Congratulations! You just ran a whole three miles on the treadmill. Or maybe you just took your first hot yoga class, or took your bike to work instead of your car.
You're taking the necessary steps to have the body of a fitness model that will surely lead to a life of longevity and happiness. You deserve that $8 smoothie or that fancy new face wash. Come to think of it, it's only fair if you get a new running outfit, and yeah, I guess it's time to get that pair of ridiculously high-tech running shoes that use computer systems to correct your stride. After all, you worked hard to achieve your goals and should be rewarded!
The high cost of small rewards
Unquantifiable is the money I've thrown away on harmless little rewards for myself. It's an easy trap to fall into. We set goals. We take steps to accomplish them, and a treat on the way home never hurt anyone. Besides, you're investing in yourself, and what could be a more solid investment, right?
Well, with wellness industries taking in billions of dollars each year; high-end running shoes costing as much as $200 a pair (to be replaced every four months, depending on mileage, according to experts. What experts?!); the average smoothie costing more than a meal; and the local grocery store that accepts food stamps yet sells moisturizers for upwards of $40, I suspect we're investing more in ad campaigns than we are in our own wellness.
That said, a reward can be a wonderful thing and inspire us to continue to work toward a healthier, better self. So what can we do to step out of our role as consumers and simply do something to better ourselves?
Doing the thing before you get the reward
You've made the decision to start running. Great. You went to the bookstore and bought Born to Run ($24.95); picked up a running magazine at the checkout counter ($4.95); and stopped by the specialty running store and bought a new pair of shorts ($36.50), a sweat-wicking running top ($49), a new pair of sneaks ($165), and a protein bar ($4). You decide to wait until later for that fancy pedometer.
Suddenly you're $280 and 350 calories in the hole, and you've yet to run a mile. I'm all for investing in the longevity of your exercise, whether it be running shoes or a new yoga mat, but you have to clock the miles first. Strap on that old pair of sneakers in your closet, put on your high school gym shorts, and hit the pavement for a couple weeks. Hate your first run, ache after your second, and keep on keeping on until you start to actually enjoy your runs, or at least the benefits. Then start thinking about investing in rewards.
Planning goal-based rewards
Buy the new running shorts, but do so after your first 25 miles. Get yourself that swanky tank top after 25 more miles. Once you're 100 miles in, you'll have your new outfit, and you'll be well on your way to training for your first half marathon with the gear to get you through.
Think of it this way: If you pick up an extra shift and work overtime, don't splurge on dinner afterwards because you're tired and deserve it. You've practically cancelled out your extra work. Instead, think about what you really want and reward yourself after five extra shifts.
Let it be bigger. Let it be useful. Let it be something you actually want rather than a fatigued impulse buy. Rewards can be an incredible incentive to save and to work harder for the next thing, but plan ahead so you don't cancel the work you do.
Let your reward be more of that thing
You feel great after your run. You feel great after your yoga class. Don't use your money to find something to supplement your elation, invest in your continued elation. Most yoga studios, for example, offer much better deals with class passes and monthly memberships. I've heard stories of monthly or yearly memberships being used often enough that the per class fee goes down to $2 a class instead of the $18 drop-in rate.
Running clubs with local run shops are often free if you can get up early enough. The more hours you clock at any given activity makes it more of the norm, and often the elation stays but the desire to reward yourself for your hard work declines. If you take a yoga class every day, you really don't need to supplement with a smoothie after each one, but that Saturday afternoon smoothie filled with raw cacao, hemp seeds, and whatever other Mayan superfood they're tossing in there will taste that much better.
Doing the research
What do you need, and what are you simply told that you need? Ever hear of your grandfather over-supinating his strides on his runs in his glorified leather slippers in the 40s? How much did the yogis living in caves in the Himalayas spend on their recycled organic rubber-substitute mats? How much would that smoothie cost if you bought the ingredients and put them in your blender at home?
To start running, you need your feet and a desire to pound the pavement. Some studies have shown that there is no correlation between expensive running shoes and less wear-and-tear on your joints. People ran before we had computer systems in our soles. What's changed? Advertising. The yogis on the banks of the Ganges river don't spend $90 on their yoga mats and special wash their gourmet clothing fabrics. They put on their loincloths and salute the rising sun.
How much pomegranate juice to you remember drinking growing up? What's the difference now? There's advertising for it. I heard a story that a son with an MBA inherited his family's pomegranate farm and had no idea what to do with it because no one ate pomegranates, so he commissioned studies to figure out what possibly could be redeemable about a pomegranate.
What did they find? Antioxidants. What a buzzword! They're a superfood! They found an angle to advertise their new inheritance, and now you find pomegranates in everything. Is it worth the extra bucks or are you simply funding more advertising to further fool yourself? (Last year the FDA sent a warning letter to pomegranate juice manufacturer POM Wonderful for making unproven claims of antioxidant and disease-prevention benefits.)
Read reviews online. Talk to people in the field who have some years, miles, or classes until their belts and figure out what's actually necessary.
It's important to reward yourself for a job well done or else Jack becomes a dull boy. That said, do the job well first and make sure your reward is equally worth your while. What do you reward yourself with post-workout? What could you do without, and when does it make sense to invest?
Author: April Dykman
As a freelance writer, editor, and blogger, April Dykman specialized in personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship topics. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes, MoneyBuilder, Yahoo! Finance, Lifehacker, and The Consumerist. Now she does direct response copywriting but, in her free time, April is a wannabe chef, a diehard Italophile, and a recovering yogi.