Different finance experts suggest different budgeting strategies. But if there’s one thing Barbara Corcoran, Dave Ramsey, David Bach, and about a hundred other money gurus agree on, it’s this: Cut your discretionary spending.
Discretionary spending refers to purchases you do not actually need, like vacations, gifts, and luxury apparel. Minimizing it when you’re trying to save money is a good rule — but as with every rule, there are exceptions.
No matter how tight your budget, you have to put your well-being first. The key is accountability: Reserving a debit card just for discretionary expenses can prevent overspending. Round-up or cashback cards ensure every discretionary dollar you spend also adds to your savings.
How much should you put into your discretionary fund? Some experts recommend the 50-30-20 rule: Spend 50% of your income on needs and 30% on wants — in other words, discretionary items — while saving the remaining 20%.
What should you do with that 30%? Feel free to invest in:
Anything for your health
If you can buy something to boost your health, do it. Not only will these expenses help you look and feel your best, but they can also prevent other costly expenses. A doctor’s visit or medication regimen costs a lot more than fresh food or a gym membership. Focus on:
You can run outside in your old sneakers, but you may not do your joints any favors. Don’t be afraid to spend money on athletic gear you’ll actually use, including shoes, undergarments, fitness classes, and fitness monitors.
Daily exercise is your best bet for preventing budget-busters like heart disease. People with cardiovascular disease incur, on average, twice the medical costs of healthier individuals of the same age.
Eating a healthy diet costs about $1.50 more per day than eating an unhealthy diet. Although that might not sound like much, it adds up to $550 extra per year in grocery spending.
Just because you can eat for less doesn’t mean you should. Eating well boosts your energy levels, makes you less likely to get sick, and reduces your risk for all sorts of diseases. Even if you avoid just a couple of sick days at work, you’ll have recouped your extra food costs.
Mental and emotional well-being
When you stress less, you sleep better, focus more, and build relationships more effectively. Feeling depressed or anxious all the time isn’t worth whatever you’d save by depriving yourself.
Whether it’s a meditation app, weekly therapy sessions, or even massages, no expense is too great for your emotional well-being. Mental health problems are a lot easier to prevent than to solve once they start.
Your professional development
Whatever your line of work, you need to be constantly growing your skills. In most cases, that isn’t free.
Think about what you need to reach that next rung of your career. If you need to take an online course, get certified, or purchase a book, don’t let your budget hold you back. Think of it as an investment in your future — because it is, after all.
Remember, too, that professional development comes in many colors. If you don’t spend enough time networking, setting aside money each week to get drinks with a mentor might make sense. If stress management is an issue for you at work, then even things like vacations could fall into this category.
Some hobbies are more expensive than others. Very few of them, however, are free.
Don’t let your budget stop you from exploring your personal interests. Hobbies are great ways to create work-life balance, make connections with like-minded people, and build your self-image.
Look for ways to challenge yourself. If you like to run, then maybe it’s on your bucket list to complete a marathon. Entrance fees can run in the hundreds of dollars, but think about how you’ll feel crossing the finish line. You can’t put a price tag on that sense of accomplishment.
Whatever you like to do in your free time, it shouldn’t feel like a guilty pleasure because it costs money. If sports aren’t your thing, then what about new utensils for baking, different lenses for photography, or fresh pencils for sketching?
Events like birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and graduations are what make life worth living. You shouldn’t hesitate to shell out some money to say “congratulations” to the people you love. The memories will last much longer than the money in your bank account.
Don’t feel pressured to buy the most expensive thing you can think of, but don’t skimp, either. If you’re unsure about the honoree’s expectations, quietly ask around: Are other attendees choosing gifts in the $100-$200 range, for instance?
Although gifting shouldn’t be a tit-for-tat exercise, remember that what goes around comes around. When it’s your turn to get married, wouldn’t you want your family and friends to splurge on you?
DIY Project Materials
Do-it-yourself projects are not just about the outcome; they’re about learning a new skill and avoiding the expense of hiring an expert. With the help of YouTube and Pinterest, it’s possible to tackle just about any project around the house.
Yes, tools and supplies can be expensive. With that said, if the DIY project will ultimately save you money, then project materials are acceptable discretionary expenses. Remember, many tools can be reused for future projects.
What’s more, the work you do could financially benefit you by boosting your home value. If you can learn how to install new ceiling fans or doors yourself, then you should be able to recoup those costs when it comes time to sell. Even if not, you’ll have bought yourself a better living space.
While it’s important to keep a lid on your discretionary spending, it’s not the boogeyman it’s often made out to be. Your health, growth, happiness, and relationships are all more important than the number in your bank account. Build them into your budget as best you can, and don’t fret about every dollar you invest in yourself.