We are told to scrimp and save by financial gurus, shamed for buying a coffee by advisors, and still expected to not feel like we’re missing out when we decline dinner invitations with friends. There must be a better way to balance a strong budget and still have fun in life. Didn’t someone once say that the best things in life are free? I believe that it is fully possible to find the right balance between saving and living a life you enjoy. I’ll share what’s worked for me over the years and hopefully some of the ideas can help inspire you.
1. Get connected to your community. Make sure to follow your local groups and organizations on social media to know when free or low-cost events are taking place in your area. Libraries, museums, and state parks are a great place to start. They can be a great place to visit on their own but often have fun and unique events each month that are free or very affordable. Go solo to make new friends or invite your group to make it a fun outing.
2. Be a host. Instead of a night out with friends, have a cozy night in more often. Invite your favorite people over for a movie night with microwave or stove-top popcorn. Have a game night and ask everyone to bring a little treat to share. If you don’t feel comfortable having everyone packed in your living room, get active with yard games (tag, kickball, etc). If you don’t have a yard, there are always local parks you could use to host the lighthearted games.
3. Lean into free or budget friendly hobbies. Outdoor activities like running, hiking, geocaching, and foraging are great options that won’t wreck your budget. You don’t have to eat what you find. I recommend snapping a pic and leaving the funky fungi or bright berry exactly where you found it. No shame to those educated and brave enough to eat what they find in the wild. To each his own. Reading, video games, creative writing, and indoor gardening (my favorite) are also solid picks to keep you having fun and saving cash.
4. Utilize social media. Whether you’re into houseplants, fitness, or live music, there’s likely a group online of people that share your interests. This can be an incredible resource for socializing, getting group discounts at events, or swapping with fellow hobbyists. You never know who will have your dream plant and want to trade or who will be selling their concert tickets super cheap because their kid got sick. Remember to give as much as you take though. That can be done with advice, sharing your experiences, or just being supportive to others in the group.
5. Pretend you’re in a rom-com. Whether you’re married, in a committed relationship, or still looking for love, you can have romantic dates without blowing half your check on dinner and a night out. You could put together a picnic at the park, visit thrift stores and joke about the bizarre finds together, or revisit one of the ideas listed earlier and make it for two. Before your date grab some flowers from the grocery store to save a big chunk of cash but still make the big impact of a romantic gesture.
Whether you’re saving up for a specific item or life event, squirreling away for an emergency, or just want to pay off some debts, you don’t have to put your life on hold and feel like you’re missing out to find success with a tighter budget. I’ll never tell you to deny yourself the little pleasures like your fancy coffee drinks or going out with friends sometimes. I will recommend finding new and creative ways to enjoy life, friends, and family without impeding your financial goals. This may not be a viable solution for some and that’s okay. Keep trying to find what works for you to still live a full life and remain on track with your budget.