Planning is Good, But Don’t Forget About Today

by Alexa Mason · 23 comments

Personal finance experts often warn against “keeping up with Joneses” or splurging on unnecessary items. Latte factor anybody? Stop going to Starbucks and have a million bucks more by the time you retire!

And though this is good advice, what about the other side of the equation?

Do you ever feel guilty for spending money on yourself — even when you have your financial house in order?

When Should You Splurge? When It’s Something You Really Want and You Can Afford It…

I’m now at the point where I have absolutely zero debt, fully-funded emergency savings, and an automatic (albeit small) contribution going into an IRA every month.

Yet, I still don’t feel comfortable allowing myself to spend money.

You see: I’d been wanting a new camera for months. I constantly talk about it, I already price shopped, and I probably read a hundred reviews on every camera there is on the market. I finally settled on a mid-range model with rave reviews. It cost about $500.

$500 — for a camera?! In a world where camera phones take pictures almost just as well? That’s what went through my head over and over. How in the world could I spend that much money on a camera?

Because it’s what I really, truly wanted.

We all have our own passions. For some, it’s traveling the world. For others, it’s fast cars and big houses. Me? I just wanted that darn camera.

To make a long story short, I couldn’t bring myself to order the camera. Knowing this, my boyfriend ordered it for me. And you know what? I took over 1,000 pictures the day that camera came in, and have probably taken at least a hundred a day since then.

I’m ecstatic with my purchase, and I am so glad I had someone there to push me to do something for myself. It made me realize that spending money isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s desperately needed.

When Spending is Done Thoughtfully…

Money is meant to be used as a tool. Just because you’re pinching pennies to pay off debt, add to savings, or pad your retirement account doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself once in a while.

Freedom is the whole reason you work on your financial situation: freedom to spend time with those you love, to do what you want, and to live your life without worrying about money.

David’s Note: I want you to let this sink in for a second. Money is a tool to meet your goals. Money shouldn’t itself be the goal. If you let money be the goal, then you will always chase an ever higher account balance. That’s a recipe for being miserable. Do you watch the stock market like a hawk and then feel sad every time it drops? With how volatile markets can be, you can see how often it can negatively affect you right? The good news is that you aren’t alone, but the bad news is that you are in bad company. You can get out of this misery, but it takes consistent reminders, and to have a plan so you know that you are on track even if markets swoon and all hope seems lost. Money is a tool. Repeat after me. Money is just a tool.

If you amass a ton of debt on frivolous items and can’t make ends meet, you’ll be miserable. Money, or lack of it, will always be on your mind. At the same time, if you improve your financial situation but continue to live like a pauper, you’re not going to be happy either.

This can be a hard concept for the frugal minded, but like everything else in life, there has to be a balance. We often talk about how there are many people in the country who haven’t saved enough. But to tell you the truth, there are plenty of people who saved way too much as well. Do you want to enjoy the result of decades of discipline? Or do you want your children to spend it on things you probably don’t 100% agree with? If you are already on track to have financial freedom one day, you are basically letting your heirs decide to spend it on whatever he or she wishes instead of you using the money as you see fit. Think about this.

Plan for tomorrow, yes. But live for today too.

While I’m definitely not suggesting you take on more debt to buy yourself something, I do think you should allow yourself to occasionally splurge on life’s little pleasures. And to think: I learned all this from a camera!

When do you allow yourself to spend money?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Beau W. says:

    I really like this article because you point out that you have to enjoy the money you work hard for sometimes. If you’re feeling guilty about spending your own money when you’re already in the process of saving and investing you’re missing the point. You have to spend some money on yourself and live life.

    • David @ says:

      Fore sure Beau. Tomorrow is important so today is equally so. You can definitely balance the two but only if you make an effort at it.

  • Shah Md. Ferdaus Khaled says:

    I just love your sentence “Plan for tomorrow, yes. But live for today too.”
    You described the importance of money significantly. Yes, Money helps us to have some in the intangibles in life — liberty or freedom, the chance to make the best of our abilities and strengths, the opportunity to pursue our own path in life, financial stability. Much good can be achieved for money and most excessive pain can be prevented or removed.

