How to Design a Budget with Room for the Fun Stuff

By in Budget, Saving | 9 comments

EXCITING NEWS: I was selected to deliver a national training in San Francisco this November entitled: Personal Finance Solutions for Busy Mental Health Professionals. This 3 hour workshop includes material from my upcoming eBook. Stay tuned to get first crack at the NEW EBOOK. And it’s FREE to my readers.

“Fun is good.” Theodore Geisel

If anyone knows fun it is the author of The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and countless other classics. Just thinking about his books makes me smile. Think about it, don’t you just FEEL BETTER smiling and thinking about something fun?



I was asked to guest post at Budgeting in the Fun Stuff (BFS). Before agreeing on a topic, I decided to write about her blog name. So away I went writing about how to pay for fun stuff in addition to the necessities.  After a couple of emails, Crystal at BFS requested an article about investing, so lucky for me (and you); I get to publish this “FUN” article at BarbaraFriedbergPersonalFinance.

In the mental health/psychology field there is movement towards mindful living. Mindfulness is simply living in the NOW and focusing on whatever you are doing presently. This premise works great with money; spend on activities and expenses that you deliberately choose.

Spend mindfully and enjoy completely.

Much of your spending was decided a long time ago; your mortgage/rent, insurance, car payment, savings (if you’re smart) etc. You may even employ the budget helper to make sure you have no big money surprises one month.  Next you pay a certain amount for food, utilities, charity etc. Yet life is more than just the necessities.

A lot is written about saving and cutting expenses (especially by me). Check out Saving without Sacrifice for some helpful tips in this area. Unfortunately, much less focus is placed on paying for fun and pleasure activities. These rejuvenating activities have very real importance in life. Without time for fun and relaxation you have less energy and focus for work activities. Furthermore, if all you do is work, then what is the point?

Life is about balance and on the flip side of work is leisure and fun!


Step 1: Brainstorm-What activities do you do for fun and recreation?  After all, you don’t want to spend your hard earned cash on “fun” activities that don’t really give you A LOT of pleasure!

For example, El Carino (my hubby) and I LOVE TO TRAVEL. When we were just married with no cash (and lived in California) we satisfied our lust for travel with a CHEAP VACATION to Las Vegas. Back in the olden days, you could have a terrific week-end for 2, complete with buffets, souvenirs, a couple of blackjack hands at the $1.00 table, and souvenirs for under $250.00. We milked the coupon books, sat through timeshare presentations for free show tickets, & visited the incredible lobbies of the exclusive hotels. The memories are still with us! And we will never forget cooling ourselves with ice cubes as we drove through the desert without air-conditioning in the summer.

Here are some ideas to get you started, most are low cost, but don’t hesitate to include passions that cost a bit more:

  • Lots of folks love hiking, picnics, and outdoor activities; low cost & beautiful.
  • Museums frequently have FREE days.
  • Discount movies are a fun evening.
  • I love television and we budget in the complete cable package (it’s worth the cost for us).
  • Don’t skip eating out, if you enjoy it. Try lunch on the week-end instead of dinner! (2 for 1 coupons are everywhere)
  • Board games are hours of fun. Or what about a family videogame night. Make it a competition with prizes (from the dollar store) and popcorn!
  • Like to entertain-host a pot luck with a theme. Guests love it because they have ownership in the evening.
  • Wiffle ball, frisbee, soccer, tennis, mini putt are all great family fun and LOW COST. Why not get the neighborhood involved?
  • Like to ski? Skip the downhill and try cross country.
  • For you crafters out there, forget the expensive supplies, use your creativity to pick up remnants in the fabric store, supplies in the bargain bin at the craft store, or make something from stuff you already have.
  • Rent a canoe and go boating one week end.
  • Take the kids to laser tag or paint ball; everyone gets out their hostility!
  • Visit a local small town and enjoy a new experience.
  • Enjoy the thrill of the hunt while shopping at garage sales (see what you can snare for $5–$10)
  • Help-I can’t stop myself…. There are so many fun activities!!!

Step 2: Look over the “fun list” and put a DOLLAR AMOUNT next to each activity.

Step 3: Next to the cost of the activity, give it a FUN RANKING from 1 (not much) to 10 (most fun ever).

Step 4: Mindfully choose your FUN activities. Next month make sure your “SPENDING PLAN” includes activities with the best value for the FUN. That way, you deliberately spend your cash on the HIGHEST VALUE leisure FUN!

Give it a try and let me know how it works out for you! Mix it up, include some low cost fun along with a bit higher priced fun-just make sure that you choose activities with a high FUN RANKING.


Get a notebook and label it: “(your name) Personal Finance” and keep it by the computer. Use it to keep all of your personal finance goals, thoughts, activities, and plans.

Gather the family around and list ALL THE FUN ACTIVITIES YOU CAN THINK OF. Go wild, don’t hold back. Then go through and price and label each one with a FUN RANKING.

image credit: Cuba Gallery



After every article for the next several weeks, you will be introduced to several Personal Finance web sites in the Yakezie network. Each one has their own unique voice and style. The consistency in all is their desire to help others. Consider visiting a few each day!

Saving Money Today
Single Guy Money
Single Mom, Rich Mom
Smart On Money
Smarter Spend


  1. Barb,

    I would definitely take out paintball from that list! In my experience, I usually end up with a 100$ day so if I was to bring my kids, the bill would be heavy to swallow.

    On the other hand, maybe having all the equipment paid off and the land use for free would bring the price tag down steeply!



    September 3, 2010

  2. Barb, I am all for deliberate fun as you have outlined here. One shouldn’t deprive herself of having fun just because she is financially mindful.
    Kind Regards,

    Roshawn @ Watson Inc

    September 3, 2010

  3. Yes, sometimes we get so caught up in the importance of “work” that we forget fun has a crucial place in our lives too.


    September 3, 2010

  4. Great stuff here. I really think a budget NEEDS some room for the fun stuff, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to spend money like some of your ideas. My brother just visited me out in Chicago and we did some of the stuff you did. There are free museum days all the time here, the zoo is free, free outdoor concerts. It’s AMAZING how much free stuff there is if you just take a little bit of time to search around.


    September 10, 2010

  5. Hi Andrew, You are so right. Every city offers free events, festivals, concerts, museums etc. Thanks for pointing out the specifics in Chicago (one of my favorite cities).


    September 10, 2010

  6. Let me know if you’re ever out here Barb!


    September 10, 2010

  7. nice post here! )


    March 6, 2011

  8. I agree with your tip of “Visit a local small town and enjoy a new experience.”

    It’s something I often like to do when bored – just jump on a train to a place I’ve never been. It’s quite exciting not to know what to expect.


    March 18, 2011


  1. Roundup for the Week of 8.29.10 – Trashy McMansion Edition - [...] Barbara Friedberg tells us how to design a budget with room for the fun stuff. [...]

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