Pretty much every time I have a bad day at work, I splurge on food or drinks at the end of the day. Whether it’s ordering $30 worth of takeout or buying a round of drinks for my friends, it makes me feel a little better afterwards. Should I be worried about spending money this way, or is it OK to treat myself?
–Too Much Takeout
Dear Too Much Takeout,
It’s definitely OK to treat yourself sometimes–we should all give ourselves permission to buy a little bit of happiness every now and then, whether it’s a new pair of shoes or an impromptu dinner out. The key thing to monitor is whether these purchases are still making you feel happy. This kind of splurging can become a problem when something that once felt like a special treat – like buying a round of drinks – simply becomes a habit and you stop really appreciating it. So pay attention to how your purchases makes you feel. If you find yourself buying $30 of takeout but it’s no longer a happy spend because it’s making you feel guilty or worry about your finances, that can be a learning moment to say OK, this is no longer providing me with happiness, maybe I can just make some pasta and save money.
Research I’ve done also suggests that taking a break from the things that give us pleasure can actually renew our capacity to appreciate them. So if you’ve gotten in the habit of reaching for your phone to order expensive takeout before you’ve really thought about what you want for dinner, it could be helpful to try taking a break from that minor indulgence. Try not having it for a week and see if you miss it. If you don’t, that could be a great opportunity to skip the purchase and save money. If you do miss it, remember that taking that break not only saves you money, but can actually increase your enjoyment of the treat. When pleasurable spending just becomes a habit, taking a break from it can make it, well, pleasurable again.
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Tuesday for her next column.