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What Not to Cut From Your Personal Budget

By Jim Staats, – Updated Mar 7, 2017 at 2:33PM

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It's OK to be cheap, but don't sacrifice enjoyment. Here's how to find a balance.

Not to call you out, but you're cheap.

You wouldn't be perusing items such as these if you weren't (any "1 percenter" in the audience is likely reading just for giggles), and, in all honesty, there shouldn't be anything wrong with that label. An unfortunate coarseness has been attached to the word, when all you're trying to do is create a responsible life and future for you and your family.

"Cheap" can come in all shapes and sizes, and today we'll look at the case of being realistically cheap -- that is, fiscally responsible with the understanding that you live in a real world that you don't want to just endure, but truly enjoy.

The realistically cheap person follows a budget but allows for adjustments as the twists, turns, and temptations of life change and evolve.

As Kimberly Palmer, author of Generation Earn: The Young Professional's Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back, said in a piece for USA Today, "[M]ost of us are not letting our debt define us."

The primary audience for Palmer, the personal finance columnist at U.S. News & World Report, is the 20-to-30-something generation struggling with the first flush of real-life money matters wrapped around careers, marriage, and children.

Budgets are always associated with cost-cutting, so let's flip it by looking at what you shouldn't do away with just because you're on a budget.

Cheap smart
Rent and/or mortgage payments, utilities, gas and/or public transit, and groceries are essentials that go without saying, so we won't.

Your car is going to need more than the regular fill-'er-up, so be sure to set aside monthly funds for the irregular expenses associated with oil changes and repairs.

If you live in an urban environment, go the extra length by setting aside funds for the parking tickets you are absolutely guaranteed to get semi-frequently. Believe me, this will save you a great deal of aggravation.

If your employer offers a 401(k) retirement program into which you've chosen not to contribute for budgetary reasons, you aren't doing you, or future you, any favors. It's time for an about-face. There shouldn't be any reason you can't contribute even as little as 2% of your paycheck toward this fund. As your situation changes, so can the amount you contribute. You'll thank me later.

Along these lines, it is always smart to plan for the unplannable. Set aside an emergency fund that can cover anything from medical emergencies to home maintenance issues. Having this money factored in can fill in the gaps without knocking your budget off track.

And you may think this goes against the grain, but don't eliminate entirely the idea of a meal out. Just because you're budgeting doesn't mean you stop living. Just be reasonable about the amount of times you dine out. Make it a once-a-week family on-the-town thing or a regular date-night occasion, but banks will not be broken by the occasional meal out, and some sanity could be built up in the process. Consider this a treat for all the times you've sacrificed with reheated leftovers at home.

Revisit your hobbies and various entertainment options to see what you need versus want. If your gym visits help maintain the balance in your life, continue funding them while seeing what other activities could be considered luxuries. Continue to build upon your comic book collection if you will, but do so after an evaluation of what else in your life you could do without.

Palmer, who in her writings has laid bare her own budget quandaries, offered the following example of a personal budget, broken down by percentage of total budget, with wiggle room factored in:

  • Basics of food, housing, and transportation: 50% of budget
  • Savings, such as a 401(k) account: 25%
  • Household expenses: less than 5%
  • Professional expenses: less than 5%
  • Debt payments: less than 5%
  • Entertainment: 5%

Jim Staats is a technical support analyst at, the leading, free and secure service that helps consumers simplify and organize all of their bills and household accounts in one place online or via the four-star-plus customer-rated mobile apps. He has a bachelor's degree in industrial technology from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo. Wedged between stints supporting products at firms including Intuit and Sybase, Jim worked as a journalist reporting on real estate, business, technology, and other issues for print and online publications.

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