DoNotTreatYoSelf“I’ve had a tough day, so I’ll treat myself to take-out tonight… just this once.” We’ve all been there, we’ve all said this, and we all know it’s never just this once. The “treat yourself” mentality that’s so prevalent right now is all about impermanent balms to soothe our overall frustration or discontent with the trajectory of our lives. The idea that we’ll transform our core happiness by indulging ourselves with new shoes or a fancy meal out is patently false (it even sounds ridiculous when I write it!).

Treat yourself stymies our financial goals with continual hits of capitalism that prevent us from achieving a lasting joy in our lives.

I’ll Never Get There

Ack! Food! My downfall every time.
Ack! Food! My downfall every time.

I think the concept of treat yourself underlies the belief–or insecurity–that we’ll never realize our deeply held dreams. And if we’re never going to reach our actual aspirations, then why not buy a bunch of random stuff to make ourselves feel better in the short term?

I used to fall victim to this notion more often than I’d like to admit. It felt like the ambitions Mr. Frugalwoods and I had were so distant and gigantic that we’d never save enough money to accomplish them. And so, the temptation to live it up in the moment became a problem for us, mostly in the form of take-out and restaurant meals (sidenote: what is it about food that’s so tempting and budget-derailing??? or is that just me?).

This mentality can play out across all financial decisions from the daily latte to the very home we live in. If we perceive, for example, that we’ll never save enough for a downpayment on a house, we might be apt to rent a fancy, expensive apartment as opposed to making do with a cheaper place that’d enable us to sock away cash every month. And in this way, our fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Gratuitous photo of Babywoods in a snowsuit. It has nothing to do with this post, but she looks hilarious.
Gratuitous photo of Babywoods in a snowsuit. It has nothing to do with this post, but she looks hilarious.

There’s nothing wrong with loving life as it currently is and enjoying the journey to an eventual dream. Indeed, this is an important element of avoiding perpetual consumption. But the danger is when the journey becomes all that there is. The danger is when we start to experience life as one interminable slog after another–an incessant displeasure with our daily routine, pepped up only by the occasional treat.

We all have the capacity to be more than that, to transcend merely surviving and instead go about the business of truly living. The balance is to find peace in the present moment, while remaining focused on larger ends. And I don’t think this mindset stops once we attain goals, it’s more of an ongoing commitment to self-improvement.

Saving for the future isn’t easy. It requires that we tamp down the wheedling “I want it NOW!” voice that invariably crops up. But more important than ignoring this voice, it’s about re-training ourselves so that we’re not plagued by incessant consumer desires.

And the media isn’t our friend in this endeavor–advertisers want nothing more than for all of us to continually treat ourselves with junk we don’t need. So much air time is devoted to the myth that euphoria is at the other end of a sales transaction. And sure, it does feel good to buy stuff–there’s a rush of excitement over bringing something new into our lives, but it’s an ephemeral joy that isn’t grounded in anything meaningful.

It’s Never Just This Once

One of the most insidious aspects of the treat yourself mindset is that it’s never just a one-time thing and, we slowly begin to need more and more over time. As we acclimate to the jolts of pleasure we derive from one purchase, we develop an immunity. Thus the next time, we require two purchases to render that same positive response. Much like taking medication when we don’t legitimately need it, buying things we don’t need serves to feed an addiction.

Frugal Hound: does enjoy treating herself (with actual treats)
Frugal Hound: does enjoy treating herself (with actual treats)

This hedonic adaptation is what keeps us consuming and, ultimately, what ensures we’re never content with what we do have. The universal truth is that there will always be more. We will never be the richest, or the best dressed, or drive the snazziest car because there’s always another level of opulence to crave. Greed is insidious and once we step on that consumer carousel, it’s nearly impossible to disembark. Conversely, when we acknowledge that we have enough, we can be at peace.

Nothing is more fulfilling than relishing what you already have and reveling in gratitude for what we’ve been given. I’m never happier than when I do this. And I have to remind myself to feel this way–it’s a conscious decision I make to step back and express thanks for everything I have in life. But when I do, I’m overcome with serenity. And all I did was recognize what I already have! The mind is a powerful partner is our financial and life journeys–if we allow it to guide us towards insight and reflection, it’s incredible how much gratification we can generate on our own.

Treat Yourself: The Downfall Of A Generation?

Frugal Hound doing her dancing trick for a bit of sausage
Frugal Hound doing her dancing trick for a treat of sausage

Did our grandparents treat themselves? They most certainly did not. Treat yourself, in my observation, is a uniquely modern convention stemming from a culture that praises excess. While people have surely always wasted their money, the options for doing so are now astronomically greater. The preponderance of shops and gadgets and restaurants and coffee shops and bars is positively overwhelming to the modern consumer. There seems to be no shortage of innovation in ways for us to spend our money. Look no further than the preposterous app economy convenience products, which foster the idea that with the click of a button, your problems are solved!

Take Blue Apron, for example, which purports to save you money by enabling you to cook at home. So you sign up for a ludicrously high membership price and they deliver all of the ingredients for a meal to your doorstep. And somehow we’re lulled into thinking this will save us money. In the olden days, folks looked on the internet for a free recipe, made a list of those ingredients on their smartphone, went to the grocery store, purchased these very same ingredients, and created these very same meals for a fraction of the cost. I mean seriously, it’s not like you even have to go check a cookbook out from the library anymore.

Then there’s these absurd box-a-month deals that deliver a box of random junk to you 12 times a year. This is literally buying for the sake of buying. You don’t need these things–you don’t even know what these things are!

It’s a fascinating–and alarming–societal development that the availability of immediate treats is now higher than ever. I imagine it’s correlated with the fact that, by and large, people have more disposable income. And instead of saving those extra funds for a longterm gain (like a home, or a paid-off car, or financial independence), the norm is to spend that money on treating ourselves. But my question is, to what end? What do you get after 30 years of treat yourself? You’re still paying down your student loans, you’re still renting an apartment you can barely afford, you still have a car payment, and you hope that you might be able to perhaps eek out retirement at age 65.

Finding Purpose In This Landscape Of Consumption

I’m not saying that extreme frugality is for everyone–it’s most certainly not. And I’m not saying that early retirement should be everyone’s objective–it most certainly shouldn’t. But what I am saying is that we, as a society, are spending ourselves into oblivion. We’re valuing the accrual of stuff and fleeting pleasures above all else. The inextricable link we’re making between buying and happiness is a terrifying connection. Where is fulfillment in all of this? Where is community-minded support, sharing, and bartering? Where is self-enfranchisement if all we do is spend money? If I could pick one touchstone to demonstrate pop culture’s utter misunderstanding of how life works, it would be the concept of treat yourself.

Carving out a life that’s not beholden to spending money is challenging in this prevailing ethos, but it’s not impossible. Treat yourself is a failure to plan for the longterm, and moreover, a failure to see hope in the longterm. But it’s not a depressing topic, rather it’s a wake-up call for us all that we should strive to live in discord with this ideology and instead, be people of enduring passion and purpose. Consuming does not constitute a hobby or a skill, our material possessions do not define who we are, and we are all capable of focusing our energies on productive, meaningful outlets. We can all create instead of consume.

How do you avoid the urge to “treat yourself”? Where does your deeper fulfillment stem from?

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  1. Long time reader but first time commenter here 🙂 Love the photo of Babywoods in a snowsuit!

    I’m so glad you wrote about this. I usually get the urge to ‘treat myself’ due to having a bad day at work. It’s sort of the feeling “well I have to suffer here and be nice, so I should be able to treat myself somehow”. Luckily now I recognise that feeling and can think it through. Realising what is happening keeps me from going to cafe and buying a fancy latte every time I feel bad.

  2. I try to treat myself or celebrate with free things or things that add value. We will go for walks, cook a special dinner, take the time to eat outside, etc. I’m also a big fan of saving gift cards for treats – meals out, tea I don’t really need, etc.

    1. I also save up gift cards or use reward points for the occasional ‘treat’- I try to also do free things. Sometimes it’s something as simple as taking a long hot bath to deal with stress.

    2. Treats of a hiking date are the best! I love those times with my family. I’ve actually started thinking a lot about decluttering in the spirit of giving us more time for getting outdoors rather than anything else — if we don’t spend time cleaning up, tidying, etc, we can go for a hike each weekend.

    3. I asked my family for gift cards for a massage in my city for last christmas – best thing to treat myself ever 🙂
      Also, home cooked pies with potatoes and gravy are a well-appreciated treat in my household. Such as homemade cakes and cookies. I believe in treats to give you motivation to pursue long term goals and celebrate milestones – but only treats that dont sabotage them.