  • Abigail says:

    My husband has to remind me to spend on things from time to time. He reminds me that the important, spend-worthy stuff is things we really treasure and, perhaps more so, the things that make our lives significantly easier. (We both have health problems.) But for the things we really would treasure, we generally just save up for it in a separate account. That way, it doesn’t seem like we’re dinging savings for our own personal wants.

  • Sassy Mamaw says:

    I love to travel. I allow myself to take a modest vacation, even while paying off debt.

    • David @ says:

      Traveling is a biggie for many people. And it’s a great way to spend your money now because even if you travel when you are older, the destinations change often enough that it wouldn’t have been the same.

  • Simon Cave says:

    When I want something (and that I think that I want it by every means) I just wait one month and if after one month I still badly want that thing, I buy it. Time can really help you prioritize your desire.

    • David @ says:

      Absolutely. I just bought new golf irons, and the first time I coveted a new set was in the end of 2010! Three and a half years is longer than normal, but I didn’t lose any enjoyment from the game, I have brand new irons now, and I am much richer because of good fortunes with investments the last few years!

  • says:

    Great post,

    We make money, save it and invest to make more money. What we are trying to do is creating a secure financial plan for future life without living current life. Only way we could changes this by save & invest fixed money and enjoy the current life with rest.

    “life is short make it sweet”


  • Squirrelers says:

    While I’m an advocate of responsible spending, needs before wants, etc – I agree that we simply don’t want to deny ourselves things that make us happy. We only live once, and personally I have to say that a few of my best experiences have been traveling when I probably had no business spending too much.

    • David @ says:

      Sometimes I wish I traveled more before having kids, so I envy your experiences.

      It’s been a busy few years so while I saved a ton, I miss being out and about. But now that the kiddos are a bit older, we might be able to go to more places.

  • Phil says:

    I have lived on a budget for the last 7 years. I finally have an emergency fund, and have upgrade both cars so that we feel comfortable driving them across the country. We put away over $1000 per month in retirement in addition to saving money, and have been doing this for years (and we are teachers and get a pension…so I think we will be ok in retirement).

    But all the time I spent living responsibly has made it where I have had trouble spending money myself.

    Only in the last year have I managed to treat myself a little. I bought a 1987 boat for $4000, and just got my MacBook Air yesterday (I am typing on it now).

    I guess I just go back to Dave Ramsey’s saying: “Live like no one else so that someday you can live like no one else.”

    • David @ says:

      I love that say from Dave Ramsey, because it’s so true. By being frugal for years, you now have enough money to live the life you’ve always wanted for decades more!

  • Christopher says:

    I am financially secure and have been coveting a convertible for years, so when I found the perfect Saab 9-3 bought it (cash, of course). It is just my joy–and no guilt about it whatsoever.

    • David @ says:

      When you are financially secure, you can definitely afford the finer things in life. Have fun with your car!

  • Shannon says:

    I feel guilty about every purchase I make. Growing up with financial struggles has instilled a sense of financial fear in me that I work daily to get over. However, it’s so true that sometimes you have to live a little – and if it’s for a purchase that doesn’t break you and that you will use regularly, then it’s likely worth it.

    • David @ says:

      It’s hard to get rid of that “save save save” mentality Shannon. But don’t worry, because you’ll be able to loosen up a little more as your stash grows through the years.

      There’s absolutely light at the end of the tunnel!

  • Aldo Rancier says:

    I’m working towards financial independence, but I want to enjoy my youth a little at the same time. I might become financially independent sooner if I just save, save, save, but I’m okay with it taking 5 extra years. I am almost debt free, have an emergency fund, am contributing to my 401k and a Roth IRA and I’m saving a bit more. In total I save 30% of my salary. I think I deserve to spend some of my money and enjoy life a little.

    • Phil says:

      Wow, you save 30% of your salary! How old are you? You are going to be very rich someday!

    • David @ says:

      30% is a good figure. And if you just increase your spending at a lower clip than your raise, you will even be able to increase that percentage AND still spend more!

  • Michelle says:

    Love this! Money is meant to be enjoyed as well. That doesn’t mean that you need to go into hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt, but it means that you can budget fun money into your life as well! 🙂

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