Coming up with a budget involves prioritizing and allocating cash for everyday expenses such as housing and food, as well as saving money for the future. But since money only goes so far, some people put all their focus on saving and they kick fun to the curb. However, being financially responsible doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time. We all need to blow off steam from time-to-time and enjoy a little recreation. But what are your options when your income doesn’t allow fun?
Here are practical tips to help you enjoy life now, and still save for the future.
1. Know where you’re spending money
Before you can come up with a plan that lets you enjoy life while saving for the future, you have to know where your money goes. This is one way to figure out where you might be overspending.
There could be plenty of cash in your budget for fun and saving. But if you’re spending needlessly in certain areas, it can appear as if you’re not earning enough to achieve both goals.
Rather than work just to manage expenses, think of areas where you can cut back. If you have expensive cars or a mortgage you can barely afford, simplifying and selling off stuff can free up money allowing you to plan ahead and get more enjoyment out of life.
2. Automate savings for the big stuff
Maybe you want to take a vacation but don’t think there’s wiggle room in the budget for a sanity break. Whether you want to save for a trip, an experience or another item, you can make it happen by automating your savings for big things.
Set up automatic transfers and move cash from your checking account into a special savings account each pay period. Give yourself a few weeks to adjust and I’m willing to bet you won’t miss the money. It’s easier to save when your finances are on autopilot, especially if you don’t have discipline to manually transfer funds into your savings account.
3. Budget for fun
The same way you budget for bills and saving for retirement, you can include “fun money” in your budget—just don’t go overboard. You don’t want fun to interfere with your ability to pay important bills. However, setting aside funds for recreation or entertainment each month provides the mental release you need and you avoid depriving yourself, which could result in overspending later.
The amount you allocate for recreation depends on your income and amount of disposable cash. Whatever amount you choose, make sure it’s reasonable.
4. Frugal hobbies
Enjoying life doesn’t mean spending money. The trick to planning ahead and still enjoying life is finding frugal hobbies and activities. There are plenty of ways to have a social life without spending a dime, or spending very little.
Host a potluck game night or dinner at your home with friends. Go to the beach with friends, invite a group to the park for a barbecue and ask everyone to bring an item, or get local listings of free concerts and festivals. You can enjoy big savings which also stretches your entertainment budget.
5. Dine out the smart way
I enjoy eating out and experiencing different types of food, but I also know how expensive this can be. The secret to eating out while trying to save money is never paying full price.
Join your favorite restaurant’s email clubs and you might be eligible for free meals on your birthday or anniversary. It also helps to know when different restaurants have weekly specials. For example, Joe’s Crab Shack often advertises $2 Tuesdays for select appetizers. Applebee’s has half-off appetizers after 9 PM Monday through Thursday, and some restaurants offer half-off appetizers during happy hour.
6. Low-cost vacationing
Between transportation, accommodations, food and activities, vacations are anything but cheap. But there are ways to save. You can check Groupon and explore international and domestic hotel and travel deals. Personally, I’ve scored huge discounts on hotels over the past two years using the site. I’ve even come across Groupon deals for half-off at amusement parks and water parks, as well as two-for-one deals on bowling, movies and concerts. Other ways to save on vacations might include:
- flying discount carriers such as Southwest and Virgin America, or driving a couple hours and flying out of a larger airport to save on ticket pricing
- book vacations in areas with family or friends to save on accommodations
- tour a timeshare (if you can sit through a 90-minute presentation you could score free accommodation and tickets to local attractions)
- use a rewards credit card for everyday purchases and redeem points for air travel and hotels (but only if you’re committed to paying off the balance in full every month)
Sure, you want to be responsible with your money and plan ahead. This, however, doesn’t mean you can’t have a social life or hobbies—especially since there are so many ways to enjoy the best of both worlds.
What are your tips for enjoying life while saving for the future?