  3. I like to treat myself only occasionally, after I’ve completed some goal I’ve set for myself. For example – save up $5,000 for a car, and get a nice dinner out with my husband! It’ll hardly derail my budget, and it gives me a little something extra to shoot for.

    I do NOT treat myself every day just for making it through the day. Sure, that shit is hard sometimes (especially lately), but that’s just a part of living. Being alive is my treat.

    Also, I don’t understand shopping as a hobby. I buy almost everything only if I need it, and only after much deliberation. Many of my family members like to go shopping to “treat themselves,” and I’m just like. “Why?” I legitimately don’t understand it.

    1. Agreed. There are so many good free ways to “treat yourself” without going crazy. I’m try to consciously cut back on spending as we have some defined goals and just getting out of the house to do something (not go out to eat, shop, etc) really helps. Creating something does not always help because then we end up at Lowes buying wood for a project. At least it’s frugal.

  4. Great post! I agree that the treat yourself habit is never “just this once,” even though we tell ourselves that. And in our generation “just this once” seems to occur a couple times a day! I find deeper fulfillment in my relationships. Deriving joy from spending time with friends or family is a much better pastime as it provides greater happiness that last longer.

  5. We actually consume on a regular basis, but much less often than we used to.

    For example, we eat out once a month, but we make sure to make it special (cost <$100/mo on average). On a spendier month we even went to the all you can eat chocolate bar in Boston! Compare this to before our "financial wake-up," where we ate out several times a week just because we didn't want to cook – burrito here, pizza there…hundreds of dollars a month with nothing to show for it.

    1. Felicity – what is the name of this chocolate bar???? I’m outside of Boston and I’m going to have to go check this place out (as a special occasion of course – not just as a regular old treat!!!)

  6. Agreed. There are so many good free ways to “treat yourself” without going crazy. I’m try to consciously cut back on spending as we have some defined goals and just getting out of the house to do something (not go out to eat, shop, etc) really helps. Creating something does not always help because then we end up at Lowes buying wood for a project. At least it’s frugal.

    I would love to see some ways to connect with those out in the consumer culture. My husband and I host our friends for dinner and movie nights (largely free except for buying dinner) but my girl friends and I regularly get together to go out to eat (because seriously, what do you do in the suburbs in the winter? There are not free events in the evening like the city) so I’ve been suggesting going walking, out to coffee, etc, but it’s hard to think of things unless you have existing hobbies together. I like to ski with some of my friends but that is literally lighting money on fireeee.

    1. My roommates from college and I will trade off apartments or houses to host brunch, and do it potluck, so everyone brings something. It’s nice to not feel like you can only hang out for as long as you want to stay at a restaurant, plus the first one of us just had a baby so I imagine being able to have him nap/eat etc as needed will be nice.

  7. I love this post! I am on the bus to work and am considering treating myself to a Starbucks coffee. I may do it anyway ???? But I love your calling attention to our culture’s mentality. I work for a tech company and the “you work hard, you deserve it” attitude is common. There’s nothing better than a gratitude list for curbing excess consumerism. Love your blog!

  8. Love it. I’m sharing this post every where.

    It’s so true. commercials, magazine adverstiing, subway, bus , highway billboards . The idea is you think you have a problem and we have the solution for that non existing problem.
    Most young people in the US have closet full of stuff but no money in the bank, and credit card debit for two life times.

    I’m working on eliminating my credit card debt before this years up. No need to buy it on credit if I can’t afford it I don’t get it. My goal is to use it for those expense that already exist and pay it off every month.

  9. It’s almost impossible not to treat yourself every now and then. And it’s probably not a good idea to restrict yourself all the time anyway – what’s the point of living if you can’t enjoy it?

    On the flip side, if you spend all your money buying crap you don’t need, you’ll probably never be able to pull off early retirement and a solid financial independence situation.

    People really need to find a balance that works for their own situation. For us, we’re not rich, but our splurge tends to be vacations. We like to take a cruise every couple of years and vacation out of state pretty much yearly. However, we don’t spend a lot of money on clothes, rarely eat out, and aren’t out partying every weekend (I’ll blame the 5 year old for that one!).

    — Jim

    1. Totally agree. It’s not about absolute asceticism; it’s about finding what works well for you as you craft and achieve your goals.

    2. I agree that it makes sense to treat yourself, but to avoid defaulting to the “treat” always being a purchase of some sort.

      On a stressful day, for example, I may “treat” myself by taking the time to go for a walk after work to unwind and clear my head. In the end this is more of what I really wanted, while it cost nothing and provides so many other benefits that I wouldn’t have gotten from “retail therapy”.

      Unfortunately, we don’t often stop to think about what we truly need (or want). And this only gets worse if we let lifestyle inflation creep into our lives since we quickly adjust to each new luxury!

  10. “In the olden days, folks looked on the internet for a free recipe, made a list of those ingredients on their smartphone, went to the grocery store, purchased these very same ingredients, and created these very same meals for a fraction of the cost. I mean seriously, it’s not like you even have to go check a cookbook out from the library anymore.”

    So funny! I remember the real olden days when you were lucky to have a black and white TV in a huge wood box with a tiny flickering screen. And recipes were written down and shared personally. And who ever heard of treating yourself?

    1. That statement was so funny I had to share it with my husband. The “olden days” for me were long before home computers. Cookbooks/hand copied recipes shared from family or friends were the norm. I still check cookbooks out from the library, and there are oodles of beautiful new ones available every year. I do enjoy the convenience of looking for new recipes on that newfangled thing called a computer though. 🙂

  11. I am digressing quite a bit from the primary point of your posting, but your reference to food shopping, Blue Apron, etc. brought me back to a great memory of my mom. For one thing, she has been a really tough act to follow; the older I get the more I realize that. She knew how to stretch her weekly grocery stash. For an example, she would roast a chicken on Monday and for the rest of the week we would have re-runs. Somewhere in the week there was chicken soup. Yes!!! And my, oh my, did she stretch that bird! Her grocery lists were hand written on “recycled” paper (a term we had no concept of in the 50’s and 60’s). She consulted her cook books and then made a call to our little , local market. Dan, the delivery guy, brought her order to our house – we had only one car; my father took that – and then mom got busy. She used a cookbook and ingenuity and off we went on a culinary adventure. Of course we ate other things besides chicken, and her method was always the same. There were few one-off meals. For anyone interested, one of her favorite ways to use left overs was to stuff a pepper with a little of this and a little of that. It was tasty and never the same. Sorry about straying from your main point, your Blue Apron reference was a point well taken. And my mom helped me to realize that…

    1. I love your term “re-runs” instead of leftovers….I’m stealing that! And I am totally taking stuffed peppers to the next level after reading this! What a great memory!

      1. My son calls them “fresh-overs” — that’s when you take something you ate last night but cook a different meat or a different vegetable. Love that word!

    2. I love reading this post!!! I’m 80 and I still cook for myself from scratch and I, too, can stretch a chicken and other meat! I cook, bake and make soups to give as gifts. “The olden days” made me smile. Keep up the good work! Shirley

    3. I love this! My mom was the same. There is nothing my mother couldn’t do with a pound of hamburger meat. She could make a meal out of (almost literally) nothing to feed our family of six. I tell her these modern-day frugal DIYers have nothing on her–she was doing it 50 years ago.

      1. Your mom is probably thrilled that you even noticed her frugal ways with that burger (and other things too, no doubt). Good for you!

  12. We have cut back our eating out to just a few times a year for special occasions (2 birthdays & our wedding anniversary) is 3 times a year. We look @ the menu online & decide what we will order & how much before we go. Other special occasions we enjoy @ home. When we eat out, it’s usually lunch menu (cheaper than dinner). When a glass of iced tea costs $3., we drink ice water with lemon . share a dessert or comp from the restaurant. We look forward to it & makes it all the more special. Dress up for the occasion with my consignment shop clothes + hub’s Goodwill clothes. Sometimes we share an entree or just eat soup + salad. When we don’t “grab a burger,” while we’re running errands, $ really adds up for special occasion. We pack snacks from home & water for those days. Love your posts Mrs. F.W.

  13. I get a bonus on Friday; you better believe it I am treating myself! I will be putting additional into my 401k (auto deposit based on percent, can’t help it without taking time to complete paperwork), maxing out my Roth a bit earlier than normal, and maybe even getting a little head start on taxable investments. Don’t worry, my 401K will max by year end, but I have to keep it evened out to not miss the employer match throughout the entire year 🙂 Yep – I am treating myself; my excel graph is going to look AWE-SOME (must be said in high pitch sing-song voice for full effect) this month!

