Material Rewards For Meeting Milestones?

WiiI’m a very strong believer in setting personal marks of success for yourself, something that I’ve used both before and after my financial turnaround. Setting specific goals for yourself and working consistently to meet them fills you with a deep sense of accomplishment in your life.

Before my turnaround, I would set achievement goals in other areas and reward myself for reaching those goals by going on a spending spree. I would just yank a few hundred dollars from my budget and go buy a few boxes of Magic: the Gathering cards or a pile of DVDs or something, rewarding myself for this personal success with all sorts of material rewards.

After my financial turnaround, I didn’t apply the idea of material rewards to my financial goals because I found that setting such goals and meeting them was reward enough. I could look at my bank account and see the reward for being frugal and making good spending choices.

But what about other goals? As I’ve become more financially free and my side businesses have become more successful (especially The Simple Dollar), I’ve begun setting some very lofty personal goals for myself.

For example, each month I will set certain readership goals for The Simple Dollar in order to keep myself focused on writing good, interesting entries and also letting people know about the writing. Some months (like September), I reach my goals – other months (like July), I don’t quite make it. Either way, setting the goals and putting in the legwork to try to achieve the goal keeps me on pace for success.

So here’s the question: if a person sets a challenging personal goal and achieves it, is it appropriate for the person to reward themselves in a material fashion for reaching the goal?

It’s pretty easy to argue against it by saying that the achievement of the goal is a reward in and of itself – and I agree with that sentiment. When I achieve a personal goal, I’m very happy with myself, and it is the success of achieving that goal that fuels me onward. Plus, tying material rewards to personal achievement can very easily lead to encouraging consumerism.

Even given those factors, I still often tie material rewards to financial success, under a few guidelines.

How I Tie Material Rewards to Financial Success

1. I tie the material reward directly to the goal.

I don’t merely go on a shopping spree – I tie the material reward directly to the goal, usually in such a way as to constantly remind me of the personal success. For example, when I hit a goal with The Simple Dollar, I use a specific small fraction of the site’s income for the month on a material item, usually one that I’ve researched over time and planned on purchasing.

Here’s another example. I’m a big believer in preparing healthy foods at home, so I often set goals in terms of meals prepared at home each month. If I’m able to prepare a certain number of meals from scratch (which saves money not only in food costs, but in health costs over the long term), then I usually splurge on some expensive ingredients for meal preparations that I dream about, like fresh swordfish or saffron or fresh mushrooms or grass-fed beef. This increases the cost of a particular meal up into the range of restaurant dining, but I get the aesthetic joy of preparing it myself at home for my family.

KA

2. I don’t buy frivolous items outside of these “rewards.”

It was because of goal achievement that I bought my Wii (a combination of “splurge” saving and meeting a goal with The Simple Dollar) and my KitchenAid Pro 6 stand mixer (a food goal). Whenever I play a game on my Wii, I reflect on the work I did to get it; whenever I use the stand mixer, it reinforces my desire to cook in the kitchen (and usually results in a loaf of from-scratch bread). All of the “splurge” items I’ve bought over the last several months just reinforce personal goal setting.

3. I don’t set simple goals for myself

In fact, I actually don’t meet most of the goals I set because the challenge level is high. Why set such lofty goals? The biggest reason is that by setting a goal that approaches a sense of impossibility and then reaching it, it becomes a real accomplishment. Also, I set these goals in a way that’s in line with my values – most of them involve cooking, writing, reading, service, and parenting (a parenting example – how many books can I read to my child in a month?). The result is that the goals tie into my values and create a real sense of personal accomplishment and fulfillment when I reach them.

I believe a material reward for achieving a goal is fine as long as that goal is a sincere, challenging one and the reward is a true reflection of the goal. Is the reward an expression of your personal values? Or is it just an excuse for consumerism? Answering that question will point you in the right direction.

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  1. For me, I tend to reward myself with setting a higher goal to work towards, after reaching my previous one :) Continual self-improvement makes me happier than material possessions do.

    Granted, I would love to buy a Wii sometime soon ;-)

  2. Philip says:

    Never posted a comment before – but after you mentioned Magic, I flipped. I too once spent tons on Magic cards and still have them all. I stopped years ago and couldn’t follow the rules now if I wanted to. Every year at Christmas I bust out the cards and play a round with my brother. My goblin/land destruction deck vs his blue deck. Sometimes we switch. Like you, now its a round of Madden on my Wii. Thanks for the great posts!

  3. Susy says:

    Great article. I think this also depends on your personality. I don’t really need rewards to keep me motivated, I tend to be a perfectionist so doing well is reward enough for me. My husband on the other hand does really well with the reward system. I also think the kind of reward is important. The rewards you mentioned things that you and your family will use and enjoy for a long time.

    Sometimes rewards are needed in the beginning and then after developing a good habit, they aren’t needed any more. For example: When my husband and I first got married my husband really wanted a new pair of hiking boots. We made a deal that every time we went on a walk he could deposit $1 into his hiking boot fund. After 115 walks he was able to purchase his hiking boots and as a bonus we were in great shape for our fall hiking trip. We continued walking after he got his boots and have been for the last 8 years. He no longer needs rewards to encourage walking, feeling better and being in shape for our hiking trips is all the reward he needs.

    Love the site, keep up the good work. Maybe I should subscribe to help you meet your readership goals!

  4. jtimberman says:

    To answer the question in the title:

    Absolutely.

