Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Should You Budget Fun Money?

Budgets are really tight for so many people right now. Prices are increasing but we aren't seeing the same thing with our checks.  Each payday we are forced to squeeze those dimes and dollars just a little more to see how much further we can stretch them.  No matter how you slice it, phrase it or pretty it up, the fact is money is just plain tight. It is okay to budget for fun money?

Yes. I  would even go so far as to say it is just as important as every other category in your budget.

 Here's a little back story:  When I was in college, I lived alone and  worked as many hours as possible at the local mall while my parents graciously paid my tuition . At the time, financial aid was only available for full time students and because I was self supporting (except for the college tuition from my parents) I usually could only manage about 75 percent of a full time load. I made good grades and although I was only a part time employee, I was willing to work just about any shift anybody else didn't want. I received an hourly wage and a small commission, so those weekends and Friday nights no one else wanted offered me the opportunity to increase my income.  Still, money was scarce and making ends meet was harder than anything I could imagine.

If I got a lunch hour, I'd eat something,  maybe study a little  and then I'd walk through the mall window shopping. At the far end of the mall was a high end department store. The floors gleamed, everything was immaculate and the cool air just invited you in. To me, it was style, class and money all rolled into one.To a college student with a tight budget, it was a place to see how 'the other half' lived. And right smack in the middle of the store was my favorite place: a small confectionary department that had the most delightful goodies one could imagine. I never knew candy could be so expensive. Every week I would walk down to the little store within the big store and purchase two (just two) small  raspberry chocolate truffles in the shape of seashells. That one purchase was about $5 and that was more than two decades ago (ouch). Placed in a tiny white box, I felt like I had just purchased something regal and decadent. I did not need the sweets. I could have lived without them. But, oh, they put a smile on my face and I relished every bite.

That is when I learned a very important lesson. Even when you are 'living lean' and your budget is stretched until it is screaming for mercy, you need to find a way to enjoy something in order just to make the sacrifice worthwhile. If you don't, one of two things will happen. One, you become cranky and miserly. Two, you wreck your budget because the deprivation is overwhelmingly difficult and impossible to maintain.

A word of caution: Fun money is not a lot of money. It isn't a new sofa, a new suit or steak and lobster. It's just a little bit of money that has no other purpose but to spend just on you.

I used to get very creative with my fun money. Sometimes it was the truffles and sometimes it was a $2 bottle of nail polish from a no-name brand (I usually liked those a lot). I love to read, so it might have been a magazine. It didn't really matter just as long as I looked forward to it and it was all mine.

When you make your budget--and yes, you should always have a spending plan-- set aside an amount for each person. Label it anyway you choose: allowance, fun money, mad money, blow money, etc. Just make sure it isn't tied in with another category such as lunch or gas funds. Here is the real key. That money is all yours. You don't have to explain how you spent it, as long as it's legal. For some reason, just knowing that $5 (or ten) is there if I want to use it makes me relax a little and feel like I'm making headway with the finances. Sometimes, just knowing I have it in my wallet it good enough and it doesn't get spent but at least I know I can if I want to.

You may meet some resistance with anyone who shares your budget. 'How can we afford to do this when there's not really enough to go around in the first place?' is a good question. My answer is simple. We aren't talking about a ton of money. No one is getting a Benjamin to throw out the window. We may be talking $10 a week or $10 a month; just a tiny bit that is all yours. You are the boss of it. Think of it as a release valve on a pressure cooker. We all have to blow a little steam. For some reason, my husband likes those gigantic cans of Arizona Tea. Every now and then, he will tell me he's going out to run an errand and in an hour he will return with that can of his and he seems a little more relaxed. I like to think it's because he got to get something for himself without feeling guilty or someone asking if it's in the budget. I've been known to get a teeny tiny bouquet, chocolate covered peanuts, a candle, clearance flip flops, yarn, and nail polish.  It's all good.

Adding fun money to your spending plan will not derail you from getting out of debt. It probably won't even slow down your progress. In my own experience, it has actually kept my family on task and improved the odds of staying on track.

1 comment:

  1. You are absolutely right. Everyone needs a little mad money that belongs to them alone. This will help you stay on budget. Good luck.