    I was visiting with my grandparents a couple weeks ago. They are in their early 90s and celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary last year. They are small town farmers. I grew up on a street that was the same as my last name with because my great grandparents settled the area – I’m talking SMALL TOWN farmers. I love hearing their stories – how my grandpa won that pretty waitress over and then walked her home at 1am to turn around and walk home just to get up to complete his chores on the farm before heading off to school. He was chosen to go to business school because of his scores in mathematics and traveled to the big city, lived with a cousin, and worked as a janitor while studying. He got what we would consider a paid internship doing the books for the a local company, after 6 days of sitting at a desk in a dark office, he thanked them for the opportunity, thanked the school for their interest, and returned to the farm – that was no life for him even if it paid the big bucks. At one point they travelled to California where he worked as a gas station attendant, my grandma was pregnant with my dad and wanted cherries, so they drove back home to the farm in Idaho and stayed. They have never used credit of any kind, as farmers, they got paid once a year and had to learn how to budget it, when they got their first social security check of a couple hundred bucks they had no idea what to do with “all this money”. Sure, there are also stories of how little money forced less clothing or certain foods at time and there are stories of hard times, but you know what they said to me a couple weeks ago? “We have had the perfect life.” I saw a quote some time ago that said “It’s ok to leave the camera at home and create a memory that is only for you.” My grandparents didn’t capture all their moments on Facebook or Instagram so I won’t be able to scroll through hundreds of their photos years from now when they are gone. But I will cherish sitting on their 30 year old couch, listening and watching their faces as they relive those moments in a way nobody can understand fully but the two of them. I tell you, there is nothing like seeing two 90+ year olds recall a memory, look at each other, and giggle like teenagers.

    1. Thank you for sharing! What a great story and example of how we should all be living. But seriously had to grab a tissue.

    2. That’s such a wonderful post. As we get older, it’s rare that we get to learn from the “old folks” as they start going the way of all the earth. Please, if you can share more of their stories, it would be a wonderful gift to us.

    3. Thank you for sharing this personal memory. It made me so happy to read it, and It’s a great reminder of what is really important in life.

    4. Absolutely beautiful! And it made me feel a little better about all the pictures I HAVEN’T taken over the years. 🙂

  14. Delaying treats or looking forward to free or cheap treats is one way of getting away from this instant gratification mentality. For example, this Saturday is free museum day. My husband and I are going to pick a museum we haven’t visited in a long time and have a half day of it.
    Make your own treats at home if you feel like you crave a particular sweet. I figure if I don’t have the willpower to make cookies or brownies then I must not want it enough, so I’m certainly not ordering it out!

    1. I have a similar rule! I very rarely buy baked treats out. Almost all of the time, if I want it, I’ve got to bake it myself. That has curbed many a sweet tooth craving.

  15. I tried Blue Apron and was not a fan, but I can see why others would like it. For those who do not cook much, it can be nice to get all the ingredients delivered with the exact amounts you need along with step by step instructions.

    I treat myself to certain things every now and then. We get takeout once a week as both of us work really long hours, and sometimes it’s nice to eat something on those days besides the frozen pizza. I have a metal rod in my back, so I will get a massage maybe twice a year to help alleviate pain from stressful days. If I were not so busy now, I would be back to seeing my therapist. I cannot stress how freeing it is to have a whole hour to talk about yourself to someone without judgment.

  16. We do treat ourselves, but its less about a takeout meal for convenience, but rather saving for a family vacation to have a shared experience and build memories. When we thought of it in those terms it was easy to skip those daily traps, but ultimately a personal decision. Others may value a daily coffee. Not really for me to say if that’s wrong or right, just a personal choice.

  17. Preach it, Mrs. FW! Wow, so cathartic to read this when surrounded by so many people who have this “treat myself” mindset. Sometimes I wonder if we’re crazy when it seems no one seems to grasp these (basic, commonsense?) underlying principles. (BTW, Babyhoods is such a doll!)

  18. Well, we walk a fine line because my husband’s idea of financially happiness is being able to treat ourselves. Well, I guess we’re able to do that now. His idea is to get to the point where we’re comfortable enough financially that I’m willing to treat myself/ourselves more. So I have to compromise not living entirely in the my idealized future while not living entirely in his ideal present.

    I find that the best way to do it is to give in strategically. He took pool back up and, being extreme ADD, it’s all or nothing. As in, going to play every day. So I sat down with him and showed him what that meant for the rest of the daily spending I’ve allotted. It means we have to be more careful in our spending the rest of the time, so when he asks for something I can honestly say — and he can honestly appreciate — “No, we can’t afford that today.” Meanwhile, he’s seeing an immediate, tangible benefit — and practicing so that maybe he can start winning at least a little money in tournaments to help offset the cost of his playing.

  19. This may very well be the most important post you’ve ever blogged. It spoke to me, and I know it will speak to many more people too. Thank you for your clarity of thought and for having such a great perception of what can derail a family’s path to financial freedom!

  20. I don’t think that treating yourself needs to be synonymous with consumption or spending money. Like many others have said there are plenty of cheap/free ways to treat yourself. I think it’s important to break up your routine and be kind to yourself and others with small indulgences. As a new mom myself, I’m enjoying my bath/shower time as a wonderful treat most days. It’s important to enjoy the small things in life!

    1. That reminded me SO much of when I had my last baby, where what I looked forward to most was a nice long, hot shower. I instantly felt less exhausted and overwhelmed. I get that water/ electricity costs money, but in my book, that was a seriously great treat!

  21. I agree wholeheartedly that treating yourself just to get through the day or through the week is often mostly about covering up a deeper unhappiness with your circumstances. That said, I’ve found that what I see as an unnecessary treat may be someone else’s absolutely necessary requirement to meet their family’s goals. Blue Apron seems silly to me, but if a family is juggling multiple jobs and that box of delivered food means a family dinner with fruits and veggies rather than processed fast food eaten in the car, then that may be the right decision for them.

  22. I don’t like the term “treat yourself” because it suggests that, like pets, we should reward ourselves for good behavior, when good behavior should be a reward in of itself.

    1. hahahahhahahahaha; I used to have a picture hanging inside my cupboard that said “Do not reward yourself with food. You are not a dog.” I admit…there were times that actually caused me to think twice and close the cupboard 🙂

      1. I’m a dog trainer and many dogs will take petting or playing with a toy in lieu of treats. Treats are very important when learning new behaviors. Petting for me, means sitting reading with a cat on my lap. Playing, for me, is taking a hike, playing piano or reading for an hour – with a cat on my lap. These are my treats, my rewards for tackling my daily list. I do believe in rewarding myself, especially when I’m struggling to change my habits because then my subconscious mind associates good feelings with successful completion of those activities which may not be rewarding in themselves. The rewards just need to be cheap and healthy. Once a new behavior is learned, Intermittent rewards are actually more powerful than regular ones, so you can wean yourself off.

  23. I loved this post. It gets so much to the heart of what I believe — and what most of my friends can’t seem to understand. My family thinks we’re cheap because, for instance, we would rather repair something we already own or make do instead of buying something new. “Oh lighten up! It won’t kill you to go out to lunch instead of eating that sandwich.” But the point isn’t going out vs. the sandwich. The point is to focus on what is truly valuable and what truly makes us happy. I don’t get a lot of enjoyment out of a fast food meal, usually. (One exception — we’re going home to Texas at the end of the month to visit family and I will have one Whataburger while I am there — my annual treat.) I get more satisfaction out of repairing something I already own and like instead of having to go out, search for a new one, spend the money — and then figure out what to do with the old one. My husband repaired my ski poles this week — the baskets were splitting — and I was thrilled. It really is about a shifting mindset.

  24. I’m the need in my house, so I like watching our savings grow. We also instituted a rule of one eat out meal a month so we can eat foods we don’t make at home. It’s a treat, but we’re not going overboard. It has to fit within our monthly food budget. Of course we try to use coupons and deals to help with the cost where we can. In general though we don’t view buying things as a reward. It slows down our progress to the goal of hitting the road full time and traveling around the country.

  25. I had to chuckle when I read this. I had planned to “treat” myself to a blueberry muffin and a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts this morning. Well, God or the Universe or whomever conspired against me: the commute was long and dreary, I just missed my subway, etc., etc. OK, I thought, I’ll just deal with it. I made coffee in the staff room at work (I usually do that anyway), but what to my wondering eyes should appear but a *home-made* breakfast treat — breakfast treats are my faves! Lovely sheets of phyllo pastry, a raspberry filling, chopped walnuts and a nice glaze. It was absolutely delicious, too. Funny how the ball bounces in one’s frugal favor sometimes!

  26. Blue Apron drives me crazy because it is SO WASTEFUL. There’s SO much packaging and teeny plastic bags and the ice packs and the container they ship it to you in and and and. The cost is a deterrent to me as well, but all that waste is something I just can’t abide by. They do have good recipes, and I sometimes peruse their website and they go buy the ingredients and make recipes at home on my own, but there’s no way I’m paying those exorbitant prices for a bunch of plastic bags and landfill fuel.

