Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Go Ahead, Reward Yourself (Without Blowing Your Budget)

You know how important it is to save—but did you realize you should also splurge from time to time?

It may seem counterintuitive, but occasionally spending money on something that’s not strictly a necessity helps to keep you on track. After all, if you never indulge, you’ll begin to resent your budget. And rewarding yourself for meeting a goal (putting an extra $50 on your loans this month, not giving in to the temptation of those designer shoes, whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish), helps reinforce the idea that your budget must work for you, rather than the other way around.

That said, your reward shouldn’t blow your monthly expenses out of the water, either. Try one of these tips for a smart splurge.

Splurge for Free

Even if money’s tight, you can find ways to treat yourself that will only cost you time. One of my favorite ways to indulge midway through the workday is to go home for lunch, where I can relax, nosh on last night’s leftovers, and make myself an espresso (on the machine that I got for free with credit card reward points!). It’s pretty much a free meal, plus a caffeine pick-me-up that’s just as good as (and cheaper than) what I could get at a café.

Here are some other ideas that won’t cost you any extra money:

  • Take advantage of perks: Have a coffee punch card that’s full? Loyalty rewards points on your credit card? A coupon that makes that dress you’ve been eyeing fit into your clothing budget? Save those special offers, then use them when you need a treat. You get all the thrill of a splurge without spending the extra money.
  • Find free entertainment: Join your library’s book club, find a new local park to hike, or check out the free festival happening next weekend. Whatever your interests, you can find something fun that won’t cost you anything extra.
  • Focus on the enjoyment: A splurge doesn’t have to be something outside of what you normally do—it could be just looking at it in a new light. Try to really savor that drink with dinner or the way you feel after going for a run.
  • Allow Yourself Small, Regular Indulgences

    When I first graduated from college, I spent a year as an English Teaching Assistant in a public school in Spain. My monthly stipend was enough to live on—but just enough. It took careful prioritizing to keep from depleting more of my savings than I had anticipated, and I learned how to indulge where it mattered most to me. Here are some ideas:

    • Eat in before going out to drinks: When my friends and I would plan girls’ nights out, they usually started with dinners in at one of our apartments and everybody bringing a dish or ingredient. We’d still get all of the fun, but at half the price.
    • Splurge on one unnecessary item and savor it: Gourmet food not being one of my priorities, I would buy the cheapest, most nutritious food I could (lots of produce, beans, and rice) to feed myself for a week. But during those weekly stops for groceries, I’d also make sure to pick up my one splurge: a really good bar of European chocolate. I’d break off a piece when I got home from work each day and enjoy.
    • Upgrade once in a while: If you always buy the cheapest version of a product, splurging on the higher quality version once in a while won’t break the bank. Every so often, buy a nice body wash instead of an inexpensive bar of soap, a brand name lipstick instead of the drug store kind, or a bottle of wine pricier than Two-Buck Chuck.
    • Save Up for Bigger Splurges 

      For larger indulgences, I recommend setting up a separate savings account (besides your emergency fund) where you can stash away a certain amount each pay period or deposit your loose change as it accumulates. Once you have enough for your next big ticket purchase (the latest gadget, a weekend away, stylish new boots), you can buy it, guilt-free.

      The point of a budget isn’t to show you where you should and shouldn’t be spending money—it’s to make sure your cash flow is aligned with your priorities. So, if you’re sticking to your goals, go ahead and reward yourself. No matter what your budget, if you get creative, you can find a way to splurge within your means.

      Photo of chocolate truffles courtesy of Shutterstock.