How Can I Enjoy the Money I Earn Without Overspending?

Our editor-in-chief helps 'make cents' of enjoying the money you earn

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Dear Kristin,

For many years we were living in a scarcity mindset because my partner and I were living paycheck to paycheck. Thankfully, we're no longer in the paycheck-to-paycheck situation. Now that our situation is different, what are some practical ways we can break out of that scarcity mentality and practice a smart lifestyle without going overboard?


Unsure on the East Coast

Dear Unsure,

I know that after a long time of financially struggling, it can be hard to allow yourself to enjoy the money you make. What if something happens and you’ve spent all the extra income you both have earned? In reality, no one can predict the future, but I do know that life isn’t just meant to be endured; it’s also meant to be enjoyed. That means taking some of the money you and your partner earn and spending it on things that you want, whether that’s a vacation or a pair of shoes that you’ve been eyeing. 

But you don’t want to spend all of your paychecks without tucking some money aside in your savings and investment accounts and toward other future goals. Building up an emergency fund is one way to feel more at ease about using this discretionary money for things that you want. That’s because your emergency fund helps you be prepared in case one of you gets sick or loses a job, or if another unexpected expense impacts your finances. So what’s the easiest way to be prepared and enjoy the money you earn? Set up a budget.

One of the fastest and simplest ways to budget is by following the 50/30/20 rule. You set aside 50% of your take-home income for your needs like rent, groceries, and utilities; 30% of your income for your wants, like take-out food; and the remaining 20% goes towards your savings and financial goals. Remember, you can always play around and adjust those numbers in a way that is best for both of you.

For example, let’s say you want to save more money for a bigger purchase like a house. Maybe you’ll put less money in the “fun” bucket, and more money toward savings. Or perhaps you want to set some funds aside for investing. Either way, sit down with your partner and discuss your financial goals, both big and small. Then get honest with each other about some purchases you’ve been wanting to make, but perhaps didn’t because you didn’t have the money. Incorporate those into your budget as well, and set aside money each month for those items or experiences. It’s not just about enjoying yourself—in fact, you’ll be more likely to stick to your budget if you don’t make it too restrictive.

But most of all, be gentle with yourself. What you’re doing is making a mental shift in the way you look at your finances, and moving out of that scarcity mindset. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you find it difficult, or if you have fears about money that you need to work through during this process. Remind yourself that your past isn’t your present, and rely on your budget going forward. If you do, you’ll be able to spend your money without guilt, while also building up a nest egg for emergencies and your future.

Good luck!


If you have questions about money, Kristin is here to help. Submit an anonymous question and she may answer it in a future column.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “An Essential Guide to Building An Emergency Fund.”

  2. “Making a Budget.”

  3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “My Spending Rule To Live By.”

  4. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Setting a SMART Savings Goal.”

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