      1. Oh I know they talk about recycling and that all materials are recyclable, but that puts the onus on the consumer. If you’re so busy you need to use a service that delivers pre-measured cumin to your house, are you really going to have the time to make sure all the baggies are washed out, dried, and appropriately recycled every single time? I just wonder…

  27. This is a good question that has been on my mind recently. I start a new job soon. Someone mentioned the idea of celebrating my landing a new job. The first things that come to mind are things that involve spending money. How do you treat yourself without spending money? I think the answer lies in what you value most. This one will take some thinking.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  28. For us, where take-out meals are MUCH more expensive than they appear to be in the States (and I do see that cooking for yourself does cost far less anyway, in any country), take-out is an actual, planned-for treat, looked forward to for months and generally timed to coincide with a special that’s running. The last time we had it (pizza, so delicious! So salty!) it was after my son’s school play, when we A/ knew we’d be back late and B/ it was a Friday and C/ he absolutely LIVES for pizza and so it was an actual treat for a special occasion… but it is indeed so tempting… soooooo tempting to just think ”oh I’m too tired to cook”, even for those of us who genuinely like to do it.

    Splurging on clothes, on anything, if routine, is NOT a treat, it’s a stress-relief in an otherwise boring or unhappy existence. My kids know that eating at a restaurant is for a birthday or a very special occasion, that happens MAYBE 6-7 times in a whole year. This means they are truly thrilled, behave beautifully, talk about it for weeks after… in short, it’s an actual reward!

    1. Where in the world do you live to be able to say eating out is more expensive than in the US? I’m obviously very naïve when it comes to world travels, but I seriously thought the US was the most expensive on things like that!

      1. South Africa. The ease and relative cheapness of take-out (not sure about ”proper sit-down non-chain” restaurants), but the McDonalds, Chick-Fill-A, Taco Bell sorts of places, these are, relative to what an average person earns, far cheaper than in SA. There are just so many more options, much more competition generally, which keeps the prices a bit lower. NOT that I’m saying it’s cheaper than cooking your own, especially if you buy reasonably frugally, but take-out here is a real treat and luxury.

      2. Are you kidding me? Life in the US is cheap compared to pretty much any other first world nation, and a bunch of less-affluent nations, too. With the glaring exception of medical care, pretty much all the essentials are cheaper. Food (although much is low quality), housing, grade school and high school etc. Try buying a house for 200k in Europe, renting an apartment for less than 2k in Bishkek, or buying groceries in Canada.

  29. Like most everyone else, I do occasionally “treat myself” – but that means I walk the dog, take a bath, read an awesome (library) book outside. We’ll also save gift cards for special occasions or if we’d like a night out together. Volunteering at the art museum is a nice treat for me as well (free art!). Simply slowing down is always a treat. Like carefully crocheting a baby blanket for a friend (I want to buy her a gift anyway, and this will be cheap AND cherished.)

    I think of our “treats” more like memories than like products, so that has become our mentality.

  30. Like most everyone else, I do occasionally “treat myself” – but that means I walk the dog, take a bath, read an awesome (library) book outside. We’ll also save gift cards for special occasions or if we’d like a night out together. Volunteering at the art museum is a nice treat for me as well (free art!). Simply slowing down is always a treat. Like carefully crocheting a baby blanket for a friend (I want to buy her a gift anyway, and this will be cheap AND cherished.)

    I think of our “treats” more like memories than like products, so that has become our mentality. I do have many, many friends who treat themselves to a brand new car, or they just go shopping as recreation. I don’t understand the point.

  31. For me, it’s all about the gratitude. Every time I start to feel like I deserve something – a meal out, a new jacket, even a book – I remind myself that I already have all of those things. I have food in the pantry that can nourish my family, I have a wonderfully cozy jacket that I love and I have access to any book I want for free from the library. I don’t think anyone has ever lived in a more privileged age with such abundance. Sometimes I write down my gratuities but usually I just need to remind myself and I instantly more at peace.

    1. Lena,
      I love this! I’ve been moving in this direction for a while and whenever I feel like I “want” something (especially the dopamine high of a purchase,) I remind myself of how truly lucky I am. Even though I live in a tiny apartment and don’t have a ton of much of anything, I have everything I need.

  32. The way I treat myself is by padding my nest egg so that I can do whatever I want and not be constrained to a “job” within the next 10 years. Now my friends may buy new suits or something with new cash, but my extra cash just goes into my nest egg. I get wayyy more satisfaction that way.

  33. I’ve recently traded many years of “Treating Myself” for “Investing In Myself” instead. I’m not just talking about monetary investing – but physical/mental/spiritual investment too. What’s the point of striving for FIRE if you can’t enjoy it because of your health? Or your memory is shot? Or some other ailment keeps you from enjoying life? I would rather forgo the treats now, be as healthy as possible, and make my way back to a simple beach life – for me, that’s the ultimate treat anyway!

  34. If I decide to treat myself, it’s usually through baking myself a special treat. I typically will also bring some into work to share. I also save gift cards to treat myself. I received a $25 Starbucks gift card and have made it last 4 months so far. There is still enough money for a few more treats on that gift card.

    Tracking every expense and watching the numbers in my bank account increase is more exciting to me than new clothes or any of the other splurges people typically get.

  35. There’s a big difference between soothing yourself and enjoying yourself. Between consciously embarking upon and enjoying an experience (whether it is an occasional dinner out or a vacation) and treating yourself in a reactionary manner. The latter seems addictive to me–as Mrs F says–purchases made to soothe yourself.

    I believe in moderation in all things, including moderation. But moderation and keeping your eyes on your goals always remains key. Having enough space around special experiences makes them special. Infrequency heightens enjoyment.

    1. I so agree! Enjoyment – whether costly or cheap or free – is the spice of life. Why bother if it’s all grind? But repeatedly having to soothe yourself to erase or reduce sadness / loneliness/ frustration is different again. I liken it to wine-drinking (which I LOVE); looking forward to a really nice glass or two over a weekend each week, a brand you really love, enjoying it completely is great. Reaching for the bottle every afternoon because you are so stressed and worried and desperate to unwind is… not.

  36. I love this post frugalwoods! “Create instead of consume”…just love it! Had to pass this on to Mrs. Tako.

    If we look back at the grandparents, they had no choice but to create instead of consume. That’s the only option they had. Amazon didn’t exist!

  37. Love this post! I’ve been trying to treat myself with real treats – treats that don’t leave a bad aftertaste. Lighting a candle. Taking a bath. Snuggling with my dog and kids. Luxuriating in my favorite smells. Taking a moment to relish beautiful weather. I love treats that help us be more present and engaged in our lives, our bodies, and our circumstances. Your post is spot on! Thank you for your bravery in writing such honest posts!

  38. I see it slightly differently. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself in moderation, as long as you’ve budgeted for it. (And of course free treats, like a bubble bath or a walk in the park, are great too!) About once a month, my husband and I treat ourselves to breakfast at our neighborhood coffee shop. I love the whole ritual: walking there together, chatting with our neighbors, and savoring the delicious drink in a cozy atmosphere. It’s in our budget, and it really is just an occasional treat, not a path to hedonism! Plus, supporting local businesses in our community is important to me.

    Similarly, I have a friend who likes Blue Apron. She and her partner are high earners who work long hours and love their careers as scientists. They don’t want to retire early. For her, Blue Apron is well worth it because it gives her more time with her family.

    That said, the reason I enjoy your writing is because you offer such a different perspective. And I really like the idea you ended on about creating rather than consuming.

    1. Very interesting point. This Blue Apron concept is a total anathema to me. But here I am, a very modest part-time earner, who has plenty of time to cook from scratch and needs to economise. For people such as your friends, who are quite likely making large contributions to the world as a whole, who love their work and have no wish to retire early, it’s a total boon. It comes down to priorities, and they have theirs straight, clearly!

  39. My treat is free: reading books from the library.

    As far as possessions go, I can shed everything but two categories: old photos and books. I’d love some advice about this. I have books, still cherished, that I’ve loved and reread over the years – and shared with my children.

    A fair number are out of print? I have so many cherished memories of time spent with my oarents reading bedtime stories, Hiw di I discard these? There are so many! And yes, it is a treat to read them.

    And the Photos, long kept in photo albums and shared with family as we remember special occasions and those who are no longer with us (physically) as well as those who are.

    1. My advice, as a long-time declutterer, is don’t get rid of your books and photos if they give you pleasure! I tossed out a lot of photos that weren’t ‘perfect’ a few years ago and bitterly regret it now. What difference does it make if you have say, 10 albums instead of 2? Or who is going to pat you on the back for getting rid of your beloved books? It isn’t a competition to see who lives/dies with the least stuff! (just something I wish someone had told me!)

