Understand Your Finances
Savings Diaries: How to have fun and stick to your savings goals
This is part of Savings Diaries, an original series in which people share how they try to reach key savings goals during 2018. It is part of a broader Chase initiative to encourage more Americans to save money.
A couple weeks ago, my husband and I spent part of our date night wandering around a home improvement store, looking at refrigerators. (What can I say? We're hopeless romantics!) We've wanted to replace our old one for a while, but we've focused on paying off debt—and saving $500 per month for travel. Added to that, I lost some of my income earlier in the year when a client's budget changed.
Those are all good reasons to put off buying a new refrigerator. But there's one problem: I really wanted a new fridge—and spending an evening at the home improvement store didn't make it easier to say no. This month's travel money was just enough to cover the difference between what I'd already set aside for a new refrigerator, and what I needed to buy immediately. It took a lot of willpower—and my husband talking—to walk out of the store without scheduling a delivery.
This wasn't the first time I felt like throwing my savings plans to the wind. It takes a lot of discipline to stick with your long-term goals, especially when they're months or years away. To be honest, I haven't always said no to un-budgeted expenses in the last few months: sometimes, I've thoughtlessly swiped my card before considering if a purchase would fit into our budget. I haven't made huge mistakes, but I've seen my self-control slipping in small ways: An unplanned dinner out. A new pair of shoes. A quick drive through to get a latte.
For the last several weeks, I've had to pay closer attention to how I think about my spending. I'm becoming more aware of what motivates me to spend, which is helping me to say no when I feel the itch to buy something new.
Spending and self-awareness
I've noticed that my impulse to spend is often linked to bigger problems that I'm not aware of or don't want to address. Maybe I think I want to go out to dinner because I'm tired, but what I really need is to go to bed early. Or I think I want to pile the kids in the van and grab treats because I'm bored, but what we really need is a change of scenery. Or maybe I want to treat myself to something new because I feel anxious or lonely, when what I really need is to call a friend.
It’s easy to fall into a habit of spending and consuming, ignoring simpler pleasures that won’t break your budget. Boredom, exhaustion, anxiousness, and loneliness are uncomfortable, and it's common to want to cover them up with a little hit of happy. Spending money often feels like the easiest way to have fun, but it doesn't fix the bigger issues that are causing my discomfort. This month, instead of giving in to my impulses, I'm trying to be more self- aware. Once I figure out what's driving me to spend, I'm trying to directly address it by writing in my journal, talking with a friend, or fixing the circumstances that are causing the discomfort in the first place.
Having fun and spending money
Many of the activities that we enjoy come with a price tag, but I'm trying to get more in touch with the things I enjoy that don't cost money, like reading, practicing yoga, or spending time outside. Now that the weather is getting nicer, my husband and I are trying to find free fun for ourselves and our kids. We're meeting friends at the park, or going for a hike when we're feeling bored. If we want to see a movie, we're grabbing a classic at the library instead of seeing a new release.
Planning ahead for fun
When I made my family's savings goals, I tried to build in some wiggle room because I knew we would want to splurge from time to time When I sat down with next month's budget, I didn't just focus on our bills, savings, and goals: I also spent some time thinking about activities we might want to include in our budget. I set aside money for a zoo pass, dinners out with friends, and other fun splurges that will give us something to look forward to.
Saying no in favor of saving isn't always easy, but I'm hoping that by leaving room in our budget for fun, we'll make saving more enjoyable.
Mary Sauer is a Chase News contributor. Her work has appeared in The Hairpin, and Romper, among other media outlets.