Why Entertainment Is an Essential Part of Your Budget

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budgeting, saving money, entertainment, frugal living, lifestyle, quality of life, debt management, debt snowball, gazelle intensity

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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer Travis.  Travis is a customer blogger for Care One Debt Relief Services, and also appears weekly at Enemy of Debt.  Travis candidly shares his personal journey to pay off $109,000 of credit card debt and the tips he’s learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family.

A few years ago, I did a weight loss program with my wife in which we both lost a considerable amount of weight in a short amount of time.

I dropped 25 pounds in just six weeks, and was within 5 pounds of my goal weight.  My results slowed significantly after that.  I struggled through another two months of the program without losing another pound, and it wasn’t difficult to figure out why.  The program had a very restrictive diet, and after a while I grew tired of selecting my meals from a very short list.  I began eating things not on the list, and eventually gave up on the program.

The diet wasn’t sustainable because it wasn’t real life.

Real life is occasionally going out for pizza with friends, grilling out with neighbors, or having a beer during a football game.
Many financial plans and experts follow the same approach to eliminating debt as my failed diet.  Sell your house, your cars, and everything that isn’t absolutely necessary.  Cut your living expenses to the bone, live in a cardboard box, no vacations, and no fun until every cent of your debt is gone. 
That kind of life isn’t sustainable, and I wouldn’t want it to be.

We’ve made lifestyle cuts to live within our means, but we also make sure that we have money allocated for entertainment to enjoy life and to make those memories that make life worth living.  If you deprive yourself of any kind of fun,  eventually you may be filled with resentment of the process and fall off the wagon.   If you strip your lifestyle down to the bare bones necessities, and you successfully stick with it until your debt is eliminated, what you’ve taught yourself is how to live on the bare minimum.  You’ve taught yourself how to consistently say, “No!” to yourself.  What you haven’t gained are the skills to live a balanced life walking the line of living within your means AND spending some of your earnings to enjoy life.
We’re almost 4 years into our debt management plan.  We make the payment to our program, along with our other financial commitments each month and feed some to our emergency fund. What’s left over is ours.  We go out to eat occasionally, we fought tooth and nail to keep our home, and we’ve even gone on vacation while paying off our debt.   We could have eliminated our debt faster if we would have taped into gazelle intensity with more extreme frugality.  But would living like hermits for years to get out of debt a few months earlier really have been worth it? 
Not to me.

We’ve been practicing real life.  We’ve learned to live within our means and enjoy life at the same time.  We’ve learned to balance saying “yes” and “no” to ourselves.
That’s a lifestyle that’s sustainable.

How about you all? Where do you draw the line between aggressively saving / paying off debt and making sure you actually are enjoying life?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Comments

  1. John S @ Frugal Rules says:

    Having that balance is vital, otherwise you're just setting yourself up to fail. When I started my DMP years ago, the individual I worked with told me to put entertainment money right after saving for an E-Fund which made no sense to me. She said if I did not have fun that I would be back in her office in less than a year. That was such sage advice and she was exactly right. Having that helped me get out of debt quicker because I could enjoy life to a certain extent.

    • Wow, John, I have to say I'm surprised that the rep told you that……Debt Relief workers commonly have a reputation of doing everything they can do just to get you to sign up because their performance (and maybe even pay) are based upon how many people they can get to sign up. That kind of statement shows that there ARE people that work for debt relief companies that truly care about helping people. I had to throw that plug in there. 🙂
      My recent post I Love You Like a Blogger Roundup – 04/26

  2. Love it. Living like a hermit and not enjoying life is never worth it. But debt helps me realize that it's also easy to enjoy life without a lot of money 🙂

    • TRUE, Stephanie! That's one of the many things that we've learned through our “get out of debt” journey – to value, savor, and enjoy the relationships of the special people in our lives. Some nights we just sit on the deck with friends and neighbors and have great conversation – which is 100% free. Some nights we use some funds and go to a comedy club (for example). Life – it's all about frugal fun, and balance in your budget. Wow, that was kind of fun to say. LOL.
      My recent post I Love You Like a Blogger Roundup – 04/26

  3. I think travel comes to mind. No debt/all of the money in the world will buy you back your youth and health and experiences are what make life worth living. So going overboard in attacking debt can certainly be a detriment if it makes you miserable and robs you of life experiences that you might otherwise not be able to get back. Great reminder for all of us maniacal frugalists out there 🙂 .
    My recent post Car Accident – The Effect on the Wallet – Part 2

    • So true, Greg, and for me that kind of perspective resonates with the runner in me. Many maniacal frugalists also say that you should not only live that way while you're in debt, but also much longer…in order to retire early. Then and ONLY then should you enjoy the fruits of your labor. I want to run marathons in cool places – like Hawaii. If I waited until then to start those journeys…..ugh. I'd rather do it when I'm still fairly young and athletic. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your perspective!
      My recent post I Love You Like a Blogger Roundup – 04/26

  4. Just like what I've always said, you can be frugal but don't forget to have fun as well. Much like Greg, travel comes to my mind as well. We make sure to squeeze this in our schedule at least once a year. Plan ahead for the future but live and have fun as well.

    My recent post How to Save Money on Food With These 5 Tips

    • For us right now it's not so much about the travel as it is family vacations. Not that we wouldn't like to travel but doing so with the kids is a little out of our price range right now. So, we do “closer to home” vacations such as to a place a few hours away that has a great set of theme and water parks. Kids love it, adults love it, and we do it as a neighborhood. Love your last sentence – “Plan ahead for the future but live and have fun as well.” – short, sweet, and pretty much sums it up. 🙂
      My recent post I Love You Like a Blogger Roundup – 04/26

  5. myfijourney says:

    I try to budget in fun stuff. I don't think I always succeed, but at least I'm trying to find some balance in my spending and saving.
    My recent post Selling Put Options with a Margin Account

    • Keep trying, myfijourney – you'll get the hang of it. Once you start though, it's tough to keep from crossing the line of TOO much. That may just be me though……that's how we got into trouble in the first place.
      My recent post I Love You Like a Blogger Roundup – 04/26

  6. I believe that all budgets should have flexibility, so that you can get things that you really value out of your money. Too many people micro-budget, and that doesn't let you push money from one category to another depending on your priorities.
    My recent post Why The Best College Isn’t Always Best

    • I'm a big fan of flexibility as well, Jenny – as well as constant re-evaluation of the budget/spending plan. My wife and I review our finances twice a week to make sure we're on track, and to make sure our current plan meets the up to the second needs and priorities. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. True, being frugal is like going on a diet, you'll probably be able to stick to it for a short period of time, but will eventually go back to your old habits. We need to be realistic about this and it's better to allocate some money to have a little fun, rather than thinking we don't need it, only to end up spending more when the feeling of deprivation starts to bother us.
    My recent post How to Choose the Best Online Brokerage

    • YES! That feeling of deprivation needs to be avoided, The College Investor! Some people can satisfy that feeling by feeding it the eventual outcome – some people can't. The people in the latter group (including myself) need to have some sort of tangible re-enforcement that I go to work each day for a reason. 🙂
      My recent post My Wife Doesn’t Stop…..Until She Gets What She Wants

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