Since it’s the new year (and in the new year you tell the truth), I’m going to make a confession.
I don’t like blanket affirmations.
I prefer personalized advice, the kind that takes into account your circumstances, personality, and goals.
This is my preference in all of life, but even more so in personal finance. When it comes to spending money, one-size-fits-all advice could put some people in serious financial jeopardy.
Of course, there are some best practices we should all work on: pay off debt, control spending, and so on. But ascribing to a “treat yo’ self” mentality? That’s advice that I’m not sure is good for anyone.
Do we need more encouragement for spending money?
Here’s a big problem with the “treat yo’ self” mantra: The majority of people don’t need more encouragement to spend money.
We live in a consumer culture. I don’t have a problem with that — my all too regular visits to coffee shops and bookstores affirm that I’m no stranger to spending money.
But the ease of access to consumer goods nowadays means we need a little more encouragement to help us control spending, not more encouragement to spend money.
Amazon can send you anything you want almost immediately. Your credit card enables you to swipe without feeling the heat of money leaving your bank account. And the things we love to use every day always seem to have an upgrade available.
But do we really need the motivation to spend that money?
The message behind “treat yo’ self” is great — we should be doing things that make us feel good. But when this mantra turns into making more purchases on a whim, that good feeling might dissipate a little too quickly.
When that cycle begins, we’ll have to spend that money over and over again to keep up the good feelings.
Who’s tracking your treats?
The second problem with this mantra is that it activates the already addictive nature of buying. In fact, it not only activates it, it crowdsources it.
If you share a picture of a shiny new object on Instagram with the hashtag #TreatYoSelf, your friends will give you a lot of virtual high fives. But will they notice that it’s the fifth time you’ve done it this month? Will you notice?
Impulse control is incredibly difficult to conquer. Let’s not make it worse by celebrating spending money whenever we feel like we need some self-love.
Treating yourself too much can hurt you in the end
“Treat yo’ self” may sound like a positive sentiment, but it can actually hurt you in the end. Spending money on too many of these little boosts does nothing to help you achieve your long-term goals.
When people think of budgeting, they often fear that they’ll be restricted. But that’s not what budgets are for: Budgets are simply a blueprint for your money. Your income may dictate the boundaries of the foundation, but you get to decide what to put inside.
Every time we stray from our carefully drawn plans, we’re not treating ourselves — we’re getting in our own way. When we step back and look for the house we were building only to find that we’re still on the first floor, suddenly it’s clear what those treats were really doing.
Here’s how to control your spending and treat yourself at the same time
I do not, in fact, abide by the hate-your-life-to-reach-your-goals mentality, and I still believe in the general concept of treating yourself. However, there are better ways to use the hashtag. Consider the following:
- A snapshot of the coffee you made at home in your favorite mug #TreatYoSelf
- An image of you handing cash to a teller to deposit money into a savings account #TreatYoSelf
- A picture of your meals for the week after you prepared them all at once so you don’t feel tempted to buy lunch out #TreatYoSelf
The list goes on and on! As you share images of how you control your spending instead of wasting that money, you can see snapshots of the real benefits you reap. Before you know it, you could capture a screenshot of your student loan balance after it’s paid off or a picture from that vacation you saved for.
Go ahead and treat yo’ self, but do it by creating a category in your budget for those extra little somethings so they don’t dig into other areas of your budget. Celebrate the little things you do every day to come closer to your big goals, and commend your friends for doing the same thing.
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