Never Miss Good Opportunities to Spend Your Money

This post was written by Shaun, writer of the blog Smart Family Finance. He writes to inform and educate young families about good spending habits, saving tips and intelligent career decisions.

Having adhered to the laws of frugality and spending, my family ends the month using only $80 of the $100 budgeted for family entertainment. An extra $20 now resides comfortably in the family bank account and initially, I’m elated. It’s a badge of honor and a testament to my family’s self-control and frugality. We knew it would be hard to adjust to $100, but we met the challenge and did $20 better. So, why am I so bothered by coming in under budget?

For some this feat of spending will-power is a goal worthy of aspiration. We tend to view every budget limit as a ceiling meant to be raised by lowering the floor. But for me, I feel unsettled when my family misses the budget goal, even when we’re under it.

It’s all related to SB’s conversation he had with his wife the other day, if we postpone happiness for later, what we will live for at present?

That $20, it haunts me. Not because I want to spend it, but because I don’t want to spend it. And, why don’t I want to spend it? My family meets our savings goals. Our budget is well thought out and conservative. So with an extra $20 in the bank, I can’t help wondering if my family has missed out on opportunities in the last month.

Opportunities versus Temptations

I can’t remember the last time I really did something special to treat my wife during one of our dates. I’ve never taken my daughter to a baseball game. There was that $140 bottle of wine that my family could have bought for $20; it would have made an excellent excuse to invite friends over.

For many, these are things we splurged on in the past. They brought us to the brink of disaster and we have worked hard to keep temptations in check. But, are we overcompensating?

Spending is no different than most things. We are unhealthy, when we drink too much, but drinking in and of itself is not bad. We are unhealthy when we eat too much, but eating in and of itself is essential. While overspending on entertainment is a temptation to be conquered, don’t underestimate the damage that under-spending can inflict.

A joint Harvard-Columbia study looked at how college students felt about their spending over school breaks. They found that immediately after a break, students regretted not being studious enough during their free time. They followed up with the same students one year later and found that the remorse for a more industrious school break had morphed into a more powerful regret for not having taken more opportunities for fun.

There is an old finance axiom, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Money geeks knowingly smile at the old time value of money adage. But, it holds as much truth for spending as it does saving. My daughter will only be 2 ½ until she is 3. I can only celebrate 5 years of marriage for one year and then I’ve been married for 6.

After we’ve conquered the temptations of irresponsibility, after we have set smart savings goals, what we need most, is to learn when we’ve got a bird in hand so we aren’t always seeking the two in the bush.

Here are some suggestions to help avoid temptation, while never missing good opportunities:

Trust Your Budgeting

Be wary of the other spending problem: cash hoarding.

Approach budgeting by accepting that a budget is as much about spending what you plan to spend as it is not spending what you don’t have. If you’ve thoughtfully decided that $100 is the amount that should be spent on entertainment, then follow through. Lower the budget and start a second item to save on next year’s Disney vacation, but do not let an item in your budget unconsciously collect money for no planned use.

Set Personal and/or Family Goals

…Not just monetary ones. A budget contains numbers like income and expenses and while you may have set aside money for a gym membership, there is nowhere on the budget to account for the 13 pounds you want to lose. If you want to be a better musician, spend more time with your family and help your kids learn their alphabet this year, take note of it. This will help you to value opportunities and identify temptations. Going back to the losing 13 pounds goal – finding a great deal on a used recumbent bike is an opportunity. Meanwhile treating yourself to a caramel cappuccino every morning before work is a temptation.

Oh yeah, if you have more and more money left over after you set your goals and a budget, perhaps you need more goals; community enrichment comes to mind.

Weigh the Costs and the Benefits

The circus, which visits only once a year, costs an outrageous $30 a ticket and it will mean no more family outings for the rest of the month. How much is it worth to you and your children? If $30 a ticket brings a whole month of happy memories, then it is a wise investment. But, beware and…

Substitute When You Don’t Have the Money

Often, frugality is all about substitution tricks. Buy used, not new. Don’t vacation, stay-cation. You don’t need to experience it all, because sometimes it’s better to use your imagination. But, sometimes frugality stands in the way of seizing good opportunities.

This topic heading could easily become its own post, so I won’t go into too much argument on my point, just know I’m very much for frugality when there is a purpose (the most frugal person I’d ever read of was Ebenezer Scrooge). It is important to recognize that not everything can be substituted seamlessly. An avid stamp collector may be able to abate irrational stamp spending habits by substituting canceled stamps for mint stamps, but canceled stamps will never replace mint stamps.

If your budget, your personal goals and your spending are balanced, then be wary of substation in the face of an opportunity.

It works the other way as well, if the opportunity is not worth the cost, substitute, don’t splurge.

Trust Your Budgeting

Yes, I’ve already written this one, but it’s very important. Budgets work, because you are in a more rational mind when you write them. When you try and break your budget, it’s not hard to locate the culprit. Temptation tries to drag you beyond your budgeted needs and passing on opportunities keeps you from meeting your personal goals.

If you have a budget and follow that budget, then you are ready for the next step in your personal finance journey: never miss good opportunities to spend your money.

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  1. says

    Balance. Everything in life should be about balance. Work hard/play hard. Save some/spend some. The most important line to me was “if we postpone happiness for later, what we will live for at present?”, but also what if the future doesn’t come or you’re not in any kind of physical condition to enjoy it (yeah I say that a LOT but it’s so true)? Then you’re stuck with a whole lot of regrets.

    I think it’s important to learn from mistakes, so the next time you can get a $140 bottle of wine of 1/7 of the cost go for it. Give your daughter the experiences you think will give her more joy than anything else you could do with the same amount of money. What is the point of working for the money if you never allow yourself to really enjoy any of it (unless you build a money bin and swim around in the cash)

    • says

      I am glad we think alike. Unfortunately I haven’t created a money bin yet. :) I am a buyer of your idea of spending when you can. I can’t climb Himalayas or Alps at 50, I want to do it sooner.

    • says


      The good news is that the bottle of wine is still an available possibility!

      I like your comment about learning from mistakes, because we will inevitably take things too far and miss out on opportunities. What is important is that we have the tools and the awareness to recognize when we are missing out.

      But, you put it much better in your post this morning :)

  2. says

    I created a list a while ago of “wants” and then prioritized them. Then, when I’m out and about, I look at the prices and sales… and wait. If find over time, the wants I used to have less interest to me… and a few stay at the top. Those are the ones I focus on when looking for deals… and even then, I usually do without any of them.

    • says

      This is a good tactic. While its OK to splurge a little on a under spent budget, still we should try to avoid splurge as much as we can.

    • says

      “and even then, I usually do without any of them.”

      Just a very respectful suggestion, but I’d sit down and think more about your goals. If you find that most of your goals, you can do without and have no real desire to spend your money on later, perhaps you are missing out on something that you would want to spend that money on.

      I love the idea of a cooling period, because your wants can change, but if you are always setting goals that you rarely want to acheive when the opportunity arises. It sounds to me like you might need to work on goal setting.

  3. Shelly Honk says

    SB, this week is all about spending money? We can never be under budget and you guys are lucky. I cant think of taking vacation.

  4. says

    What a great reminder that balance in all things is very important. I am trying to improve my prioritizing and goal setting so that we can meet our financial goals while living out our lives in a meaningful and joyful way.

  5. Jimmy T says

    There’s always the option of helping bless others if you find yourself under budget, maybe disaster relief, maybe a local homeless shelter (some have lists of practical needs like coffee or food or shoes, and a general fund), maybe a one time gift for a missionary or church/temple/mosque if you’re the religious type. If you made it through the month without missing it, why not use it in a way where $20 might mean a lot for someone?

    • says

      Jimmy your comment really made me think. Believe me I do allocate money in budget for charitable work. But, our mind is a strange thing, we are all inherently consumerist and like to be in a high social standing compared to rest. More you put control on spending, more you deprive yourself. May be we will not feel anything for a few months going under budget, but that consumerist nature might creep in someday putting all your discipline at risk. very thought provoking comment Jimmy. Come back soon

  6. says

    Good discussion! It is about setting priorities in your personal life and then coming up with a financial plan that supports that. It does no good if you create a budget that makes everyone in the household miserable. Budgets should be flexible enough so that yo can have some spontaneity and fun but still be working towards your longer term goals.

    • says

      Budget makes your disciplined on your spending and that’s the only thing a budget does. It’s your earning potential that decides how much fun you can have in budget.

  7. says

    You do only go through life once.

    I used to work for a fairly large financial services firm and participated in the annual budget creation and quarterly re-forecast processes. We managers were charged with hitting the budgeted amounts for both revenue and expenses on the nose, not with coming in under on the expenses and over on the revenue.

    Of course, public companies are judged on how well they meet plans so budgets are important.

    As your great post points out, families with plans for expenses and income also need to try to hit the budget numbers – or re-think their plans and re-forecast their budget!

    • says

      I know that Marie, I also do work in financial company where for every project the budget vs actual variance is allowed up to 3% on positive and negative sides. Under spending on budget is bad because it prevents money to go to a different project where it could have been spent to improve things vs. not using the money at all.

  8. World of Finance says

    I love spending wisely and not missing out on the opportunities to enjoy life. As pointed out in the article, why buy a $100+ bottle of wine at the restaurant when you can purchase the same bottle for $20 from the supermarket and pass an enjoyable evening with friends at home. With age, I’ve come to realize that moments we share with loved ones are more valuable than material things.

  9. says

    Great article! Its about living life now but in a balance. The problem we have in the US is that we want everything.. now! Over spending is the issue, not underspending. Plus its important to spend that time with your loved ones, your family. It would be another story if you were spending a few hundred over your monthly budget and did it on a monthly basis.

    We have a set budget for family entertainment and we always meet it every month, sometime go over just a little which is just fine. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • says

      But always counting budget dollars and calculating how much positive or negative you are with respect to budget gets real boring sometimes. I am sure you have a lot of self discipline, you seem to manage your finance very well.

  10. says

    It’s about 3 things, the way I see it: 1) Having tangible financial goals to work toward, 2) Being able to discern wants from needs, 3) Striking a balance in life that brings happiness. Having a budget can allow all 3 things to happen, or at least facilitate getting to that point.

    Good post!

  11. says

    “budgeting is all about substitution” — that’s a great way to look at it. And I’m fully in agreement that you shouldn’t hoard cash or become so frugal that you feel like the fun, joy and experience of life is slipping away. Life is meant to be lived.

    I’m against WASTE, not use. So I disagree with ‘gratuitous’ spending, but I fully support intentionally spending money on things that enhance your life. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars traveling through Asia, the Middle East and Europe, and it was one of the best decisions of my life.

  12. Stella Allen says

    Hi SB! I hate budgeting actually, because I don’t want to miss the opportunity to spend. I’m not that kinda materialistic girl but I really hate budgeting it bothers me rather that’s why I hate. However, I’ll do savings in the bank it’s my substitute if I have no more cash in hand.

    • says

      Best way out, Stella, is to automate our saving a portion of your income in IRA/Roth IRA or 401(k) type of investments and then do whatever you can with rest of it.

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