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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Kelly Gurnett. Kelly runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
We’ve all heard of the “latte factor”— the idea that cutting back on regular luxuries, no matter how tiny (like that daily latte from Starbucks) can lead to big budget savings. And, it’s a good notion to keep in mind. Mindless splurges, big or small, have repercussions when we’re trying to live a financially smart life. It’s hard to pay down debt, build up savings, or meet any other money goal if you treat yourself too often.
But, being a miser and not treating yourself at all can be just as bad for your budget—and your happiness.
The Deprivation Factor
It isn’t always easy to be smart financially. We’re only human. As disciplined and goal-oriented as we may be, it can be tough to see our friends going out to eat, going to the movies, or grabbing that infamous latte and knowing we can’t afford to do the same. It puts our focus into a deprivation mentality—that in order to meet our money goals, we have to cut things out from our lives. Frugal living becomes a negative thing.
As anyone who’s ever been on a diet can attest, focusing on what you can’t have isn’t the best way to motivate yourself to stay on course. If anything, it just makes you want what you can’t have even more.
Yet that’s the way so many of us focus on making financial changes—by stripping away things we used to purchase, by denying ourselves things we want—and that often leads to a feeling of frustration. Sure, we know our long-term goals are smart, will bring us happiness, yada yada yada…but we live in the now, and right now, being so frugal all the time can make us kind of miserable.
Which is why treats—strategically and smartly granted (like one would do for children or pets)—can be exactly what we need to help us achieve our financial goals.
They infuse a little positive reward into the routine. They give us a much-needed break from all the striving and sacrificing. They give us something to look forward to now and again, so we don’t suddenly find ourselves blowing the bank on a super-pricey item because we just can’t take it anymore.
It Doesn’t Take Much
My husband and I are in a more frugal than usual situation at present. He recently lost his job due to disability, and we effectively had to cut our budget in half in the span of a month. Once you start moving past cutting the premium cable package and occasional massages and begin looking for ways to slash your grocery budget, you know you’ve gone beyond the point where the “latte factor” is even a consideration.
That said? We’re still finding ways to “treat” ourselves now and then. Because it makes it easier to be as stringent on a regular basis as we need to be.
Our treats aren’t nearly as grand as the ones we allowed ourselves before the job loss (a night at Dave & Buster’s seems like an unattainable luxury now), but they’re still treats in that they’re not strictly “necessary,” but they help take some of the pressure off. They give us a little reprieve from the stress of being a one-income household and let us just enjoy ourselves, even in the smallest of ways.
The fantastic luxuries we allow ourselves now? A movie at the dollar theater (with homemade popcorn snuck in). A container of the one-step-up-from-store-brand coffee. My occasional $3 box of hair color (typically 50 cents after couponing skills). They’re not huge, by any means, but they’re still treats. And, to be honest, I enjoy them every bit as much as I did our Dave & Buster’s outings, because I know how lucky we are to even be able to afford these little things.
So don’t starve yourself financially. Allow yourself a little treat now and then. Your budget will ultimately thank you for it (and so will your sanity).
How about you all? What special “treats” do you allow yourself, in spite of being on a budget?
***Photo courtesy of http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4142/4936746457_eb22f010ca_o.jpg