      1. Thanks. I don’t feel so guilty now. We are actually going to be downsizing and the one major possession I can’t give up ( forgot to mention it before) is my mother’s piano. I inherited after her death and it will never be totally in tune, the keys are chipped from use..but when I sit down and play I hear her voice and remember her hands gently guiding mine iver the keys till I learned the notes. But where will we put it? i haven’t seen a house yet with the space-at least not in our price range.

    2. There are well-documented advantages to living (and growing up) surrounded by physical books. So I say, embrace your full bookshelves! Those and photos and family heirlooms are never eligible for the minimizing/de-cluttering in my house!

  40. Dear Ms. Frugalwoods, I’m writing this way, this time because you sound so much like my ethics professor in Divinity School that that PC requires it. if I handed your paper to her, I’m sure you’d get an honorary M.Div. There’s one section I laughed at, though. Your parents and I did not use our Smart Phone for anything. We didn’t have them. I know – you’ve never been without one. But, we had the regular “hang-it-on-the-wall-phone” and thought we were advanced. I do get your point, though. We never went to the store without a list. I had a running list and went shopping on Thursday morning if I didn’t have class – and for sure in the afternoon. Great thoughts!

  41. Whenever I find myself falling into the mindset of “I deserve this” I instead say to myself, “I deserve financial freedom.” Reminding myself of what I truly want helps curb any desire for things that aren’t aligned with that goal.

  42. I think it’s very important to treat yourself. But the thing is – if you do it all the time, then it’s not a “treat”.

    This holds true for nearly everything. If you treat yourself by going out to eat with friends, but do it 3x a week, it’s not a treat.
    If you treat yourself by taking fabulous vacation to Hawaii, but then the next year go to Australia, then Europe, then Costa Rica, then Thailand…then it’s not really a treat.
    If you treat yourself with new clothes but do it monthly, it’s not a treat.

    The reason food and eating out is so tempting is because you have to eat. Every day. Several times a day. Gone are the times when you just ate whatever “normal” food your parents cooked (for me: meatloaf, spaghetti, chicken, canned vegetables, corned beef and cabbage, mashed potatoes, fish sticks, sauerkraut). Now we have so much variety! Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Ethiopian…each with their own set of flavors and spices, and with their own techniques. Sure, you can learn to cook all of those, but they are going to taste better if someone else cooks them. So, what’s easier? It’s easier to go out for Thai food than to cook it yourself.

    But then you get used to having a lot of taste variety. (I’d argue that it’s not hard to make Thai food “good enough” – just buy a pre-made curry sauce, or some curry paste and coconut milk. But I digress.) Hedonistic adaptation fits in here too…get so used to so many different foods.

    I’m so glad that you mentioned Blue Apron. I have to totally agree that it’s wasteful and crazy at the same time. It’s still very expensive. In the “olden days” (I’m a bit older than you) – nevermind the internet, it wasn’t around so much. Well, actually by the time I really learned to cook it was, but that’s because I waited a long time. I would make a new recipe (usually badly, I was a danger in the kitchen) by looking up an actual cookbook. Or trying to make something I saw on TV. I would write down the recipe from the TV, and go shopping.

    As far as treating and eating out goes, it helps that I’m a good cook now, and that I have weight control concerns and health concerns. Eating out for us is almost ALWAYS a social thing. And I replace it when possible:
    – my occasional lunch with a friend – took 6 months but talked her into Sunday walks or gym sessions
    – my weekend treat is a potluck in the park with the neighborhood
    – birthdays may include a meal out, or may just be made special with cupcakes
    – We do order pizza on school fundraiser nights
    – We very occasionally stop for Chik-fil-a or the like if the schedule is packed (a recent baseball-practice + musical performance back-to-back comes to mind)
    – Our monthly lunches with the toddler group – we attend perhaps 2x a year. Enough to see everyone.
    – On road trips, we schedule departure/ arrival so that we eat right before we leave and after we get to where we are going.
    – On busy school nights, I take lunch and dinner with me to work (so tonight, I’ll eat a hot lunch and eat my normal lunch salad for dinner)
    – On a recent jog-a-thon (I ran the thing), I packed water and a lunch instead of buying school lunch

    One thing I have a hard time avoiding is getting together with friends when there is food involved. I have a few friends that I don’t see often, and lunch breaks seem to be best. This is also a 3x a year per person thing. Yesterday was a lunch, but at least I had a salad before I went, and spent $3 on tacos. With some friends, we meet at a winery where we are members.

    But still, if you want it to be a treat, don’t make it a frequent thing!

  43. I like to use my hands. I like to sew, bead and make things. I’m looking forward to retirement because I have a long list of things (artsy/crafty type things) that I want to try. I’m far from being an artist but I love to use my hands. I like to fix things. I feel a real sense of accomplishment when I fix things. So if I’m down, I tell myself to go attempt something. Last week I took a pretty lamp from the curb and I am going to rewire (haven’t done that before but I have dabbled with electricity). I also found curbside a small desk with a drop leaf back the turns into a game table that I am going to paint and bring to my granddaughter (she’s 6). I also found curbside an Ikea swivel desk chair that I’ll paint and decoupage. She’ll have a full set-up…desk, chair, lamp. I love that these were curbside although not all collected on the same day. I love accomplishing this stuff and it’s how I reward myself. I’m still working 40 hours but every now and then when I feel that I need it I take a vacation day and putz and putter. I don’t need to spend money on food or coffee or clothes etc.. I love the uplifting feeling of satisfactory when something turns out right and I did it myself. That’s my treat!

  44. I’m really glad my husband is now on board with us paying down our credit card debt. Recently we were invited to participate in a Chinese new year dinner night…$60.00 per person plus drinks, tip & taxi…easily a $200.00 night for us. I said to my hubby, no way! We do have a restaurant gift card we’re saving to use for an upcoming special night. But there is no way in good conscious that I could “treat” myself to that pricey night out when we have a big credit card bill to pay off. And I felt really good when he told the people “sorry we have other plans that night”…ya, like staying home and saving money!

  45. “Treat yourself” means nothing more than “spend money on YOU!” Because “you” are a VIP. It’s ego-driven marketing and it works sooooo well on so many. I particularly enjoy the newer concept of gifting yourself at the holidays. Because the most important person on your gift list is, of course, YOU. Then for good measure post a selfie of you with the gift you bought you.
    So what if you can’t buy you a gift without exercising your credit line. You deserve it, now! Not later. Save up for it? YOU? Ha! Live for you, now.
    I see very little marketing these days but when I do see it, yuck.

  46. Thanks for this one. This is the best argument regarding “treat yourself” I’ve read. I have really disliked hearing myself or others being urged to treat myself. It is simply marketing b.s. A lot of people seem to be really buying into this one (please forgive the pun).

    Anyway, thanks for this post and I love seeing little Babywoods and Frugalhound of course. I wouldn’t dare forward this blog post to too many people for fear that their heads might explode.

  47. Great post! You are a truth teller, Mrs. Frugalwoods!

    I think this statement deserves a little further investigation: “I think the concept of treat yourself underlies the belief–or insecurity–that we’ll never realize our deeply held dreams. And if we’re never going to reach our actual aspirations, then why not buy a bunch of random stuff to make ourselves feel better in the short term?” The Blue Apron bit seemed to be more of a tangent on convenience than directly to the point you are making with the statement above. I think you really hit the heart of how and why people sabotage themselves financially and would have loved for you to expand on that. I am sure you will in future posts and I look forward to reading them.

  48. I think since we are so frugal that I get a lot of this from other people. Who overall seem annoyed that we aren’t treating ourselves enough. & for reference, we bought our dream home in our early 20s and my spouse retired at 25 to stay home with our kids. I think we treat ourselves plenty. 😉 But you know, it’s just in different ways.

    I think this is also a large part of the debt cycle. I have had a recent light bulb moment on this topic. If you are getting out of debt it is generally accepted to treat yourself every so often along the way. Every time you pay off a debt. Every time you reach a dollar milestone. As someone who has never had any non-mortgage debt, this doesn’t make much sense to me. I’ve been thinking more and more that people spend insane amounts of money just to treat themselves for getting a bit more out of debt. & that is more money that we never spent, because I didn’t have all these milestones to celebrate along the way. Just another cost of being in debt?

  49. Love your writing! All the way from NZ! My joke ads which pop up are the PayPal ones which just suggest you buy something, anything !

