Tightwad Gamer’s Introductory Guide to Budgeting

Every gamer needs a budget. Every wise gamer lives by one.

As gamers, we often excel at stockpiling in-game currency and managing it carefully, so why don’t we adhere to the same logic in real life? Have you ever felt like your spending on games, consoles, or packs went a little…or perhaps way overboard? Do you feel the stressors of how you spend money spill over into other areas of your life? Do you keep track of what you spend on your hobbies month to month (or do you keep an overall budget)? Are you diving at the opportunity to get those new releases? Depending on how you answered these questions, you might consider developing or re-evaluating your gaming budget.

Budgeting has been one of the most stress-dissolving habits I’ve incorporated into my life. It helps my partner and I know what we spend in a given month on rent, utilities, groceries, our car, and especially entertainment. Before I actively kept a budget, I was often throwing hundred of dollars toward gaming a month, leaving me with some intermittent guilt and buyer’s remorse. However, having a budget in place is freeing – I know exactly what I am spending and what I can afford. Learn from my costly lessons by flipping through this guide, which is outlined in five straightforward steps:

  • Step 1: Set a goal.
  • Step 2: Keep it simple.
  • Step 3: Log your purchases and sales.
  • Step 4: Build good habits (And resist the urge to cheat).
  • Step 5: Glance back briefly, then move forward.

Step 1: Set a Goal.

How much can you afford to spend on gaming per month? The first step for creating any successful budget is to look at what you are currently spending, and then set a realistic goal to reduce that amount. The keyword here: realistic.Goals that are too ambitious, when we add our current habits to the equation, are likely to produce a less than desirable outcome. For example, if I spend $150 a month on my hobbies, trying to drop down to $20 a month might cause me to rebound and splurge. Instead, I suggest trying a rule of thirds – take your current spending, reduce it by one-third, and make that your goal for the year.

This approach has worked well for me. Wanting to refine my spending habits to something more sustainable, in 2014 I set a goal of $120. By year’s end, I spent an average of $125 a month on my hobbies, going just slightly over my goal. In 2015, I set a goal of spending less than $80 a month on gaming-related hobbies, and finished the year spending $81 a month. In 2016, my third year of budgeting, I set the goal for $40 a month and averaged $40.30 when the year ended. Brace yourself! My goal in 2017 is to spend $0 a month (on average) by the end of the year on gaming, through sales and purchases. How has that been going? Well two-thirds of the year have passed and I’ve made $22.36 a month on average from buying, selling, and trading related to gaming.

To be clear, setting goals should not be paralyzing. Setting goals for yourself should not cause stress or deter you from working on a budget. In fact, it’s fine to start the later steps and formulate a goal after you’ve tried out a sample budget. If you can’t decide on a good goal for now, that’s fine! Come back to this step when you can objectively look at your spending and create a realistic goal for yourself.

Step 2: Establish a Simple System.

Once you’re committed to reducing your spending and you have a goal in mind, there are plenty of simple ways to establish a gaming budget. If budgeting is already part of your life and you have found a system that works for you, great! Consider applying those same habits to your gaming, and definitely share your wisdom in the comments! If you’re not an expert budgeter, setting up a system to track the financial aspects of your hobby can be a fantastic mini-lesson that you can easily apply to other areas of your life.

How to get started: If you are technologically inclined, there are lots of cool sites and apps for budgeting, such as Mint, You Need a Budget, and Personal Capital. While these are great resources, my advice is to keep it super simple and start with a good old fashioned spreadsheet, such as the example sheet linked here. Google Sheets are free and web-based, so you can access your budget from any device. All you really need are some simple formulas to add up your expenses and … (whatever else you have on there, explain what this tool actually does!). The trick is to be honest about what you spend, and update as you go along so you can keep tabs on your spending (and selling, which you can read more about in an upcoming article).

Step 3: Log your Sales and Purchases.

Now that you have a system in place, get using it!

As you can see in the example below, I built my budget using three main columns:

  1. “Money Out” – All funds spent on gaming.
  2. “Money In” – All funds from flips and trades. Store credit supplements a large portion of my gaming budget.
  3. “Monthly Total” – Formulas calculate monthly sales minus purchases. Includes formula that tracks the monthly average for the entire year.

Using the above formulas, I end up with a simple spreadsheet that looks like this. Heads up, you’re about to get a glimpse into my tastes in gaming. 2017 has been the year of Star Wars Destiny for me!

