If you think the words budget and fun don’t belong in the same sentence, you may be looking at budgeting all wrong.
Sure, living on a budget isn’t as fun as going to an all-inclusive resort for a week wearing your new pair of shoes, but it doesn’t have to be drudgery either. In fact, if you spin how you approach budgeting to make it more of a game than an obligation, you may even find you look forward to the process.
1. See How Long You Can Go Without Spending a Cent
The easiest way to game yourself into saving money is seeing how long you can go without spending any money at all.
- No milk in the house? Can you wait a day before picking it up?
- Big meeting at the office tomorrow? Can you unearth an outfit from the back of your closet to wear?
- Holiday party coming up? Can you re-gift something you’ve never used?
Envision this challenge a bit like the workplace safety signs that announce how many days a factory has gone without an accident. But instead of measuring accidents, you’re tracking how many days you go without spending. Once you buy something, reset the days to zero and try again to see if you can beat your previous record.
Obviously, monthly bills like the rent aren’t included, and because everyone has to eat, you could exempt food purchases. However, if you have a large stockpile in the pantry and freezer, I vote for including food in your no-spending challenge.
2. Discover the Money Hidden in Your House
Living on a budget isn’t only about saving money; it’s also about finding money that can be used to supplement your income.
Just as you made a game of seeing how long you could go without spending, make it a game to see how much money you can find lurking in the nooks and crannies of your house. I’m not talking about change in the couch here. I’m talking about all the stuff crammed into your closets that you never use.
Find a couple of items — maybe old clothes or sports equipment — and list them on eBay or Craigslist. See what you can make. Then, find some more stuff the next week or month and see if you can make more.
You can challenge yourself or pull in your spouse or roommate. Create a competition to see who can make the most money each month by selling off their excess clutter. Up the ante by creating a reward — maybe the winner gets to relax while the loser does the dishes for a week.
3. Challenge Yourself to Find a Free Fun Activity Every Week
Entertainment can be a major budget leak. You go out for drinks and go a little wild with your tab. Or you take the kids to the budget movie and end up treating them to dinner before and ice cream after.
Fortunately, there are a ton of free activities out there, from festivals to library programs to nature centers. Rather than defaulting to whatever your go-to, money-sucking entertainment option is, challenge yourself to find something free to do every week (or month, if that’s more your social pace).
Then invite your friends along, and don’t feel like you have to tell them you want to go because it’s free. Simply say you heard about the event and want to check it out.
Now, the key is to avoid taking a free activity and turning it into a money-splurging event. You may tempted to think that because you’re saving money with the free entertainment, you can spend more elsewhere. Wrong. Try to make the outing completely free, or as close to it as humanly possible.
4. Find or Create a Budget Accountability Group
Everything is more fun when you do it with someone else. Budgeting is no different.
Slogging along on your own to manage your money can be lonely, but if you have some people with similar goals cheering you along, you may find it easier to stay motivated.
There are a couple of ways to do this. You can identify some like-minded friends and suggest you start a Facebook group or email chain in which you each check in every day or maybe once a week. It’s an opportunity for everyone to share their goals and progress toward them.
If you don’t have a group of friends in the real world who’d be interested in creating a budget accountability group, look online. Check out personal finance blogs for virtual inspiration or head to a message board to find those like-minded individuals you may be missing in the real world.
5. Ditch Pen & Paper for an App
In my perfect world, someone would create an app like Pact to reward us for sticking with our budgets. Unfortunately, my perfect world doesn’t exist.
Still, there are plenty of apps that can help you track and manage money, and for some people, these can make the process of sticking to your spending goals infinitely more fun than plugging numbers into a spreadsheet. We’ve reviewed some of these apps previously.
Another app that may be helpful is Urge. It lets you record every time you say no to a purchase and then “credits” that money toward a financial goal or dream purchase. Say no enough and, in theory, you should have money in the bank to buy whatever that thing is that you really want.
This post originally appeared on Money Talks News.
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