Updated on 02.23.11

Eight Minutes to Financial Success – Minute #6: Make a Weekend Plan

Trent Hamm

This week, The Simple Dollar is running a short series on some of the key moments in my financial turnaround and how you can experience those moments as well. For a full description of this, see the first article in the series.

My weekend planning has always followed the same general structure (at least since I graduated from college). I’ll sit down with Sarah on Friday evening, we’ll throw a few ideas off the top of our head, we’ll pick one or two of them, and that’s what we’ll do. Saturday and Sunday follows that same general structure, though Saturday’s options usually revolve around chores.

Before my financial recovery, the options we’d throw out were often expensive ones. “Let’s go golfing Saturday afternoon.” “How about we go over to Jordan Creek on Sunday?” (Jordan Creek being the relatively expensive shopping area in the Des Moines Metro.) “How about dinner and a movie on Saturday night?”

The problem was that by just relying on the ideas that came off the top of our head, we were by default preloading ourselves with activities that were fresh in our minds from marketing. We’d listen to the radio on the way home on Friday night and hear talk of a great new movie or restaurant. I’d drive by the golf course on the way home. She’d hear an ad for Jordan Creek on the radio.

Since these happened to be the easy ideas to recall, they were usually the ones we did. It wasn’t because they were the “best” options, they were just the options that popped into our heads.

I know that my parents did much the same thing. I also know that a lot of our friends did the same thing, too.

So, what’s a better solution?

Make a Weekend Plan
The approach that works best for us is simply “pre-loading” our usual weekend activity brainstorm with activities that are free or extremely low-cost.

Of course, to do that requires both some forethought and some research. My solution to this is to simply keep a “note” on my phone that lists such activities.

How do I find them? It’s pretty easy – it’ll only take a minute or two with your web browser by just visiting three websites.

First, visit the website of your municipality’s parks and recreation department. Many cities have parks and recreation departments that have lots of free activities for all skill levels. You can also find out about trails, facilities, parks, and other such features of your community that you might not know about that are well worth exploring and utilizing.

Next, visit the website of your municipality’s library. Libraries have tons of resources available to you for free if you just step up to the plate and take advantage of them. Free books, free CDs, free DVDs, free magazines, free classes, free meetings – it’s all there, just waiting to be used.

Finally, look for the “community calendar” for your city. Just search for the name of your city in Google and add the phrase “community calendar” behind it. You’ll find a listing of great activities in your area going on in the near future, many of which are free.

Beyond that, you should try similar searches for communities near you. We often utilize resources in neighboring communities and often use things in the Des Moines area as well.

Of course, while I’m doing this, I’m usually taking some notes. Even better, I’ll do this while Sarah and I are brainstorming. Instead of merely relying on whatever half-baked ideas pop into our head, we turn instead to some options that aren’t expensive.

That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything “fun,” which is a response I often hear to suggestions like this. All we do is look at the free activities first. If one of them registers as “fun” to us – and one of them usually does – we do that. That way, we’re doing something fun without spending money.

Even better, this contributes to a sense that not spending money is the norm, and that spending money is the abnormal activity, which is also something worth demonstrating to our children.

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  1. valleycat1 says:

    OK, I guess this is helpful for those who haven’t figured out yet that you can have fun without spending a ton of money. But there’s no mention of figuring out how much of each paycheck you can afford to spend on recreational activities & planning accordingly (ideally, spending less than that amount).

    Or eventually getting past the idea that you’re entitled to go out & have fun every single weekend. That’s actually another way (discussed in a previous post) in which earlier generations differ from ours.

  2. Interested Reader says:

    There’s also the newspaper. I know a lot of newspapers have inserts on Fridays about the weekend events. Mine usually has a calendar that lists everything including free stuff that’s going on.

    This tip wouldn’t help someone who has problems with impluse/compulsive spending – but checking Living Social and Groupon is a good idea. They both can offer up some nice deals for local events and attractions.

  3. Michelle says:

    This series really is “8 steps to curbing compulsive spending” not financial freedom. The 8 items as a whole might be Step 1 toward financial freedom for those who have no self-control.

  4. Riki says:

    Michelle — Agreed!

  5. Riki says:

    I want to add more detail to my comment.

    I do agree with Michelle, that this series seems to be about curbing compulsive spending more than anything else. That’s a topic Trent tends to focus on and he does have good suggestions. He’s also correct in that controlling compulsive or mindless spending can make a big impact financially.

    That said, there’s a lot more to “financial freedom” than just controlling compulsive spending. This topic is a big focus from Trent in all of his articles — is that, perhaps, a window into Trent’s own challenges with compulsive spending?

