Save Money With a “Fun Allowance”

Photo by dno1967 on Flickr

Looking around at the stores and malls everywhere, it’s easy to see why shopping is one of America’s biggest sources of entertainment.

Carly decided to stop shopping for two weeks as a project for her Sociology class. Her assignment was to make a lifestyle change and observe how it impacted the people around her. She didn’t know it would make such an impact on herself or her marriage.

Carly’s story:

I have really bad spending habits, incessantly spending money I should be saving. It has placed a bit of a strain on my marriage as well, considering I’m married to a frugal super-saver.

After the summer we had, our savings account was dwindling. We had a $3000 plumbing emergency in our newly purchased house, bought a new truck, and subsequently had to pay the sales tax on said truck.

“I decided to limit myself to $10 per week for “fun money” and after that, I was done spending.”

The first week of the project, I decided to spend my whole week’s worth of money on lunch with some coworkers. We had been talking about it for a couple weeks, and it was definitely worth it.

It was great to spend my money on something I really was looking forward to, rather than just another lunch. It was excellent.

The second week, I spent a little here and there, but still stuck to my budget. I was worried for all the things I’d be missing out on by not going to Target every other day at lunch or wandering around the mall after work to avoid homework, but I didn’t miss anything.

I got caught up on my homework, worked out every day with my husband, and really had more time to do things I enjoy because I wasn’t wasting time at the mall. I baked, I made candles, and visited friends. It was a highly productive two weeks, without spending money on needless things.

After the two weeks were up, we had already managed to put $300 in our savings account. That was enough to convince me to stay on this allowance/budget system. Not just me, but my husband is now on one. It’s been amazing for our marriage and my stress level.

“Looking back on the weeks since the project, I have more time for things I should be doing anyway.”

I have more time to devote to my Bible Study, my homework, and working out. And I’m not as stressed out about money or time.

We have been able to put into our savings regularly, put a little extra toward my credit card, and enjoy the occasional meal out together, rather than an every-other day occurrence. We’ve also spent more time together, grocery shopping and going to Costco together, keeping each other (ok, me!) accountable.

I am happy to be saving more, but also to be less dictated by what I feel pressured to buy or have. I’m finding that I forget about most of these things I “need” by the time I have the time or energy to go get them, or I just put it on a list and save up.

What a great impact two weeks can have! Thanks Carly for sharing your story. Has anyone else tried setting a spending limit for fun expenses? Any tips to share?

More “No Spending” Projects

A benefit of blogging about our annual No Spend Month is hearing from others who try their own projects to save money, become more aware of their spending, and practice self-discipline.

Here are a few who are currently blogging about their experiences:

  • We Take It Easy — blogging from Spain about limiting spending until the end of the year.
  • Nourishing Days — limiting spending until the end of the year, including not shopping at the grocery store.
  • Just Plain Joy — a limit of $300 for personal and household spending during November.
  • (Update) Saving Advice — a limit of $400 for personal and household spending during November.
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Lawman and I have had an allowance for at least the last 12 years. On payday I withdraw cash for each of us. This is our allowance for 2 weeks. We can spend this money anyway we want — lunch out, drycleaning, movie rental, car wash, etc. It’s worked well for us and has allowed us to leave more cash in the checkbook.

    Nancy’s last blog post..Menu Plan Monday

  2. smallnotebook says:

    Nancy, you always have good ideas. I like the idea of being able to spend this amount guilt-free, because that’s what it’s been set aside for.

  3. I know I can do a spending less budget – it would be easy! We live in a relatively rural area with little access to shopping and I’ve done great at adding books to my amazon wish list and not purchasing them. We don’t go anywhere very often and thus spend little money out and about, plus spend less on gas.

    Now that I think about it, other then work obligations of going to dinner, the only thing I spent was $10 at amazon on music over the past two weeks.

    But getting my husband on board would be very difficult. He needs to quit smoking so there is that (just about) daily expense, and a few dollars here and there add up quickly!

    Tsoniki Crazy Bull’s last blog post..Mini Offices Times Two

  4. My husband and I have had an allowance for the past four years, and I absolutely love it! It frees us from having a parent-child scenario in our relationship, where you feel like you always have to ask “permission” to go do/buy something. Our answer is always “If you have enough allowance, then go for it!” When we first started this, we each got $10 a week. Over the past couple of years we’ve whittled that down to $10 a MONTH. This is much more difficult, but we’ve been willing to give up some of our fun so we can aggressively save up for a down payment on a house. I’d highly recommend anyone to try this out!

