Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of life I want to live. I’m pretty much happy at one extreme or the other: I either want to live the life in the city, or I want be out in the country as off the grid as possible. And it’s easy to go with the flow and spend the money I have access to just because that’s what everyone else is doing. Especially now that I actually have enough money to cover my bills and still put something away in terms of savings.
However, having spent years living on a very strict budget, I’ve developed some habits that leave me more wiggle room in the event of a monetary emergency. Even better, it turns out that I am finding myself more and more content by living within my means instead of always chasing after the next big thing I want to spend my money on. And it feels GOOD to have money in the bank and know that if I decide I want to do something big I can do it.
I’m not in any way saying don’t try to increase your income or put yourself in a better standing. I’m just saying that you don’t necessarily have to do so in order to enjoy your life. Have and set big goals, but in the meantime, find a way to have fun without putting a hole in your pocket.
Often, it just takes a little perspective! Here’s how to get started:
1. Put Together a Break Even
There are a lot of ways to do this, but I like to look at it as the amount of money I need in order to survive. For me, this does not include going out, shopping, travel, anything I do not absolutely need to stay alive and sheltered within my life. This does include things like: Rent, Credit Card Bills, Student Loan Payments, Cell Phone Bill, Utilities, Food, Pet Bills, Insurance, Etc.
This should also include your savings, which should be somewhere between 15-30% of your breakeven. With the economy as it is, everyone should have enough money to live for 6 months without a job. This money should NEVER be touched, and if ever needed, should only be used to cover your break even expenses. Having this cushion will give you a sense of freedom – if you are one of the majority holding down a rotten job, you will have the power to walk away when you reach your breaking point. It’s amazing how much better the same job feels when you aren’t chained to it.
2. Set Money Goals
It can be fairly challenging to not spend the money you are setting aside, so make goals with rewards to make it easier. Start small: If I stick to my FUN Budget this month, then I’ll go to the movies/sporting event. Or, if you reach a certain number goal in your savings, then buy that ____ that you really want.
This does a few things for you. 1. It keeps you on budget. 2. It builds your self-control and will start leaving you with a solid sense of accomplishment. 3. You’ll really appreciate what you’ve earned. Just like everyone else, I have stuff that I bought because I wanted it more than anything else at that moment, but is now just sitting in my apartment taking up valuable space. Things that I set goals for and waited to purchase though, get a lot of use because I struggled for it.
3. Budget for Fun
That all being said, you still have got to have fun in your life; otherwise, what’s the point? Back when I was on that super tight budget, I still planned to spend $15 a week on a manicure. That gave me an hour to pamper myself, and gave me a little confidence in my appearance (for whatever reason, my nails are terrible at holding polish; I can barely make it a day if it’s not been done well). Do something relatively inexpensive that is all about you, even if your budget is tight.
If you have a little more room, budget a little more. Decide what you are willing to put aside each month, or even each time you get paid, and then stick to that amount. This money is guilt free; spend it on whatever you want to, be it a fun activity or a material item. The key is not to cave in if you spent your entire Blow it However I Want fund. If your entire budget for the month is $300, and you spend It all in one weekend, wait until the next month before you go out again. Stand your ground, because if you can’t stand up to yourself, there’s no hope when someone else starts to push you around.
4. Embrace the “Free is For Me” Attitude
There are a ton of activities that are either Free or very inexpensive to do. Living in the city, I have access to a lot of outdoor concerts or events, but New York is not the only place where these types of things are available. Companies like Living Social or MeetUp.com offer inexpensive events where you can mingle and try new things all at a discount. Check stuff out and meet new people for $20 or even less!
Take advantage of local wildlife! There are tons of state and local parks that range from drive up to a grill and a picnic table to hiking through a nature trail – something for all adventure levels. Fishing is an inexpensive activity that requires a pole and maybe a license depending on where you are. When I lived in Florida, the beach was always a hot spot. If you can find the right spot, you won’t even have to pay for parking.
Or just sit outside your own home! Have a coffee, read the paper, and mingle with the neighbors. This is a great way to build relationships locally, and can lead to impromptu BBQ’s and more.
Finally, create your own events! Lots of groups will put together a scavenger hunt or a fun contest where people can get together and have some old school fun. Have a 10 day Board Game extravaganza and let the winners drink free for a week/month. Play football or some other sport in the park. Or, start a project for yourself; want a new shelf? Build one. Want to get in shape? Train for it. Just DO SOMETHING good for yourself.
We live in a society that is materialistic, and very focused on socially drinking as a good time. This gets pretty expensive, and doesn’t really do anything for the soul. I’ve been kicking it back to old school fun, and having a great time doing it. Think Brady Bunch and get outside and/or get creative. If you’re a millennial, it’ll probably be outside your comfort zone in the beginning, but have an open mind and try to enjoy it; you’ll probably surprise yourself.