In Defense of the Small Indulgence
When the birth of my second child left me completely overwhelmed, and a bit depressed about the monotony of my life, I instituted a new house rule: Mommy doesn’t cook on Friday nights.
The (nearly) three-meal-a-day routine had worn on me when my son was born, not just because it was so much work but because it reinforced the life-as-an-assembly-line vibe I’d been fighting. By Friday, I didn’t want to chop or sauté and I definitely didn’t want to clean up after anyone. (To fend off any “and your husband is where?” criticism, he walks the dog every morning and cooks dinner on the weekends.) So we initiated Champagne-and-sushi Fridays, enjoyed after the kids went to bed. As they got older we started to venture out, which was even more liberating.
Those Fridays saved my sanity for years. Then came those “we need to live on a budget” talks, which led to “what can we cut out?” Friday nights weren’t cheap. So we cut them. I felt that cut deeply. Cooking on Friday nights made me resentful. My kids started to complain. They, too, missed the novelty.
So we’ve compromised: Instead of going out every Friday, we do it once or twice a month. The other Fridays we order pizza and my husband and I drink wine instead of bubbly. We’re true to our efforts to spend less, but stopped being anorexic in our approach. We realized that extreme budgeting is a lot like extreme dieting — it has the potential to backfire in the long run. “Denying yourself pleasure can create a pent-up desire for spending later on,” warns Kathleen Grace, CFP, managing director at United Capital.
Are you putting so much energy into belt-tightening that the stress is seeping into other areas of your life? Do you end up splurging out of frustration? Take a cue from these women, who found ways to live a little in order to save a lot.
Budget for Fun
Stephanie L. Jones purposely sets her alarm clock 15 minutes early so she can ease into her day. Cuddled into a fluffy robe, she slips into a comfy chair and enjoys a cup of artisanal tea sweetened with locally produced honey. The tea isn’t cheap. Neither is the honey. But those, just like her other favorite small indulgences — handmade soaps and Godiva chocolate — have a benefit that goes beyond their cost.
“When I don’t take the time for these indulgences, my day is more stressful,” says Jones, president of Giving Gal, a life coaching business. “I don’t feel balanced. I feel like something is missing, and I’m craving what I cut out.”
To justify spending, say, $5 for a bar of soap, Jones reminds herself: I live on a budget and am being responsible with my money. Plus, she and her husband worked hard over the last few years to pay off their debt. These small indulgences are a (small) reward for that effort.
Grace recommends creating a line item in your monthly budget for splurges like Jones’. If you know you like to spend $25 a month on these kinds of little extras, say, give yourself license to do so without the stress that comes with overspending. “Just like we budget for emergency funds, we should budget for fun money,” says Grace.
Don’t Cut Out. Cut Back.
When Ilana David-Klein needs a break from her life as a tax consultant, she heads to her favorite spa. “When I have a massage, mentally and physically I feel like I can conquer the world,” she says. Manicures are her other favorite splurge. She tried giving those up once, and it left her feeling unattractive. “I realized I needed to continue it because it made me feel so special,” she says. “Otherwise, life becomes all about work.”
How does she fit it into her budget? Instead of a $100 full-body massage, David-Klein compromises with a $15 chair massage that in 10 minutes provides a needed energy boost. Her manicures are $40 a month but, to compensate for the splurge, she colors her hair herself instead of paying hefty salon prices.
Create Rituals That Reinforce Relationships
“Just the sound of the cork popping makes me feel excited,” says relationship consultant Genevieve West, whose small indulgence includes a glass of Merlot with her husband after the kids are in bed. “I feel as if I’m suddenly sitting in an outdoor café in Italy or France. It feels like a little vacation from the chaos of deadlines, bedtime battles and toy tornadoes.”
West gave up this indulgence while pregnant, of course, but realized that it was the ritual that she missed most of all — the opportunity to stop, enjoy and relax. “So I broke out the champagne glasses and substituted sparkling water or sparkling cider in order to continue relaxing with a tasty beverage,” she says. “Other than welcoming my little bundles of joy, of course, being able to drink red wine was the best part of no longer being pregnant.”
For West, sharing a glass of wine with her husband brings happiness, relieves stress and strengthens the bonds with someone she loves. (And it’s cheaper than going out.) But for you, it might be saving for a few weekends away a year with your husband or a weekly night out with your best friend. “It’s about understanding how you think about spending money, figuring out what is most important to you and fitting that into your overall budget,” says Grace. (Take United Capital’s money quiz).
Don’t Discount Time Saved
Yes, conventional wisdom says you should skip your morning latte to save a few bucks. But if convenience is important, it might not make sense to cut it out entirely. For family physician Bola Oyeyipo, a tall Starbucks coffee makes an enormous difference in her day. With two school dropoffs in the morning to juggle, getting out of the house is no small feat. So brewing her own pot of coffee would just make the morning more hectic. And the idea of facing the day without a caffeine jolt?
“No one wants to deal with a cranky doctor,” Oyeyipo says. “My work involves listening to people's health problems and coming up with solutions for making them better and healthier. I need to be upbeat and engaged with my patients. The coffee makes me feel awake, vibrant and focused.”
Oyeyipo orders straight coffee, not special drinks, which pares down the price. While it still costs her about $2 a day, having the coffee freshly made and handed to her en route to work saves her both time and stress — a trade that’s worth the expense.
Splurge Here, Save There
Lyz Nardo has figured out how to fund her love of bling: including statement necklaces, chandelier earrings and cocktail rings. “I can spend less on my overall clothing budget by purchasing basic clothing items and then use great jewelry to personalize my look,” she says. Nardo, an office manager, doesn’t buy expensive pieces but rather ones that are inexpensive yet unique to match her personality.
“My jewelry sets the tone for the day,” she says. “Sometimes a bold pair of earrings or a statement necklace helps to boost my confidence.” Her jewelry addiction dates back to childhood so she has never tried to give it up. “I believe good things come in small packages — filled with bling,” she says. But, as she’s proven, bling doesn’t have to mean expensive.
Look for Double-Duty Indulgences
A manicure leaves Angela Manzanares not only happy to have pretty hands, but it forces her to do something she normally has a hard time doing: disconnecting.
“My hands are literally tied up,” says Manzanares, founder of fitlosophy, which produces a line of fitness journals meant to keep people focused on their healthy lifestyle goals. “I’m happily forced to take 45 minutes of ‘me’ time. That means no texting, no emails, no Facebook — just me and my thoughts. I’ve found that investing this little amount of time and money in myself recharges me to make better decisions in all areas of my life.”
Manzanares wasn’t always so zen about this nearly hour-long indulgence. “What a waste of time,” she used to think. So she gave up her manicures. “I filled my time instead with more ‘busy-ness’ and didn’t allow myself time to just unwind,” she says. She quickly noticed the difference in her attitude. And another thing: “I also realized that having pretty nails really does brighten my day and gives me more confidence when I’m in business meetings.”
Small indulgences like that don’t just help you stick to your budget, they provide benefits — from confidence to time for reflection — that pay big dividends in all areas of your life.