Seven tips to get the best of both worlds: going out and enjoying pre-pandemic passions, but also having a budget that resembles our collective year of spending less.

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Being back out in the world after a year of austerity is a boost of dopamine. I get a little hit when I see live music, hang with my friends and family, travel, eat at a restaurant...and shop for birthday gifts for my nieces.

I love it all. Well, almost; one of the good things about the hard year that was 2020 was that I spent less money. Certainly, I made less money, too, but I also had less need for that disposable income. I had fewer business expenses. I loved the smaller credit card bills each month and the simplicity that came with using what was already in my house rather than buying new.

person wearing a mask while shopping in a grocery store
Credit: Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

I wasn't alone: A December 2020 survey from Credit Karma found that 43% of Americans have new financial habits as a result of the pandemic, and 94% of that group are trying to keep those habits as they go back to work, school...and concerts.

"I've seen many people reevaluate their budgets, post-pandemic. People are not spending money recklessly like they used to and are more mindful of how they are spending," says Erica Cramer, LCSW, MBA of Cobb Psychotherapy in New York.

I asked Cramer and other experts how I could have the best of both worlds—going out and enjoying my pre-pandemic passions, but also having a budget that resembled my year of spending less. Here are seven things I learned that might help you, too, if you want to save some cash and go out for cake, too.

Adjust your priorities.

A little self-reflection here can go a long way. Cramer urged me to examine: Why did I enjoy spending less? Was it the reduced stress when the credit card bill was due? The ability to pay down some debt? Was I saving toward a goal?

"This past year taught us that sometimes less is more," Cramer explains. "We've learned that there is so much more to appreciate than the material things; that we can be as happy or happier with less (clothes, vacations, dinners out). We've made some of our best memories turning the living room into a movie theater or the backyard into a water park! Why lose the lesson on being more creative with our time and spending less while having the most fun?" 

Go to the ATM.

I know. After a year of contactless and cashless payment options, it may feel more familiar to use Apple Pay than slap down the Benjamins. But that whole "out of sight, out of mind" cliché holds true here. It's much easier to blow your budget when you don't have to count out the bills, says Imani Francies, a personal finance expert with US Insurance Agents. Paying with cash, even in the short term, can be a good tool for sticking to a budget. If you don't have the cash on you, you can't buy it. Period.

Unsubscribe.

Unsubscribe. Online shopping can be a godsend for reducing your time in crowded stores, pandemic or no. But mindlessly clicking on that sale email while you're watching Ted Lasso is a good way to end up with extra pairs of sneakers you didn't intend to buy.

Unsubscribe to the shopping email lists. You'll still be able to search and find what you need when you are shopping with intention.

Don't panic.

Before 2020, I would buy theater and concert tickets as soon as they were available because they often sold out. But, if I had to change my plans (often due to work travel), I ended up selling them or giving them to friends at less than face value. I'm trying not to get caught up in the hype anymore. If it sells out before I can commit, so be it.

Be selective.

"Don't go places or spend money just because." This piece of Cramer's advice really resonated with me. I'll still go out to a restaurant I've been wanting to try for a while, but if I feel mediocre about the dining options where I am, I'll pack a lunch and choose a free adventure instead.

Show off your skills.

One of the fun things about 2020 is that many of us leveled up on our cooking and baking skills. While I am thrilled (truly, thrilled) to be able to eat out again with friends and have someone else do the dishes, Cramer suggests I set a budget for how many times per month I can eat out for fun. If I get an invite after I have reached my limit, I tell my friends the situation and invite them over for a backyard gathering—with something made from sourdough, for old times' sake.

Get creative.

I've been taking classes, including a Radical Repair workshop at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. By thinking about darning socks as a craft, like embroidery or knitting, I'm making repairing things (rather than replacing) them more fun.

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