    Personally, I don’t have an issue with compulsive spending, so I find myself wondering. . . how many people really do have a problem with compulsive spending? Is it as big an issue as Trent seems to think it is?

  6. Tracy says:

    I agree, this definitely feels like it would have made more sense to be positioned as against compulsive spending rather than ‘financial freedom.’

    I mean, I have my own weaknesses and indulgences, but all of these posts seem to be of the view that people ‘spend money on things they don’t want or really care about just for the sake of spending money,’ and I can’t relate to that at all.

    Nothing in this series has ever considered thinking about how much money is going in versus how much is going out, about understanding a budget, which is what I think the basis of financial freedom is.

  7. Rache G says:

    Another place to look is your local NPR website. They generally list events that are local and sometimes free such as concerts, local festivals, museum days, etc.

    The name of our calendar is Art&Seek but I think it varies by location.

  8. done that says:

    There is always so much going on in my town – I have to pick and choose my activities. But they mostly involve gatherings with friends and don’t tend to cost much if anything.

    I have to share the exciting thing I found in this morning’s paper – a lecture series I don’t usually attend, Friday night being zone out with my knitting group night. Anyway, a lecture on seaweed! The various kinds and uses, when and how to gather. How exciting. I try to gather for the garden but have not known where to get the edible kinds for soups and pickles. A bit different and I come home with more info on sustainably feeding myself. Can’t wait.

  9. Gretchen says:

    Obviously agree with Michelle.

    But also agree that every weekend you don’t have to “do” something.

  10. Andrea says:

    Riki at #5 wrote: “how many people really do have a problem with compulsive spending? Is it as big an issue as Trent seems to think it is?”

    If my former co-workers are any indication, I really think it is. We had…

    – People who would bring a lunch from home, but decide mid-day that they didn’t want what they had brought and choose to go buy lunch somewhere instead, with the lunch they had brought and put in the back room fridge never to see the light of day again until the next fridge cleanout.

    – A person who would talk about how their fridge was empty and they skipped dinner so their child could eat, but as soon as the next paycheck rolled around, was out buying things for hobbies (in this particular case, building and restoring cars for stock-car racing).

    – People who would go on about how they lived paycheck to paycheck – “this week’s check is for the rent, next week for the car, next week for the student loans” kind of thing, but also talk about how they had seen something they wanted and were going out to get it right after work, or made sudden plans to go drinking or clubbing with friends that night (and indeed, when a couple of our weeklies became salaried and went to bi-weekly checks, there were definitely complaints from them about how they couldn’t make the money last two weeks).

    – Two people so eager to own houses in their early twenties that they made terrifyingly low down payments on their homes (in one case, even needing to take out a loan for her $5000 down payment on a $150,000 home). Both, in later conversation about homeowner’s insurance payments, said “but everyone pays PMI!” with no sense that that’s not true, that with patience there are steps you can take to avoid that.

    – A person (then 22) who literally said “I don’t need to save for retirement now, I can do that when I’m in my thirties, but now I want to use my money for fun.”

    – A meeting in which someone mentioned not being able to afford a car repair; I tried to suggest the idea of labeled funds for emergencies, and was countered sincerely with “But if I see really cute shoes, that’s an emergency too” (from a 25-year-old woman) and rude scoffing (from a 39-year-old man making at least triple my salary, who had once told me that I should just go buy a second car if my family’s commute was causing scheduling problems).

    So, yeah, there really are people that little degree of financial forethought.

    And I agree with the general consensus here, that I don’t feel a compulsion to “do something” every weekend, especially “going out.”

  11. Andrea says:

    Not to mention that bunch would have perfect candidates to take advantage and get real use out of the “latte factor.”

  12. Jeanette says:

    Weekends for a couple are different than weekends for single folks, of any age, even if they have the same interests.

    Going out and socializing in one form or another is part of your post-college years in your 20s. And that socializing is NOT about spending weekend nights at home playing board games. It just isn’t.

    People often live in cities where it is expensive to go out, no matter how careful (you can find incredibly cheap deals and specials at bars during the week, but rarely on weekends)you are. And entertaining at home can be expensive, too, even if a lot less than dining out.

    You don’t have to do a lot of club-hopping to put a dent in your wallet. That said, I’m all for people creating a reasonable budget for socializing at any age. As others said, it doesn’t have to be every week. And if you really want to save, find a way to do it on week nights, too. (we who live in big cities often stay home on weekends while going out several times at night during the week.)

