Roadblocks to Saving: Not Treating Yourself (Sometimes)

By in Budget, Debt, Guest Post, Saving, Tips | 14 comments

How to Save????

Welcome to our new guest contributor, Alexandra from Real Simple Finances. She’ll be writing about saving money.

Enjoy Part 1 of the Roadblocks to Saving Series

Part 1 – Roadblocks to Saving: Not Treating Yourself (Sometimes)

Part 2 – Roadblocks to Saving Series; Not Planning Ahead

I have to say it. Get the tomatoes ready, because you may not like it. Not buying yourself things can cause you to spend more money.

I know, I know. It’s counterproductive, you may say. It shows a lack of willpower when you buy things you don’t need! (Hey, not everyone is born with the the brain of a saver.) I’m here to argue for the healthy habit of treating yourself, the smart way.

Without a plan in place, this idea could go awry very quickly, so let’s lay down some ground rules first!

cheap rewards

Save money with ice cream sundae reward!

1. You must have a reason for the reward.

By this, I mean that you should have reached a finance goal, be it meeting an emergency fund value goal, paying off a debt, or hitting any other milestone you may have set for yourself. It is always a bad idea to justify a purchase with the phrase “I deserve this.” Trust me, I’ve been there. I think I deserve an awful lot more than my bank book does! When you decide to only buy rewards with a specific reason in mind, a lot of your random “but I’ve worked so hard” purchases will cease.

2. Your reward should be planned.

Let’s say that your ultimate goal was to add another $1,000 to your emergency fund. You should already know what reward you are going to get when you reach that goal. By promising yourself something ahead of time, you eliminate the chance that you will make an impulsive purchase (or multiple impulsive purchases!) when extra money comes your way.

This step will also give you something to look forward to in addition to meeting your goal. Sometimes paying off my debt isn’t fun, but knowing that I’m getting something (however small) can get me excited about my goals again.

3. Your reward should mean something to you.

Rewarding yourself in a way that is boring isn’t much of an incentive to meet your goals. Don’t promise yourself that after paying off $500 in debt you’ll take your cat to be groomed, unless that’s a) something that’s incredibly motivating to you or b) incredibly needed, and there’s no way you can afford it otherwise. Frankly, I’d rather pick up a kit and groom my own cat, and get myself a pedicure.

4. Your reward should not undo all the work you put into meeting your goal.

Do not add $1,000 to your emergency fund only to decide you deserve a new car, especially if that new car will add an additional expense to your monthly spending. Before you know it, that $1,000 will probably be gone. Instead, make a deal with yourself: “Hey, self. When I save $1,000 toward my emergency fund, I will take my next $100 and put it in the new-car fund!” (Or buy seat covers for your new car, or get a massage if cars aren’t your thing.)

Of course, there are a few things to remember when choosing rewards:

The reward doesn’t have to be big. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be! I’ve been wanting to get a specific bracelet for a while. The bracelet costs $30. Is that a frivolous purchase? Yes. Is it something I would enjoy and wear often? Yes, and yes. If I paid off $500 of my student loan debt, I would absolutely feel fine with purchasing a bracelet. In fact, it might mean more to me when I know that it symbolizes a step in my debt pay-off journey.

Maybe you like eating out on the weekends. How much money would you save if you didn’t eat out for a month? Try it, I dare you. Instead of spending money eating out, try putting that money toward a debt payment. At the end of the month, go out for dinner once.

You don’t have to reward yourself for everything! Rewards can get out of hand quickly. Instead of giving yourself a small present every time you save $100, save your purchases for bigger milestones. $500 or $1,000 increments are always good to start at if you really need some motivation, but if you’d prefer fewer, bigger rewards, I encourage you to set your goals higher: Promise yourself a reward after you pay off your car payment.

As you can see, by using rewards to motivate you to meet your financial goals you are actually saving money on impulse purchases! The money you save by not treating yourself to brunch every Sunday can really add up. When you finally get your brunch reward, you’ll enjoy it that much more. Promise.

Be sure to stop check out Part 2 – Roadblocks to Saving Series; Not Planning Ahead

Alexandra is the owner of Real Simple Finances, where she writes easy finances tips for real people. In addition to fighting off student loan debt, Alexandra is a university English Instructor and will be graduating in May, 2014, with her Master of Arts.