  5. my husband and I have budgeted for awhile now, and once our budget relaxed just a little, started allowing ourselves $40/mo “blow money” that we could each spend on hobbies or however we wanted. We’ve recently upped that some, but it now also takes into account any eating out that we do by ourselves. That keeps me from “planning errands” just so I could stop and pick up lunch while I was out…We take the money out of the bank in cash each month and that has really helped keep us accountable to not go over!

    One of the things we’ve found about budgeting is that it’s actually very liberating…instead of spending $$ on something and feeling guilty or worried, when you’ve budgeted that money to be spent, and then you spend it…it’s very freeing. Budgeting just helps us (and our money) behave!

    jodi @ bpr’s last blog post..Christmas Planning – Seven Weeks & Counting

  6. I’ve been through that phase myself! Shopping for clothes and craving new stuff but never being truly satisfied. I felt so silly and frivolous.
    I’m so relieved now that I’ve changed my habits. I write down my wishlists, which now consists mainly of books and dvds, when I find them cheap on the web.
    These last 2 weeks I bought a lightweight cardigan on sale, 2 movies and a book about living green – and it feels like spending much now. :-)

  7. I have two tricks that I use to save money which gives me a little “spending allowance”. Here’s what I do: every time I write a check I round up to the nearest dollar in my checkbook. So if a bill is for $93.23 I just write it in my checkbook as $94.00. Do this a few times over the months paying your bills or buying whatever and eventually you will have worked up a nice little cushion for yourself without even realizing it.

    The other trick I use is to empty my wallet of all its coins every day and put it in a jar. You’d be surprised how many coins you get in a day and how quickly the jar fills up! After about two weeks the jar is full so I empty it and roll it and then take it to the bank for deposit giving me some more money to play with. :)

  8. Frugal Angie says:

    My husband and I have been budgeting since we got married 4 yrs ago. We also have an allowance of $10 a week. My friends think it’s so silly that we have an allowance as adults… but when they hear that it’s helped us get debt free, and now we live on a cash only system… then it doesn’t sound so silly.

    Depending on what’s going on, I can either blow through my money as soon as I get it. And then at times, it can slowly collect until I open up my bank and there is $100 just sitting there.

    It has made “treating myself” a guilt free experience.

  9. My husband and I are both frugal by nature, thankfully. We enjoy finding free and frugal entertainment as a family. The one splurge item we really enjoy is travel, and to finance this hobby, we take a $20 allowance out of each of my husband’s paychecks and deposit it into our travel fund. That money is there when we’re planning our (frugal) getaways, and because it’s budgeted, we don’t feel guilty about it.

    Great post! :)

    Steph @ Problem Solvin Mom’s last blog post..Menu Plan Monday

  10. smallnotebook says:

    I like the idea of having a wish list, because if something is on there long enough, then I either really want it or I realize I don’t.

    Cherry, daily change can really add up.

    Susan, a down payment can be a huge motivation. Or maybe having a goal of being debt-free like Frugal Angie said.

    Jodi, lunch out during errands — that’s something I should work on.

    Steph, we budget for travel throughout the year too!

  11. In taking the Financial Peace University (Dave Ramsey) class my husband and I learned that having a “blow” category is very important. Honestly it has helped most to learn there really is so little margin to “blow.” Most months our combined total is $20 ($10 a piece!) Keeping that limited margin in mind makes those splurges even more valuable (and worth saving up for multiple months to achieve.) I should say that travel, necessary clothes, and going out to eat as a family are seperate categories for us, but going out to eat with friends or coffee with co-workers is considered part of our “blow” category.

