But it can be easy to fall into an all-or-nothing mindset about saving and forget that some of your paycheck can also go toward living your best life. The popular 50/30/20 budget allocates 30% of your take-home pay to “wants” for a reason.
We won’t judge you for splurging on a daily latte, but here are a few additional ideas for how to spend your “fun money” — in case you need some inspiration.
1. Take a solo trip
There are myriad reasons to travel solo at least once, from getting quality “you” time to gaining complete control over your itinerary (hello, pizza tour).
Tsai-Ann Yawching, a special events assistant at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, recently took a solo trip to Colorado.
“Solo travel is definitely worth the investment. You’re spending money on a once-in-a-lifetime experience and will learn so much about yourself,” says Yawching, who hiked, attended a concert and went on a jeep tour in Colorado. “I meet people I wouldn’t normally meet, explore a new area and broaden my horizons.”
She saves up for her trips by taking on side gigs — like baby-sitting for co-workers and working a seasonal job at the front desk of a country club — and by limiting how often she eats out.
With solo travel, you can adjust your budget based on your own preferences and finances. If that means visiting free museums and eating cheap, greasy burgers, so be it.
2. Explore your inner artist
Many of us can benefit from using the right side of our brain more. (Creativity can be good for your health.) Consider spending your extra funds on learning ceramics, watercolor painting, or any artistic pursuit that strikes your fancy.
Chanelle Bessette, a banking writer for NerdWallet, recently spent $100 on a digital photography class. “It’s been money very well spent,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to take good photos, and it’s been an amazing creative outlet.”
To test the waters and make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck, you can start by taking an introductory class — for example, La Mano Pottery in New York City offers one for $75 — and then commit to a longer series of classes from there.
3. Visit the national parks
If you’ve been daydreaming about seeing beautiful landscapes, consider investing in an annual national parks pass. For $80 per year, you can visit more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, which include national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests and more.
Individual entrance fees for national parks can quickly add up, so the pass can result in significant savings if you’re planning to visit multiple parks in one year. It covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees for drivers. (Children age 15 or under get in free.)
Trevor Mahlmann, a professional photographer based in West Lafayette, Indiana, has used his pass to visit Yosemite National Park and Acadia National Park.
“The annual pass pays itself off after just two or three visits,” he says. “Even if I only visited one park, that extra money goes toward protecting the land and preserving it for future generations, so it’s going to a wonderful cause.”
Clark Cahoon, a director at the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, also sees it as a win-win. “I live in Salt Lake City, surrounded by some of the best parks in the world,” he says. “I look at the pass as a great investment in getting outside and another way to support our public lands.”
4. Go on a retreat
Everyone needs a break sometimes. Going on a relaxing, unplugged getaway — even if it’s just for a weekend — can do wonders for your mental health.
Adele Jackson-Gibson, a content creator and fitness coach in Brooklyn, New York, recently attended a yoga retreat and viewed it as an investment in herself.
“Going to a yoga retreat can help you re-center, relax and remember all the good that’s in your life,” says Jackson-Gibson. “It can actually help you open yourself up to new ideas and inspiration that could bring about even more money.”
Although retreats can be pricey, there are ways to save on them. Some places, like Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California, let you volunteer in exchange for discounted room and board. Many retreats also offer early-bird discounts if you book several months in advance.
5. Give to a good cause
You could also contribute some of your “fun money” to charities and nonprofits you admire, whether that’s an animal rescue, a homeless shelter or your local library.
“On my 30th birthday, I contributed $50 to a charity called the Association for India’s Development,” says Amrita Jayakumar, a credit and debt writer at NerdWallet. “I was happy to do it because they do good work in raising funds in the U.S. and sending them back to India to support development projects.”
You can also look beyond online donations. Megan Barrie, an associate brand manager at NerdWallet, is happy to spend her money to attend events hosted by food nonprofits in the Bay Area.
“Most of the organizations host dinners, shows or talks that I can go to and support by paying for a ticket,” says Barrie. “It’s great because I get to learn more about the organization, bring a friend or two along, and usually get to eat a great meal, too.”
Want to know how much “fun money” you have to spend? Try out our 50/30/20 calculator below.