Parks and Recreation is one of my favorite shows. I’ve seen the entire series several times and it’s my go-to show for when I need a good laugh or cry. I enjoy all of the characters, but particularly admire Leslie’s warmth, integrity, and her zero-tolerance policy for the glass ceiling. I try to emulate her in my work and with my relationships to the extent that it’s healthy to do so with a fictional character. Even as a die-hard fan, there are some episodes I tend to skip over: Time Capsule, the Mark Brandonowitz period, and particularly cringey Councilman Jamm episodes like well, just about all of them. I also tend to skip over episodes in the Leslie and Ben are broken up but very much still in love with each other era. Ain’t nobody got time for that. If you’ve seen the show, you’re probably familiar with an episode during the break-up period where Tom and Donna invite a despondent Ben out with them for “Treat Yo Self” day. “Treat Yo Self” day is the best day of the year, the day you can buy all of the things just because you deserve them. Ben resists joining in on the spending spree until he stumbles across a very authentic looking Batman suit and decides to treat himself. Season 4, Episode 4, if you need a refresher.
When the Best Day of the Year Becomes a Habit
Even if you haven’t seen the show, I’m sure you’re familiar with that phrase, “Treat yourself!”. I’ve used it myself on many occasions to buy coffee, another drink at happy hour, that purse I liked but didn’t need, you name it. I’ve seen many people around me do the same. I’ve noticed that this “I deserve it” mentality has become more prevalent as people become busier and are under more stress. When you don’t have a lot of time to yourself, time that you feel is your own, treat yourself becomes a way to self-care. I’m not here to discourage this completely. I typically bring lunch to work, but on a particularly rough Wednesday a few weeks ago, I treated myself to some chips and queso. It made my day about a million times better, like cheese tends to do. Small treats are not always a bad thing.
However, these small treats can get out of control very quickly. When examining my June 2017 spending, I noticed that I tended to use the miscellaneous category of my budget for these fun expenses. I spent $204 that month on wine, concert tickets, eating out, and a television subscription. These are purchases I made without thought, definitely under the assumption that I deserved it. Now, if you’ve seen the Loans page of my blog, I really don’t have money to be spending on extras if I ever want to get rid of my student loan debt. And here’s the thing about all of those treat yourself expenses-with the exception of the concert (Hall and Oates. Don’t judge-it was magical), none of those purchases made a lasting impact on my life. I enjoyed the wine and the restaurant meals in the moment, but when I reviewed my expenses at the end of the month, that enjoyment was nowhere to be found. I simply felt guilty that I spent money on things other than loan payments.
June was not an extraordinary month, spending-wise. These treat yourself purchases regularly snuck into my budget and I ended up going through the same emotional cycle each time:
Phase 1: Indecision. This period is characterized by my conscience telling me that no, I don’t really need whatever it is I’m about to buy.
Phase 2: Rationalization. The drowning out of my conscience with platitudes like “I deserve it.”, “I work hard. It’s ok to spend this money.”, and you guessed it “Treat yourself.”
Phase 3: Moment of happiness. Occurs when I consume the wine/coffee/meal, or when I get my first complement on the item I purchased. “Worth it.”, I think to myself.
Phase 4: Guilt. Usually occurs twice, once when I review my expenses for the week, and again when I add up my spending at the end of the month. Nine times out of ten, I deem the purchase NOT WORTH IT.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Recent research shows that treating yourself does not lead to any significant increases in happiness.
Treat yourself as we currently understand it is all about the short-term. Take a second to think about when you use the phrase “I deserve it.” What do you get as a result of that purchase? (If you’re like me, it’s probably food-related.) Does this purchase take you further from your goals? Does it come attached with a nice helping of guilt? If so, you are selling yourself short.
Reframe, reframe, reframe
As a reader of this blog, I think you are as magical as Ann Perkins and you deserve better. You deserve to reach that long-term goal, whether it may be. Let’s try thinking about treat yourself a little differently:
Treat yourself…to living a life without debt.
Treat yourself…to financial independence.
Treat yourself…to an early retirement.
Treat yourself…to no longer living paycheck to paycheck.
Those goals are bigger, and they are harder, and they are not things you can run out and buy on your lunch break. But their potential for fulfillment and happiness is infinitely greater than the cycle of spending and guilt many of us go through.
I am working on treating myself to living a life free of debt. Redefining it this way has made it less about what I’m depriving myself of and more about what I’m building towards in the future. It’s not that I can’t buy that cookie I’ve been craving, it’s that it is easier to resist the urge when I associate the “I deserve it” mindset with bigger things. Plus, I can still use this GIF.
Mindset means nothing without action, but my fellow bloggers have some challenges to help with that! If you’re ready to cut back on your spending check out the Zero Day Challenge or the Uber Frugal Month. I’ll be doing an Uber Frugal Month in November and I’m excited to see where it takes me.
What’s your experience with treat yourself? Share in the comments section and let me know what you think of my reframing strategy.