    Set your goals with rewards for accomplishing those goals. For example, our reward when we finish paying off the last debt we have, is that we each will have a $1000 to blow on whatever we want. The total, $2000, is what we’re currently paying extra each month to make that go away, so for one month, we get to have some well deserved fun.

    We’ve done this all along through our debt snowball, though not on this scale. Usually the minimum payment was allocated to a reward. For example, when the car was paid off, we set aside $300 for the reward, even though the snowball total was almost $2000.

    Goal setting with rewards helps keep you on track and motivated. The important thing is to keep the focus and get back on track after the reward is done.

  5. Interesting. I’m struggling a bit with this issue myself right now. As part of my efforts to get out of debt, I have taken on a rather large side project that will be wrapping toward the end of the month. I’ll earn quite a bit of money and plan to pay it all toward debt. However, I’ve also planned to reward myself a little- Guitar Hero 3 happens to be releasing soon :) but now I wonder if I would yet again be delaying my goals for material goods. Even if the percentage spent is small, it’s not something I NEED. Tricky stuff!

  6. Margaret says:

    Nothing wrong with a well thought out reward, especially if that is what it takes to motivate you.

    What is wrong is when you see something you want, then think of a reason to reward yourself so you can buy it. My cousins do this this all the time — buy it, you deserve it for __whatever___. I have done it many times myself. Not good, especially when you are essentially just making an excuse for an impulse purchase, which is 99% of the time.

  7. Kim says:

    Trent,

    Congrats!

    (I would almost argue that the Kitchenaid mixer is an appreciating asset. (Well, at least not a depreciating one :-} We have had ours for about 15 years – it’s still going strong and gives us our daily bread.

    When our net worth increases by X amt., we pop the (affordable) champagne cork. It’s a way to stop, kick back, talk, and bask in our feeling of accomplishment for meeting our goals.

    But the thing I most like to buy is …. more shares of our mutual funds. Sometimes this is in the form of reinvested dividends – also a reason to celebrate. Life is good!

  8. HebsFarm says:

    I used to award myself little treats – food treats like ice cream or candy, usually. The key was to keep it a small, quality item, and to really take the moment to savor both the little victory and the treat. That’s what makes it a reward. Please don’t watch the bottom line so had that you miss taking the time to appreciate good deeds done by yourself AND others.

  9. MS says:

    Trent,

    I don’t see any problem with your approach. As long as you plan your rewards ahead of time and keep it proportional (so you don’t reward yourself further into debt) it’s ok.

    Keep up the good work!

  10. Swintah says:

    My family has a deal where you eat on a special red plate for dinner when you have something to be proud of. The plate cost 3 bucks, and it’s something special to do that doesn’t make you fatter or cost any money. And it’s special since using it is rare.

  11. PF says:

    I had to dangle a carrot in front of myself in order to solidify a daily flossing habit. I used a spa gift card that someone gave me, but I wouldn’t allow myself to use it until I earned it by 30 days of flossing. My spa treatment was that much better knowing that I earned it.

    I then dangled a bigger carrot if I went one year without missing a day, I could buy a new watch. I did it. Ironically, the watch I liked the best was “only” $200 (I gave myself permission to spend A LOT more), but I feel like I earned it. It has been two years and I have only missed one day when my hand was injured and I couldn’t actually do it. I’ve already saved more than I spent in less frequent dental/periodontal visits.

    I think rewards are great if they work for you.

  12. Mrs. Micah says:

    I think so. Preferably ones which are highly enjoyable and don’t hurt what I’m working towards. So scheduling a date night in particular celebration of some event, for example. We’d probably have a date night in those 2 weeks anyway, but the timing makes it special.

  13. Linnea H says:

    @ PF: thank you! You laid out the plan for me, I really need to create flossing habit and it so happens that I have a spa gift card from my ex colleagues at prevoius job. This way, I will not have to spend any money to receive my reward + I’ll make sure I use the gift card.

    Since I am in debt (although low interest), I prefer rewards that are free or at very low cost. It can be “me time”, e.g. reading for hours in a bath with a glass of wine.

  14. Mikko says:

    Having a ‘reward’ was the easiest way for me to economize. I really wanted that $700 guitar, so I told myself I cut out eating out more than once a week for a few months. It’s pretty amazing how much you can save when you cut out the little incidental expenses.

  15. klf says:

    Yes, I believe that rewarding yourself for reaching certain milestones is important. I used to go to the bookstore and buy books mindlessly. Consequently, they didn’t really mean anything, I didn’t always read them once I had them, etc. but once I changed my reward method, which is similar to the flossing reward above (for every day I walk 30 mintues minimum, I set aside a dollar)I found that not only am I choosier in my reading selection, I appreciate the book so much more. These tend to be practical books (financial, cookbooks, gardening) which I will use again and agan. My fiction books are all borrowed from the library.

  16. disavow says:

    My “material rewards” usually involve gin.

  17. Steve says:

    This is a great way to accomplish things you want and have the things you wanted perhaps in an indirectly as a result of your accomplishments. Its natural to want things but we can’t always justify it unless we’ve done “something” to accomplish them, whether it be go to work or some other task that rationalizes it in our head.

  18. Susan says:

    I agree with rewards, but the Kitchenaide mixer is more of a headache than an asset since it has a plastic part holding the gears in place. Check out the amazon.com reviews and read all about it. It is a very bad design.

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