Why Women Need to Stop Treating Themselves to Debt

woman treat

Everywhere we turn there is the message that women need to give themselves a break and have a treat: 

  • Girlfriend, put your feet up and enjoy a mani-pedi. You deserve it! 
  • Hey mom! Following an afternoon with your crazy kids, you deserve a stop at the mall to treat yourself to new shoes or that designer handbag or, well, whatever you want!
  • Life got you down? Retail therapy, baby! You deserve it.

The underlying theme is that women are being too hard on themselves — juggling the duties of being mothers, wives, professionals and caretakers of aging parents — all at once. Women must stop punishing themselves and the first step is indulging in some retail therapy. 

OK, sure. 

So then instead of punishing ourselves by plowing through life without a break, we punish ourselves with making purchases that sit on a credit card accumulating interest, creating anxiety and marital conflict, and holding us back from our goals. 

Before you get all defensive about how these indulgences are required to get you through the week, consider the source of your notion that you need a massage every week. Were you really raised to believe this to be a basic part of human maintenance? Or was the idea planted by the ad you saw promoting therapeutic benefits of someone sliding a scalding hot stone over your greased-up skin? 

Yes, a fantastic print wrap dress can really put a bounce in your step, which can fuel the confidence you need to ask for that promotion (that you totally deserve!), but how did you even develop a taste for that flattering little number? Maybe you caught a glimpse of its swingy skirt in an ad in Oprah magazine, and it wormed into your brain its magical, pick-me-up powers. But for all that Oprah’s empowerment of contemporary women, remember that her empire is funded by those very brands that you (now) so desire. Oprah has never listed “Roth IRA” on her “Favorite Things” list. 

The message that you need to spend — regardless of your ability to afford — is a learned point-of-view. And you learned it from forces with an objective to incentivize you to give them your money: Advertisers. You’re smarter than that. We’re all smarter than that. So, let’s take some control. 

The next time you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed or exhausted, allow yourself to go there. It’s OK to tell yourself: “I could really use a treat.” Then think that through. What will it really take to snag you out of your funk? Think through the purchase of that royal blue Marc Jacobs messenger bag. Yes, it will feel awesome swiping your credit card, thanking the sales associate with a cheery smile, slinging the soft leather over your shoulder and sauntering out of the store with a gallant stride. Stressed out mom? What stressed out mom?

But think this fantasy all the way through — to the end of your credit card’s billing cycle. What will that $400 look like stacked up against the other purchases? Do you have the funds to pay it off in one fell swoop? Or will you have to finagle, finance and fret? 

As they say, there is no such thing as a free treat. Treats come at a cost. Which is why “treat” connotes something indulgent — naughty, even. You know you shouldn’t. But it feels oh-so good. And you go there. Because — you tell yourself — you deserve it.

So, instead of being naughty little over-spending beings, let’s be conscious about how we boost our spirits. Today, when you’re clear-headed and not in the muck of life, create a plan: When life has you down, what will you do? Call a girlfriend for a good belly laugh? Meet your brother for a catch-up talk? Sprint through the park in a ferocious burst of stress-letting? 

Because these outlets are a deeply meaningful way of contending with the natural lulls in life. And when you do decide to spend mightily, do it with a plan. Set up a savings strategy and consciously acquire that massage or Elsa Peretti bracelet or ski weekend. Then, when you do finally enjoy the object of your desire, it will be a guilt-free indulgence that you actually deserve.

Emma Johnson is a personal finance journalist, blogger at WealthySingleMommy.com, and host of The Emma Johnson Show, syndicated nationwide on AM radio. She lives in New York City with her children, Helena, 6 and Lucas, 4. 

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