Tightwad Gamer’s Intro Guide to Budgeting

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

As gamers, we 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. Here’s an intro guide to budgeting.

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 to introduce you to 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.
Until Dawn1/4/2017$18.00Trades to GYGO1/17/2017$14.00
Yakuza 01/9/2017$22.99Trade to GYGO2/26/2017$53.50
Pikmin 21/17/2017$13.14Zelda Amiibo3/16/2017$160.00
Zelda Breath of the Wild3/3/2017$6.88Trades to GYGO4/20/2017$29.50
Star Wars Destiny4/24/2017$60.00Trades to GYGO4/20/2017$83.00
Warhammer Paints4/20/2017$25.00Trades to GYGO5/7/2017$50.00
Warhammer Case4/15/2017$18.00Antique Box4/15/2017$135.49
Warhammer Dark Angels4/21/2017$12.99Dreamcast JP Lot5/10/2017$75.00
Warhammer Lot5/2/2017$60.00Destiny Lots5/21/2017$95.55
Destiny Commons5/1/2017$19.00Warhammer Lot6/3/2017$31.00
Destiny Box5/4/2017$67.00Destiny Lots6/3/2017$137.01
Destiny Packs5/4/2017$25.00Trades to GYGO6/24/2017$86.00
Destiny Packs5/7/2017$98.00Escape6/21/2017$10.50
Space Marines5/7/2017$19.99Halo 3 Bag6/24/2017$25.00
Warhammer Case5/10/2017$20.00Game Boy Bag6/24/2017$12.00
Destiny Box5/17/2017$215.00Dreamcast Stick6/29/2017$0.00
Land Raider Bits5/15$25.00Samba Maracas6/29/2017$75.00
Destiny Box5/31$105.002x Force Speed7/9/2017$141.72
Destiny Box6/22/17$115.00Super Soakers7/9/2017$40.00
Genesis Games6/22/17$23.00Jordan Cards7/9/2017$48.00
Destiny Box6/23$115.00Tony Gwynn Baseball7/12/2017$40.00
Destiny Packs7/7/2017$42.00Quirkle7/12/2017$10.76
Destiny Packs7/16/2017$15.00Destiny Lots7/16/2017$100.00
Luke Skywalker7/17/2017$48.00Poe7/23/2017$17.50
Store Championship7/23/2017$43.00Blue Angels Program7/23/2017$20.00
Luigi’s Mansion7/27/2017$37.00Luigi’s Mansion7/28/2018$27.00
Destiny Packs8/2/2017$58.00Destiny Lots8/10/2017$77.00
Sonic Mania8/21/2017$16.44Star Wars CCG Lot8/10/2017$47.50
Month:Bought:Sold:Total Net
Per Month$116.12$136.84$20.72
Collected 2017:7Beaten 2017:11
Collected 2016:33Beaten 2016:17
Collected 2015:59Beaten 2015:30
Collected 2014:55Beaten 2014:13
Collected 201371Beaten 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!


  1. Pingback: Free Yourself From Gaming Debt, Slash Your Backlog! – Tightwad Gamer

  2. Pingback: PlayStation+ vs. Xbox Live Gold. A 2017 Tightwad Year in Review – Tightwad Gamer

  3. Pingback: PlayStation+ vs. Xbox Live Gold. A 2017 Tightwad Year in Review – Tightwad Gamer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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