    Something to consider too is the cost of free. We have free activities in our big city. However, the cost is your time. As in, you often need to stand in line several hours in advance to gain admission. Something folks working regular 9-5-ish jobs cannot do. And how many of us want to give up several hours of our time standing in line for what turns out to be an hour or two of “free” entertainment.

    Better to keep looking for deals with all the new coupon clubs online and thru local newspapers (online, print) and various resources, including local colleges, which often sponsor or hold interesting musical, theatrical and other events.

    Even museums offer free or pay what you want options if you plan ahead.

    It’s important for people to get out and LIVE and see what’s going on around them. Something I’ve observed with a lot of frugal folks is that they seem to hunker down in their own homes or those of friends. That’s great. Sometimes. But it doesn’t do much if that’s your default entertainment.

    Life’s too short to not find a way to get out and enjoy stuff. Budget for it, whether it’s a car show, boat show, special trip, etc.

    You can’t stay home all the time.

  13. MattJ says:

    I guess this is one area where I’m just not frugal. My weekend plans almost always involve my various hobbies, which are not free, or even cheap.

    I don’t drink at all or eat out regularly, but I go out and have fun, spending money on experiences. This weekend I’ll attend probably 3 dances.

    ‘Free hiking’ doesn’t do it for me unless there’s a cliff to climb, a cave to crawl into, or a stream to kayak down at the end of it. Those experiences are also very often ‘free’, but the gear and training to do them safely is not. In addition, I’ve got a 2nd vehicle (a small truck) primarily so I can get out into the woods with my gear, dog, and friends.

    Unlike Andrea’s coworkers, I manage to afford all this and save for the future as well.

  14. Johanna says:

    @Andrea: Actually, none of the behaviors you describe sound like compulsive spending to me, in the sense of not being able to go out in public with a credit card in your pocket without losing your mind and buying a whole bunch of stuff you can’t afford and don’t even want. How many of your coworkers could read this series of articles and immediately realize the error of their ways? Not all of them, certainly, and maybe none of them.

    (Also, I’m not sure all of their ways are *in* error – leaving an uneaten lunch in the fridge for weeks is rude, but maybe the people who did that could afford their lunches out.)

    In fact, your list just goes to show that different people have different things standing between them and financial success. So I agree with everyone who thinks it’s incorrect to suggest that “curbing compulsive spending” and “financial success” are the same thing.

  15. Rachel says:

    I may be the only person who reads this site who goes to church on a regular basis. If you do go to church, particularly a Baptist church, your time will soon be filled with activities to go to. And these are not all church services either.Some are free and some are not, but are usually affordable. This includes pot luck dinners, concerts, speakers such as missionaries from overseas. My church even meets on an occasional Saturday to paint and spruce up around the church, and has even extended that to an elementary school in the neighborhood.

    Of course there are other things I enjoy doing. I love to go to the movies. This is not free by any means, but there is a theater in my town that shows the older releases for only $1.50. I think it it really all about finding cheaper ways to do the things you enjoy doing, not giving up everything.

  16. Kathleen says:

    @Rachel – Hey, I go to church regularly! :-)

  17. Marsha says:

    @Rachel–Me too, and I’m a Baptist. There’s something going on nearly every day of the week at my church. And if it’s an adults-only activity, there’s always free childcare.

  18. AlizaG says:

    I printed out a bunch of pictures of nearby places (some costing money and some not costing anything)my teenage daughter and I could go. I put them in magnetic 3×5 frames that are on the entryway to our kitchen. If we are stuck without anything to do we just look at those pictures and agree on somethign we;d both enjoy. And yes, sometimes we just stay home.

  19. LeahGG says:

    #12 Jeanette: I disagree. When I was in my early 20’s, pretty much all of my friends and I were earning low wages, a lot still lived at home and many were still in school because in Israel, you do a 3-year stint in the army before school.

    We’d get together at people’s houses – mostly one guy who had a bigger tv and no little siblings to disturb. We’d rent a video or two, pick up some bottles of coke, order in Chinese or Pizza or make something easy like pasta or pillsbury biscuits with cheese and mushrooms stuck in the middle, and watch a video. We had a rather large group (6-12 people) and after the movie, we’d either make fun of it, talk about what it means (I remember an all night discussion of Pump Up the Volume), or play something mindless like “BS” (the card game where you lie and people have to try to guess if you’re lying) or even on one occasion, pick-up-stix.

    That time in my early adulthood was the best time I had, way better than when I was footing the bill for movies and dinners out and wondering if I was going to be left with enough money to eat that week.

    I grant you that clubbing is a wholly different experience, but I’m not sure that clubbing every weekend and burning out your budget is really the ideal for one’s 20s.

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