  12. Well, as you know my boyfriend and I (we live together) are doing a no-spend “experiment”, so right now allowances are not for us, but before this we gave ourselves 100€/month each, and we payed from that our meals out (dates included), anything we just happened to want to buy, cinema tickets, etc. Just everything outside of groceries, rent, household bills, car maintenance, prescription drugs, school fees or textbooks. It worked great for us, since we included it in our budget as another expense, and we knew that was all we would spend.
    Now the truth is, I used to blow my money much sooner than my boyfriend and the last week of the month was a super frugal one for me… except that then he treated me if we wanted to eat out or whatever! He’s a softie…

  13. This is, once again, timely and inspiring. Just in time for the holidays, I will use these ideas!

  14. Like many of the other commenters, my husband and I have had an “allowance” from day one. It’s quite a bit bigger than many of you here though! We use it for anything that’s just for ourselves. So that includes our clothes, gym membership, haircuts, event tickets, lunches out, times out with friends – anything that isn’t towards our marriage, household, or bills. We call these our “red shoe accounts,” because sometimes you just need those red shoes that your husband thinks are a waste of money. He doesn’t get most of my purchases (nor do I get his), but we have an agreed upon amount in our own accounts.

    Also, we do both empty our change into a jar every few days and then take it to a coinstar machine where we exchange it for a giftcard. No rolling of all those coins, and no fees for depositing it! A fun gift from his last trip: he put it on Starbucks and I’ve been using that giftcard for 3 months now! Usually it goes on an amazon card and we buy some things that have been on our list for a while. A fun treat!

    Lastly, we budget for a datenight every two weeks, including babysitting and an inexpensive activity. It’s an amazing part of our marriage, and I highly recommend it!

  15. My husband and I do the same thing, though our reasons are quite different. Both of us are very frugal, to the point that we would feel tremendous guilt just buying ourselves a $1 coffee if it wasn’t planned/budgeted in advance! We both had so many things we wanted, but we are just accustomed to self-denial (a habit we picked up while he was putting me through university on a minimum wage salary).

    Once I graduated and entered the workforce, we had more than enough money even after putting a lot into savings to spend on things we wanted, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. So we decided that we would each get $50 per month to spend on anything we wanted, guilt free. Because the $50 is already budgeted as an expense, I don’t have to worry about my purchases being unplanned. Now I can go to the bookstore and splurge as much as I like. As for my husband, well, our household has quite a few more pets since we started having an allowance, lol.

  16. We do this too! We each get $40/month of personal spending money. We can use it freely to buy clothes, go out to lunch with friends, or get a coffee. But when it’s done, it’s done. It has stopped our endless bickering about him buying comics or me buying coffee with “our” money. Instead we just sit back and say “whatever”! :)

    CC’s last blog post..Be it resolved…

  17. Thank you for linking to my blog. In our home I have a monthly account which I can do whatever I want with. Generally I buy things for our home, but sometimes I splurge and buy coffee :).

    Shannon’s last blog post..No Spend Months: Q&A

  18. I love your blog and have been reading for a few weeks now, although this is my first comment. We began using a zero-based budget in July and stopped using our credit cards altogether (debit and cash only). What I like about budgeting “fun” money is the complete lack of guilt. I used to spend on fund things and then feel guilty for days afterward (and then dread the credit card statement arrival). Now, we know what we can spend and we can enjoy our purchases (small, though they may be) without guilt. Thanks again for your blog and all the great links!

    Angie’s last blog post..Soup Time

  19. smallnotebook says:

    Welcome Angie! I think this is a good point, and Sivana and others have touched on it too. If the money is there, then it’s ok to enjoy spending some of it. It’s that balance between grace and discipline. You plan a certain amount for it, and then you can freely enjoy it!

  20. Money is one of those things that can really derail a marriage, or a relationship between two people. Luckily, my wife and I typically have a similar strategy for spending (and saving) – and this has worked well to keep any money concerns from causing chaos in our house usually.

    What works well for me – is to not even go (to the store). Especially if I don’t “need” something. It’s when we go and are just browsing sometimes – that we end up buying stuff we just don’t need – on a whim – because at the moment – we “have” to have it.

    Lance’s last blog post..Fear: Does It Hold You Back?

  21. smallnotebook says:

    Lance, I completely agree. Shopping tends to create needs that we didn’t have before we saw it.

  22. I’ve been afraid to try another no-spend month. The first (and last) time I tried it, my German shepherd got sick. It cost me $1,500 and I had to put her down. Sometimes it feels like that was Karma whacking me upside the head for being so presumptuous. Who am I to imagine that my already fairly ascetic lifestyle should be cut back further, and what am I doing pinching every penny when I have a decent salary and others, even in America, are going hungry?

    Maybe taking a volunteer job, which would fill up the extra hours so you wouldn’t have time to spend and also make you use your time to help others, would be the solution.

    Funny about Money’s last blog post..A New Plan: Retirement