Are you a RPG fan? If you are not, you probably would not be reading this. While gaming is certainly not one of the most expensive hobbies one can have, many gamers face the dilemma of either purchasing RPG related items or spending it on more important things such as food, gas, or rent. This article is for those of you who are long on imagination, but short on cash.
So, just how do you game on a budget? It is not easy, but it can certainly be done. My best suggestion; do not spend any money. Try and borrow the materials you need. See if one of your gaming buddies can lend you the sourcebook you need for a little while. You just might want to try the local library as well. When I lived in Gardena, California, the local library actually had a subscription to the Dragon magazine! Also keep in mind that if they do not have a magazine, some libraries might have copies of periodicals they do not carry on microfilm. If the library has a request list, you could try putting in a request for gaming magazines, (thought do not be overly optimistic about getting it.) Of course, most libraries also have internet access now to do your research on.
Which brings me to my next topic: Online resources. There are actually quite a few good deals on the Web. Amazon and Barnes & Noble, two of the largest book sellers on the web, typically offer discounts on most of their titles, including gaming books. Look further on the web, and you will find a number of store fronts that specialize in gaming suppies; many of whom have good prices. Of course, there is always Ebay and other online auction sites. Lots of people sell RPG itmes on these sites, and sometimes quite cheap. But when you are buying ANYTHING on the web, always remember that you will have to pay for shipping, and factor it into the cost. That $5 bid on a book that retails for $10 might not be such a great bargain if you have to shell out $4.50 for priority shipping. You could try to get them to ship using a cheaper method, such as first class or book rate, or you might just want to visit your local retailer.
If you do decide to shop locally, shop carefully and compare prices. Keep an eye out for any sales. Also, look into their special order policy. Some stores offer a discount on speical order itmes. (After all, it does not have to sit on their shelves for months waiting for a buyer.) In a similar vein, if you attend gaming conventions, and are able to plan ahead, try to sign up early. Many conventions offer a discount for early registration.
If the condition of your gaming material is not important to you, do not be afraid to buy used items. Hit your local thrift stores and used book sellers; you might be surprised to find that they sometimes carry gaming books and supplies. I once found a stack of old Dragon magazines at a used book store, and I can recall a number of occasions when I have found D&D books and modules at a thrift store. Just be careful to check for missing pages. You might also want to ask your fellow gamers if maybe they would be willing to part with some of their books.
Another good way to save money is to prioritize your gaming needs. Remember, just because you play D&D, for example, does not mean you need every single sourcebook written for it. If you are only playing the thief class, you really do not need the Fighter's Manual. If you are a player (as opposed to a Game Master) then you really do not need to shell out the money on GM related materials. If you are just starting to play a game, then focus on just getting the main rule book, if you do not have ready access to one. (For example, if you are playing an on-line game, and your fellow players are several hundred miles away, you will definitely need to buy a sourcebook.)
Once you have the things you need, be careful to conserve your resources. Sure those official character sheets on goldenrod paper look really cool, but why use them up? Similarly, if there are perforated sheets in your sourcebook for NPCs, maps, and what have you; why take them out of the book? (Which could possibly reduce it's value) Make copies of the pages instead.
Lastly, learn to make do. For example, instead of using expensive hex paper, use ordinary graph paper. And an ordinary D-Ring binder works just as well as a fancy binder with a picture of a dragon, vampire, spaceship, or what have you. Of course, if you need six-sided dice for your game, you might want to "borrow" some from an old board game you do not play anymore. Of course, if you or your family sitll play, be sure to put the dice back when you are done...