A Step-by-Step Guide To Budgeting for That Dream Trip, Concert Ticket, or Other Just-for-Fun Plan This Year

Photo: Getty Images/Kathrin Ziegler
Whether it's attending the hottest concert (Beyoncé, anyone?) or taking that bucket-list vacation, there may be something you'd love to do this year that requires a big financial splurge. According to financial experts, enriching your life with such fulfilling activities is actually an important part of a healthy, robust financial plan—but the key word there is "plan." Learning how to save for a big purchase down the line without causing yourself financial chaos requires planning in advance (and not just throwing all the big expenses onto credit cards, however tempting that may be).

Experts In This Article

From the outset, it's important to recognize that you do deserve to spend money on what brings you joy, and there's no guilt in earmarking funds to spend on trips, concerts, and other big-ticket enjoyable experiences. To do so without dipping into the money you need for everyday expenses and emergencies, start by creating what Michelle Griffith, senior wealth advisor at Citi Personal Wealth Management, calls a “lifestyle fund.”

Distinct from any other savings account(s) you may have (such as a checking account, emergency fund, or retirement savings), a lifestyle fund is an account dedicated exclusively to those lifestyle purchases you're hoping to make just for fun. In particular, Griffith suggests opening a high-yield savings account (aka an account that is interest-bearing) to build this fund, so that whatever money goes into the account is also building on itself over time.

The best way to grow this fund is “by saving a portion of your discretionary income each paycheck into the account,” says Griffith. To avoid the temptation to just use those funds on something more immediate, "set and forget" an automatic payment that deposits money from each paycheck you receive directly into your lifestyle fund, if you can, suggests Dasha Kennedy, financial coach and founder of financial education platform The Broke Black Girl.

"With a lifestyle fund in place, the question is no longer, ‘Can I afford this?’ Instead, it's, ‘How do I pay for it?’" —Michelle Griffith, senior wealth advisor, Citi Personal Wealth Management

Maintaining this separate account makes saving for any big purchase more tangible, allowing you to clearly chart your progress. “The question is no longer, ‘Can I afford this?’ Instead, it's, ‘How do I pay for it?’” says Griffith. Below, she and Kennedy break down how to save for any big purchase using regular contributions to a lifestyle fund and smart budgeting techniques.

4 steps to budget and save for any big lifestyle purchase, according to financial experts

1. Calculate the total cost

The first step to making any savings plan is knowing how much you’ll need to save in total—which will require some research and math.

To use the example of a bucket-list trip, start with the cost of traveling, including, for instance, the price of a plane or train ticket or gas, and that of your prospective hotel or Airbnb stay. Then, add in a rough estimate (it may be tough to come up with an exact figure) for how much you suspect you'll spend during the trip on meals, activities, transportation, souvenirs, and so on. And don’t forget any incidentals, like travel insurance, checking a bag at the airport, and resort fees.

Once you have your estimated total for the big purchase you're hoping to make, consider that number to be your savings target for your lifestyle fund.

2. Break the total into manageable chunks

Figuring out how to save for a big purchase can often feel impossible because of the sheer size of the purchase—which is where this next step comes in handy.

Start by dividing the total figure you came up with above by the number of months you have until you'd like to make your purchase, suggests Kennedy. For example, if it's March, and you're hoping to go on a big trip in August, you'd have five months to save, so you'd divide by five. Then, take that monthly savings figure and divide it by however many paychecks you get in a month; for instance, if you are paid twice a month, slice the monthly total in half.

The resulting number is how much money you will need to divert from each paycheck into your lifestyle fund in order to save for the big purchase. "Now, you have an idea of what you're working with," says Kennedy, "and you can figure out whether your plan is feasible [in your ideal timeline] and how you might need to play around with the math."

3. Assess and adjust as needed

It's possible that the amount of money you determine you'd need to save from each paycheck in order to hit your savings goal in time doesn't feel doable. In that case, consider whether you might be able to reduce some of your day-to-day expenses temporarily to free up more money for your lifestyle fund. And if that still doesn't leave you with quite enough, take a look at how you might reduce the overall cost of the big purchase you're looking to make.

According to Griffith, this isn’t about making the experience so different from what you envisioned that it’s no longer as enjoyable, but instead, making small tweaks that’ll whittle down the total price.

For example, take one of Griffith’s clients, who was saving for Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour (one of this year's priciest concert tickets to snag). When Griffith suggested they forgo expensive floor tickets for cheaper seats, they told her that the floor tickets were a non-negotiable for the experience. So, they pivoted: Instead, Griffith suggested they get tickets to a show in a nearby city where floor seats were less expensive. While that plan meant extra travel and paying for a hotel overnight, the overall cost was lower, making it more feasible for her client to still have the experience they imagined.

Other ways to minimize the total cost in this scenario might include using public transit to save on gas and parking costs, and forgoing food and drinks at the venue (and eating at home before or after instead), adds Griffith.

4. Put time on your side

Time is necessary for both saving money and growing your savings—and giving yourself more of it will help. That's why Kennedy and Griffith also recommend delaying your big purchase if possible. This way, you're allowing yourself more time to accumulate funds, which can ease the pressure of trying to save so much so quickly.

To be sure, this does not mean pushing something off indefinitely to some future time when you suspect you'll have more money stowed away; life is just too short not to do what you want to do in the present, says Griffith. Delaying your purchase might just mean bumping a trip back a few months, or if it's a concert or other fixed event, looking for dates farther out (even if that might require additional travel). And if the event is already pretty far in the future? It's best to start the above savings plan now, anyway. Future-you will thank present-you.

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