Times are tough. Money is tight. But you still want to have a little fun. That's what money's for right? How can you trim your spending in a way that still makes you feel fulfilled in your purchasing power and have some leftover for fun nights out? Here are some tips to keep you in check.
Know Your Budget
I live by my budget. It's how I know when I can afford to go out or not, and is built around my needs so they're always taken care of. If you don't have a good budget, spend some time making an excel sheet or just sketch one out by hand. Take into account all your monthly expenses - rent or mortgage, utilities, groceries, car payments, gas, student loans, public transit, gym membership, credit card payment - all the things you regularly need to spend on. I suggest trying to make sure you put money into a savings account every month, even if it's a small amount, so factor that into your needs as well. Now subtract that from your monthly income. What's left over is your fun money. If you're spending more money than you're making, try to trim some of your expenditures, like taking public transit or giving up your gym membership. The important thing is to know, and monitor, those numbers. I use the geekerific, free Quicken Online for the handy pie charts and graphs.
Avoid Shopping Addictions
This one seems obvious, but it lurks just below the surface of all of us. If you consistently make purchases just when you're having a bad day or have a closet full of clothes you've never even taken the tags off of, take a hard look at your spending. It's easy to get into a spending = happiness spiral, and really hard to get out, especially if you've got some debt riding on that. Seek professional help if you feel that you may have or are at risk.
How to Impulse Buy Without Blowing it
I know, I should be telling you not to impulse buy right? Sometimes though, a little shopping therapy can go a long way. The key is to not take your credit card in the store. If you know you need a pick me up, take out cash of what you can spare, $10, $20, $50, or whatever, and leave the rest of your wallet in the car. Now you can spend that money any way you want. You still get something fun, and stay within your budget.
Know What you Value
Do you have a shoe addiction, or are you a bag lady? Do you need every new video game when it's released, or are you more of a movie person? Make space in your budget for what you love to do, and prioritize those spending purchases over other slightly less fun things. You'll feel more rewarded in your purchases and stretch your dollars a little further by enjoyment.
Saving for a Goal vs Saving for Nothing
I'm one of those people who gets an insane amount of joy just from looking at how much money is sitting in my savings account (even if it's not an insane amount of money). If you're not one, it helps to think of saving for a goal. Maybe you want to take a cross-continental trip next year, buy a house, or own a Gucci trench coat. Whatever that is, keep it in mind when you're tempted. Write it in the front of your checkbook or have a photo on your phone. Think, "If I make dinner at home tonight, that's a dinner out I can have in Paris."
Sales: Best Friend and Worst Enemy
I love sales. The gimmick of taking three dollars off so I can buy more and feel good about how much I saved gets me every time. And sales can be good. If you know you need new work clothes or appliances sales can be awesome. Travel sales are currently at their best prices in years, so take advantage of that if it's within your saving goal. The part where you get into trouble is when sales produce impulse buying. Don't let a sign for 40% off let you shirk off your budget. If you keep to the impulse buying rules we outlined above, then a sale can really take you a long way.
Enjoying your Purchases
You've thought about your fun priorities and you bought those amazing new shoes you wanted, or you impulse bought a book that had an intriguing cover. Whatever you do, don't guilt yourself about thoughtful purchases. We have things because they're supposed to make us happy. And while obviously nothing will be the ONE purchase to end all others, they're all little steps that help us feel better, a little more extravagant, or just something silly to brighten our day. If you associate good purchases with good feelings, you'll be well on your way to managing your budget and your money-life.
How do you feel rich without a Prince's Ransom?