Gaming on a budget

I have a lot of debt. Let’s start with that. My wife and I spent three years living in the UK working on our PhDs, and the entire experience was funded by student loans—a lot of student loans. Don’t get me wrong, the whole thing was absolutely worth it, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. We got to travel the world, meet a lot of great people, and spend a lot of time working on things we’re passionate about.

But that student debt has had a big effect on our lives since we moved back Stateside, and one of the places where we’ve had to make cuts is our discretionary spending. Which means we don’t have a huge amount of money to spend on games. Being gaming nerds, that’s not always easy, but we’ve found ways to make it work. Here are some strategies that we use to make sure we don’t send ourselves even deeper into debt with our game addiction.

Set a budget

A lot of people aren’t going to like this one, but it’s an important step in not letting board games overrun your bank account. Set a budget, and stick to it. My current monthly budget is $40. I still buy games that cost more than that, but the budget rolls over, so I just wait until I’m back under the cap to start buying games again (it took several months after buying Scythe until I was able to buy another game).


Yes, it sucks. Budgeting is no fun. But it’s really important, especially if you’re into an expensive hobby, which board gaming can be. If you’re serious about your financial health, and you want to make sure that you can continue to buy and play games without making big financial mistakes, this is totally necessary.

Buy versatile games

Some games are just as great with two players as they are with three and four—our household favorite in this category is Carcassonne. My wife and I play regularly, and we often play when we have people over. There really isn’t a bad player count for this game.

On the other hand, Munchkin: Impossible isn’t really playable with two, and another of our favorite games, Lords of Waterdeep, isn’t great with less than three, and is definitely best with four or five. We have a copy of Fury of Dracula that we haven’t played yet, as it’s supposed to be much better with five than with any other player count.

More and more games are coming with single-player rules and variants, including my most recent acquisition, Scythe. That means you can play with one, two, three, four, or five players, and—as far as I can tell—it’s good with all of those options (though two-player isn’t the best). Think about these things when you’re shelling out for a game; the more versatile a game is, the more you’ll get out of it for your money.

Watch for sales

If you’re anything like me, you have an absolutely huge wants list of games, which means there’s always something you want when a retailer is having a sale. Instead of looking to buy a specific game, it’s a good idea to develop a mindset of trying to find the best deal on any game on your list.


There are plenty of good resources for checking up on board game deals; the Hot Deals forum at BoardGameGeek, the Board Game Deals sub-reddit, EverythingBoardGames’ daily deals, BoardGameLink’s deals page, and @Tabletop_Deals are all good sources. If you know of other good ones, share them in the comments so we can all check them out!

Bookmark these pages and check them regularly to take advantage of great sales on the games you want to play. You might even be able to get them cheaper than you’d be able to find them used. It’s not a bad idea to commit to never buying a full-priced board game again!

Try print-and-play

Hobbyist board games tend to be pretty expensive, with bigger games and special editions of smaller ones regularly topping $100. But there are also quite a few free games out there that have been published by gamers themselves or smaller publishers. These print-and-play games might not be the sprawling, strategically heavy masterpieces you want to spend your weekends playing, but it’s a great way to try a new game for the cost of a few sheets of paper and some printer ink (the image below is from a game called The Draugr).


The best way to find a good PnP game is to check out GeekLists on BoardGameGeek. Run a search for “print and play” to see which lists are active and what people are playing now. There’s a running collection of GeekLists where people post the games they’re planning on crafting and playing during the current month, and that can be a great source of inspiration in your PnP adventures (the PnP guild is a great place to keep track of lists and forum posts, too).

Also, don’t forget that many Kickstarter games also post print-and-play files so people can try the game before they back it. This means you can play games that aren’t even out yet, and actually play the full version of the game, without paying. It might take a long time to get the whole thing together, but it’s a great way to save some cash and still play some of the hottest games.

Know what tempts you

If you’re going to not overspend on board games, you need to be intentional about how you spend time reading about, looking for, and shopping for board games (really, it’s just a good idea to be intentional about more things in your life in general). That means you need to know what’s going to cause you to spend money.

For example, if you get Kickstarter emails, and you find yourself clicking on a lot of them to check out games that look cool, you might want to consider unsubscribing; that’s not doing you any favors if it’s constantly tempting you to spend more money. There are always a ton of great games on Kickstarter, and you could spend hundreds of dollars a month just on kickstarting projects. But unless you have a ridiculous amount of money to spare, that’s not a temptation you need.


The same goes for perusing sales on game store sites, Amazon, or anywhere else you might find a good deal on games. I know I said that you should always look for the best deals you can, but it’s important to only do that when you have the money to spend on a game. If you’re just browsing for the fun of it, you’re going to put yourself in a tempting situation that might not be good.

Cycle your collection

This is going to be a tough one for a lot of people who want to be collectors of games (I really sympathize). But having games that you don’t play isn’t a good use of your storage space or money. If you have a couple games that you don’t see yourself playing within the next few months, it’s a good idea to sell or trade them. You won’t get a ton of cash back, but it will help ease the burden on your new-games budget.

Being a game collector is fun, but if you’re on a tight budget, it might not be feasible. You can always start collecting later, and trying new games is too fun to miss out on while you’re strapped for cash.

Join a gaming group

Every board game nerd wants to learn and play as many games as they can get their hands on, which is why we have trouble with limited budgets at times. But just because a game isn’t in your collection doesn’t mean you can’t play it! There are tons of gaming groups around the country (and the world) that welcome new players and play a wide variety of games.


Use, Reddit, the BoardGameGeek forums, and any other site you can think of to find other gamers around you that you can meet up with. You’ll get to try new games, meet new people, and maybe visit some cool game shops or pubs. There are lots of different types of groups, so if you’re into eurogames, wargames, strategy games in general, lighter games, word games, RPGs, or any other subset of tabletop games, you’ll be able to find a group.

You can also play quite a few board games online at sites like Board Game Arena; and while this doesn’t offer the same experience, it’s a lot of fun and it’s a good way to learn a new game. I’m sure a lot of people will take issue with this suggestion, but BGA has been great for me, and I’m a big fan.

Buy used

This is a big one, and it should probably be obvious. Used games are usually a lot cheaper than new ones, and if you know where to look, you can get games that are in really good shape. I know that being a collector and buying new, pristine games is appealing, but if you’re strapped for cash, that’s just not going to be an option.

Craigslist is my favorite place to look, as you’ll often find people who need to sell games quickly, so they’re priced to move. I got Scotland Yard and Pandemic with the first expansion for $10 each not too long ago, and there are lots of opportunities for similar scores.


Some people swear by thrift store shopping, but I’ve never had any luck with that. If you have tips, feel free to share them in the comments.

And, of course, there’s the geek market on BoardGameGeek. Prices are usually pretty good there; not great, but they’ll certainly save you over buying new. Don’t forget to check Amazon for used copies, too; you can occasionally find some really amazing deals there.

How do you save money on your gaming hobby?

The suggestions above are just a few of the many ways you can keep board gaming from completely taking over your monthly budget. It’s easy to let it get out of control, but if you give some thought to how you’re spending money on games, it can be very reasonable.

What about you? How do you keep gaming from draining your bank account? Or do you just not worry about it? Share your best tips in the comments below!

Image credit: Sy Clark via Flickr.


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