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How to Splurge on a Budget

I got the biggest shock of my life the day I realized that living on a budget wasn’t the straitjacket or rigid “diet” I assumed it would be. It was my life as a credit-card junkie that put me in financial bondage.


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Living on a budget saved my life because it allowed me to get out of debt. It gave me my freedom. Want to know my secret for staying on a budget for so many years? I splurge. Seriously. And I do not feel guilty. I love nice things and I love to travel.

Even while I was getting out of debt, I didn’t banish all of these things from my life. In fact, my occasional guilt-free splurges are what helped me stay on a budget. Since I didn’t feel deprived, I found it a lot easier to stick to my plan.

Calculated splurging is not difficult. In fact, I think you’ll find it makes a lot of sense. And the bigger payoff is the financial maturity that comes with delayed gratification. Planning and waiting really does make you more appreciative.

Make a list

This is the fun part. Think about your splurges of choice. A haircut and color at a great salon? A luxe lipstick? A big-ticket item like a new laptop? Write down all the things you want. Get specific, but don’t worry if you can’t think of everything right now. You’ll be changing this list often in the future. The point is that slowly, one at a time, you will find a way to work these splurges into your budget.

Open an account

Whether it’s a savings account at a bank or credit union, or SmartyPig.com, an online piggy bank (totally trustworthy and legit), you need a place to save for your splurges. Make it a place that you won’t be tempted to dip into yet is still convenient enough for you to make deposits.

Review your habits

Sure, you’ve always used that pricey salon shampoo, but it’s important to ask yourself whether that’s a meaningful splurge or just an old habit. Check the drugstore: You’ll find great brands for a lot less money. Same goes for the grocery store. Do you need a specific brand of canned veggies, flour or cereal? Probably not; so go for the cheapest. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Say no to say yes. In other words, cut back where it doesn’t matter so you can buy the things that do.

Find the cash

Start thinking of ways to bring in a little extra spending money to fund your account. Perhaps you can sell some things online. Determine to spend $10 less at the supermarket this week, and put that money into your account. Next week, make it $15.

Take your coupon savings in cash and add that to your splurge account. When you get a raise or pay off a bill, put some of it into the account. Even a dollar or two here and there will add up quickly if you’re consistent—all the while, living on a budget. In my house, she who does the laundry keeps the money that ends up in the bottom of the washer. And when I get money for my birthday or a refund on something I return, that money goes into the account, too.

Look for deals

Buy on sale (your everyday stuff as well as your splurges) whenever you can. I am a big fan of Bath & Body Works’ line of body butter, which is a splurge for me. And I don’t deny myself. I wait until one of the store’s big sales (they happen several times a year and just might be going on right now!), which makes the splurge that much sweeter.

Rethink eating out

You don’t have to banish eating out from your life because you’re living on a budget. Just shift your thinking: A meal out shouldn’t be something you grab on the run, it should be something special that requires planning. Keep an envelope with restaurant coupons in your bag. Dine where the kids eat free on a specific night. Instead of an entire dinner at a fancy restaurant, splurge by going just for dessert and coffee. Or go for lunch, which is usually cheaper. Same ambience, less money.

Shop smarter

Think about changing where you shop. Instead of the mall, head to a thrift store or a shop that benefits a certain charity, where prices will be a lot cheaper.

Stores that carry gently used items are exploding with business these days, and they’re bigger and better than you might imagine. Discover the joys of consignment clothing stores, where you’ll find better quality and beautifully displayed near-new clothing at hugely discounted prices.

Pro tip

Want to know the second-best fringe benefit of splurging on a budget (next to getting out of debt)? No more impulse shopping. You have time to breathe and to think. And even to change your mind altogether—you may decide to just skip the spa day so you can keep saving for the European vacation. It all depends on what matters most to you!

Updated 9-17-19

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11 replies
  1. Emily Booth says:

    I am going to keep a splurge notebook! What a great idea! It’s a wonderful motivator for living below one’s means. Keeping our eyes on the prize: financial security.

  2. Cathy down on the farm... says:

    Thanks, Mary, for all of your wisdom you pass out to us. I recently went on a self imposed “spending fast” for the month of August, to see if I could do it. By that I mean I did not spend one thin dime. My husband did buy groceries but I didn’t allow myself to buy anything. Wow, it was painful. LOL What I found however, is that I found the extra toothpaste I had forgotten I had and the deodorant that I had saved in the drawer and the leftovers in the freezer that I didn’t know I had … bags of vegetables, etc. But to live this way until all debt is gone would be daunting, even for a “frugalista” like me! This planned “splurge” you speak of is very inspiring. I have been reading recently that the Middle Class is living on credit cards to keep up with the Jones and to retain their Middle Class status. They are “showing off” on Facebook by taking selfies of themselves at Happy Hour with their $20.00 Margaritas and their Steak and Lobster dinners, all while paying for these things by credit card. This makes me feel ill and inspires me to save even more. Thanks, Mary, for bringing a voice of reason to one crazy, mixed up – “me, me, me” oriented world! God bless…

  3. Linda says:

    When we moved 5 years ago, I only grocery shopped for necessities as we ate up stock we didn’t want to move and frozen freezer items. I do shop weekly, but stock up on sale items, I don’t eat based on what the store sells me that week. Anyway, during those pre-move months, I realized I didn’t need to shop weekly. Since we moved, it now is more fun to see how many weeks of unused grocery monies I have left over. Every month, I try to see if I can save 2 weeks of my grocery money and usually, I can. We have lived on a budget for years, and I always round up, creating automatic savings in all the categories of our budget.

  4. Betty Thomas says:

    I love this column. The plan is similar to my eating plan when I need to lose a few lbs. I allow myself a splurge meal, not a whole splurge day, to get me through the craving times. I think it is the same financially. I don’t want a long break from the plan just a small splurge to keep me goal oriented. Thanks Mary!

  5. Anggie Thompson says:

    I just took money out of my credit union money market account to pay off my car loan (2.75%). I saved money on interest since I still had about a year left on the loan. I immediately set up the same amount of my car payment to repay my money market account.

  6. Sheryl says:

    Dear Mary, thanks so much for this column. I have been doing this for years, since being introduced to your newsletter (before we had internet!) We cut back to the bone so we were only funding our contingency fund and saving because we wanted to take a vacation for our 20th Anniversary. I am happy to say that we have the money set aside, in a separate account for the past three years, for our special celebration. We also put all gift money into it. We are trying to make our final choice of destination, but have the money to go anywhere on our list. It has been a tough several years with my husband’s dialysis and kidney transplant, and my lymphoma, septic shock, and subsequent treatments every three weeks. Our income went down, but we kept this as a separate expense in our spending plan (although we did fund it at a lower rate for some time.) I am convinced that if you treat your goal as a regular expense, you can do it! Thanks so much for your wisdom through the years.

    • Sue in MN says:

      Don’t forget about checking Groupon for deals on your splurges, or checking out the local “shopper” ads for restaurant and hair/manicure coupons. At our house, rebate checks go into the splurge account, along with all of my change. My husband has an Amazon credit card that he pays off monthly, the 5% reward is his splurge money.

  7. Toast Points says:

    The pivotal strategy make total sense. Scrimp, save and then reap the reward. Rather than mindlessly frittering away precious dollars, tuck them away for an experience, a meal, or an item that counts toward upgrading your life.


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