Budgeting: Have Fun with It (Part III)

This is part III of a four-part series on budgeting. So far, we talked about freeing up cash flow by budgeting. Once you’ve budgeted and have that free cash flow…flowing…you’ll have a few options with what you can do with it:

  1. Give it.
  2. Have fun with it.
  3. Invest it.

Today we’ll talk about option #2 (perhaps your favorite?): Have fun with it.

Let’s face it, you need to have a bit of fun with your money. It’s vital to a functioning financial situation for you and your spouse (if you’re married). You might ask yourself how I can talk about having fun with money when, throughout this site, I push saving, investing, making your dollars really work for you, etc. What I’ve discovered is that if you don’t have some much-needed fun with your money, you end up throwing in the towel on your finances completely.

And we can’t have that.

A few personal stories to draw the point. When Julie and I first began our budget (you should have seen the YNAB System at the first…woah…wish I had some screenshots of that ugly baby) we were totally fired up about saving money, watching every penny, staying out of debt (I had three years of school left at the time), etc. We were going to live like paupers.

We were successful for, oh, about two weeks. It happened to me first though. I started feeling kind of depressed. Perhaps that’s too strong of a word. I started feeling a bit down, kind of closed in when it came to our money. I felt like I couldn’t buy anything. It all had to be justified. It all had to have strong arguments going for why the money was being spent in the first place.

I couldn’t have bought myself an ice cream cone without permission.

I approached Julie about it and she confessed that she was feeling somewhat the same way. She too felt a bit down, closed in, unable to really relax at all when it came to buying something she just wanted. So together we came to the conclusion that we needed some fun money. And more importantly, each person needed their own fun money for which they alone were accountable.

We each received $5 per month.

Is that fanatical? Probably still. But only a fanatic would sell a budgting system in the first place. So sue me. But my point is not how much breathing room we gave ourself (it will vary greatly for each person and/or couple). My point is that the $5 we each received literally cured the problem we were having with feeling just a bit too restricted.

I could now save my $5 and purchase a used book every two months or so. Julie could save hers and buy a pair of jeans. If I wanted to get something at the vending machine, I did it (you shouldn’t eat food out of vending machines for other reasons we won’t get into here). It was liberating! And necessary.

I was teaching a class last Friday morning when a lady in the back raised her hand and confessed she was the “Free Spirit” in the relationship. I asked her how her husband reacted when she would spend money and she said he would, “yell, scream, maybe cuss on occasion.” I had figured as much. The problem is that this “free spirited” lady wants a bit of breathing room and this guy wants too much control. Both need to compromise and come together in the middle. Sitting down at the beginning of the month to agree on each dollars’ jobs would go a long ways in ironing out these marital (yes, it’s a marriage problem more than a money problem) issues.

I don’t think this lady would mind having some spontaneous money to spend without the guilt or fear of her husband hovering over her. And I don’t think this husband would mind having a bit more control over the household spending (through monthly meetings).

Consider couples A and B. ‘A’ uses a budget and goes all out, really nose-to-the-grindstone tough. They don’t allow themselves even the slightest fun or enjoyment. It’s all about saving, saving, saving…

Couple B also actively budgets. But they make sure to set aside some fun money for the family, and some for each other (I call this “Blow” money because you can blow it wherever, for whatever you’d like, without having to fess up to anyone for anything).

In the long run, Couple B will be in a much stronger, longer-lasting financial situation. They have balance and that is key.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for short bursts of unbelievably crazy and focused intensity when you need to get something done (like saving one month’s expenses). But remember to back off, have a bit of fun, regain your balance, and move forward. You can’t take your money with you – enjoy it while you have it. The key is simply to plan your enjoyment, such as vacations, cruises, movies – even the spontaneous stuff can be planned – so they don’t become a burden.