It is hard to keep a stringent budget, especially when you aren’t working with much to begin with. It is even harder to make sacrifices and decide to do without something that makes you happy that you know isn’t worth the money.
One of the best ways to help yourself stick to your budget is to allow yourself small pleasures. Below is a list of several things in my life that I have allowed to stay in my budget as a tradeoff for more expensive things. All of the list below are things that exist in my real life and things that I have found will save me money in the long run.
1. Buy A Season Pass
Zoo, pool, amusement park, etc. You don’t need to spend extra money when you have free time; you’ve already made the investment. And that “investment” is the key term here. You may think that shelling out $169 for an amusement park pass or $60 for a zoo pass might kill your weekly (or monthly) budget, but not only can you return a unlimited number of times, you also can feel less pressured to “get your money’s worth” in each trip. You don’t have to stay at the amusement park for 16 hours and go home exhausted, you can come back next week and the next week and go home whenever you feel like it.
I bought a zoo pass. It was $61 and I get myself, my son and one other adult into the zoo for free as many times as we want to go. It’s only June and we have already gone twice. I’m picturing a summer full of lions and elephants, and I am very excited about it.
2. Allow Yourself Motivators
I pay $23 a month for a gym pass to simply use the elliptical. Yes, I could run outside. I hate running, however, and prefer an elliptical. I also carefully researched the gym and they have a movie room with cardio machines that helps me get through my workout.
Also, their yoga schedule fits perfectly with my life. I could have paid $9 a month to go to a cheaper gym, but they wouldn’t necessarily have the things I need to help motivate myself to actually use the membership.
Instead of always looking for the least expensive option, analyze the features and perks you need to help you get the best of your money. If I had paid $9 a month, I don’t think I would have been at the gym even half as much as I am now, and basically that would have been a wasted $9 rather than a well-utilized $23, not to mention the fact that I also would be losing exercise.
3. At-Home Versions of Gourmet Food
Food is a complicated process in my house. I am a vegetarian and my son is not, I can’t drink milk and my son does, and I don’t have a lot to spend on groceries. I absolutely positively love Wolfgang Puck’s Tortilla Soup. It comes in a can that really only makes one bowl, and is $2 a can.
I also am in love with Aladdin’s Vegetarian Chili. It is $6 plus a tip since I am ordering it from a restaurant. So I buy one (sometimes 2) cans a week of the $2 soup, don’t share it with my friends, and use it as a treat for myself when I’m too tired to cook. It is healthy, so it’s not like I’m indulging and losing nutrition in favor of convenience. All in all, the opportunity cost as well as the literal cost makes this worth it for me.
This is just one of many examples, and I’m sure we can all think of several examples of ways to save money by eating at home rather than eating out. You can always try new recipes, or look for copycat recipes of your restaurant favorites. You can invite friends over for dinner instead of going out to eat, and even make it a potluck to save you some time. Eating out is a huge expense and there are many ways to enjoy the pleasures without spending the money.
4. Plan Some of The Expensive Items Into Your Budget
I worked at Starbucks in college and had a pretty intense caffeine addiction for several years. Then I ended up in the hospital with chest pain and my doctor told me there was nothing really wrong with my heart but I needed to seriously decrease my caffeine intake.
I tried not drinking coffee and only drinking diet soda (yeah, I know, not the healthiest choice, but you have to walk bad habits down the stairs, you can’t toss them off a cliff). But when I buy a 2 liter of Diet Coke, I can drink the whole thing in one day simply because I lose track of how much I’ve already consumed.