Money saving strategies that focus on what to cut from your budget are often necessary if you want to reach a big financial goal. However, keeping yourself from what you enjoy can backfire, Chris Browning of Popcorn Finance told Grow. "It's OK to spend money on the things you really enjoy if you're willing to sacrifice in other areas," he says. "Because if you deprive yourself completely, you're destined to fail."
Science backs up this logic. When a person experiences scarcity, regardless of what it is, that is all they can focus on, Eldar Shafir, a behavioral scientist who focuses on scarcity, told NPR. So if you tell yourself something that makes you happy is off limits, you'll think about it more and more.
Additionally, your brain responds to the word "budget" the same way as it does the word "diet," Brad Klontz, a psychologist and certified financial planner, told The Cut. It associates both with deprivation. That can make it harder to meet financial goals — because why would you want to commit to a course of action that feels both difficult and unpleasant?
So while the advice to spend in a deliberate way on what you enjoy can seem counterintuitive, money experts practice it all the time. "You get to spend extravagantly on the things you love and cut costs mercilessly on the things you don't," Ramit Sethi, author of "I Will Teach You to be Rich," told CNBC.
Here is how Browning and other finance gurus have succeeded in paying off debt, accumulating wealth, and even curbing their spending while still allowing themselves to spend money on what they love.
Browning, 34, paid off $27,000 of debt in two and a half years. To reach that goal, he did have to stick to a strict budget. Still, he allocated money to one of his favorite activities: dining out. "This is one of the ways that my wife and I have spent time together over the years," he says. "It's also how I connect and spend time with friends."
There are times in his life when he tried to eliminate or significantly reduce this cost, but he found it wasn't worth it. "We budget roughly $400 a month to eating out, which is a lot of money," he says.
To make this possible, he and his wife aggressively paid off their cars. Browning took up side hustles with Doordash and Postmates, which netted him about $300 a week. Plus, he moved to a higher paying job. "That has added around $800 a month of available cash to our budget," he says. A portion of this money they had allocated to car payments now goes toward dining out, as opposed to savings or investing.
He used to have a lot of guilt about how much he spent on dining out, he says. "There are so many thoughts and opinions on how much people, especially millennials, spend on food, but if you budget to spend money on eating out there is nothing wrong with that, which is a concept that took me a while to understand and implement into my own life."
Anyway, he says, "Life is too long to give up everything you enjoy just to save a few more dollars."
Craig Clickner, 43, and Carrie Bohlig, 38, have eight income streams and a business that nets $3 million per year. They also authored the book "So You Want to Start a Side Hustle."
One way they reached financial stability was spending their money more intentionally. For example, the couple bought a used car instead of a new one, and they eliminated smaller expenses like cable and drinks in bars and restaurants. But they do spend on items that bring them both professional and personal satisfaction.
"Find ways to synergize what you invest into with what is also fun," Clickner says. "Investing into ongoing education to grow a business or investing into a ring light for your job or business is very different than spending money on an expensive car stereo."
Clickner and Bohlig chose to invest in something that furthered their careers. "For us we love to learn how to do new things and influence others on starting businesses, so we invested some money into starting a podcast," he says.
Over the last three years Erice Leresche, 27, has saved $30,000 — all while making around $50,000 working at the Oregon State Credit Union in Albany, Oregon.
Leresche is part of a 2021 Principal Financial Services survey of so-called "supersavers" who were able to max out (or nearly max out) their annual retirement contributions, or sock away at least 15% of their salary. She currently contributes more than 20% of her income to her 401(k), and is "on track" to max out her 401(k) this year. For 2021, the 401(k) contribution limit is $19,500.
"I try to continually cut budget areas in order to challenge myself," Leresche says.
One way she is building wealth is by curbing her spending. When looking for ways to reduce expenses, though, don't deprive yourself of things that are important to you, she says. "I really love Starbucks coffee, so I will buy a coffee in the morning, but I'll pack my lunch because usually lunch is more than $5."
Budgeting less money for an activity or item that isn't tied to your happiness will be easier than cutting something you truly enjoy.
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