We all have things we enjoy, and the question of when can you splurge has unique financial planning considerations. We probably think about these choices, consciously or subconsciously, every day. And while I don’t think there can be a hard and fast rule, there are some things to consider. Once we start peeling back the proverbial onion, there are many psychological layers to this question. We all have a relationship with money. It is based on our experiences, upbringing, and innate preferences. The question isn’t just When can you splurge? It is How can you have a better, more effective relationship with your money?
“Money makes a terrible master but an excellent servant”P.T. Barnum
First, let’s define what we mean by splurge. Clearly, your normal living expenses should not count as a splurge. But, even this is problematic. There are many Americans who have adopted a lifestyle which they cannot afford. Their choice of housing, cars, vacations, clothes, etc. consumes all of their income. And then when an emergency does occur, it has to go on the credit card. They end up in debt and there is no way to pay off those debts with their current consumption. They don’t see that they are splurging already, and spending in an out of control manner. Read more: Machiavelli and Happiness in an Age of Materialism.
A definition of splurge as “to spend money freely or extravagantly, especially on something special as a way to make yourself feel good.” Most definitions imply wastefulness and vanity. But I also think that occasionally being able to spend money on things which you enjoy is a great freedom. We all may have interests which make no sense to others. Perhaps it is cars, or watches, or shoes, or a boat. To us, it is the realization of a dream. To someone else, it would be a waste of money. That’s okay. The blue car pictured above is my splurge from this March. Maybe that doesn’t do anything for you. For me, a lightweight sports car with a manual transmission is a joy.
When Not to Splurge
Let’s begin by laying down a few prerequisites for a splurge. Perhaps it is easiest to think of these as a checklist:
- Can you pay in Cash? Or would this splurge be funded by credit card debt? If you don’t have the cash to purchase an item, maybe you should hold off until you can afford it.
- Do you have an emergency fund with at least 3-6 months of living expenses?
- Are you funding accounts for your long-term goals? For example, a 401(k) or IRA for retirement, a savings account for a house down payment, or a 529 plan for your kid’s college.
If you can pass these three prerequisites, then the splurge is not going to hurt you. After all, we don’t want to look back on our splurges with regret and be angry that we made a mistake. Number one, credit cards, also suggests that if you presently have a lot of credit card debt, you should not splurge. You should prioritize paying off your cards, first. How much should you save for number three? If you are in your 20’s and are currently saving at least 12% towards your 401(k), I think you are off to a good start. If you got a late start, you may need to save more than 12% to be prepared for retirement. Read more: What percentage should you save?
Start with a Plan
My purpose as a Financial Planner is to help you be smart with your money. Our ultimate goal is to make sure you achieve your financial goals. With that in mind, we are always looking to design long-term diversified investment strategies built within a planning process. We are always looking for the most cost-efficient, high-value ways to manage your money.
The beauty of the plan is that it creates awareness and a process for change. For some individuals, that may mean establishing automatic savings programs to fulfill your needs for retirement, debt management, house goals, college savings, etc. We can break down each goal into a monthly target and set it on auto-pilot. Read more: Do You Hate Saving Money?
For others, a plan can show them that they are on track. Because many people are afraid to splurge. And I am writing for them, too. Yes, there are people who need to splurge less. But there are also people who need to splurge more.
If your relationship to money is centered on fear, anxiety, and regret, you are carrying a terrible amount of stress with you at all times. This is a scarcity mentality, which is psychologically harmful. It impacts your behavior and hurts your satisfaction. In one study, adults who had a positive attitude about aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with a negative mindset. Your thoughts matter! Read more: 5 Ways to Go From A Scarcity to Abundance Mindset.
Your plan will let you know how much you can splurge and give you the confidence that you aren’t doing anything to hurt your future self. Maturity is often defined as the ability to delay gratification. We all need to save for the future. Still, splurging doesn’t require that we have already accomplished all our goals! Only that we are presently taking the steps necessary to get us there. If you want to feel more confident about your splurge, start with your financial plan. Otherwise, how do you know?
But Should You Splurge?
Still not sure if a splurge is a good idea? Afraid you will regret a big purchase? A few last thoughts.
- Avoid impulse buys. Shopping as therapy for stress, boredom, or other problems is only a band-aid. Find a better solution. Talk to a friend, go for a walk, do something that makes you feel better and actually addresses the emotional need.
- Could this be easily reversed? Some items hold their value. If you buy an item for $3,000 and could resell it in a couple of years for $3,000, it’s a fairly low risk proposition. And if it brings you joy, then why not.
- Have you shopped around and done your research? Can you buy used or find an alternative? A splurge doesn’t have to be reckless; see if you can find a great deal.
- Do you have a bucket list of experiences that you’d like to do and and see? A splurge can also be a trip or event, and it is healthy to spend on creating memories and not simply buying more things. We only get so many trips around the sun. Our time here will go quickly and it is finite. 10 years from now, you may still smile when you think about that epic vacation to Machu Picchu. You probably aren’t going to be thinking about what it cost because in the long run, it didn’t matter.
- An itch needs to be scratched. Sometimes, an idea takes hold and we simply need to do something. If it doesn’t go away, maybe we will be richer as a person for having allowed ourselves to live a little more freely. What is the worst that will happen if you do this one splurge?
Intention, Choice, and Balance
Money is a great tool to lead a satisfying and interesting life. We all know that more things can’t bring you happiness. And we all know someone who spends too much and rationalizes it as “self-care”. How can you find a balance? At the one extreme, many Americans are not saving anything and are two paychecks away from being broke. At the other extreme, there are hoarders who are paralyzed with fear of spending and losing their money. I’m a frugal person, but this can be taken too far.
Choose what is truly important to your life. Don’t let others decide for you what is a good use of your money. But be smart. Start with a plan and cover your bases. When you have your savings plan established, be intentional with your spending so your choices align with your goals. By that I mean, don’t just spend blindly, splurge in ways that are meaningful to you. Maybe bonding on a family vacation is more important than upgrading your car this year. Maybe keeping your housing costs reasonable will allow you to spend on other priorities. The balance is deciding where to splurge and where to not spend your money. The right balance is to splurge neither too much, nor too little. Never splurge to keep up with the Joneses.
When can you splurge? I’m not going to show you the compound interest on a daily cup of Starbucks. I’m not interested in slapping people on the wrist to make them feel bad about how they spend their money. I believe you can align the head and the heart on your spending. When you have invested time and energy into your financial plan, you will have earned the confidence to know when you can splurge. Then, giving yourself permission to splurge will not be from weakness, but to help you live the life you truly want.