My alarm went off at 5am this morning (Friday March 3rd for future context) an hour earlier than usual. I got up and groggily made my way downstairs, (hand on railing, always have a hand on the railing when getting up at 5am), and made my way to Fionn’s room to wake him up. Fionn scratched his head and rolled out of bed, “is it time?”, he yawned.
“You bet buddy. We’ve got 20 minutes then we have to leave.”
20 minutes later at 5:50am we pulled into the Walmart parking lot, pulled out our camping chairs, and set ourselves up outside the main doors. About 15 minutes later a friendly Walmart employee came out and asked us the all important question Fionn and I had been waiting to hear:
“You are first in line, do you want the Neon or Grey controllers?”
I looked to Fionn, and his instant reply was “Neon”.
2 hours later Fionn and I were walking out of Walmart with our Nintendo Switch, a copy of “Zelda Breath of the Wild”, and a pro controller: $641.62 Canadian, of video gaming goodness.
Why am I sharing this money story? Many times, when I am talking to people about budgeting, I get the same immediate response:
“Oh, I have tried budgeting and I hated it. Budgets are no fun and don’t work.”
As someone who created some really horrible family budgets that didn’t work, I can absolutely agree, with one added twist:
“Budgets are too limiting and don’t work, if you don’t leave room for ‘fun money’ in your life”
Making a budget that doesn’t work
Back in 2007 when Ashlea and I were building up our consumer debt (top dumb money move: paying off our car loan with our home equity line of credit because we couldn’t afford the loan payments) we came to the realization that the only way we were going to be able to make a go of it in our new home, and with our new baby, was if we started to handle our money more intelligently.
This resulted in me creating a bare bones, pay back debt as quick as possible, budget that did nothing more than scare us and cause some spectacular “discussions” about our money situation. Every spare penny we had including Christmas money, birthday money, and tax returns went towards balancing our numbers and paying down our debt. This strategy, and these budgets just didn’t work.
Oh, the strategy worked on a monetary level. In fact, after a few months of following the budgets, and using all of our spare cash, we actually had extra money left over, and so we put that extra money towards our debt too. However, the budget was not working on a happy relationship level.
Eventually, after living (and saving money and paying down debt) on many horrible iterations of our weekly and monthly budgets, I figured out what wasn’t working: in our attempt to save as much money as possible, and pay debt down as quickly as possible, we had eliminated fun money from our lives. We had no money to eat out, buy a game, buy Fionn a toy, or go away for a weekend. Our budget covered our survival needs and our debt. Nothing more.
Adding fun money to the budget
So, Ashlea and I sat down and decided to slow down our debt repayment a bit, tweak our numbers, and add some fun money back into our lives. Each of us got a weekly personal allowance, we started a weekly “eating out envelope”, and we made a promise to only use Christmas and birthday money for having some fun, or purchasing something enjoyable.
This fun money added into our lives was one of those “head exploding” realizations. Suddenly, there were fewer money arguments, and, surprisingly, by adding in fun money, we actually started to have MORE money left over at the end of each month. Once we could have some fun again, it started to become easier to follow the other pieces of our budget, and save even more.
Your life needs fun money.
Even if your own money situation feels impossibly tight, here are some places you can find fun money:
- cut back a few dollars in each of your budget categories to start a fun money category
- start using coupons and discounts more, especially while grocery shopping. When you have grocery money left over use it on something fun
- use birthday, Christmas, and other gifted money for fun, instead of on necessities
- use some of your tax return to add fun money to your life
- use money from your business’s Choice Account to have some fun in your personal life
Back to the Nintendo Switch.
I first saw advertisements for the upcoming Nintendo Switch in October of 2016, six months before the release, and started to get excited. However, pivoting my business into something new was having an impact on the family finances. It didn’t look like I would be able to save enough money by March to buy the Nintendo Switch, at least not without having an impact in other areas of our personal finances.
With no room in our budget, and with the money in my business’s Choice Account needed for other things, I started keeping my eyes out for other sources of money we could use. I got $150 from my in laws for Christmas. Then my Mom gave me a $500 cheque from the inheritance she received when my Granny (Fionn’s GG) passed away.
There were a lot of things I could have spent that money on, and I almost spent it a few times. In the end I held on to all of it, which meant on March 3rd Fionn and I would have enough to get ourselves a Nintendo Switch.
Doubt will set in
Holding on to fun money can be a real challenge. I have been following a budget in my business and personal life for almost 9 years now. I have been making sure to set aside fun money in my life for about 8 years. But, I still struggle sometimes with remembering to have fun with that money and not use it on something “responsible”.
Two weeks before the launch of the Switch, I went back and forth numerous times, trying to decide if the $650 I had saved should go towards the Switch, or if we should spend it on something else, something more practical, or maybe just save it for a rainy day. I had myself convinced about a week before launch that saving the money was the right thing to do. Then I had flashbacks to the “bad old days” when Ashlea and I eliminated all fun money from our lives.
I started thinking about all the fun Fionn and I (and Ashlea if we get the right type of game) could have with the Switch: Fionn and I could share the experiences of standing in line on launch day, unboxing the Switch, and playing Zelda for the first time. Not to mention all of the games that we can play together over time.
I realized I needed to stick to my own rules: our family needed some fun money.
Decision made, I told Fionn we were going to get a Nintendo Switch on launch day. The way his eyes lit up, the fun we had hanging out together and with all of the other Nintendo fans in the launch line up, and the excitement we shared as we started our first Zelda adventure together, have shown me I made the right decision.
Live within your means, but remember to build some fun into your budget and your overall financial plan. You will be shocked at the difference it will make, and how budgeting doesn’t have to be limiting and “no fun”.
Your life needs fun money.