If there's one personal finance mantra that everyone can agree on, it's decrease your discretionary spending. Skip those flat whites! Pack those lunches! Wait until the movie's on Netflix!
However, there are some situations in which cutting back on discretionary spending isn't necessarily a good idea. As with everything else in life, there's a time for financial detox and there's a time for beefing up your restaurant budget.
Here's when you should set aside more money for discretionary purchases:
When You Move
Yes, we know — you're not going to come out of a move with a lot of extra money in your spending account. However, it's worth setting aside some discretionary cash so you can explore your new neighbourhood. Try that coffee shop, take that class, or visit that local bookstore, and don't feel guilty about it. This is how you become part of a community.
On the subject of community: you'll also want to set aside a little money for when you start making friends. It will be a little too soon to try to host a cost-saving potluck, so be ready to meet people for drinks or tacos. If a friend-of-a-friend wants to do coffee, or if everyone in your new writing group goes out to the bar after class, make sure you have the budget to go with them.
So you're in your brand-new apartment or house. Some of the boxes are still waiting to be unpacked, but you're so excited about making this space into a home that you're spending hours at IKEA comparing couch pillows and loading up shopping carts to see how much everything you might want is going to cost.
When You Start a New Job
Although you might be tempted to pack your lunch or skip the happy hour, a new job is not the time to pull back on your spending. The connections you make at work will help you both in the day-to-day sense and in the long run, so take the time to get to know your coworkers — which often means spending money at restaurants, bars, or coffee shops.
This is also a good time to invest a little extra money in your appearance. First impressions count, and so do fresh starts — so if you haven't updated your clothes (or your shoes) in a while, it's time to go shopping.
Also: go ahead and get that gym membership. You're building a new routine at your new job, so why not add a new good habit? Bonus points if your employer helps you pay for it.
When You're Newly Single
No, I'm not going to suggest you immediately start dating again — although if you want to, that's great! What I am going to suggest is to spend a little more money on yourself: take a class, book a massage, get your friends together for a night out.
It's time to figure out what you want from life — and sometimes that involves spending money.
When Someone You Love Needs Your Help
Maybe your partner had a bad day. Maybe a best friend got laid off. Maybe one of your kids just overcame a big challenge. It's worth dipping into your discretionary budget — or even exceeding it — when someone close to you needs a dinner out or a spa buddy or a trip to the movies.
When You Want to Support Local Businesses
Yes, we know that you can get books at the library — but local bookstores also host author readings, run children's programming and connect readers with new books and recommendations. Same goes for that local bike shop or yarn store: they aren't just places to spend money, they're also where you find safe cyclist classes or knitting clubs.
But you do have to spend money to keep those businesses going, so set aside some discretionary income for your favourite local stores and restaurants. That type of spending is rarely "wasted money"; yes, you could have cooked your own food at home, but contributing to your community is also important. Ideally this is something you can build into your discretionary budget year-round.
If you do want to cut back on your spending — and I'm right there with you, because I'm always looking for ways to save more money — try to cut the purchases that you do out of habit or convenience. (There's a difference between going out to lunch with your coworkers and running out to the sandwich place by yourself because you didn't have any food in the refrigerator for lunch.)
Keep the purchases that have a purpose: the ones that connect you to yourself, to your friends and family, or to your community — and if that means putting a little more money towards the types of spending that personal finance sites advise against, remember the value you're getting from that spending and figure out how to make it work for you.