This is a guest post from personal finance writer Gwendolyn Pearce.
While I've never seen J. Lo. wearily balancing her checkbook in the “Celebrities are just like us” section of the tabloids, I assume most of us deal with frugality burnout occasionally. And even though we know that we're supposed to budget for fun and allow some wiggle room for the sake of our sanity, I know far too many people right now who say wiggle room is not an option.
A friend said recently, “You know what I do when I'm exhausted from watching every penny? Do it anyway ‘cuz I don't have a choice.”
This is what many of us are feeling right now. We are focused and motivated to get out of debt, to build emergency savings and to have a hope of retiring. It's not a matter of willpower to avoid a splurge on the HD TV or weekend jaunt — it's a matter of making sure the payment for the power bill clears.
But there's only so much soup a person can eat or so long that your bed can be just a mattress on the floor. (Kudos to you if you love the Zen thing. I hate not being able to see under my bed.) So what do you do when you are ready to lose it, pull out the credit cards and go on a spending spree while completely ignoring your goals and priorities? How do you take off the penny-pinching pressure?
I realized a few years ago that my frugality burnout came from feeling deprived. But not from feeling deprived of things, which is what I thought bothered me, but of experiences. Once I figured out that if I was regularly enjoying fun experiences, the things that would cause me to snap before would hardly faze me afterward. Now I build fun and free experiences into my everyday life to remind me how rich I truly am and to help me stay focused on my goals.
Adventures in the kitchen
For example, I love to cook but hate to meal plan. This means I have more than a few nights where I have to stare blankly into the kitchen pantry and forage through various refrigerated compartments to figure out something to make for dinner. My longing for an indulgent night used to run high at that moment. Understand my husband and I are huge Top Chef fans. Huge. Love it. I follow Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi on Twitter, he's added eating a meal at Hubert Keller's restaurant to his bucket list and, more to the point, we have Top Chef cooking challenges at home.
Not familiar with the show? All you need to know is it's your classic reality-TV cooking competition with some fun twists and turns. So instead of shelling out for a pizza, we give ourselves 30 minutes to raid the pantry and fridge, scramble like mad around the kitchen and cook something supposedly edible. It's our own “Top Chef Quickfire Challenge.” We race for a can of olives or beans and steal cloves of garlic from each other's cutting boards. If someone were watching, they might get a chuckle hearing us mutter, “Hmm , I wonder if sesame oil will make this taste weird?” or “I can still use this cheese, right?” Sometimes, we create something masterful (homemade pasta puttanesca). Other times, we wish we were never born (is goulash supposed to be gray?).
The cost for our entertainment is already part of our regular grocery budget (which happily includes cheap bottles of wine). At best, we create something new and delicious and have leftovers for lunch the next day. At worst, we have a stomach ache and a funny story. But we always have fun, which is more satisfying than all the bread at the fancy restaurants.
What do you do for no-money fun? What do you do when you feel frugality burnout setting in? Is your goulash gray?