  50. This year is my ” no more personal therapy year for clothes, shoes, bags, jewellery etc.
    I found I was shopping much more than previously , partially out of necessity as I had lost a lot of weight, and then after a while, just habit.
    I realized after a holiday late last year, that my wardrobe purchases all ” worked well together” and I was happy with everything so to continue shopping , would be just the thrill of finding a bargain. As I shop off season and at factory discount shops, my purchases are much reduced from retail so you can feel a sense of ” well it was so cheap…I will by more” !!!
    So…. I announced to all this was no ” No retail therapy year” ….to a bit of disbelief from many….and we are now into March and it’s working well for me. I am happy to go with friends when they wish to ” browse” but I am not interested. To reward myself for sticking to this, I pay myself ( yes move cash from one account to another) so I can see a tangible result from this. Works for me…. ????

  51. From Babywood’s face in her snowsuit, it’s like she is saying, “What is this on me? > _<;;;" xDDD; In other words, she's cute! Congratulations to both of you for having her!

    Oh yes, "treating yourself". If I did that all of the time, I would be broke. That is why I have a budget! If the item is not on the budget for the month, I don't buy it unless I saved up money for it during the past months. Period. End of story. D:< I have sometimes thought of buying something at Costco just because it is there, but then my frugal senses kick in and say to me, "Marissa, we do have money for that item today, but we do not have the luxury of buying that item today when we have to save our money for something else like food. Buy it next time when you have extra money to go toward it or budget for it next time!" And so I leave it on the shelf. And what I mean by extra money is that if my Envelope System leaves me with extra money in one envelope during a month, I use that extra money to buy something else with it whether it is a wanted item or just any item in general. <:

    But I do remember buying a salt mill when it was in the clearance section of a kitchen store in my town that I really like. I really needed one and it was only $13.00. I was kind of scraping by during that time of the month, but I decided that since salt and pepper mills go for over $20+ (the good ones at least), that I should really hit up that deal. So I did. But since I was so low on cash that month (can't remember which month… D: ), whenever I look at it, I'm always reminded of that incident when aquiring it. I need to get over this, becuase I survived, but I only use the salt mill for my red salt on popcorn. I use it whenever I have popcorn, but that is it. It's much easier than grinding it yourself, lol. ^^; Plus, that is what I wanted a salt mill for. Just for my red salt. ^^

    So that is my "treating yourself" adventures… xD Not very exciting becuase I'm a good girl with my money most of the time, lol. ^^;

    Also, not related to the blog article, but I think there is something wrong sometimes when I go to post a comment to one of your blog articles. In the 'Name' and 'Email' boxes, both boxes are sometimes filled in with another person's name or email already before I even put my my own information in. Just thought you guys should know that in case it may be a glitch.

    Btut anyway, I hope you guys have an amazing week! C:

  52. Great post, as always. You’ve mentioned before that you are not a stoic but in so many ways your philosophy of life is so similar to some of the principles of Roman Stoicism (think Marcus Aurelius not stiff upper lip). Learning to appreciate what you have and avoiding hedonic adaptation is what it’s all about :-).

  53. I think the “treat yourself” mentality or hey u gotta have “a life” mentality is about trying to offset being overstressed, overburdened and overextended financially to name a few! Treat urself needs to be refocused toward “free” or “frugal” rewards…enjoying the great outdoors, enjoying a homemade meal w family and friends, reading a good book or participating in a frugal hobby. We can find rest and rejuvenation in things that are already available to us…not in consumerism. This is what I HV been discovering over the past 2 yrs on my debt free journey!

  54. Is cheating if we are saving as much as possible from our work but we sell something we no longer need and pit that in a special occasion or treat find? I justify it by thinking thst this was money we never alloted to our financial plan and we are on track with that- no debt, follow a tight budget, no impulse buys, etc

    But it is hard for me to think of ” found” money as something we HAVE to save. Right or wing? Would appreciate feedback and constructive criticism (if warranted)

  55. This post made me anxious because I saw a bit of myself in my 20s in the treating myself. I’m so much better about it now but it’s so easy to fall into it. And banning online shopping (beyond Amazon essentials) can really help you break the habit. When you realize how much you have, you realize how little you need.

  56. According to the Oxford dictionary not a treat if you do it all the time:
    an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure:

    or, when a VERB, generally you are treating someone else:

    (treat someone to) provide someone with (food, drink, or entertainment) at one’s own expense:
    “the old man had treated him to a drink or two”
    synonyms: buy (for) someone · take someone out for ·
    give (to) someone · pay for (for someone) · foot the bill for · pick up the tab for

    I buy someone else a bit of chocolate, or they buy it for me, that is giving or getting a treat. When I buy for myself, more like I am simply buying some chocolate, though admittedly still tasty.

  57. I heard about a study that showed that people derive as much happiness from planning a vacation as they do from the actual vacation itself. Likewise a study that showed people derive culinary satisfaction from imagining from imagining themselves eating the desired treat. My point? Sometimes if I feel the need to “treat myself” I just do the equivalent of a little “window shopping” with no intention to buy, and I often find that’s just as satisfying for the desire to shop and acquire. For me that means adding books into an amazon cart, imagining myself purchasing them, and then closing the browser window. It really is fun, and often more fun than receiving a box of the actual goods in the mail. (This strategy should obviously not be used by those who wouldn’t be able to stop themselves from the actual purchase).

    1. I also do that… have a browse, set aside stuff in my virtual ”basket” and 97% of the time never buy it. Very occasionally I might if I specifically need and want a particular item and the price is right… but the most hilarious, terrifying thing happened to me only this week…

      Browsing away one evening, randomly adding things… then the site seemed to freeze a bit… weird, so I was busy trying to click out of ”my basket” and none of the buttons were working. But wait! One button WAS WORKING. Guess which one??? Place Order!

      I watched in stunned disbelief… then I heard my cell phone chirrup. Yes, it went through… obviously I have now returned, for free, all the items that were delivered (5 of them, so mortifying) the next day, but have to wait a week to get my card refunded. A lesson to be learnt!!!

  58. Man, I’ve got a whole series in me about subscription services! I still can’t get my head around the concept that they send you stuff that you didn’t ask for, and you automatically pay for it! Then the onus is on you to return it if you don’t like it! They know people won’t bother to return the junk, so it’s kind of an ingenious money-maker. When in history have people ever bought something without knowing what it was? I’m also pretty sure that many of them are just sending out remainders, stuff that no one wants, or “cut-outs” (like the records that didn’t sell and can’t be returned to the distributor).

    I did enjoy a “treat myself” tonight. A 16 oz Finnish beer brewed with juniper twigs. But it’s my birthday this week, damnit.

  59. Well, I dumpster dive for “treats”. What stores/college students/moveouts throw out is insane, as you well know. You know what though? Free space in my home is a “treat” too. It isn’t a “treat” if it ends up as clutter, free or not. Even with the abundance in the trash, I keep this in mind. Treating yourself by being happy with what you have is truly the best treat of all, I agree.

  60. Last night after my day job my wife and I fought a total infestation of bed bugs and cockroaches in one of our rental houses. I treated myself with a couple of shows on Netflix as a treat. We pay for it anyway and I just gave up a little sleep to do it. Time can be a good treat if you are trying to work yourself to death!

  61. Oh man, I should’ve read this before hitting publish on today’s post. 😉 I do call out Blue Apron too!! hehe. While I save a decent chunk of my pay, it’s almost the opposite of yours, with 60% typically being spent and 40% being saved (but 100% of freelance getting saved in addition to my regular paycheck). Treat Yo Self is certainly a modern convention, but probably as a result of technology and globalization. I respect the extreme frugality lifestyle, but it also just isn’t my own M.O. I enjoy lattes and doing a meal out once a week. But, I budget for those things and recognize what I’m giving up in exchange for them. I’m also willing to spend money on time savers, particularly when it comes to travel. I do love coming here for a reality check when I’m feeling particularly spendy.

  62. Awesome post! This was sooo ME a couple years ago. I loved the idea of treating myself out. A new shirt there, and a few pairs of shoes there really added up. It was a consuming habit that was hard to kick. My husband and I have started on this FIRE journey for about a year and we’ve never been happier. Really enjoy your posts!

  63. I think this depends on what each person considers a treat; to me it’s maybe cooking a special meal or going for a hike or visiting faraway friends. I worry about the headline-don’t treat yourself-lives of asceticism often lead to excess later.

  64. Great post! And it really is all about finding the right balance. For me, a few nice-ish dinners out with my husband a year is a treat I’m willing to pay for. For others, it might be spa treatments or a fancy purse.

    And your comment about the subscription boxes made me laugh out loud at my desk!

  65. I used to “treat myself” with monthly massages, to the point where it became a hassle to schedule & maintain the appointments. It wasn’t a treat anymore.

