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Have you ever heard someone say, “treat yourself”?

I hear it popping up more and more among people in their twenties.

The general idea is to take care of yourself and remember to love yourself. Do something nice for yourself every day. That sounds pretty good right?

I completely agree that it’s important to invest in yourself and practice self care. However, when I hear people say “treat yo self” it’s usually not in the context of true self care. It generally refers to spending extra money on unnecessary expenses just because you feel like it.

In doing a little research for this post, I learned that the TV show “Parks and Recreation” helped make “Treat yourself” popular. During the episode, two characters spend loads of money indulging in all of the luxuries life has to offer.

For the sake of a comedy show, I’m sure the writers made it look fun and hilarious to watch people buy anything they feel like. However, it sends a really damaging message to the masses.

If you’re not careful, you might find yourself buying into this thought process. Before you know it, you could let treat yo self destroy your budget and do major damage to your finances.

Here’s the Problem with “Treating Yourself”

I’ll cut straight to the point. If you live by this philosophy, your finances can get out of hand real fast! I mean, can you really get away with just buying whatever you want? Is it responsible to buy based on emotion and impulse?

Treating yourself basically says to give into your cravings and spend money freely. It encourages you to be impulsive and live in the moment. When you live fully in the moment, you neglect your future and ignore how your current actions affect you down the road.

Also, it fully ignores budgeting, planning ahead, and working toward your goals. If you constantly “treat yo self”, how can you practice self discipline at all? The plain answer, you can’t.

Plus, what happens when you make treating yourself into a habit? It’s easy to apply this philosophy to anything and create really damaging financial patterns. Once a habit is created, it’s really hard to break.

If you have a hard day. Your friend says, “treat yourself”.

You passed a test, “treat yourself”!

It’s the weekend, and you don’t have to get up early. “Treat yourself”!

You broke up with your significant other? “Treat yourself”!

Treat Yourself Destroys Your Budget!
This ad popped up in my wife’s Facebook feed about two hours after I finished writing this post. It’s so easy to fall into this mind set. What could I possibly have done to “deserve” a burrito?

Before you know it, you’re treating yourself over any little thing and your spending starts spiraling out of control. It’s so easy to justify spending if you buy into this philosophy.

The key to reaching any financial goal is to focus on the future and sometimes that means forgoing what you feel like you want now for what you truly want later. It’s a classic case of short term pleasure vs delayed gratification.

It’s a lot easier to give into your current wants than to say no, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. I know I’d rather experience joy, happiness, or whatever emotion is associated with getting what I want now instead of forcing myself to wait until later.

The thing is though, my long term goals are so much more important than my current state of emotions.

We never would’ve paid off $73,000 of student loan debt if we consistently treated ourselves to any whim or impulsive want. If you want to reach any goal, whether it’s getting in shape or saving for retirement, you need to focus on the end goal, not what you want right now.

The Marshmallow Test

It reminds me of a classic psychology experiment called the Marshmallow Test. In this test, a young child is given one marshmallow and told that they can eat it now if they want, but if they wait for a little bit they will get two marshmallows.

The goal is to test their self control. Will they choose the “treat yourself” route and gobble down the fluffy white ball of sugar, or be disciplined enough to get a bigger reward later?

The results were pretty interesting. If you’re 5 years old, it takes pretty great self control to not eat a marshmallow, or any treat for that matter.

Treat Yourself Destroys Your Budget
Heck, I’d be super tempted by a cookie or a cupcake. Marshmallows aren’t my jam.

A cool long term finding is that many of the kids who didn’t eat the marshmallow also displayed better self control later in life too. Whereas the kids who ate the marshmallow were more likely to make impulsive decisions.

Here’s a link to an interview with the author of the book “The Marshmallow Test” for a more in depth look at what the test measures.

Also, here’s an awesome video of kids trying so hard not to eat the marshmallow. I feel the same way sometimes when I want to buy something for myself. Tap here for a good laugh.

If You “Treat Yourself”, You Might Derail Your True Goals

The best way to stay on track and avoid falling into the trap of following your emotions and impulses is to have clearly defined goals. We chose to stop going out to eat and spending extra money because of our financial goals.

We wanted to get out of debt so we could start a family. Anytime we felt tempted to impulse buy, we brought it back to our goals. It didn’t magically solve our issues of wanting to indulge ourselves, but it helped us focus on what was really important.

The true tragedy is letting what you want now jeopardize your future. You’ll never get out of debt if you spend money you don’t have to go on vacation buy new clothes.

I hear people saying how they have less than $20 in their checking account, and then hardly two weeks later they’re going on a week long vacation overseas. WHAT!? That doesn’t make any sense!

If you truly want to get out of financial hardship or reach your future goals, you can’t always “treat yo self”.

There’s Nothing Wrong With Celebrating Milestones

Okay, now this might feel like I’m contradicting myself a bit, but stay with me. Spending frivolously will definitely side track you from your financial goals. However, when you reach a milestone there’s no reason not to celebrate your accomplishment!

A huge part of our financial success is because we took the time to celebrate. Celebrating doesn’t need to mean spending hundreds of dollars on a getaway or expensive night out.

Treat Yourself Destroys Your Budget
A $14 bottle of champagne and quality time was the perfect way to celebrate paying off one of our student loans.

We never spent a butt load of money, but made sure we set time aside. Most times it was a cheap night out with a gift card or coupons, or a cheap bottle of champagne. It also usually involved reflecting on how we reached this goal and talking about our next milestone.

It’s so motivating to reflect on the progress you’ve made and acknowledge how far you’ve truly come. It helps stay focused and keep moving in the right direction.

Let Me Know in the Comments

What do you think? Is it okay to “treat yo self”? How do you avoid making impulse purchases?

Our budget and goals changed our lives. I hope it can change yours too.

Treating yourself can destroy your budget!

Our budget and goals changed our lives and it can change yours too.

As an Educator and Personal Finance Blogger, Jamie has helped hundreds of families learn how to budget, save money, and pay off debt (go here to subscribe and start your debt free journey). Read our debt free story, “How We Paid Off $73,000 of Debt in Less Than Four Years”.

8 Responses

  1. So true. And that’s how most people get into financial trouble, by treating themselves. I hear people all the time complaining about being behind on bills, not just a little but 2 or 3 months. Then as soon as a paycheck comes its out to dinner, new shoes or a weekend getaway. I couldn’t enjoy and of these treats if I wasn’t paying my bills. I don’t want to work until I’m 70 just because I chose to treat myself all the time.

    1. It’s a really easy pattern to get into. This last October we went to caribou/Starbucks wayyy too often. Maybe 7-8 times for the month. Our budget definitely noticed.

  2. Thank you for this Jamie. You mentioned many things that are important to think about it. I will re-read this again and again.

  3. Telling myself I deserved something was one of the main reasons why I wound up in credit card debt! I was treating myself to a little too much and I’m still paying off those treats to this day. Although it’s important to do something nice for yourself every now and again, it’s best to do so in moderation.

    1. Is such an easy pattern to get into! Moderation is definitely the key, and then figuring out if it aligns with your bigger goals.

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