Budgeting

How I Make My Weekends Balanced & Cheerful Without Spending Any Money

By Friday, October 21, 2016

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I think when we are younger, it is normal to be a little embarrassed about where you’re from and fantasize about being someone more interesting or exotic to you. As a teenager, I used to dream of being able to say I grew up in New York or Paris or California, and now I am tearfully, unflinchingly proud of the fact that I come from the East Midlands, UK. I love to travel, and have developed an appetite for French pastries, Bahn Mi, and octopus sashimi, but I will always be an English girl from a little industrial shoe town who likes a nice cream bun from the bakery with a mug of strong, hard water tea.

As much as I love exciting weekends and holidays, happily chucking the photographic evidence of my life into the hungry mouth of the “What now? What now?” social media monster sometimes, I crave a little bit of boringness. In fact, to me, boringness feels like home. And slow, lovely, stretched out boringness was the bread and butter of my upbringing. It was how we got by, saved money, and bided our time.

My childhood was safe and consistent; my parents had me young, separated a few years later, and then went back to school. My dad bartended and worked in a restaurant while doing his design degree. My mum got me out of bed at 5:00 a.m. so she could drive me to work, clean hotel rooms for a few hours, give me a hotel breakfast, and then drop me off at school before 9:00 as she worked her way through two degrees and a masters.

I’m not writing this as an intro to Lentils and Charity Shops: the Tragic Memoir of the Daughter of Two Mature Students. I did many interesting things growing up, like a handful of exotic trips abroad; I saw a lot of Europe and the United Kingdom during school holidays. We went on picnics in country gardens, camping next to French beaches, to Sunday lunches in little English pubs.

My parents pooled their resources into the things we all needed, like nice-albeit-minimally-furnished homes, safe, well-maintained cars, toys for me, makeup for mum, and the occasional, memorable treat — going to Harrods as a ten-year-old and eating sushi for the first time in the food court.

The thing we didn’t have a big budget for was typical weekends, so we stayed in a lot. I more or less did the same things every Saturday and Sunday. Normally, it centered around a home-cooked roast, me doing my homework, and watching some old war film on TV. Maybe going into town for a few errands, maybe going to a barbecue or having some friends over for dinner. No one was rushing around trying to project an image of an exciting life on the Internet. Just us and a handful of friends enjoying the precious free time we got at a leisurely pace.

So why am I talking about boring weekends on a financial blog? Recently I’ve noticed, as I dutifully put chunks of money here and there into my savings, that I am really good at saving money, but bad at restrictive budgeting. Sometimes I feel like an unhappily overweight woman who lists the crash diets she has done on her fingers. No spend month? Spoiler alert: I spent money. Envelope system? I just took the money out of the envelopes and went shopping. I did the financial fast and stuck to it, but felt really self-conscious and poor, and really wanted to go out for a burger with my partner.

The truth is that I grew up without much, and I have heard at times people compare growing up without much to a kind of PTSD. You have the resources to go through it all again, but you resist being put back in that situation like your life depended on it. I was raised by broke students, then I was a broke student, then the recession happened. And for a short time, I was a broke post-grad, which was sufficient in making an allowance or budget capable of triggering me into putting on my foil hat, and running down to the bomb shelter when faced with limitations on my cash. I push back against a self-imposed “impoverished” lifestyle, because I want to enjoy the money I make at my full-time job, and I have to respect the fact that my mind is just trying to make sure I’m taking care of myself in the same way as if I went on a restrictive crash diet and inevitably ended up elbow deep in a box of crunchy nut cornflakes. When I say, “Let’s just take things easy this weekend,” I push back less — in fact, I actively look forward to it.

Instead of setting off alarm bells in my head that I only have a certain amount of “fun” money for the month, I simply treat myself to a weekend or two a month where I just stay in and do very little. Sometimes I cook something, sometimes I reorganize the apartment, and I read, I call my family, I go swimming or cycling.

Not only do I get a lovely, vacation-like rest, but also I feel wonderfully creative, and really focus on new projects and hobbies (like freelance writing!). I can also credit my grandparents for instilling this idea in me, as they were both full-time working artists who stuck to a monk-like daily routine of creating art around three meals, tea and biscuits, a few radio shows, and a TV program or two in the evening.

Financial bloggers always insist you say “no” to yourself, and more firmly when that doesn’t work. I’ve found that “no” doesn’t, work but “slow down” does. I am always more than happy to have a nice, quiet weekend at home and inevitably save money in the process. It’s not interesting, and certainly not Instagram-worthy, but I think my family’s practically heirloom-like solution to the “more month than money” problem is certainly worth a try.

Phoebe Prentice-Terry is a writer, teacher and survivor of David Cameron’s various experiments in human misery. She likes Gin and Tonics, French skincare products, and is most proud of her collection of Wolford body suits.

Image via Unsplash

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