“I’m tired. I’m hungry. And all day, I’ve followed my budget to a tee. To a tee. Hmm… tea. Now, that sounds good. Or maybe coffee. While I’m at it, why not make it a special one. And what’s more special than adding chocolate to it? And whipped cream. It costs extra? Well sure – why not? I’ll take an extra shot too! And yes, throw in a scone. Heck, I deserve it.I’ve been good, so I should treat myself.

Sound familiar?

treat yourself

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used ‘treat myself’ as a workable excuse for spending extra money that’s not entirely within my budget. The trouble I get into isn’t necessarily that I’m putting myself into debt over these rewards, but rather that I’m spending money I could be saving for more worthwhile goals — for example a more comfortable emergency fund or a more comfortable retirement plan.

More and more it seems that a job well done equates to a job well rewarded. We are always treating ourselves for even the smallest victories. Small scale (think chocolate bar), or on the larger scale (think iPad) — it’s a habit that’s more than hard to break.

But using purchases as a way to reward short term accomplishments might be hurting you more than you think. Don’t cheat yourself out of future benefits like a comfortable retirement or that trip to Hawaii by taking the immediate rewards system too far.

Play a Game of “Would You Rather”

To start off, play a simple game of comparisons. Put your imagination to work. Would you rather buy a trendy shirt or put put your toes in the sand on a future vacation? Would you rather eat out every single day for lunch, or feel the breeze in your hair as you drive your future dream car?

Instead of focusing on what you’re getting out of the immediate treat, think about what what you might be taking away from your overall goals. A splurge at the department store might mean a new outfit, but those dollars could also have equalled to a substantial contribution to a down payment on your future house.

Give Yourself Some Credit – But Don’t Depend on Your Credit Card to Do So

Rewards can really become troublesome when they become expected markers of success. In a digital age where finishing up a huge project might simply mean sending a file via e-mail, it it’s become more difficult to get a sense of finality from a simple click of a mouse. Eating a cupcake, on the other hand, sure feels like an easy way to see (and taste) success.

If you think you’ve done well, and if you’re proud of your achievements, then give yourself credit. But don’t let the swipe of plastic take the place of genuine appreciation for your time and effort put forth.

Each time you hand over your credit card to buy a reward, you’re giving your credit card more power than you you’re giving yourself. Don’t cheat yourself out of the power to be the one in control of your finances.

Add Up the Extras

As tempting as it is to simply suggest replacing a reward with a pat on the back, it’s not practical advice. Giving yourself a high-five is definitely not going to taste as good as a triple-decker ice cream sundae. But the frequency of rewards, big or small, can have a serious effect on your finances.

One way to see the impact of all the extra treats is to add them up to a lump sum. Try keeping track of all the purchases you make when you simply feel you deserve a little treat and you might be surprised at the result. Happy hours, coffees, gadgets, clothes – the cost of treating yourself adds up quickly to a more substantial number.

Set Your Sights Out Farther: Make Financial Freedom Your Ultimate Reward

Look at the bigger picture, and ultimately the larger goal: financial freedom. Keeping that in mind as you consider your rewards will refocus your attention (and extra income) on something that’s truly worthy of your savings. Ultimately, by rewarding yourself each time you stay on budget during the week, you’re setting a pattern or habit that directly affects your path to gaining complete financial freedom.

Treating yourself to a nice dinner after a week of eating in might seem like the perfect way to acknowledge financial success, but doing so will also take away from your long-term goal of getting out of debt. In some cases, it can even negate the savings, depending on the cost of the purchase. A reward in the moment adds length to the long run. As with most things in life, it’s about balance, and it’s about compromise.

Though longer term financial goals might seem too far off to be taken seriously, they won’t come to pass any more quickly if you continue to divert funds into rewards based on instant gratification. Bring your far off goal closer to realization by sticking to your plan.

And when the opportunity presents itself and you’re tempted to throw financial caution to the wind once more as you treat yourself, ask one last time:

“Is this treat worth the cheat?”

photo credit: me and the sysop via photopin cc


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Comments | 11 Responses

  1. says

    Treating ourselves sounds fun, but we should also consider the consequences that we are going to receive after. Buying small things can somehow lead us to the path of buying more things. Though it’s not bad to treat ourselves once in a while, we just have to do it responsibly.

    • Claire says

      Agreed – rewards can accelerate and multiply without proper perspective. Thanks for the thoughts Lee!

  2. says

    I used to be guilty of this. The trick is to make not spending money fun. Look at the things you would normally see as a treat, whether it’s a latte, a new Bluray disc, a night out, whatever. Note what the cost would be and take the actual amount in physical dollars and cents and put that in a shoe box, coffee jar, etc. Set yourself goals, however small, eg “today I’m going to NOT spend $5 that I normally would”. You’ll be amazed how quickly the cash accumulates, and how little you’ll miss your “treats”.

  3. says

    I like this idea of “would you rather?” because remembering to save for the future is so difficult for most people when spending immediately also pleases immediately. A vacation or a dream car are the sorts of things that we should absolutely try to save up for slowly but surely. Spending money on random purchases drives you farther and farther away from goals, just as you said. Thanks!

    • Claire says

      Such a simple but powerful tool – and sometimes the only thing that stops me from making an impulse buy! Thanks for reading, Alexa!!

  4. says

    We make it easy on ourselves. We simply write modest treats and rewards into our monthly budget. You were a good boy or girl today? Great! We have $20 left in our Treat Fund!! Go crazy.

    • Claire says

      Great approach! A treat fund is a smart way to budget for rewards. Not only does it keep you on track, but if you use it up too quickly, it can be a revealing look at how much you may have been spending before when you weren’t keeping track. Thanks for sharing Mike!

  5. says

    Hi Claire,

    I would absolutely love to use this article as a guest blog on my website. Check out the website if you have time and let me know.

    Great article!



    • Claire says

      Hi Lisa, I’m glad you like the article!

      That would be fine to re-post it — we just ask that you not change the article in any way and that you include a link to refer readers back to the original article.


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