Treating yourself to healthier spending habits

Treating yourself can't be bad, right? Who knows what life will be like tomorrow, so better do what you like before it's too late. Instead of embracing the initial meaning of carpe diem, however, some people try to "enjoy" their lives to such an extend that they start to take risks without thinking about tommorrow. Can you actually treat yourself or enjoy yourself too much?

1. The meaning of 'treating oneself'.

Firstly, treating yourself means you're doing something special that is out of the ordinary and gives you great pleasure: so it wouldn’t be an actual treat if the things you want were readily available whenever you want them. This does not mean that you should not try to enjoy yourself. But if treating yourself means always living beyond your means without care, chances are that your bank account will look depressingly empty. How long will your money last and what will happen then? After all, living a broke life hardly is what most people would find enjoyable. But doing something self-indulgent does not have to be lavishly. It can be as simple as enjoying a walk in the open countryside, preparing your favorite meal at home, listenig to music, petting an animal, doing light excercises, or taking a shower, just to name a few. These are all reasonable yet effective ways to center yourself, boost your self-esteem, reduce stress, improve your mood or to turn a bad day around. In the end, we all deserve to enjoy ourselves and feel special once in a while.

2. When Treating Yourself Becomes Rather a Threat.

The notion "to treat yourself because you deserve it" sounds so simple yet plausible that people who want to sell other people their services and products make extensive use of it, for example if they want you to "treat yourself to a fabulous new lipstick or cologne". While it is good and important to treat yourself to things or activities that you enjoy or that help you to relax (this can also be lipstick or cologne), it doesn't mean, though, that you take good care of yourself if you spend more money on these or other things than you have and also on things that you don't need. It's a matter of how extensively you do the things you do, how much they cost, and the reasons behind all your doings. Going shopping on a regular basis just because it makes you feel better or buying things on the spur of the moment without thinking, for example, is neither a healthy spending habit nor a healthy way of dealing with issues, for that matter. In fact, impulse buying behavior is one of the worst spending habits.

2.1. Spontanious vs. Impulsive Behaviour

Being impulsive implies that someone is acting without control or due consideration. It has a slightly more negative connotation than being spontanious. Being spontanious as well as being impulsive both refer to an action that is undertaken without too much thought but with the difference that spontaneity is more about acting upon something that you want - without losing control of the situation. This is along the same lines of YOLO, an acronym that stands for "you only live once", meaning one should seize the day or enjoy the present rather than worrying about the future. Granted, the lines are blurred between spontanious and impulsive behaviour. That's why YOLO can be misconstrued as a legitimation for a behavior that typically wouldn't be considered as a healthy spending habit. A misconceived interpretation of YOLO may be based on feelings of unease or envy some go through when, in their perception, they miss out on exciting experiences other people are having (FOMO). To cope with these negative feelings some act on a modified YOLO-maxim: do whatever you feel like because one day you will die.

It's one thing not to worry about the future and another to live without consideration for the future, though. Ironically, the latter maxim actually is based on worries about the future, namely not being able to experience all there is to it's full extent because life is endless. Besides, recklessly enjoying yourself for questionable reasons to such an extent that you have to worry about your finances seems rather shortsighted.

2.2. Long-Time Pleasure vs. Short-Time Pleasure

With credit cards, eWallets and the ever present opportunity for buying nearly everything online, it's easier than ever to rather spend money on short-term pleasures than to invest in long-term fulfillment. The latter, which comes from long term achievement, can fill your live with meaning, contentment, satisfaction, and passion - as a driving force. But with so many possibilities in life, it can be difficult to know what exactly you want or to decide what's the right plan of action. So it seems quite natural to follow one of many shortcuts and replace big goals with affordable treats - to the detriment of long term contentment and happiness. But just like with a diet, to stay motivated and happy we need a balance between pursuing our big goals and indulging in short-time pleasures.

3. Keeping a Healthy Balance Between Desires and Needs

As Paul Pearsall points out, what gets in the way of this healthy balance is that we are often directed more by our desire for intensity and things than by the soul's need for beauty, shared delight, and appreciation of small things, which also is socially reinforced by our society's consumer orientation and focus on individual consciousness. In the fast pace of modern society, in an attempt to fullfill internal desires, some have adopted a tendency of consuming pleasure like they were going on a shopping spree, rewarding themselves for doing and having. Like a yoyo, oscillating between two extremes, they excessively indulge in joyful activities or things and then deprive themselves of joy when everyday's hustle and bustle has caught up with them again, only to indulge madly for a short time and to purge themselves of pleasure again. But our body wants stability. It's not prepared for constant highs and lows. If people lead a high pressured life, trying to fit enjoyment in like something that's on their to-do-list, they flood their body with doses of excitement that it is not prepared for or that actually aren’t needed to feel happy. Over time, in an attempt to self-regulate itself to mantain a state of equilibrium of internal conditions (homeostasis), our body developes a tolerance to things that affect it at a level it is not used to. In the long run, this makes it harder to appreciate joyful nuances and to experience all the good stuff in between. Consumed by the pursuit of happiness, people steadily undermine their capability of taking joy in the ordinary, appreciating sameness as much as change, and enjoying the old as well as the new. As a result, some are just going through the motions of enjoying themselves without even realizing it.

4. Summary

Taking the above considerations into account, it looks like you can treat or enjoy yourself too much if your enjoyment is not based on a balanced, respectful interaction with your surrounding world. According to Pearsall, living a well balanced life also means learning to be part of life no matter what life gives you and discovering how to find some joy even when you're stressed: Unhappiness is not to be avoided but learned from; happiness is to be appreciated but never taken for granted. Seeing pleasure not only as a temporary reward but rather as a way of life can help towards keeping a healthy balance between spending money on short-time pleasures and keeping track of your big goals. I believe that treating yourself not only involves boosting your mood with little everyday perks but also setting yourself small, reachable goals that you can joyfully anticipate. When you are stressed or a bad day has got you down, having something to look forward to can help to bridge those moments and brighten your day. By keeping a budget you not only balance your income towards your expenses but also your life, enabling you to indulge and treat yourself from time to time while still being able to work towards your bigger goals. An easy to use and affordable tool that can help you along the way is a budget spreadsheet.

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