For many people, following a budget sounds like a headache. Some may also think budgeting means you won’t be able to have fun and enjoy your life.
But, that’s not the case at all.
Yes, budgets are about discipline, and you will have to say “no” at times. However, if you’re living beyond your means, following a budget can help you get back on track financially, but you’ll need to be determined and stick with it.
What people don’t realize is that budgets can also be about freedom – freedom from worry and frustration over money.
The secret is in the way you think about a budget, and how you set yours up. A budget can help you live your best life now and in the future.
And, I strongly believe that everyone needs a budget, no matter how much money you make or already have saved. That’s because a budget is a guide that keeps you working towards your goals.
It can help you plan for so many different amazing things in the future because it helps you determine the steps you need to take to reach those goals.
If you’ve thought budgeting was boring, today’s post is going to explain how you can have a budget and still enjoy your life.
I’m going to explain more about what a budget is – it’s not just rules about how you spend your money!
I will give you suggestions for how much money to budget for fun, and I will also explain several tips for budget-friendly fun and what to do when sticking to your budget feels difficult.
How to Have a Budget And Still Enjoy Life
What is a budget?
Even if you have never had a budget, I’m sure you have a general idea of what they are.
A budget is simply a plan that helps you keep track of how much money comes in and how much is going out.
The money coming in is from all of your sources of income, like what you make at work and/or side hustle income.
What’s going out is your spending, like bills, debt payments, money you’re saving for retirement, and so on.
A budget can be a great way to understand your spending habits or savings rate, but it’s also a way to keep yourself honest with the money that comes in compared to the money that goes out.
When you look at what you’re honestly doing with your money, you can make adjustments to your budget to get yourself on track financially, whether that means paying off more debt, finding ways to make more money, and so on.
Fixed vs. variable budget expenses
Your budget will have both fixed and variable expenses, but many people don’t understand the differences and how they affect your monthly budget.
Fixed expenses are expenses that you’re pretty sure won’t change much from month-to-month – such as rent, utilities, car payments, and health insurance.
These costs will likely be the largest portion of your budget, especially if you have a lot of debt.
In addition to fixed expenses, there are also variable expenses. These are items that vary from person to person and from month to month.
Variable expenses include things like entertainment, groceries, clothing, and travel. They can be more difficult to budget for because they can quickly change.
You will want to be honest about everything in your budget – guessing or estimating isn’t helpful.
What you spend on fun money is usually a variable expense for people, but you can turn it into a fixed expense by giving yourself a specific amount of money to spend on fun.
The benefit is that you know exactly how much you can spend on fun each month, which can eliminate a lot of stress. You’re giving yourself permission to still have fun, but you’re doing it in a way that works with your overall financial situation.
Why should you have a budget?
Budgets help you take control of your money. Sounds simple enough, but think about it – how can you know what to spend or save if you don’t have a clear idea how much income is coming in month-to-month, versus how much is going out?
Your budget helps you make informed decisions each and every month.
If you know how much money you’re working with, then you can make better decisions about what to do with your money.
For example, let’s say that at the beginning of the year you set a goal to save $1,000 by June 1st for your “vacation fund.”
After reviewing your budget for the year, you may realize that your goal is unrealistic if you continue living the way you have been. Instead of continuing to spend money on certain items without thinking about it, a budget will help you decide which expenses are completely unnecessary so that you can focus more on saving towards your vacation fund or another savings goal.
A budget also helps protect against overspending. This is especially true if you’re prone to impulse buying – if you know how much you have to spend for the month on entertainment, groceries, etc., it’s harder to exceed that amount.
A budget can also be fun and liberating. Once you get a handle on your finances, it feels great to live within your means.
You will be able to spend money without as much stress.
When it comes to sticking to a budget, the most important thing is how you approach it.
Looking at your budget as a tool that can help you will help you stick to it. Thinking about your budget positively can help you avoid temptations that can lead to failure.
Remember, a budget is about freedom, not about restriction.
An effective budget helps you make the most of your money so that you can enjoy your life even more.
How much money should I budget for fun?
The short answer is that the amount you decide to budget for fun will depend on how much money you make, the rest of your expenses, and what your goals are.
Everyone will have some obvious limitations in their fun budget. For example, if you’re already living paycheck-to-paycheck, then you will need to find ways to have inexpensive fun if you don’t want to fall into debt.
You may also be already trying to save for some big, fun goals. This can be saving for an upcoming vacation or buying a new house. Those are long-term goals that will require you to be more disciplined on a day-to-day basis.
If you are looking for exact numbers, some people follow the 50/20/30 budget. Here’s what that means:
- 50% of your income is for required expenses. This includes expenses like food, utility payments, housing, minimum debt payments, and so on.
- 20% of your income is for debt and savings. Things like retirement savings, emergency fund, and additional debt payments all come out of this portion.
- 30% of your income for fun. Here’s where everything else comes out of. There aren’t restrictions on what you use this money for as long as you don’t exceed 30%.
The 50/20/30 budget can give you a good starting point, but it won’t work for everyone. If you have a lot of debt, especially high-interest rate debt, you may want to put more than 20% towards debt payments.
