How To Budget Without Being Miserable

If you're strapped for cash or want to build up a healthy amount of savings, then budgeting is the way to go. But how can you make budgeting less painful? Whenever the "B" word pops up, images of living off of Ramen, bowing out of Friday cocktails, and holing up with Netflix come to mind. It's a sad existence when you're trying to catch up with your cash flow, but it doesn't have to be.

Saving money doesn't have to suck all the fun out of life — you just need to find a way to balance cutting corners and living an enjoyable life. While, yes, you won't be able to buy 15 dollar cocktails and buy the newest dress of the season, you still can go out to bars with your friends and update your wardrobe. All it takes is some care and planning. Things like coupons, specials, creative venues, and a thrifty eye will make all the difference.

Below are 11 tips on how to cut your budget without making yourself cry — while going on a blind shopping spree and throwing money down for chi-chi group dinners might have to be put on hold, you can still live a pretty fabulous life.

1. Move Evenings Out To Your Place

Often times the fun stuff like alcohol go out the window when budget-slashing is involved, but you don't need to suck all the joy out of life that way. Instead, move the nights out into your apartment. Finance blogger Jenni Hill at Can't Swing a Cat shares in an email with Bustle, "Rather than going on a night out with your friends, hold a cocktail party at your place. Straight away you'll save money on cabs and night club entry. To slash costs even further, give your friends an ingredient list and ask them to bring a couple of items each."

If the point of going out is enjoying fancy cocktails with good company, this will do just as great!

2. Do An Annual Utility Audit

What if you don't actually have to get rid of any of your luxuries, but still manage to save money every month? Seems like a pipe dream, right? Well according to finance blogger Lauren Bowling at L Bee and The Money Tree, wrong. Bowling shares in an email, "I recommend everyone survey their utility bills at least once a month and call those companies to see if they can nab extra savings. It's a time commitment, so I recommend setting aside one Saturday morning each month until it's finished to make the calls. The savings are awesome though, last year I was able to put $141 back into my budget each month just by calling and negotiating the rates!" Um, amazing. Pick up that phone immediately.

3. Go Where The Interest Is

Budgeting becomes a little easier when more money is involved, and an easy way to get more is to sniff out those high interest bank accounts. Hill suggests, "Open several high-interest bank accounts and watch the interest come pouring in. Remember, interest rates can change so keep an eye on your accounts and be ready to switch to a better deal if necessary." Free money is always good money.

4. Try A Money Fast

Rather than putting yourself on a strict budget that strips away all the fun out of life, try going on spending fasts instead. That way you can still enjoy your creature comforts while cutting back in other areas. Bowling recommends, "Cutting back is never fun, which is why I like to do 30 day challenges a few times a year. By focusing all my energy into one area of my life (for example, not eating out at all for 30 days) I'm able to save a lot of money and learn a few new things about myself and my spending habits."

Budgeting is like dieting — if you cut back too much too extremely, you'll probably end up bingeing in the end.

5. Skip The Mall

I know a fun new trend is basically crack to a fashion lover, but sit on your hands a bit longer and wait till the season is up before you buy the style in question. Why? Because chances are you'll find it in a thrift store. Hill explains, "Ditch the high street and buy your clothes from thrift shops instead. With styles changing every season, it's amazing how quick people are to get rid of their barely-worn garments. As a result, thrift shops are often filled with gorgeous pieces that are still in great condition. Keep an eye out for denim, trench coats, stripes and other timeless classics."

Case in point: My whole wardrobe is thrifted and people often ask me if I got this-and-that at American Apparel.

6. Get To Walking

A great way to cut back on spending is to reshape what it means for something to be "too far away." If it's within 30 minutes walking, ditch the car keys. If it's further, grab a bike. Financial writer Jacqueline Curtis from budget site Money Crashers suggested, "If you can walk or ride a bicycle to a destination, do it. Not only does it save on gas, it’s a super-healthy way to stay in shape." Win, win.

7. Meet For Lunches, Not Dinners

You don't have to take restaurant hopping completely out of your lifestyle — just tackle it with a strategy. For example, going out to lunch always ensures cheaper prices than going out for a full-blown dinner. Curtis explained, "Many restaurants offer lower-priced lunch menus, so you can enjoy the experience of eating out without forking over the dough for a higher-cost meal. One of my favorite restaurants costs around $24 per plate at dinner. The same restaurant offers a less-expensive lunch menu for $12 per plate." The savings will be huge at the end of the month.

8. Automate Things To Figure Out Your Spending Budget

When you pay bills will-nilly each month, you'll have a vague idea of what your budget is. But keeping yourself in murky waters makes it hard to suss out what an appropriate spending budget should be. To try and figure out how much you can afford in terms of play money, Bowling suggests automating all your bills through a separate account. She shares, "I have a separate bill pay account for everything that absolutely must get paid each month: rent, utilities, car payment etc. All of my bills are set to auto pay so it's pretty brainless. It was so simple to stay on top of my bill budget that way, I started automating payments to my savings account and credit card bills. Now I know that what is left in my primary checking account is mine to spend — guilt free." But she mentions that once that spending money is gone, it's gone. There are no additional add-ins until the next month begins.

9. Plan Your Meals Around Coupons

While you might like to tinker around the kitchen come dinner time, the majority of us don't create cordon bleu level meals. Because of that, try to cut costs by planning meals around what's on sale at your favorite grocery store. Finance writer Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar recommended, "Try and plan your meals according to what is on sale using coupons and your grocery store’s weekly circular." It's a painless way to save on food.

10. Stock Up On Sale Items

I'm not saying to give yourself the green light to buy three of those cute sale dresses, but rather stock up on everyday items that happen to fall on clearance. That way you'll spend less on those necessities, and have more room in your budget down the line. Hamm explained, "If you know you go through a lot of one item and you’ve found a coupon for it while it is on sale, stock up while it’s cheap and save yourself money in the future. Taking advantage of free coupons is an easy way to reduce your spending."

11. Sniff Out Restaurants With Deals

If you're out to have tacos and beers with friends, take a couple of minutes to research online which restaurant near you has a couple of deals on their roster. Budget writer Thierry Godard from finance site Smart Asset offered, "Find restaurants that offer discounts for birthdays or kids, or search for special restaurant celebrations that include meal discounts and promotions." For example, many restaurants have half priced alcohol during happy hour, offer free appetizers, or have a buy-one-get-one-free deal going. That way you can still go out, with less of the guilt!

In the end, staying on budget can be painless — you just have to be savvy about it!

Image: @emmahill/Instagram