Courtesy photo
Jesse Mecham

"I'm on a budget."

Your friends know exactly what that means. It means you're no longer fun. You can't go to the movies. You can't go out to eat. You've canceled your Netflix account, and you just discovered paper products hold up "reasonably well" in the dishwasher.

One week later you've determined that budgets don't work.

Have you ever made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, pulled one fresh off the pan, watched the cookie begin to bend under its own weight, (that means they're baked to perfection), popped a piece of that gooey goodness into your mouth ... and realized you forgot the salt?

Would your logical conclusion then be — based on that one experience — that all chocolate chip cookies taste awful?

When you cooked up your budget, you forgot the salt.

Most every ingredient was fine (Mortgage: check; utilities: check; groceries: check), but you didn't include the key ingredient that jazzes up the flavor — fun money!

So your entire budget tasted horrible, and you threw it out.

When my wife, Julie, and I first started budgeting, we were broke. Things were tight. Pennies were being pinched to a degree I didn't think possible.

I had three years of schooling still ahead of me. We wanted to start a family, and I'd vowed not to take on any school debt. We had good reason to need a budget.

Two weeks into it, I was ready to throw in the towel. I distinctly remember walking past a small bakery and seeing one of those old-fashioned donuts staring up at me. I think it cost 50 cents.

I wanted one, but it wasn't in the budget. It wouldn't be in the budget tomorrow, or the next week or in three months. I suddenly felt very depressed.

A donut sent me spiraling into depression?

Well, no. But the though of never being able to buy anything frivolous again sure did.

I returned home from school later that evening and told Julie we needed to have a heart to heart. I whined, "This budget is suffocating me. I feel like we can't have any fun."

Julie, with two months of marriage under her belt, was wise beyond her years.

She replied, "Let's give ourselves some fun money."

Fun money is for whatever you want. You aren't accountable to anyone else for it. Once it's yours, it's yours! Impulse to buy some shoes? Use your fun money. Will that new golf putter definitely improve your game? Answer: Fun money!

If you're married, make sure you understand that you don't need to give any explanation, justification or rationale behind your purchase.

Your spouse has no say in how you use your fun money. It's yours!

Julie and I settled on $5 each, per month. There's some contingent of you out there laughing hysterically because the amount was so low. That's fine.

But the meager amount we allowed ourselves only makes this lesson more poignant.

It didn't take a lot, and it made all the difference.

You don't need a cup of salt in a batch of cookies (you'll ruin them). You just need a dash.

If you want your new-found budget to have any staying power, you need to include some fun money for yourself.

Just a little each month will give you all the zest you need to stay on your budgeting path indefinitely.

Jesse Mecham is the president of, a Utah company that creates software to track personal finances.