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Sticking to a budget is key to reaching your financial goals, and overindulging in life's small pleasures can snowball into overspending. A key part of staying on budget is flexibility: It's important to be realistic and treat yourself in moderation to feel refreshed and stay motivated.
Of course, enjoying yourself doesn't have to break the bank. Here are eight money-savvy ways to treat yourself and still stick to your budget.
1. Take a Staycation
Traveling doesn't come cheap: A vacation to a popular destination can easily add up to thousands of dollars when you figure in airfare, accommodations and activities. Instead, you can enjoy some of the same rest and rejuvenation and save money with a staycation.
One popular way to take a staycation is to rent a nearby vacation home through Airbnb or Vrbo. This can be an economical option if you live in an area where off-season rates are low, like near a beach town. Keep costs down while still getting away by going on hikes, eating in, hitting the beach or lake, bringing your bike, having game nights and more.
You can make your staycation even more budget-friendly by simply taking time off work and staying home. Just be sure to unplug fully from work and make relaxation intentional. If you're looking for adventure, explore new experiences in your area, such as museums, street food and breweries, or a nature reserve.
2. Do a Movie Night at Home With Snacks
Heading to the theater to watch a new movie is a fun treat, but tickets, popcorn, candy and drinks can quickly add up. You can recreate the movie theater experience at home by buying your favorite movie snacks, dimming the lights, kicking up your feet and catching a new film.
If you already have a streaming subscription, your movie night will only add the price of snacks to your monthly cost. Even if you decide to rent a new movie, you'll pay less than you would on movie tickets and, as a bonus, get no judgment for watching in your PJs.
3. Have a Picnic
On top of the mental and physical health benefits of spending time outside, picnics are just downright fun. All you need for this budget-friendly treat is access to green space such as a park, lawn or balcony, something to sit on and something to eat.
You can't go wrong with portable picnic staples like sandwiches, salads and soft drinks, but if you want to mix things up, you could plan a theme meal and try out new recipes or drinks. Bringing your favorite food outside and eating under the sun or stars with family or friends can make your typical weeknight meal feel like a treat.
4. Explore Resources From Your Library
Libraries have become more than just havens for the bookish. Check out your local library and you'll likely find something for everyone: updated tech, social groups, kid spaces and classes. There's also an increasingly popular trend called a "library of things," where patrons can check out useful items like sewing machines and screwdrivers as if they were books.
On top of these modern updates, many libraries have teamed up with local community and cultural organizations so patrons can use their library card as a free pass. Depending on where you live, your library card may provide free museum admission, access to meeting and maker spaces, free streaming services, classes and more. Inquire at your local branch to learn what freebies or discounts your library card gives you.
5. Get Active
Fitness classes and gym memberships can be a cost-effective way to stay active and fit, but some can run you anywhere from about $40 in monthly membership fees to more than $30 for a single drop-in fitness class, depending on where you live.
If you can't fit gym workouts into your budget, treat yourself to a 100% free restorative fitness practice by building walks into your day, such as before you leave for work, during your lunch break or in the evening. Even short periods of movement can boost your energy levels, calm stress and improve your health.
Another fun and free way to get active is to stream a workout video on your computer or television. Yoga, pilates, CrossFit, cycling, cardio and strength endurance videos are available for free through platforms like YouTube, and can help you recreate the guided workouts you'd find in a studio without shelling out money for a membership.
6. Channel Your Creativity
Doing something creative can help you unwind and enter a state of flow where distractions fade away and you're fully engaged with what you're doing. Research suggests this can elevate your mood and make you feel more fulfilled, making it a perfect remedy for burnout.
Here are some ideas for treating your inner artist:
- Visit a paint and sip night. While they aren't free, paint bars are a fun way to use art to get out of your comfort zone occasionally, all while enjoying wine and socializing. You'll pay anywhere from about $30 to $50, depending on where you live, and you'll leave with your own impressive painting. If that sounds like too much of a splurge, you could recreate a paint and sip night at home for nothing more than the cost of supplies—or you can pool supplies with friends. You might invite some friends to join you, or stream art lessons online.
- Play a musical instrument. You may be able to find inexpensive instruments through online marketplaces—or just pull out that ukelele or viola that's been collecting dust in your closet. Look online for free or low-cost lessons, get a book from the library or experiment with your own musical creations.
- Try a craft kit. Some artists assemble craft kits you can order online. These kits make it easy for anyone to create unique crafts like DIY candles, macrame plant hangers, woven wall art, pottery, jewelry and more.
- Color your stress away. Adult coloring books come in an array of styles, so there's something for everyone. Many people find them meditative, and they're mess-free.
7. Read in a Coffee Shop
While giving up your daily latte habit in favor of brewing your coffee at home is one smart habit that can reel in overspending, you don't have to completely swear off coffee shops to stay on budget. Cafes are the ideal venue for an hour or two of solo time, and they're a fairly budget-friendly way to treat yourself and even explore a new spot in your area.
Try going off hours, such as in the late afternoon, when the midday rush fades into a slower stream of customers. If reading isn't your jam, try journaling or working on a crossword or sudoku puzzle. Bonus points if you don your coziest sweater and splurge a little on a scone or some biscotti.
8. Try "Cleaning Meditation"
Treating yourself to a chore may seem contradictory, but mindfully tidying your favorite small space, such as your bedroom or favorite TV nook, costs nothing beyond basic supplies—and can leave you with a serene space and possibly a bit of inner peace.
Rather than just checking a task off your list, make cleaning a soothing act. Here are some tips to try cleaning meditation for yourself:
- Set the mood: Put on calming or uplifting music and focus on your breath and the physical sensation of cleaning. Changing into something comfy can make the moment feel even more intentional.
- Get the right supplies: Harsh chemicals and a half-broken mop doesn't exactly scream relaxation. Try cleaning products you'll enjoy using, such as a real feather duster, wood brushes and brooms, and natural cleaning products with pleasing scents. These can cost a bit more upfront, but they're satisfying to use and often better for the planet.
Treating Yourself Prevents Budget Burnout
Overspending is bad for your budget and can prevent you from reaching your financial goals, but restricting yourself from enjoying the occasional treat is its own recipe for budget burnout. To afford larger treats down the line, consider setting up a sinking fund and setting aside a small amount of cash each month.
In addition to tracking your cash flow, track your credit score through Experian's free credit monitoring. Monitoring your score can help you detect any unexpected changes, know how your credit history impacts your access to credit products and spot areas where you can improve your score. It can be a helpful addition to your financial routine.