Gaming Budget 2017:

Goal 1: Spend < $40 Month (average)
Goal 2: Beat more games than I buy.
Purchased: Sold:
Name: Date: Price: Name: Date: Price:
Until Dawn 1/4/2017 $18.00 Trades to GYGO 1/17/2017 $14.00
Yakuza 0 1/9/2017 $22.99 Trade to GYGO 2/26/2017 $53.50
Pikmin 2 1/17/2017 $13.14 Zelda Amiibo 3/16/2017 $160.00
Zelda Breath of the Wild 3/3/2017 $6.88 Trades to GYGO 4/20/2017 $29.50
Star Wars Destiny 4/24/2017 $60.00 Trades to GYGO 4/20/2017 $83.00
Warhammer Paints 4/20/2017 $25.00 Trades to GYGO 5/7/2017 $50.00
Warhammer Case 4/15/2017 $18.00 Antique Box 4/15/2017 $135.49
Warhammer Dark Angels 4/21/2017 $12.99 Dreamcast JP Lot 5/10/2017 $75.00
Warhammer Lot 5/2/2017 $60.00 Destiny Lots 5/21/2017 $95.55
Destiny Commons 5/1/2017 $19.00 Warhammer Lot 6/3/2017 $31.00
Destiny Box 5/4/2017 $67.00 Destiny Lots 6/3/2017 $137.01
Destiny Packs 5/4/2017 $25.00 Trades to GYGO 6/24/2017 $86.00
Destiny Packs 5/7/2017 $98.00 Escape 6/21/2017 $10.50
Space Marines 5/7/2017 $19.99 Halo 3 Bag 6/24/2017 $25.00
Warhammer Case 5/10/2017 $20.00 Game Boy Bag 6/24/2017 $12.00
Destiny Box 5/17/2017 $215.00 Dreamcast Stick 6/29/2017 $0.00
Land Raider Bits 5/15 $25.00 Samba Maracas 6/29/2017 $75.00
Destiny Box 5/31 $105.00 2x Force Speed 7/9/2017 $141.72
Destiny Box 6/22/17 $115.00 Super Soakers 7/9/2017 $40.00
Genesis Games 6/22/17 $23.00 Jordan Cards 7/9/2017 $48.00
Destiny Box 6/23 $115.00 Tony Gwynn Baseball 7/12/2017 $40.00
Destiny Packs 7/7/2017 $42.00 Quirkle 7/12/2017 $10.76
Destiny Packs 7/16/2017 $15.00 Destiny Lots 7/16/2017 $100.00
Luke Skywalker 7/17/2017 $48.00 Poe 7/23/2017 $17.50
Store Championship 7/23/2017 $43.00 Blue Angels Program 7/23/2017 $20.00
Luigi’s Mansion 7/27/2017 $37.00 Luigi’s Mansion 7/28/2018 $27.00
Destiny Packs 8/2/2017 $58.00 Destiny Lots 8/10/2017 $77.00
Sonic Mania 8/21/2017 $16.44 Star Wars CCG Lot 8/10/2017 $47.50
Month: Bought: Sold: Total Net
Jan $54.13 $14.00 -$40.13
Feb $0.00 $53.50 $53.50
March $6.88 $160.00 $153.12
April $115.99 $247.99 $132.00
May $653.99 $220.55 -$433.44
June $253.00 $376.51 $123.51
July $185.00 $444.98 $259.98
August $104.44 $124.50 $20.06
Per Month $116.12 $136.84 $20.72
Collected 2017: 7 Beaten 2017: 11
Collected 2016: 33 Beaten 2016: 17
Collected 2015: 59 Beaten 2015: 30
Collected 2014: 55 Beaten 2014: 13
Collected 2013 71 Beaten 2013: 37

This is actually very simple to configure. All that I really use is sum formulas and subtraction of one cell to another. It requires very little maintenance. For a bonus, I also keep prior years’ as sheets so I can review my purchases year-to-year if I’d like. I also keep my backlog there as well. If you’d like a sample of this budget, you can find it here. Feel free to download a copy of it!

Step 4: Build Good Habits (And resist the urge to cheat).

Alas, here’s the final boss. Can you stick with your habits? You certainly can. Just like figuring out the mechanics of any boss fight, this comes with some failure. Be graceful with those small missteps along the way. Reflect on what you’ve learned, and look to cut your spending. Don’t frequently buy new releases. New console coming out? Run up some sales to cut what you spend out of pocket. Most of all, be honest with yourself: don’t pad or estimate your expenses and sales. There’s no cheat codes for infinite resources, but you may have discovered that there are great tips & tricks to efficiently pump out a budget. If you can stick with a new behavior, it can often become habit within 28 days. So, if you’re willing to curb some of your impulse purchases, delay your gratification on new releases, and use some selling strategies of your own to decrease what you spend, you’ll be putting yourself on a path to get more out of your hobbies.

Step 5: Glance Back Briefly, then Move Forward.

This step is really included to make sure that reevaluation is part of your process. It may help you revise your goals, take a look at which months you spent more, and perhaps remind you of instances where you spent your hard-earned money on games that are now collecting dust. Budgeting is a cyclical process, where we look to be more conscientious and strengthen our habits. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to blaze forward.

Thanks for reading! If you have any great ideas on what has worked for you, we’d love to start a conversation! Please leave a comment below, consider signing up for our newsletter or subscribe to our RSS feed!


3 thoughts on “Tightwad Gamer’s Introductory Guide to Budgeting”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *