceling a service.

You could start by using ad-based websites that legally host movies and shows. While there are commercial breaks throughout the videos, the services are completely free and some have mobile apps that you can use to start or resume a video while you're away from home.

As I'm sure you're aware, there are plenty of free books, CDs and movies at many libraries. But the library systems are also keeping up with the times. Some let you "check out" audiobooks, movies and shows without having to visit a branch.

Bottom line: Having access to a wide variety of shows, movies and other types of electronic entertainment can be well worth the cost, but don't let your monthly expenses go unchecked. Between monthly subscription services, Internet and cable you could be paying several thousand dollars a year.

Find a happy medium by canceling services you don't want anymore and finding ways to save on those you do. You could then use the savings for something more meaningful. Perhaps that means going to a sports game with friends or family rather than paying for a television service, or putting the money towards a non-entertainment goal, such as a college or retirement fund.

Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa's financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.