Monday, March 4, 2013

The Cost of Recreation

My boss at work just returned from a vacation with his family.  They flew to Florida, spent several days at the Disney parks, then went on a five-night cruise around the Carribean.  He described to me how buying twelve-month passes to the parks saved his family money, since the cost for a family of four to go to Disney is something like $354 per day (tickets and parking -- not counting food, lodging, or souvenirs).  This is a typical vacation for them -- one they've taken once or twice per year going back almost a decade now.

I have another friend at work who likes to spend time with his (adult) son working on and then driving/piloting various motorized conveyances -- motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles, Jet Skis, etc.  He's always saving up to buy a new engine or some other upgrade for one of the machines.

I have a few other work friends who own "ski cabins" up in the mountains that they use as a base of operations for their frequent ski trips.  I have yet another acquaintance at work who is a serious computer gamer -- always telling me about the latest game or equipment he's bought and is spending time on.

The reason I mention all of this is not to commend or criticize any of these behaviors.  I am definitely an advocate for taking time to enjoy life -- "working to live" rather than the other way around.  The reason I mentioned these folks is because it occurs to me that the sorts of things I am naturally drawn to, and which I try to partake in whenever I have an opportunity for some recreation time, are things which don't cost nearly as much as any of the things that a lot of the people I work with do.  The activities I enjoy usually require a bit of upfront cost, but very little in they way of ongoing/maintenance costs.  For example:

Hiking and Backpacking.  I love getting outside and seeing the scenery.  Hiking up to a high point in the mountains in this part of the country is a rewarding experience.  My wife and I have spent many a day together on the trails, either for short day trips or for longer overnight/backpacking hikes.  But hiking costs very little.  All you really need is a good pair of boots or trail shoes and a backpack.  Nothing has to be fancy.  Most of the trails around here are free or have very nominal parking fees, which can be alleviated through the purchase of a yearly pass for around $25 (just over $2 per month).  For the winter months, a good pair of snowshoes comes in handy.

Ultimate (frisbee).  What a great game.  I discovered it in college and have been playing informal/pickup games ever since.  It's often possible to find space to play on a free field in a park.  Discs cost around $10 each.  Cleats are the only special equipment that I use, and not everyone uses them (some even play barefoot).

Board games.  Countless hours of fun can be had for a very small up-front cost.  This offers an excuse to get together and socialize with others on a regular basis -- we've been playing with our group about once a week.  If everyone brings their own food and beverages, game nights can be a very inexpensive way to have fun.  My personal favorite these days is Settlers of Catan (of course including the Seafarers and Cities and Knights expansions).

Other favorite pastimes include reading (usually library books or free eBooks from sites like Project Gutenberg), blog writing and reading, and bicycling (primarily a commuting exercise for me).

I guess I should consider myself lucky that I'm naturally satisfied by experiences that don't come at a high price.  I prefer using my muscles over using motors or engines.  I'm not drawn to activities that require a lot of high-priced equipment or regular usage fees (like hockey or golf or skiing).  I also hit the jackpot when I found a woman who appreciates the same sort of low-cost entertainment as I do.  We've had some great vacations backpacking in some of the national parks for very little cost -- transportation to the parks being the main expense.

For this reason, I expect that once we are able to break away from our full-time jobs and have more hours to fill with recreation, we won't have any trouble filling our days with fun and enjoyment without significantly increasing our expenses.


  1. Yeah, recreation can be pretty expensive. My brother goes to two movies at the theater each week - for a total of about $30/week. He says the experience can't be replicated at home.

    I'm a pretty avid golfer (I live on a golf course) but it's not too expensive. The courses I play are public and an annual pass for unlimited play costs $500/year. I find most of my balls (in my yard) and have had the same clubs for 5+ years.

    1. I suppose there is a cheap way and an expensive way to do a lot of things. For example I could constantly feel the need to buy the latest and greatest in backpacking and camping gear if I wanted to. Sounds like you have found a way to feed your golf habit on the cheap.

      Ultimately the point of getting finances in order is to have money available to pay for things that are really important in life. Even an expensive hobby could be justified as "worth the expense" if it brings true happiness. I'm just glad that my current interests are those on the low end of the average expense spectrum.

  2. Hiking/backpacking/camping is one of my favorites plus it's super cheap once you have the initial supplies purchased.

  3. Hey TE, I find your blog very informative, open and a worthwhile read. I personally always find it hard to justify any sort of long term committed spending for a leisure activity. I too work in a company that almost everybody, I can probably count on two hands those that don't, has either a boat, harley, jet ski, ATV or recreational car. Many have one, two or even all of these and some have spares too! One of my colleagues recounted how her husband had bought a $30,000 boat and spends over $6,000 a year in insurances and permits. It has been used five times in six years.....crazy in my way of thinking. I would rather charter or share a charter 3-4 times a year and just relax fish and still save a huge amount of money (if fishing is your thing).

    Personally I am fortunate also, I have great wife, partner and friend. We love to just take walks along the beach or at the local park with our Golden Retriever just chatting and catching up as we both work and it is nice to take time to just talk together with no TV, phones, internet or anything else to distract us. We also like cooking together and we make the food we love. Any time that we go out for dinner we just bemoan the quality of food as we can generally make better quality food ourselves and then we are just saving ourselves from washing the dishes (dishwasher fixed that problem). We also enjoy reading, board games and hiking/camping which again are cheaper pursuits.

    I am starting my financial freedom journey and considering putting together my own blog. I feel like that will motivate my to put together a monthly chart/report on how things progressed (I currently only keep a five year forecast). I am currently 25 and my wife 24. I currently earn $2300 a week after taxes from my paid income ( I live in Australia and my taxes run at about $1100 a week) and my wife is just between jobs and should pick up work shortly so I do not count on that income yet. Our expenses are pretty clear cut at about $900 a week including rent. I currently think that we will not get a mortgage for a home for us to live in until I can justify it, my current thoughts are that my investments generate more income dollar for dollar when compared to rent. We also have one less set or taxes rates etc to pay. That is not to say that we do not have mortgages as we do on three investment properties we own (we own one half of a business that owns three properties). Currently we are sitting on cash reserves of $20,000, shares of $15,000 and our share of the equity in the properties is $100,000. Income sources are only from paid employment and the properties which our share is just over $6,000 and will increase as we are building more units and well sell/reduce overall leverage and increase income in the near term.

    Any way, thanks for the great blog. I look forward to reading many more informative posts.

    1. Thanks for the long response. What is your blog address? I'd be curious to follow your progress.

    2. I have not produced it just yet. We are currently moving interstate (which is a long transition with myself currently away until my wife can catch up in two months) and I will then commit some time and energy to it.