We all know that we’re supposed to budget—yes, even those lawyers who are eons away from first-year poverty and closer to being millionaires.
Lawyers have earned a reputation for not necessarily being great with their money, but many legal types do just fine with planning, saving, investing, and putting the proper effort into paying off law school debt. And that debt is a doozy: The average law school debt is anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000. So responsible lawyers who pledge to buckle down and funnel all their extra cash towards that debt—or saving for a home or retirement or a college fund—are doing the right thing.
The trouble is, some people overdo frugality and end up depriving themselves of any enjoyment in life, believing that deprivation and strict planning is the only way to be responsible. Being able to spend money on off-the-cuff fun—a dinner out, a new pair of shoes you don’t necessarily need, a last-minute vacation—is essential to being able to stick to a budget and still live life. You need fun money in your budget.
Being Frugal Has Levels
Being frugal doesn’t have to mean you can never spend money on anything enjoyable, and having fun doesn’t have to be expensive. Fun money should be part of every budget, no matter how tight that budget is and no matter how little you may have to put towards fun and entertainment. One person may have a monthly fun budget of $250 while another person may have only $50. As long as every budget allows for a splurge here and there, some dinners out, concert tickets, or whatever unnecessary, unplanned thing you’d like to buy, the exact amount isn’t that important.
Budgeting for Fun Helps You Resist Impulse Spending
Allowing room in our budget for fun, self-care, and recreation makes it much easier to resist the temptation of impulse spending. If you’re walking around fun-starved—no dinners out, no new clothes, no vacations, no fancy lattes—you’ll have a more difficult time not spending money on whatever shiny objects are dangled in front of you. Too many sacrifices lead to overspending and the inevitable guilt that follows. It’s like being on an overly strict diet: No one can eat perfectly and never have a piece of cake or a slice of pizza for years on end!
Just to be clear: Your fun money isn’t part of your entertainment budget, or your vacation savings, or the cash you set aside for clothing. Fun money should be a separate little pile of money that hasn’t been earmarked for anything. It’s there just in case you decide to go for that last-minute, unplanned thing that you haven’t been saving for and couldn’t anticipate.
Recreation is Healthy and Necessary
Not only is it important to be able to go out to a last-minute dinner with friends or buy a cool new pair of shoes on the rare whim, but participating in activities you enjoy and making the occasional impulse buy is good for you. Lawyers lead busy, stressful lives. Engaging in hobbies, pampering as a form of self-care, and just being able to relax and blow off steam in whatever way works for you is a necessity, not a luxury. In order to be good at your job, keep your mind sharp, combat stress, and remain mentally healthy, you need to do things besides what you “have to” do. Many of these things will cost money—the occasional mani-pedi appointment followed by drinks with your sister, a last-minute road trip with your law school buddies during a three-day weekend—these aren’t necessities like food or water are, for sure. But it’s your downtime, relaxation time, and creative time that allow you to be a whole, healthy, and balanced person.
Work is important and a big part of your life, but it’s not your entire life (no matter what that senior partner says!) If you want to be the best legal eagle you can be, you can’t treat your body or your mind like a machine. So go ahead, make some snap decisions—within reason. Have some fun!