Having a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun. By renting your formalwear, giving up costly memberships, and finding free entertainment, you can live a life of luxury while staying financially secure.

There’s no eloquent way to put it: living on a tight budget sucks. You spend your time thinking about every last dollar you have in your bank account. You’re stuck eating pasta and ramen noodles for dinner (and lunch) every day. And going to a bar feels like you’re shelling out for a six-course meal.

But at the end of the day, we all have to penny pinch at one point or another. But being responsible with your budget can help you feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Let’s cover a few ways to live frugally while still treating yourself every so often.

Gif of a woman saying 'I rich'

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Buy in a ‘next’ neighborhood, not a ‘now’ neighborhood

Right before COVID-19 hit, my husband and I started looking for a home. It was apparent very quickly that we weren’t buying in the city I grew up in. So we widened our scope and found the perfect house on the lower end of our budget. The only downside was it was in an up-and-coming area without much nightlife and a serious lack of…well, anything.

Turns out, this wasn’t a downside at all. Our house has gone up 40% in value since the pandemic hit, and we moved in right as the small downtown took off and a bunch of restaurants, bakeries, and bars opened up in the last few years.

Buying a house in a less popular location may mean you have one of the nicer houses in your area. And, if you choose an up-and-coming area like my husband and I did, you could end up with plenty to do and potential home equity to boot.

Rent fancy clothes

Many people cope with negative situations by shopping. No judgment, I’ve done it too.

Joey from Friends saying 'Could I be wearing any more clothes?'

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For those who frequently find themselves breaking their budget to shop for something new to wear, there’s an alternative that’s better for you, the environment, and your wallet: clothing rental services.

Whether you need clothes for the office or just a nice occasion, companies like Nuuly and Rent the Runway have you covered. For a relatively affordable monthly price ($88 for Nuuly; $94 for Rent the Runway), you could get new clothes every month. This can make you feel like you’re going on a shopping spree constantly, without your wallet having to feel the strain.

Ditch the gym

Gyms like Planet Fitness are designed to make you feel like you’re getting a good deal. With low prices, it seems like you’re spending next to nothing to get access to a pretty decent gym. But there are two key factors left out:

  1. The gym is betting you’ll subscribe and never show up. This is their business model. Tons of people sign up for the low price, and half of them (myself included) never actually go to the gym and forget to cancel.
  2. You’re paying more than $10/month thanks to other yearly fees. While the monthly price is low, a gym like Planet Fitness charges a $39 annual fee and a $10 startup fee on top of the monthly plan. While that doesn’t seem like much, you’ll pay over a hundred dollars a year to keep a membership you’re probably not using.

So, instead of gym memberships, treat yourself to some fancy workout gear and take advantage of the free options at your disposal. Exercise outside or get affordable equipment for your home and turn any extra space into a home gym.

Read more: 6 tips to help you quit your gym membership

Travel to lesser-known locations

Just because you live on a tight budget doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to travel. You’ll need to put in a little extra legwork and find places off the beaten path, but isn’t that the whole point of traveling in the first place?

If you’re looking for some affordable places to visit, we have some suggestions here. We also have a few ways you can book flights for less.

Read more: Travel for cheap: 7 ways to see the world for less

Get a discount on all your entertainment

You don’t need to pay full price for anything anymore. With discount apps and loyalty clubs, you can find an affordable option for most products. For your everyday purchases, cash back apps like Capital One Shopping can tell you if you have the lowest price, plus they almost always have some sort of coupon as well.

For entertainment, Groupon can help you find discount coupons on movies, theme parks, restaurants, breweries, and more.

Read more: 11 best websites for finding coupons and deals online

Visit museums

Visiting museums is a surprisingly affordable form of thought-provoking entertainment. As a personal example, my hometown always had what they called “first Fridays.” On the first Friday of each month all of the art museums were free to enter. Considering there were a dozen or so small galleries, you could spend the whole night looking at different artists’ work.

Gif of a man showing a woman a painting in an art gallery

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Even larger museums around the country are free. Here are a handful to consider:

  • The Smithsonian in D.C. 
  • National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago.
  • Cleveland Museum of Art.
  • The Alamo in San Antonio.
  • The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC.

Got a Bank of America debit or credit card? Thanks to Bank of America’s Museums on Us program, cardholders can get free general admission to over 225 museums and cultural centers around the U.S. on the first Saturday & Sunday of each month.

Buy a used luxury car

A man asking a woman 'Do you like luxury?'

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If cars aren’t your thing, you can skip past this one. But, if you like to have a nice car (which is, despite what most financial experts claim, okay), you can do it even on a budget.

Depreciating cars can hurt original buyers, but it can actually be a benefit for used car buyers. Luxury cars depreciate astoundingly quickly, but if you buy one used, you could shave tens of thousands off the purchase price while still getting a reliable ride. Some of the most affordable options are:

  • Cadillac CTS — You can get a relatively new model for just under $30,000.
  • BMW 3 Series — For anywhere between $15,000-$30,000, you can secure an older BMW.
  • Audi A3 — Five years ago or so all of my friends wanted an Audi for some reason. That $35,000+ car new can be found for $10,000-$15,00 if you go with an older model.
  • Mercedes-Benz C-Class — Mercedes can be found on sites like Carvana for $10,000-$17,000, compared to the $40,000+ starting price for a new one.

Read more: How to drive a nicer car than you thought possible

Track your net worth

Tracking your net worth can give your confidence a boost, even if you have a long way to go before you reach Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk status. When you track your net worth and (hopefully) watch the number tick up, you’ll understand that your wealth is growing, no matter how slowly.

You can find some apps that can easily help you track the growth of your nest egg in our article Apps that help you build your net worth.

Summary

Living on a tight budget can be difficult, but there are ways to feel rich (or less broke) even when you aren’t. Sure, you won’t be buying a mansion anytime soon, but you don’t have to eat a bowl of ramen noodles every night and canned beans.

If you take some steps like tracking your net worth, using discount apps, and finding free entertainment, you can have fun while keeping your budget on course.

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About the author

Total Articles: 105
Christopher Murray is a professional personal finance and sustainability writer who enjoys writing about everything from budgeting to unique investing options like SRI and cryptocurrency. He also focuses on how sustainability is the best savings tool around. You can find his work on sites like MoneyGeek, Money Under 30, Investor Junkie, MoneyCrashers, and Time. You can find out more about Christopher on his website or via LinkedIn.