WHEN I CREATE my monthly budget, I subtract expenses I deem to be “needs” from my take-home pay. What’s left is money I can spend on items I desire—my “wants.” For budgeting purposes, I divide my discretionary income into four equal amounts and budget that amount for each week of the month. Psychologically, I find it easier to keep my budget on track if I can see how much I spend on a weekly basis.
For things I want, I don’t have discrete spending categories, like I do for necessities. Instead, I focus more on staying within my overall budget. If I overspend on my hobbies one week, I know I need to cut back in another area, like eating out. In looking over my budget for the past couple of months, it’s obvious where most of my discretionary income goes:
Hobbies: My primary hobby is competitive pistol shooting. Nearly every weekend, I compete at a match. Between maintenance of my equipment, travel expenses and entry fees, my hobby easily eats up the largest portion of my discretionary budget. I have, however, figured out ways to make my money go further. By serving as a volunteer at matches, the hosting clubs usually provide me with free entry. I also write articles for a national shooting club’s magazine, which provides me with a small stipend.
Entertainment: I subscribe to the most basic cable package available in my area. By bundling internet and television subscriptions, I get both services for less than either as a stand-alone. Thanks to my Amazon Prime subscription, I have access to thousands of movies and television shows I can stream through my Roku. And, as a fan of the UFC, I occasionally indulge my passion for the sport by springing for a pay-per-view fight.
Dining Out: Unlike the average American—who spends more on dining out than on groceries—I tend to spend very little eating at restaurants. During the month, I might eat out as many as five or six times, or as infrequently as once or twice. I’m far more likely to spend my food money on quality meat and produce that I prepare myself.
My Dog: I admit I like to spoil my corgi. Buying her dog treats, and the occasional new dog bed, makes me happy, and Zoey doesn’t seem to complain about the treatment.
Clothing: I’m fortunate to have a job where I can dress casually. My clothing budget is minimal, and I can’t remember the last time I paid full price for an item of clothing. End-of-the-season sales are a girls’ best friend.
As with my “needs,” being frugal comes into play with my “wants.” My overriding goal: Maintain a healthy financial balance between saving for the future and having fun in the present.
Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college in Portland, Ore. She has an M.S. degree in biology, and hopes one day to retire and become a fulltime writer. Kristine’s previous blogs include Where It Goes and A Less Taxing Time.