I make good money, but with two kids close to college-age there is always something else on which to spend money. These are some thoughts on how to make the most of a finite budget.
One suggestion for making the most of limited financial resources (as most of us face) is to focus on musical sounding components if listening to music matters more to you than the excitement of getting new, expensive components. One benefit of a focus on selecting musical components rather than the audiophile pastime of nit-picking specific aspects of equipment sound quality is that I think better musicality can maintain interest and engagement over a longer period of time as you listen to different music and discover new music.
I have personally found that expensive components are not necessarily the most musical sounding components to my ears. As an example, ultra expensive speakers, in particular, sound more analytical to me than musical. Even if I could afford to spend $20k+ on a speaker, I’m wouldn’t choose to do so based on my impressions of the speakers in that price category. The extreme focus on detail of hyper expensive speakers can result in music reproduction that loses musicality since it sounds ‘larger than life’ for lack of a better description.
Also, when buying audio equipment on a budget (which could be as low as $200-500 per component), I would suggest focusing on equipment that has “errors of omission” rather than “errors of commission”. What I mean by “errors of omission” is that a specific piece of equipment sounds highly musical, but may not provide the ultimate in resolution or detail. “Errors of commission” refers to some aspect of sound quality that is actively unpleasant. Getting that last iota of resolution or detail requires a lot of effort and cost to get right. Moreover, getting that last bit of detail often requires trade-offs in other elements of musicality. For instance, it’s much easier to make a great sounding low powered amplifier (~30-50 watts per channel) than a great sounding high powered amplifier. Higher powered amplifiers require bigger power supplies and other beefed up components that can result in a sluggish sounding result.
Figuring out how to build a system by continually swapping in new components also costs a lot of money. IMHO, System synergy is something that is best achieved by listening in person. If you don’t currently have a system with which you are satisfied, it might be a good first step to build an audio system that fits your listening preferences. For additional equipment upgrade purchases, consider buying equipment that works well with your existing components so you get an improvement in sound quality without having to buy other equipment at the same time. For instance, I just got a pair of Monitor Audio Silver 300 speakers. In addition to sounding great on its own merits, a key purchase reason was that they also sounded great with my 30 year old Creek amplifier. I’ll most likely upgrade that amplifier at some point, but not needing to replace the amplifier right away gives me the budget to improve my digital source components which an area of more immediate interest to me. Also, I can tell that I can improve my associated source and amplification components by a lot before hitting the limits of improvements that these speakers can convey.
My last thought if sound quality and musicality is a primary concern, consider allocating enough of your budget to source components that can provide the quality of sound that you desire. Having to settle for a less ideal amplifier or speakers will limit your final sound quality, but taking this approach also provides you with an upgrade path that doesn’t also require concurrent upgrades to your source components.
Finally, joking but not joking, one way to afford super expensive audio equipment is to not get married and not have kids. The amount of money that you can devote to buying audio equipment can be enormous without having to consider the needs of a spouse and kids.