How do you have fun on a low budget?
Whether you decide to allocate 30% of your income towards fun or a much lower percent, there are so many ways to have fun on a low budget.
For fun that fits your budget, you may have to think outside the box, and the ideas below will help you come up with some budget-friendly fun:
Spend time outside
There are many frugal ideas for what you could do outside for fun. Plus, if you already have all of the gear then it can be an extremely cheap way to enjoy yourself.
- Go for a bike ride
- Take a hike
- Enjoy rock climbing
- Walk around a neighborhood you’ve been wanting to explore
- Go for a run with your dogs
- Go swimming
- Find a nearby pond, lake, or river for fishing
- Camp in a state park or campground
- Enjoy a picnic with your family or friends
- Get together for a bonfire
Visit your local library
For inexpensive entertainment, your local library can be a great place to have fun.
Libraries have tons of free events and activities for all ages, as well as tons of books and movies you can check out without having to spend a dime. This way, when you’re bored at home, you can do something fun and interesting without having to pay for it.
There are libraries that also host concerts, book readings, book clubs, activities for kids, and more.
Your library may have more than free books and activities – many libraries now let you borrow other things for free.
I’ve seen libraries lending Go-Pros, video cameras, fishing equipment, sports items, laptops, digital cameras, projectors, and more. You simply check them out in the same way you do a book.
Try mystery shopping
Mystery shopping won’t make you rich, but it can be an easy way to earn free meals at restaurants, free outings, free hotel stays, and more.
To earn those things, you will have to pay for everything upfront with your own money, and you will also be required to fill out surveys afterwards.
I used to mystery shop a lot when I was making extra money to pay off my student loan debt, and it was a fun, budget-friendly way to go out.
You can learn more at How To Become A Mystery Shopper.
Take advantage of happy hours
Happy hours are a great way to go out for discounted food and drinks. You may be able to save 50% or more by just visiting bars and restaurants during specific hours.
Use rewards credit cards
You can still go on vacations even if you are frugal and on a budget.
One way to take a fun vacation on a budget is to use rewards credit cards. If you are good at managing credit cards and you know you won’t go into debt in order to earn rewards, then this can be a nice way to go on vacations on a budget.
You can learn more at Best Rewards Credit Cards.
Sign up for birthday rewards.
Many places will give you free drinks, food, or other items during your birthday month. You may have to sign up for an email list or for a loyalty program, but it’s a good way to have budget fun on your birthday.
Find local, free activities
Most cities and communities offer some free activities and entertainment throughout the year. There might be concerts, festivals, movies in the park, and so on.
You should be able to find these by looking online at your town’s event calendar or by searching: “free activities in [your name of town].”
Look for free or discount days
Museums, zoos, theme parks, movie theaters, and so on often have certain days during the week or month when they offer free or discounted admission.
These days are often a little busier, but you can easily save a lot of money by planning your outings around free or discount days.
Stay home for budget fun
Maybe staying home doesn’t sound like a fun idea to you, but there are many ways you can make staying at home fun and fit within your budget. You can:
- Host a game night and have everyone bring a snack and drinks to share.
- Do a movie premier night with friends, complete with popcorn and movie theatre candy from the dollar store.
- Have a potluck brunch or dinner.
- Have a bonfire in the backyard and roast s’mores and hot dogs.
Go out for lunch, not dinner.
Many restaurants have the same or very similar items on their menu for both lunch and dinner, but the lunch items are usually much less expensive.
An easy way to still include going out to eat in your fun budget is to simply switch when you do it.
How to say “no” to spending money
One of the reasons people think budgets are boring or strict is because sometimes you have to say “no” to spending.
There will be times when your friends invite you out, but you know that going out won’t fit into your budget. You can always suggest budget-friendly alternatives like some of the ones I listed above. A good example is going out to lunch with friends instead of dinner.
But, there will be other times when you just have to say “no.”
I know it’s difficult because you may feel left out on the fun, but think about how saying “no” will allow you to have more fun in the future. It could mean the vacation of your dreams or early retirement.
You can also be honest with your friends as to why you’re turning down invitations. Good friends will understand and respect what you’re doing, and you may be surprised to find that many of them are in similar situations.
Yes, you can have a budget and still enjoy your life!
All in all, you have to be smart with how much money you spend on fun activities.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money on entertainment if you want to have fun – rather, try finding free or low-cost activities that you can do with friends and family first.
Doing your research will help you find things that are cheap or free first, and then you can have fun without worrying about blowing your budget.
What are affordable things you do to have fun, so that you can stay on budget?
Thank you very much for your wonderful ideas- there is always something useful for everyone!
Michelle Schroeder-Gardner says
Great ideas! We started doing happy hour at a local park during covid and it’s been a lot of fun – and a significant money saver.
Tom Caklos says
Great article Michelle. To be honest, I hate budgeting – it can get overwhelming so easily. But I am a kinda impulsive buyer – meaning I don’t need too much convincing to buy new fashion clothing so I feel like I need to block these sites haha. Anyways, thanks for the great guide! 🙂