Putting the fun back into budgeting

If you run your own business, you’re familiar with Entertainment Expenses. That’s the category to which you can assign money you spend entertaining clients or potential new clients, with the final resolution that you drum up some business.

The idea is that you spend a little to make your clients feel appreciated, and they give you back more than the cost of a dinner, sports tickets or a break at a café. Canada Revenue Agency generally allows you to claim 50% of a reasonable dinner/entertainment bill. The idea is that you consume half of what your total bill is, and they’re not going to pay for your meal. There are exceptions for occupations such as long-haul truck driver or bike courier, because they are required to eat in order to continue doing their jobs. For the average entrepreneur, the CRA doesn’t usually bat an eye if you spend $650 per year on entertaining.

But what about in terms of your household budget? Should you factor in some “entertainment” expenses if for nothing else than to feel as if you’re not spending everything you make on the drudgery of staying afloat financially?

Most experts agree that you should. But how much of your monthly budget should you assign to it?

If you work with the CRA figure, a person may think about spending $55 a month on entertainment (movies, fast foods, afternoon lattes, etc.). That’s for one person. If you want to budget for your wife or children, you may want to expand on that. Most experts agree that you shouldn’t be budgeting more than 5% of your paycheque, though, since there are other things that should take priority in your spending (utilities, debt repayment, rent, etc., and yes, even savings).

So, if you’re bringing home $1,000 every two weeks, for example, and you’re effectively covering off your house payments and debts, you may consider putting $50 into the “fun” jar.

You may think that doesn’t allow you much fun outside of your everyday routine, and so vacations are out of the question, but vacations are probably best included in your long-term planning, a separate budget category that is taken care of by your savings.

Your savings is money for your future, so in effect you’re stocking money away today for future fun — short-term financial pain for longer-term financial fun, if you will. Some people put savings away for their retirement and forget about having fun until then. There are examples of couples investing heavily in their retirement, with hopes of travelling the continent in a motorhome, only to have one of the spouses pass away suddenly and the surviving one wishing they had spend more money on living with each other now, rather than waiting for a tomorrow that now will never come.

Say you put away 10% of your paycheque into a high-yield savings account (which these days is about 3%). At the end of the year, you’ll have over $2,600. That’s a pretty good vacation for two every couple years, even at today’s prices, and you’re still contributing toward your retirement (albeit, not much).

As with any budgeting, the idea is to make your paycheque cover the essentials and plan for the things you want to do, rather than build up more debt living unsustainably.

So, figure out what you can afford to put away for “fun” and be regimented in making sure you put that money away. And be patient about spending it. The money will eventually be there to take off for Cuba, or buy a big screen TV, or just have a meal at a fancy restaurant and perhaps spend the night away at a downtown hotel. You just have to wait for it to arrive.

 

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