How to Avoid the Trap of Splurging as a Reward for “Being Good”

Before I got control over my spending, I used to splurge all the time on small things that I wanted.

I’d buy a new book (or three) every Friday in order to “reward” myself for getting through another work week.

I’d often buy a new CD or DVD whenever I received a paycheck.

Whenever I’d hit a personal or work milestone, I’d usually buy a video game as a reward for myself.

It was easy to justify these purchases. I worked hard and earned a good salary. I deserved some of these items, particularly after getting through some obstacle in my life – even the routine ones, like finishing a work week.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but when you step back and look at it from a wider perspective, it’s clear how big this “reward splurge” problem really was.

Let’s say I bought $25 worth of books each Friday. Let’s also say I received two paychecks a month and bought a DVD for $15 with each one. And let’s also say I’d buy a new video game once a month, for $50.

Right there, $180 gone each month. Boom.

Do that month in and month out for four years and you’ve spent $8,640. Just on silly little “rewards” for ordinary life accomplishments.

The amazing part is that I know of people who are far worse. One of my closest friends in my college years went on to buy a new video game every weekend (about $50 a pop) and about twice a month would buy a box of trading cards (about $100 worth). Another lady I knew used to spend about $200 on new clothes each Saturday afternoon – it was her way of “release” after a week of hard work.

This is the worst type of financial leak – unnecessary spending that’s become a part of a routine and tied to a sense of accomplishment. Not only does it cost a lot of money over time, it also reduces the actual good feelings a person gets from the accomplishments themselves.

One of the best personal finance moves I’ve ever made was breaking this habit. I stopped buying things to “reward” myself and instead started putting that money towards repaying debt. I didn’t let my reading down, either, because I started getting heavily into the local library and the amazing usefulness of interlibrary loans.

It’s not a simple routine to change, though. Here are four tactics to use while breaking yourself of this costly habit.

Find non-purchase methods to celebrate your successes. Instead of heading out to buy something expensive, why not go home and have a nice romantic dinner with your spouse? Spend some time playing with your children, or spend some time doing something personally important and enjoyable. I often find a bigger positive rush and “rewarded” feeling from

Always ask yourself why you’re making a purchase. If the reason revolves around a routine or a self-reward, that’s a sure sign that you shouldn’t be in the store. It’s fine to occasionally buy yourself unnecessary things, but if they’re tied to a part of your routine, that’s dangerous and should be avoided.

Break up the part of your routine that causes you to splurge. If you find yourself stopping each Friday to pick up some sort of splurge item, do something else on Fridays that takes you away from the temptation. Take an alternate route to work on Fridays – or use Fridays to find a better optimal route to and from work (preferably one that doesn’t take you close to the places you might stop). If you go out on Saturdays to shop, instead stay at home and find a personal project to work on.

Keep an entertainment portion of your budget. If you still want to splurge but want to control it, keep a portion of your budget for entertainment and make all splurge purchases come out of that portion.

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