Here’s how to still “come out” even on a tight budget

The cost of living crisis is sapping the joy of life for so many. Inflation has just reached its highest level in 40 years. Energy bills have skyrocketed, partly due to the knock-on effect of the war in Ukraine. Since April, average gas prices have increased by 53.5% and electricity prices by 95.5%.

In addition, petrol prices are rising daily. The price of filling up an average family car with petrol will top £100 for the first time this week.

Many of us will find that we have to cut back on things we enjoy in order to make ends meet. This includes nights out. With so many household necessities rising in price, it’s easy to think we can’t afford to go out and have fun.

But it’s not wrong to treat ourselves in difficult times – it is even to be encouraged. Bola Sol, author and financial coach, says that when life isn’t easy, it’s especially important to find a balance.

“Life shouldn’t just be about work or doing your duties,” she tells HuffPost UK. “It should be about enjoying yourself and that includes your money. There’s no point in working if you can’t enjoy your money.”

Track your expenses

dr. Peter Brooks, head of behavioral finance at Barclays, agrees with Sol’s view that we should be kind to ourselves, given the past few years we’ve had.

“It’s all about the right balance — as long as you don’t go overboard with your spending, you don’t have to worry about buying a one-off new outfit,” he says.

If you need help figuring out what you can afford to spend, try a budget planner and break down your expenses into needs, wants, and savings, he says.

“Most banking apps have an expense categorization feature and expense alerts so you can see where and when your money is going — and how much you’re paying for everything from gifts and food to clothing and transportation.”

It’s important to keep track of your most important expenses and credit, no matter how painful that feels. “As your paychecks come in and you’ve taken care of your other financial obligations, such as bills and rent, try paying off all credit cards, starting with the one with the highest interest,” he says.

Budgeting ahead for fun

If you’re in control of your spending, Bol recommends planning ahead by creating a fun fund and a diverse fund. “These are two different things,” she explains. “Your fun fund is for when you go out and your other fund is for things like food and self-care, but you can decide what that looks like.”

One person’s meal is another’s takeaway. And, of course, how much money goes into these funds depends on how much you earn, but Bol recommends setting it as a percentage that can shift throughout the year.

“I change my fun fund amount depending on the time of year,” she says. “In December I will add about 10%. In front of at the beginning of the year, in January to March, my fun fund immediately drops to about 3-5%.”

In the summer, with vacations to budget for, the percentage can rise. “I always say: look at the time of year and make sure you have a budget for that.

Budgeting in the evening

It’s okay to want to have fun. And thinking about what you have to spend and how you want to spend it before you leave the house will help you do that.

Assess what you really need, Sol says. “Ask yourself: ‘Do I really have to go to X event?’ and when I go, “Do I need a new outfit? Can I reserve two drinks for the evening? Is there cocktail hour?’ Do your research beforehand.”

Are there ways to reduce costs? “When it’s a friend’s birthday, I tell myself I’m not going to drink much that night and I pre-drink at home,” she says.

“If you go out and you have a spending problem in that area, put £50 in your ‘fun’ account and if it hits the limit, set a reminder that you went too far. I would also say: pull out a card and put a limit on that card. If you’re close to hitting that limit, let you know.”

It’s also good to be open about those boundaries with your friends, says Ellie Austin-Williams, founder of This Girl Talks Money, who previously spoke to HuffPost UK about the dangers of “keeping up appearances” when hanging out with friends.

“If you’re in a group and plans are being made, don’t be afraid to bring up an option and explain that you’d rather not spend a lot,” she said. “You’d be surprised how often others feel the same way.”

Also consider other people’s finances, she added. “Make plans that don’t burden anyone financially, and if other people come up with expensive ideas, put a cheaper alternative on the table.”

If you’ve spent too much…

It rarely feels good to check your bank account after a night out, but the more regularly you monitor your spending, the better informed you are.

Is your bank balance lower than you expected? “When you get to this point, you need to go back to your budget or budget from where you are now,” Sol says. It’s never too late to address the problem, but try to spot patterns.

“When you get into the habit of treating yourself, it feels good and can even become a little addictive. To the point where you might be treating yourself more than you should be,” she says.

Here’s where talking can help, as Sol discussed at length on an episode of the HuffPost UK podcast, Am I Making You Uncomfortable? – you can listen to her sound advice on debt here.

dr. Brooks also recommends talking to someone if you are constantly struggling with money management. “Opening up and having an honest conversation with someone about your money stress can really ease the burden and help you come up with a plan of action,” he says.

That could be a friend, a family member or a professional advisor. Barclays has a network of money mentors, Dr. Brooks says, and other banks have the same. “Don’t try to tackle the subject alone. Rely on your support network.”

There is no doubt that life is more difficult for many people right now, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up pleasure. Do not neglect your well-being. Make sure to go out, meet your friends and have fun on a budget that suits you.

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