    Now that we’re focused on a FIRE goal in the next 3.5 years, our “treats” have become more of a fun game. For example, this year I started tracking my “side gig” income from cash back credit cards, Ebates, iBotta – saving it up to take a weekend girls cruise with friends. Not something I would have ever justified with money from my day job, and very excited about it! One girls weekend every 5 years or so makes it a real treat 🙂

  66. Because of your blogs, I have been very conscious abut how I treat myself. PB (pre-blog), I didn’t even take time to taste my food, much less think about HOW it tastes, how much it costs, or even if i am enjoying it. AB (after-blog) I did the math and realized I could pay off my debt in roughly 15 months if i stopped eating out. At work, we have a new term “Frugalwooding!” and we hold each other accountable and have substantially reduced our excess spending. Now when i do treat, i take time to actually enjoy it. Thanks!

  67. The key for me is to still treat myself but not let it be something you have to spend money on (or eat/drink… which is not only spending but adding calories!). So I find different things I enjoy that I splurge on. 🙂

  68. I still think “How many hours at work is this costing me.” Also, we eat closer to a diabetic diet & most (or all) takeout is cheap calories & grain based. Our health is worth more than convenience.

  69. Funny that you posted this article Wednesday, because I was having this conversation with myself that day, and came to the same conclusion.

    Made it through another morning of bowling (last fall I joined a ladies daytime bowling league which has turned into the bane of my week…only 4 more weeks).
    I’m alone (husband is at work, daughter is at school).
    Therefore I deserve to treat myself to a decadent (?) cheeseburger and fries from my favorite burger joint. (I don’t judge your indulgences. 😉 )
    $7 for said cheeseburger and fries. Which was good. But not my best dollar value choice once looked at with hindsight.

    Live and learn!

  70. I was just telling someone how you buy a gift card as birthday gift and it’s a way to get someone to go out and treat themselves to dinner or they have to go buy themselves something, that it used to mean a whole lot more when people didn’t already treat themselves ALL THE TIME.

    I recently wrote about a theory I have of people who treat themselves regularly vs people who don’t and that there are usually several other personality traits that follow those tendencies.

  71. I treat myself all the time! I make myself a SECOND cup of tea. Or Little Brother and I go to Trader Joe’s and have the sample! Maybe I go crazy and make vanilla yogurt instead of plain!

    I also treat myself through the judicious use of gift money. My mother and her sister know I don’t have much money, and sometimes one of them will send me a check for my birthday or some Christmas money or whatnot. Then I buy something that supports a frugal interest, like:
    -essential oils for a nice-smelling bath and fragrant cleaning supplies (hmm, peppermint)
    -exercise pants for riding my bike in the winter
    -low-top Chuck Taylors for weight training at the rec center (one year membership: $185, plus $1 each visit for child care)

    Basically, if I want to “treat” myself, I do it in a way that enhances my enjoyment of my home life or my frugal hobbies!

  72. Advertisers sell us so many THINGS. Then, when our homes are full, they sell us MEALS and EXPERIENCES.

    But what do you really need? Air, water, food, health, family, friends, and a supportive government.

    Stop listening to others with agendas. Listen to yourself, your family. your friends. Then choose wisely.

  73. This post could be directly written about me and where I was a few months ago! I grew up in an interesting mix of home-grown, small town farming life (fresh veg, fruit and chickens) mixed with a treat yourself, we-didn’t-have-much-growing-up-so-you-kids-will-have-everything life. Looking back with this post as a reference, I was both very lucky and very unlucky. 😉 My grandparents and my Mom cooked from scratch, preserved food and re-used things before it was cool. My Dad grew up very poor and wanted to give his kids all the stuff he felt he missed out on. I took that mentality into adulthood and up until very recently felt that I “deserved” to buy stuff because I worked hard to get a good job.

    How wrong that was! Thanks to your posts and a lot of navel gazing, I’ve really turned my finances and my attitude around! Saving money gives me a thrill now, instead of buying a book or a dinner out. 🙂

  74. I think that the danger for me is when I confuse “self-care” with “treat yourself”. I can do hundreds of things that count for both self-care and a treat, without spending money. For example, taking a walk, unplugging, making treats from what I already have in the cupboard, sleeping in… but you are right in saying that the societal cycle of consume consume consume carries people away so easily.

    1. Thank you for making this comment Emily. I’m an MSW student and I was making this distinction to the folks in a group I run for my internship a couple weeks ago. That self care is not the same as treating yourself. Of course you need to practice good self-care: eating healthy foods, exercising as and how you are able, enjoying leisure activities, etc. But those don’t necessarily need to be “treats”. I would not have survived getting my masters full time and working full time without running or walking my dog or knitting or Netflix (thanks Mom and Dad for sharing your password). Self care is just that- taking good care of yourself. Its not a luxury, its a necessity. Having said that, other things, while nice treats, are not necessities. Its a distinction WITH a difference. 🙂

  75. “In the olden days, folks looked on the internet for a free recipe, made a list of those ingredients on their smartphone, went to the grocery store, purchased these very same ingredients, and created these very same meals for a fraction of the cost. ” OMG. I really thought you were going to talk about recipe books and cooking from scratch, but I guess we are hitting the point where having to bother to really search for something on the internet is a little antiquated. Good gracious.

  76. I don’t always treat myself when feeling down of there’s frustration. What I do is I talk to my wife or ask advice from a friend over a cup of coffee. This mentality is not that bad when done so rarely. But, it becomes one when done always and it breaks my pockets.

  77. Thanks Frugalwoods….needed this post! It’s good to have your toes stepped on …at the right time!


  78. One of my usual “treat myself” activities is mailing cards to people. I really, really like mail, and knowing that a far away friend will find a happy surprise from me in the mailbox cheers me up. Sometimes I even mail cute postcards to my sweetheart, who lives across town. Sure, I spend a few dollars that I don’t have to, but I thoroughly enjoy the hobby and it helps me reach outward to people I love when I feel down instead of letting my over-introspective tendencies get the better of me. I think the difference is that I’m actually dealing with how I feel rather than trying to smooth over a bad day with a short term distraction. (though I definitely do that, too. usually with tv episodes on Netflx.)

  79. We are terrible suckers for good food. But nothing like some of our family who live like they’re raking in the millions (five star restaurants with toddlers? Really?). I love donuts and 2 will appear for my Mother’s Day treat. PiC loves pecan pie so I’ll bake one for his birthday. I have an alarming craving for sushi every day of the week and we indulge that a few times a year.

    But if I’m feeling frustrated with work, or lonely, or like something’s missing, I talk to PiC or a friend. Or the dog. Seamus is a great listener in exchange for ear and belly rubs. And if something’s missing, then maybe it’s missing and I need to figure out what that is. Sometimes it’s because I miss my mom who died five years ago. I’m not about to try to raise the dead so we look for the next best thing: honoring her memory. Being together as a family, or pranking someone, or sitting down and recording some fond memories of her life. Sometimes being lonely makes me feel like a thing is missing, so it’s all down to figuring out what the problem really is before filling the void with some online shopping. But sometimes that key really is broken and you really DO need a replacement.

  80. I do three things:

    1) Automatically transfer money every month into my online savings account so that money is not lurking around and available for splurges. And I try to be very aggressive with the amount I transfer, so I have just enough to pay that month’s necessities.

    2) I have an entertainment budget. It includes activities for the kids too (i.e. my son is invited to bowling or for ice cream), so it’s not just for me. I allow myself to spend it all or only a little, but I do not feel guilty about what I spend on within that budget. Now, if I get close to spending over, that is when self-flagellation is appropriate.

    3) I aim for free fun, cheap fun, or fun at home. Hence, in-home date nights, weekly “movie from the library night”, homemade cinnamon rolls, or sit around rebingewatching Mad Men on Netflix night.

  81. Thanks for this post. A friend of mine follows your blog. I’ve just started getting hardcore on budgeting, and my friend has been sharing some tips and ideas with me. The one thing I struggle with, though, is that so much of the frugal blogging is done by couples. As a single girl, a lot of times being social necessitates going out. Plus, living in New York, my friends and I live in different boroughs. I recently tried to have a potluck dinner, but with all of our schedules and coming from all different directions, the only possibility ended up for us to meet in the middle and go out to eat. Thankfully I’m no longer in my 20s and I have a lot less FOMO, so I’m ok staying home more. But if you know if any younger/urban frugal bloggers, please do share. Thanks!

    1. You are not alone! I have moved to a new area, so interacting with people requires leaving home, and it’s not at the point where inviting people over is comfortable. It really makes a difference when you are married and/or live in an area where you have deep social roots compared to being new in town. For example, if I want a hug or other form of human touch, I have to go on a date or buy a massage. It’s easier to be frugal when your emotional needs are being met, and I think that aspect of things is often ignored.

