4 Tips for Living Spontaneously on the Cheap

Photo: Derek Key

By nature, I am not a spontaneous person. I’m a worrier, a planner, and occasionally a make-sure-every-detail-is-just-so nutcase. But I have an airtight excuse for my lack of impulsivity — I don’t have enough money. A big pile of money has always seemed like the ticket to freedom for me, and while I enjoy a simple life, some days I just want the whole world — more travel, more of a social life, more stuff — basically, just the ability to say “yes” any time the mood strikes. The problem is, this brand of carefree is at odds with most people’s budgets — and certainly with mine. What to do? While you can’t have it all, I think there are some simple ways to fit spontaneity into your frugal life. Here are my suggestions. (See also: 6 Ways Money Really Can Buy Happiness)

Save Some Mad Money

If you want a chance at getting out of your rut when opportunity knocks, keeping a solid savings account is the best way to give yourself that chance. This doesn’t mean you’ll be able to jump at every upcoming concert ticket or vacation sale. But if you have some money saved just for fun, you’re more likely to have options next time something fun and exciting is on the horizon. How much you can save will depend on your circumstances, but keep in mind that a spontaneous indulgence doesn’t have be a four-week Mediterranean cruise; it might just be seeing something you really want in a store window and marching right in to buy it.

Remember, The Best Things in Life Are Free

When you’re standing in the checkout line at the grocery store in the dead of winter it can be easy to wish you were one of the celebrities lining the checkout aisle in their vacation bikinis. Sure, their money affords them the privilege to fly to St. Barts and lay on the beach, but it probably also ties them to a fleet of bodyguards — and hungry photographers angling for a shot of their tanned flesh. I think it would be foolish to say that having money doesn’t make a difference in how you live your life, but no matter how much money you have, there will always be limits on what you can do. Rather than assuming the limits to your ability to be spontaneous are greater than those faced by someone with a bigger bank account, just consider them different. Also know that spontaneous doesn’t always mean spending. There are lots of things that are free (or nearly free) that you can do on a whim. Make the effort to capitalize on each and every one them, and you’ll be less likely to feel like you’re missing out.

Practice Your Balance

As with all things in finance, balance is probably the key to breaking loose without busting your budget. Depending on what type of person you are, it’s probably either a struggle for you to spend money on something you enjoy, or you do it far too often — and to your own detriment.  Find some middle ground between austere and ostentatious in all areas of your life. After all, if you don't allow yourself to get any pleasure out of your money, what are you working so hard for?

Make Every Dollar Count

For many people, being spontaneous means being able to say “yes” to something fun or out of the ordinary on a moment’s notice. That’s a tall order, but I think it’s possible as long as you understand that those thrilling moments of spontaneity won’t come often. What this means is that you have to choose the ones that will give you the biggest thrill for your dollar. If you’ve always, always wanted to do something — such as travel around the world, start your own business, or retire early — save for that. If you accept a consolation prize, you might just find yourself with a golden opportunity you’re in no position to cash in on.

Spontaneity carries a notion of freedom, of being able to do what you want when you want. And really, who doesn’t want that? The truth is, everyone faces constraints in life. If, like me, yours revolve around money, your finances might become an easy place to pin the blame when you feel like you’re stuck in a rut. But spontaneity really isn’t about getting everything you want when you want it. Almost no one has this luxury. Instead, it’s about loosening the constraints you’ve put on yourself and learning to welcome and celebrate the spontaneous moments in your life, whether they cost money or not.

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Guest's picture

Absolutely wonderful article! Sometimes the money you spend can be worth way more than that money saved; as you said it's all about finding a balance.

Guest's picture

Budgeting is very essential on anything. You have to set a certain budget on every payday for bills, savings, travel and leisure etc. Live within your means but save more to enjoy life.

Guest's picture

I'm like you, my freedom to say "yes" is always dependant on the amount of money in my bank account, where as many of my friends are lucky enough to have parents who replenish their's once its getting low (i'm still a college student). But I look forward to the day when I no longer have to have the numbers in my account on my mind 24/7. Hopefully at some point when my school loans are all paid off, I can save enough money to keep in my savings account and use on spontaneous travel with friends, or going to a music festival. For now though, I'm stuck with the same clothes I've worn for years, and a strict grocery list that I travel to Walmart to purchase. But life is about experiences, and I think that if you have the means to say "yes" when you know you're able to afford it, the experience will be well worth the money.