Do you reward yourself when you reach a goal? What types of rewards do you use?

image credit; widimedia_google_images


  1. I like to reward myself with stuff I already have (or that don’t cost extra) but that I normally wouldn’t make time for. For example, meet my latest saving goal? Maybe I’ll let myself watch the latest shark movie on Netflix. Maybe I’ll let myself spend time just staring at the trees.

    Stuff like that.

    Debt BLAG

    October 31, 2013

  2. Yes, I use rewards to motivate me for certain things. I never had to reward myself for savings because I enjoy the growth in the investments anyway.


    October 31, 2013

  3. I do reward myself too I’m a fan of going to a spa and having a good massage and buying some trendy blouses. But I only do that once a month I set my own limits and budget for that.

  4. This is where I think “SMART” needs an extra letter. When setting goals, its important for them to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. But, they MUST also be worthwhile. There must be an understand of what the reward is at the end of the tunnel. In fact, maybe we should have a “T-SWARM” of goals… I’ll keep thinking of a good acronym!!


    November 1, 2013

  5. Yes, it’s good to give ourselves some rewards for reaching a goal. I have a friend who went on a diet and she made it a point not to eat certain fattening food, but instead of avoiding them, she reward herself with a bite of those food at least once a week, that way she will still be able to enjoy them, but not as much as before.

    Beat The 9 to 5

    November 1, 2013

  6. @Debt, I think that reward is genius. I love to sit on the patio, and don’t do it enough. I’m going to add that to my reward list.
    Krantc-That’s perfect, internal motivation!
    @Clarisse-Now those rewards sound really “yummy”. I have recently treated myself to weekly Yoga classes. Heavenly!
    @Money Stepper-Please stop back and let us know when you come up with the “acronym”. There’s so much great information about goal setting out there. The key is writing them down and following through.
    @Beat-As a former “chubby” teen. I’ve learned that you can’t deprive yourself of treats…. or else you binge. I had to learn to incorporate moderate treats into my diet.

    Barbara Friedberg

    November 1, 2013

  7. It makes sense that we should treat ourselves here and there, particularly as a reward for reaching a goal. It can help us out in the big picture, kind of like a small cost for us to obtain something more important (the goal). Plus, life is not all about driving for improvements, it’s also about enjoying the one that we’re blessed to have!


    November 4, 2013

  8. Great tips here, Alexandra! We just hit our 2k mark in our credit card payoff plan, and we will indeed encourage ourselves with a reward. It works well to keep you on track toward reaching that next milestone!

    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    November 5, 2013

  9. I’ve got lots of targets in life and every time I hit a target I reward myself. I don’t reward myself for ongoing work I only reward myself when I’ve achieved something. My next target is to build a residual passive form of income on the internet, as soon as I reach $10k I will be treating myself to a nice holiday. This is a great post, thanks for sharing.

    Imran @ Xomba

    November 6, 2013

    • Imran-I like the idea of planning out in advance how you are going to reward yourself. Very motivating!

      Barbara Friedberg

      November 10, 2013

  10. I call this problem shopping binge-ing. I’ve done it in the past, but I also get some pretty heavy buyers remorse and return everything. So it doesn’t end up costing me anything, but it is a pain. I’ve been doing a lot better, lately, though. Been allowing myself to spend on small rewards and realizing it’s not the end of the world. Like you said, it could actually end up saving my budget. Or at least a trip to the store to return all that crap I bought.


    November 11, 2013

    • @Femme, I am a huge fan of the dollar store for rewards. You can go crazy for a few bucks. I also look at the grocery as a treat when I buy something special.

      Barbara Friedberg

      November 13, 2013

  11. This lines up with research in psychology that demonstrates rewards being good for promoting good habit formation (Pavlov dog). Its a great way to release any pent up urges to buy stuff when we have a purpose.
    I like rewarding myself with a travel experience once in a while especially when I’ve had a solid productive month 🙂

    Simon @ Modest Money

    November 25, 2013

  12. @Simon, Personally, I find travel one of the best uses of wealth. Those travel experiences stay with you forever.

    Barbara Friedberg

    November 26, 2013


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