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

The Simple, Cheap Way to Reward Yourself

I’ve developed a terrible tendency. One that leads me to believe my four-mile run warrants eating spoonfuls of pumpkin butter like it’s applesauce, or that the positive feedback from my boss is cause for a trifecta of overpriced cocktails with the girls. It’s a subconscious separation from reality that strikes shortly after I accomplish a goal. And without even realizing it, I’m softer around the edges and significantly poorer.

I'm not particularly proud of these Cloud Nine black-outs—my most notable one resulted in pulling out three Forever 21 bags from my trunk and coming to find that I had purchased a shoulder-padded blazer with faux fur and sequined patchwork in every primary color. With nothing but a foot-long receipt and a sparkly explosion of wannabe woolly mammoth fluff to show for myself, the remorse quickly set in. I was no longer proud of my original accomplishment.

So, since there is no better catalyst for change than a New Year, I'm vowing to use 2013 to invent and implement new methods of rewarding myself. Starting with the Treat Jar.

Healthy, progressive, and economically responsible, the Treat Jar is a surefire way to celebrate a major accomplishment without breaking the bank. Here's how you play: Grab a girlfriend and take a night to think of all the (ideally inexpensive) things you've always wanted to try but have never managed to get around to. Wine tasting, fencing lessons, a Pilates class, making ravioli from scratch, taste-testing the mousse at that new bakery on the corner, painting your nails gold, unapologetically watching every season of Downton Abbey in your pajamas, whatever.

Give yourself a variety of options—from simple to intricate—and write each one down on little paper rectangles, concealing the celebratory contents with a swift and solid crease. Drop them all into an oversized mason jar, and promptly display it on the counter, on a shelf, on your bedside table—anywhere that’s visible daily and that keeps you accountable to setting and crushing your goals.

Then, every time you have something to celebrate, close your eyes and reach into the jar like you're eight years old at a sleepover and it's finally your turn at Charades. Discover the fate of your reward, and set out on your adventure!

By continuously adding treats to the jar, and maybe even dropping in the occasional morsel of sea salted dark chocolate, you’ll set yourself up for excitement and spontaneity—instead of populating your checking account with a lengthy list of withdrawals. Be warned, though: This approach may result in cyclic behavior. For example, becoming one of the six people in the world to successfully learn the lyrics to Bennie and the Jets is a treat turned accomplishment. Which, of course, authorizes a double dip into the jar.

Photo of jar courtesy of Shutterstock.