There's a popular, little myth going around that being frugal means that every penny must be pinched or saved in an online high-yield savings account and that, as a result, it's not okay to splurge once in a while. But a more balanced approach could make it easier to stick to a spending plan, thereby making your long-term financial success more likely.
To be clear, though, this isn't to say that splurges are okay all of the time. If you're splurging all the time, it could hardly be considered a splurge, after all. That would be more like lifestyle inflation! Definitely, if you are living paycheck to paycheck and can barely afford debt repayments, now may not be the time. But here are a few ways to plan an (appropriate) splurge and not worry about going off the rails with your budget.
Build fun money into your budget
Even if it's only $5 a month and you spend it on a cappuccino, building some fun money into your budget can keep you from getting frustrated and giving up on your goals. When I was starting my debt payoff journey, I let myself spend $20 a month on bagels. Just be sure that you're not spending more or more often than you can afford if you want to meet your other financial goals.
Allocate some windfall money to a splurge
An unexpected inheritance, a larger-than-foreseen tax refund, a gift from a loved one — whatever the source, a windfall can (and should!) be allocated toward your most imperative financial goal, whether that means paying off debt or beefing up your emergency fund.
However, if it feels frustrating to come into a lump sum of money and be completely responsible with all of it, maybe you want to establish a rule about extra money. My own rule of thumb is to give myself permission to spend a portion on something frivolous. For me, 10 percent of any amount below $1,000 and five percent of any amount greater than that feels like a good balance between fun and being responsible.
Celebrate when you reach a milestone
Your being laser-focused on a particular debt has paid off (haha, pun). Maybe it's a student loan, perhaps it's a credit card or even a car payment. Taking a moment to stop and smell your success is a key aspect of motivation and money.
Maybe you take a break for a month and allocate what you would have spent on something fun before reactivating your debt snowball. Even if you decide to reward yourself in a small way, taking the time to think about something other than money can feel like a reward all its own.
5 splurges $50 or under
But if it's been awhile since you've treated yourself, it might be hard to decide what you should even splurge on! And if your tastes run more to the expensive side and your current splurge is relatively small potatoes, you may also be at a loss. Here are some ideas for splurges that won't break the bank.
Dinner and a movie. A tradition that never goes out of style. There are even theaters that play movies that have been out for awhile (sometimes even classic movies) that are less expensive than their current-blockbuster counterparts. If you're more of a homebody, takeout and a ordering movie on-demand may be more your style.
A mani/pedi. A manicure and pedicure will run you less than $50 at most nail salons and will make you feel pampered and relaxed. And they're not just for ladies! Fellas, consider giving it a try.
Perfume or cologne. What I like about this is that one bottle of perfume or cologne lasts a long time, so this is a splurge with some staying power. Every time you spritz yourself or get a compliment on how good you smell, you'll be reminded of your financial skills.
A scented candle. Like cologne, many scented candles last a long time, making them another splurge that serves as a constant reminder of your success in conquering a particular debt or meeting a financial goal. These come in more scents than you can possibly imagine, and choosing can be half the fun. So spend some time and pick something amazing!
A good book. While there is a place for cheap or free books, maybe there's a certain author or series that you know you'll read again and again. If that's the case, and you can't find it used, go ahead and buy it new. There's worse things to spend your money on than expanding your brain.
5 splurges $100 or under
When your budget can handle a little bigger splurge, these things can help you indulge in some free time or relaxation. And sometimes they can even feel like a mini-vacation!
Maid or landscaping service. This is one of my favorite splurges because it takes something I don't have much time for and don't enjoy and takes it off my plate completely. (Well, at least it's done for a couple of weeks anyway!)
A massage. Paying off debt is stressful. And even if you're in a good place financially, you probably carry more stress in your body than you think you do. I'm always surprised when I get a massage by how much stress I'm holding, and where in my body it's presenting itself. I always feel better afterward.
A facial. I've had friends recommend these for years and I was never interested. However, I recently tried one for the first time and I really enjoyed it! It was relaxing and my skin looked amazing afterwards. I'll say the same thing here that I did about mani/pedis — they're not just for ladies! In fact, since most guys don't wear makeup and most women do, arguably it might even make a bigger difference for men.
A piece of art. At this price point, we're probably not talking about anything huge or fancy, but a piece of art that you like and that inspires you will last forever. Heck, I've got some poster prints in semi-nice frames that I adore.
A video game. Assuming you've already got a game system, the right video game can provide some of the lowest-cost entertainment per hour than almost anything else around. My favorite game cost $65 and I've invested over 250 hours in my character. Fun!
What constitutes a splurge?
For me, splurges fall into three main categories: they can be an experience, an item that lasts a long time, or paying others to do something that you hate to do. Another criterion for a splurge is that it's rare (not lifestyle inflation). This isn't to say you can't splurge on a monthly basis if you work fun money into your budget. However, you should always be aware that the item/event/experience in question is a want and not a need. Constant evaluation of your budget is key to making sure you're not overextending yourself.
What's your favorite splurge? Do you have budgetary or other criteria for selecting something you can afford and will enjoy?
Honey Smith has been reading GRS since at least 2008, right when she got her first â€œrealâ€ job and started getting serious about finances. She and her husband Jake are in their mid-30s and recently bought a home together. Currently, she manages graduate programs at a large state institution, and he is an attorney at a mid-sized firm.
Between them, they have paid off approximately $30,000 in consumer debt since she started writing for GRS in 2012. However, they still have nearly $200,000 of student loan debt, so she will continue to chronicle their debt-paydown journey. In addition to personal finance, Honey is interested in vegetarianism and cooking, gardening (despite living in the desert and having a black thumb), issues in higher education (including the student loan bubble and the slow death of tenure), and animal rights; however, her heart lies with fantasy novels, trashy TV and Skyrim.