I like to game. Board games, card games, video games; I love them all. Whether they take the form of a competition or a story, games are an essential part of this green pilgrim’s journey. I’ve had single-player experiences that rival my favorite books and movies. These things are satisfying in any form: suspense, character development, the grand reveal. I’ve had intense multiplayer experiences challenge my mind, my reflexes, and my decision-making abilities under stress. Jacob over at ERE dismisses games because he prefers real life. But I enjoy experiences that make me feel alive, and games often do that for me. So how do I reconcile this hobby with my other values, and my goal of saving for early retirement?
Video games are expensive, and popular. Newly released triple-A titles cost upwards of $60. Less expensive Indie games are fun too, but tend to be shorter, and multiple $5 and $10 purchases add up. Hardware is expensive too. It costs hundreds of dollars for a brand new computer or current-generation console, not to mention any necessary peripheral devices or accessories. It doesn’t take a roller-coaster tycoon to see that these numbers aren’t conducive to saving money. So what options are available to a frugal gamer?
- Build your own PC
It’s not as difficult as it seems before you do it. Figure out your hardware requirements, choose components that will be compatible with each other, and buy them from a discount retailer. When they arrive in the mail you can put them together like Legos. Do it barefoot (to prevent static buildup) and have a screwdriver handy. If it doesn’t boot on the first try, don’t panic, just troubleshoot it.
Although this will be a considerable investment (hundreds of dollars) it will still be much cheaper than an equivalent factory-made computer. When it is time to upgrade or replace you can save money by re-using old parts. It will be decades before I have to replace my dual monitors, modular micro ATX case, speakers, keyboard, mouse, etc… Some of these items can be obtained for free in the first place. My desktop also makes owning a laptop or tablet even more unnecessary.
- Get an obsolete console instead of a current-gen one
- Borrow games from friends instead of buying them
If you play games, chances are good that your friends do too. When I was in college I bought Mirror’s Edge for full-price the week it came out. So did two of my close friends. That was possibly the worst financial mistake of my life. Even today I am able to borrow plenty of games from people I know. As long as you treat discs with care and return them promptly, your friends will probably enjoy lending them and being able to talk to you about them.
- Play with friends
Play over at your friends house. Make gaming a social activity (that you pay nothing for).
- Play free games
- Play free demos
Sometimes you just want to play something fresh, and only for a little while.
- Play stolen games
This is a topic I’ve struggled with and put a lot of thought into. It is a fact that most PC games can be torrented illegally and at virtually no risk (with certain trivial precautions). The only question remaining is a moral one. When you resolve never to buy a game at its full price, the choice is between pirating it or not playing it at all. Either way, the developer will not get any money from you. But if you pirate and enjoy the game, the developer profits from the exposure. This is especially true for lesser-known independent games, and arguably so for big-budget ones. One counter-argument is that if everybody did this then no games would be made at all. I am forced to agree. Along a similar line of reasoning, if everybody saved 85% of their take-home pay instead of spending it on consumer trappings, our economy would collapse.
At the end of the day, games are about having fun. There is no price tag on fun. If your hobby (any hobby) seems expensive, you may be doing it wrong. The time you put into optimizing your hobby and aligning it with your saving goals will be educational and rewarding, and will bring you that much closer to financial independence. My game of the week is Chess Time for my new money-saving phone. It is cross-platform and free, and I’m having a blast beating all my friends! Feel free to challenge me; my username on there is “Kilroy66”