      1. I just moved to a new area and I am totally with you there! That’s why I have 2 cats and a dog. Walking the dog has allowed me to meet several wonderful neighbors (dog owners are the best) and we help each other out quite often. I’ve lived alone for 25 years and my animals fulfill my needs for love and affection just enough. I do occasionally go on dates and get massages, but I’m not feeling needy when I do (which would get me in trouble on a date). I’m joining groups through Meetups for dancing, hiking, etc. and slowly making friends and getting those hugs. But, yep, the first year was tough. It is hard to be frugal without the accountability and emotional support of a partner, but I’m getting better.

  82. I love finding cheap ways to treat myself regularly.

    Tea, bubble baths, lighting candles, (dollar store) chocolate, absurdly cheap wine….

    For me, it all comes down to two things: brand, and whether or not I do something myself.
    If I am willing to go for a no-brand option and create something myself rather than paying for service, I can end up making it really cheap.

    I like the idea of living well without paying big bucks. And I have now figured out how to make it happen!

  83. This was about half on target for me. I don’t feel a need to treat myself because of despair or hopelessness that I’ll ever get where I want to go — we’re well on our way and happy with where we are. But sometimes the path to getting there involves a really crappy day — maybe I needed to work 14 hours to meet a deadline (to maintain my job that allows me to save so much); maybe someone got mad at me for something that wasn’t my fault, or I got a bad result at work; maybe it’s just raining and the kids are being pissy and I’m just in a really bad mood and need a lift.

    The part that resonates is not having the “treat” be commercial crap. Or food of the sweet-and-fatty variety. 🙂 My treats can be getting out of the house and going for a walk; curling up in my comfy chair with a book, even when I have 73 other things that should be done floating around me; cutting out of work early for the mental break; making something that I feel like for dinner, even when the three other humans in my house don’t like it; or sitting around the fire with my husband + wine (or the kids + marshmallows). Sometimes it’s as simple as extra hugs from my kids.

    We all need breaks and treats. Even when you are on a good path, that path is not always strewn with roses and unicorns. The key is to make the “treat” something that soothes your soul and satisfies the real source of the discord.

  84. Wow – this article really spoke to me. Right now I’m definitely in the “avoiding instant gratification” zone and working hard to save money while ignoring all the beautiful shiny things my (broke) friends keep purchasing.

    I couldn’t even tell you how many times over the years I’ve had friends tell me they “deserve” a treat or they’ve “earned it”. Some of them held high-paid yet high-stress jobs, but spent have their income just on “treating” themselves after a tough week at work.

    I tried pointing out that if they’re gonna earn that cash, they should be putting it way for the future. Otherwise, why not take a less stressful job, where you don’t feel the need to spend all the time to cheer yourself up? The outstanding balance at the end of the month is likely to be similar – but you’d be healthier and happier.

  85. I have been having an agreement to disagree with a coworker who I’ve been explaining how I save. Nothing extreme just 40-45% a month of my low income. It seems from our own discussions, It is a matter of perspective. Who is more important? The future me or the present me. In other words should you just live for today or put some (or a lot) aside for your goals so you’ll be happier later on? I constantly get negative comments from others about the idea of saving. That I need to “life a little” “enjoy life” etc. although compared to the Frugalwoods I spend too much on food.

  86. My dry hands have really been wanting an manicare this winter but I have been able to reason with them that just a little lotion is good enough as FIRE is much more important to me right now. As with everything, it is all about compromises and my FIRE goal is more important right now than soft hands with beautifully painted nails.

  87. YES this is just what I needed – some tough love. I tell myself all the time it’s just this once and once I buy this last thing I’ll have everything I need and I’ll stop spending. THANK YOU for this!

  88. It’s not just you! Food is our huge frugality weakness. We’ve been struggling for a long time on how to cut down on our food bill. We don’t go out often, but live literally across the street from a Trader Joes. We’re in there at least 3 times a week, sometimes twice a day.

  89. I cringe when I think about how I used to “treat” myself. Now my treats are a walk in the woods of the Fells, sitting in a sunny spot in my living room with a good (library) book, taking a walk through the snow, or hanging out/talking on the phone with a friend I haven’t seen in a while. These things make my heart sing. Buying random stuff I didn’t need in the first place or unhealthy food made me happy for a moment, but that was all. They really weren’t worth it. It took a while for the mindshift to set in, but I’m so glad it did.

  90. For me, “splurging” doesn’t have to equate to mindless spending. However, I do like to work towards goals and reward myself once I reach a goal. While I’ll never binge spend as a reward, sometimes it’s nice to treat myself to a special meal I haven’t had in a while. Or perhaps a movie. Or maybe just sitting for a bit and being lazy after grinding out hours of productive work. Rewarding yourself doesn’t have to mean spending money.

  91. Great Points were made in this post. I agree as a self-employed working woman who cares to please her clients and family. That you tend to lose yourself and you should never lose yourself. You are just as important, if not more important, and you should always remember to treat and take care of you.

  92. Food is my downfall, too! It’s hard when you’re Picky about food and fall in love with a $7 pack of prosciutto. I’m trying to get over the “treat’cho self” attitude too. It’s hard starting a frugal lifestyle and adjusting to the fact that you can’t buy random crap any more as a “treat.” In many ways I think this attitude is a form of frugal backslide.

  93. I’ve learned that I don’t have to spend money to treat myself. Tired after a long day at work? Take a nap- that’s free! Check out a movie, magazine or book from the library. I have access to a very nice, indoor, FREE pool through my employer…and the list goes on. I know we are all different and have different situations, but with a little thought and creativity surely we can all find “free” ways to treat ourselves….

  94. “Then there’s these absurd box-a-month deals that deliver a box of random junk to you 12 times a year. This is literally buying for the sake of buying. You don’t need these things–you don’t even know what these things are!”

    Oh man, I was totally guilty of this (not anymore! I’ve kicked the habit!) and never thought of it like this. But you putting it like that really drives home the absurdity of it. I feel so shamed now!! The positive is that I’ve canceled to every single one of them and haven’t been subscribed them for months now.

  95. Very late to the conversation but it’s had me laughing out loud, especially the random boxes! I did treat myself with coffees, haircuts, waxing and yoga sessions. I now make my own coffee (easy as I work from home), my partner cuts my hair, I shave or home wax and I do yoga mostly at home. I do really miss my yoga teacher since moving but £40 a month was an expensive hobby. Oh my tip is to stop watching TV with any adverts we have BBC which makes this possible. Another brilliant article!

  96. I’ve been reading and following you for less than a month. A few specifics about me: 61, female, English language teacher, mortgage, student loans and a car loan. LOVE my position in an elementary school, VALUE the teachers and students I’m blessed to work with. BUT when I read your post or in your book about OPTIONS, you got me. While life is good, good, good, (well, except for Covid, BLM, fires in my home state of Colorado, ) I want the OPTION if our wonderful principals left our building, IF the unthinkable happened (and I can’t even think about what might be next) I would want the OPTION to say it’s time to retire. And be ABLE to do it. So, first plan-in 6 months I’ll pay off the 17,000 on my car that has a loooonnnngggg warranty on it. Check that off. Next, is refi my house for a lower rate in this crazy time of 2.25 % on a VA loan. Then, start paying down the principal on that. You are a blessing to me and to my #third son who is more ramped up than me to read and apply your writing. Neighborhood living is just not for him. Wants a small, quiet home away from work with investments (he’s got plenty) to pay his way through his life. Totally inspired LIZ! I can’t give up a real haircut yet, not sure I trust my hubby with scissors, but no more makeup, no more nails. Just clean simple clothes.

  97. I am from the south where appearance is everything. My college friends shopped all the time, dressed up almost every day, bought pretty decorative things made in China for the sole purpose of decorating. I was raised similarly, but with contradicting parents. My mom enjoyed shopping and finding useful gadgets and decorative things for the house. My dad, on the other hand, always priced out each meal based on ingredients, gave me a debit card with a small allowance in the 8th grade, and brought sandwich ingredients and 12-packs of sodas on road trips to avoid stopping for food. I find that I am a mix of both parents, but I am working hard to deliberately strengthen my father-given traits of frugalness. I can easily get sucked in to the idea that I need to keep up appearances when I look at my friends’ social media posts. They have nice houses, new cars, babies with the best stuff, etc. My husband and I are working on paying down debt and saving money for partial FI in the future (my husband is one of the lucky few who can actually make a living doing what he truly loves). Recently while sitting in my apartment, I thought about how minimal my home was and I was cycling through negative thoughts about what my friends would think of it (they never come to visit though; they say they can’t afford to travel…). Not long after this, a group of neighborhood kids walked past my backdoor and glanced into the house. As they walked away, I heard one kid say, “Wow, that’s a nice house!” All of those negative thoughts disappeared. It really is all about perspective!

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