What is your idea of a fabulous night out? Dinner at a fancy restaurant? Maybe a show or concert afterward? Does your night include adult beverages or decadent desserts? After a hard week, do you reward yourself with a shopping trip “just because?”
Dining out and entertainment are two areas that can quickly blow your budget. Retail therapy is often another big problem. If these budget busters sound familiar, adjust your mindset and commit yourself to a new plan of attack.
Acknowledge the problem
First, recognize where your family’s budget leaks. Everyone is different, so you’ll have your own unique problem areas. While dining out and entertainment are often the problem, your overspending may be on hobbies or kids’ activities. Pinpoint the areas where your household is currently overspending.
Review your goals
After you identify the budget-busting culprits, decide as a family what financial and other family goals are not realized due to the overspending in certain categories. Do the goals need to be changed or adjusted, or are they still the priorities? Have a thorough discussion about your family’s goals.
Get a new attitude
If entertainment and meals are a priority for your family, discuss how you can re-think what constitutes a fun time or a good meal. Too often we default to the convenience of stopping at a restaurant for a meal. We can also indulge in the same expensive form of entertainment repeatedly without thinking about the costs. Taking your family out to a movie is a financial commitment these days! Sometimes just having a conversation about alternatives can remedy this sort of mindless spending.
Dial back expectations
The conversation you have with your family (or just with yourself!) should include acknowledging that if money is tight, recalibrating your expectations is in order. Perhaps it is just for a short period of time, or maybe it is more of a long-term solution. The reality is this: If your financial priorities are not being met, dial back the areas that are out of control.
Consider these options instead
Instead of expensive meals out, spend a few minutes each week creating a grocery list. You might not be interested in cooking everything from scratch, but buying pre-prepared meals is both convenient and cost-saving. Frozen pizza or dinners can be a quick and easy dinner solution when there is no time to cook, and cooking ahead on the weekend for the week makes it easier to eat well. Ideally, your shopping list is filled with healthy whole foods that you would prepare throughout the week but realistically, that’s not always possible. So, identify the healthiest and most economical pre-made options at the grocery and stock up for those times when all you need is convenience.
Similarly, keep plenty of healthy, easy-to-grab snacks on hand. Just like fast food is a budget (and health!) killer, those intermittent convenience store stops for snacks between errands add up. Plan ahead and always pack nuts, fruit, water, and trail mix if you’re going to be out and about for an extended time.
Instead of “dinner and a movie,” have a “dinner and a rented/streamed movie at home” night! Our family saves a bundle by doing this. Greg and I like to have adult beverages with dinner, and our daughter seems to think dessert is mandatory when we go out to eat. Movie tickets are obscenely expensive these days, and don’t even get me started on the popcorn and other movie snacks!
Our idea of a fun family evening is dinner at home followed by a rented (or free) movie. We often forgo the movie and do “family game night” instead. While you may experience some grumbling by your kids at first, soldier on and find a form of inexpensive entertainment that works best for your family.
Curb the retail therapy
Retail therapy is a big problem in the United States. Some consumers consider it an idle pastime, while others have turned it into a full-contact sport! Shopping for fun — whether you call it window shopping or browsing — can be an expensive habit. The best solution is to replace it with an alternative habit. Consider taking a walk with a friend or browsing the local library instead.
Not exciting enough? Then treat yourself to a fancy coffee drink as your “reward” for a hard week. I’m not recommending total deprivation. Just stop the mindless spending. If you can replace the spend-fest that retail shopping can become with a smaller cash outlay (such as my coffee example), you can feel rewarded and not break the bank.
The first step in changing these behaviors is awareness. Stop and consider why you spend money when you spend it. Once you acknowledge the why, you can find a better, less expensive alternative.
Keeping your eye on your goals is critical to successfully dialing back spending. It is easy to forget your savings goal for a family vacation and instead treat yourselves to a nice (and costly) dinner on the town. Keeping goals front and center will help avoid habitual, mindless spending patterns.
The added benefit of this “dialing back” process is it also simplifies your life. Avoiding the consumer treadmill and finding cost-free or low-cost ways to enjoy life are hallmarks of living the simple life.
What ways have you dialed back your expectations? Share your ideas below.