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Here’s How to Live Your Best Life…on a Budget

Feb 03, 2020 3 min read Heather R. Johnson

Key Takeaways

  • Follow a detailed budget to manage expenses.
  • Learn how to eat healthy on a budget.
  • You can socialize, exercise and travel, all while living frugally.

Just because you're not living large doesn't mean you can't live well. You can stay fit, travel a bit and eat healthy on a budget, even when you don't have a lot of splurge money. The key? Follow a detailed spending plan and find new ways to enjoy life's pleasures.



Why is budgeting important?

Whether you're fresh out of college or entering retirement, it's important to have a plan. Creating and following a budget helps you manage your spending and stay focused on your financial goals.

Log recurring monthly expenses, such as rent or mortgage payments, utilities and car payments. From there, add in variable expenses, such as dinners out, clothes and gym memberships. Don't forget extras such as your daily coffee quota.

Next, compare your expenses to your income. Are you in the red? Trim the variables.

If you're feeling the pinch, you're not alone. According to a 2017 CareerBuilder1 report, 78% of full-time workers live paycheck to paycheck. About 56% say they only save $100 or less each month.

You don't have to live like a hermit to keep your budget in line. Even when money's tight, you can cover the necessities and still have fun. Here's how.


How to eat healthy on a budget

It is possible to eat healthy when you have a limited amount to spend on groceries . Here are a few suggestions to help you eat healthy on a budget.

  • Eat in more often. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics2, Americans spent $3,154 per year — about $263 per month — on restaurant and take-out meals in 2016. Save dining out for special occasions — when it fits your budget.
  • Eat in season. In-season produce tends to cost less than out-of-season produce grown far from home. When you spot a sale, stock up and freeze the extra.
  • Buy frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables contain the same amount of nutrients as their fresh counterparts, at a lower price. Use frozen vegetable medleys in soups and stir-fry.
  • Choose different cuts of meat. Choose bone-in cuts and whole chickens over boneless, skinless varieties. Use bones for broth.
  • Buy dry. A one-pound bag of dry black beans costs less than $2 and yields 12 servings. A 15-ounce can yield 3.5 servings for about the same price.
  • Skip the salad kits. Bagged, cut spinach and greens often cost double or triple the price of whole vegetables. Buy heads of lettuce and bunches of spinach, rinse and chop.



Stay financially and physically fit

Are you using your gym membership? If not, and you can cancel with little to no penalty, let it go. Try these low- or no-cost alternatives.

  • Outside is free: Go for a brisk run, walk or bike ride outdoors.
  • Strength train using a circuit of bodyweight exercises you can do anywhere. Need inspiration?
  • If you need more structure, check your local parks department or community center for free or low-cost classes.


Expand your social network

Keep your social network humming without draining your savings . A few ideas include:

  • Meet your friends for a walk or a hike. You'll have time for quality conversation and get exercise at the same time.
  • Instead of meeting at a restaurant, invite a couple friends over for dinner. Cook a meal together with ingredients that everyone contributes.
  • Take the family to free local events such as movies in the park, arts festivals and parades.
  • Volunteer. You'll meet other people with common interests while giving back to your community.


Travel on a budget

You can take a well-deserved vacation without blowing your budget. In today's sharing economy, we have more affordable lodging options than ever before. And you have multiple ways to save on airfare and other expenses. For starters:

  • Rack up points. If you enjoy traveling, you should consider choosing a card that offers travel rewards points and a generous sign-on bonus. But remember to pay it in full: you should not carry on debt to collect points. Also make sure you're enrolled in airline frequent flier programs.
  • Think beyond hotels. On vacation rental sites such as Airbnb, you can find private rooms and entire homes and apartments at rates comparable to or less than a standard hotel room. Find a spot with kitchen access to slash food expenses. If you stay in a standard hotel, you can do wonders with a microwave and mini-fridge. Look for those amenities when you book.
  • Stay flexible on flights. Search aggregate sites for flight deals — If you're willing, red eyes and Tuesdays often have some of the lowest fares. Check neighboring airports for better flight deals. Plan trips to popular destinations in the off-season for lower prices on airfare and lodging with fewer crowds.
  • Rough it. Instead of spending a week in a pricey big city, visit a national park for a few days of hiking and camping. You'll enjoy days of fresh air and nature for a fraction of the price.



What you can do next

Not sure how to make a budget? Use free budgeting apps, a spreadsheet or, even simpler, a pen and paper, to start logging your expenses.



Heather R. Johnson writes about finance, small business and healthcare from Oakland, California. Her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle, and with brands such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo and RE/MAX, among others.


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