Like most things in life, indulgences are fantastic in moderation. They provide a nice break from the daily grind of work, school, or parenting, and a nice reminder that adulthood is allowed to be more than just an increasing number of responsibilities. When you work hard, save what you can, and generally make good decisions, you should absolutely make sure to embrace the old “treat yourself” mentality from time to time — even if you live on a small salary.
But when you’re dealing with a small salary and small paychecks, or a small salary and big bills or big debts, even the occasional indulgence can feel risky and out of reach. As easy as it can be to get trapped in the cycle of spending money you don’t really have, it can be just as easy to get trapped in the cycle of spending no money on yourself at all. I’m fortunate enough to have no debts, an emergency fund, and a healthy amount in savings, so my financial situation isn’t especially dire — but I’ve also never made more than $30,000 a year. Even in a state where the cost of living is lower than the national average, that number doesn’t leave me a substantial amount of fun money left over each month.
However, I’ve still found ways to splurge on myself responsibly, and I firmly believe that most everyone can, regardless of how much money you make or how much money you owe.
Here are three ways I indulge on my small salary that might work for you, too.
1. Determine what “indulging” means to you, and learn to budget for it.
Your very first step towards indulging responsibly should be determining which of your for-pleasure expenses make you the happiest. Maybe you love eating out once a week, attending concerts when your favorite bands come through town, or purchasing a few new items for your wardrobe each season. What you prefer to indulge in doesn’t really matter as long as you’re honest with yourself. After all, there’s a world of difference between spending money on things you genuinely enjoy versus things you think you should enjoy.
Once you’ve identified your biggest indulgences, you’ll also need to identify roughly what they might cost you and how much you’d be able to spend on them. If you keep a strict budget, you should sit down and determine how much extra money you’ll have in your account every month by subtracting the rest of your necessary costs from your take-home pay. The remaining amount will give you an idea of how much you can afford to spend on said indulgences, and how regularly you’ll be able to indulge. Your salary might leave you plenty of money for eating out once a week, but require you to spend several months saving up for a big-ticket item like a long weekend trip or a brand new tattoo.
In all likelihood, your small salary might prevent you from spending on even your biggest, most important indulgences as often as you’d like. But with a little planning and patience, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to enjoy all the things that matter most to you, even if you can’t enjoy them all at once.
2. Schedule your indulgences if at all possible.
Once you know how you like to indulge and how much you can afford to spend, you’re also going to want to determine how often you can afford your indulgences without breaking the bank. As great as it would be to eat out whenever you want, buy what you want whenever you want it, and experience all of your favorite things whenever you want, that simply isn’t possible when you have less money to work with.
Scheduling your indulgences ahead of time prevents you from cartwheeling over the line between expenses you’ll enjoy and expenses you’re sure to regret later. Maybe you’re at a point in your life where you can only afford one serious vacation a year. If you know that’s the case, you’ll be able to decide whether to spend that travel money on a trip with your friends or a solo excursion to someplace on your bucket list. With a little planning ahead, you’ll be able to weigh your options and make the most of your indulgences, even if it means letting a few of them go or reserving them for another time.
3. Indulge as cheaply as possible where it’s appropriate.
I’m not saying you should eat at McDonald’s when you’d rather try the new Italian place in town, or buy cheap (and cheaply made) clothes when you’d rather have pieces that last. But if you’re able to spend less money or no money at all without impacting your enjoyment of your indulgences, you should absolutely freaking do so.
Love to read but can’t afford to buy all the books that catch your eye? Borrow almost everything from the library and spend money on only your favorites. Trying to get more exercise but aren’t sure if the gym is for you? Skip the fancy membership and spend a lot less on some dumbbells and a yoga mat and check out the exercise videos that are available to you online. Hoard your coupons, wait for sales, buy in the offseason, try a thrift store, split the cost with friends or a partner, wait for free days or discount days if you’re planning a trip somewhere public like a museum or zoo, and generally do whatever you can to ensure that you’re not shelling out more than you need to have fun.
Although you don’t need to spend to indulge, there’s no denying that most of life’s pleasures cost something. But no matter the size of your income, you should still do your best to prioritize the things you enjoy. After all, life may be too short to be irresponsible with your money — but it’s also too short not to have any fun.
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