Do I Deny Myself More Often Than I Treat Myself? Let’s Look at the Data

Photo credit: Frédéric BISSON, CC BY 2.0.

Earlier this week, I responded to a Billfolder who asked if I also got stuck in this “I should deny myself something even if I can afford it” financial thought loop.

My response was pretty simple: sure, I deny myself a lot of things I want—but I treat myself, too.

But I didn’t know whether I treated myself more than I denied myself, all things considered. So I decided to put some data to this assumption, cataloging all of the treats and denials I’d given myself over the past week.

Friday, February 12

We’ll start with a treat: I purchased myself a $4.80 strip of mini bobby pins (36 count).

Why is this a treat? Because I didn’t need them. I could have kept on using the full-size bobby pins that I already had in my dresser, even though those don’t hold my hair as well as the mini pins and they don’t blend in with my hair color very well.

But I had wanted a second pack of mini bobby pins for over a year (seriously; I bought my first pack probably two or three years ago and gradually lost 30 of the 36 pins, and I’ve been carefully keeping track of the remaining six for a very long time) and I decided to give myself this present.

Saturday, February 13

Time for some denial: when I went to get my hair cut, got caught in the rain on the way there, and my stylist said “since your hair’s already wet, do you want to just skip the shampoo?” I said “okay.” This cut a few dollars off my final bill, so we’ll tally this denial as -$3.00.

I also denied myself a post-haircut cupcake, even though there’s a cupcake shop right next to the salon and I’ve gotten cupcakes after haircuts before, and I knew they would have special Valentine’s Day flavors and what if I missed out on getting to try a novelty-flavored cupcake??? -$5.00.

Then I treated myself to a $16.96 Lyft ride home, because I did not want to spend 90 minutes on buses, standing and walking in the pouring rain between transfers.

Sunday, February 14

No treats, no denials. I binged the second season of Mozart in the Jungle for free.

Monday, February 15

I went grocery shopping and treated myself to a $0.99 heart-shaped box of Russell Stover chocolates (original price $1.99).

I also denied myself two items, in the sense that I put them on my grocery list and then decided, once I was in the store, that I didn’t really need them: one avocado (-$1.49) and one can of sliced black olives (-$1.00).

I also did not buy myself fresh flowers, because I told myself I did not need flowers in my home if I was just going to be there for one week before I left for the JoCo Cruise. This is the kind of logic that doesn’t make sense, since cut flowers only last for about a week anyway, unless you view it as a denial. -$5.00.

Tuesday, February 16

I told myself I was absolutely not going to buy a pack of silk hibiscus flowers to put in my hair just so I could look extra festive on a cruise ship. -$6.99.

Wednesday, February 17

No less than ten hours after publishing the original “Do We Deny Ourselves More Often Than We Treat Ourselves?” including the phrase “I tell myself I can’t spend $2.99 on an Amazon video, not when there are thousands of things I can watch that don’t involve spending $2.99,” I… spent $3.28 to watch the newest episode of The Magicians.

This was an unexpected expense, because up to this point SyFy had been streaming the episodes for free. Yes, I could have denied myself the newest episode, but I had been looking forward to it all day, and I had already hauled my projector out of the closet so I could home-theater the episode. The treat was inevitable.

Also, remember those Magicians cupcakes I made when the show premiered?

I also ended up ordering a $26.92 pizza, because my plan to just buy enough food to last me through Friday fell through. The broccoli I was going to use as the bulk vegetable in a tofu bake turned out to be soft on one side. Like, “nearly liquified soft.” So instead of making enough tofu and broccoli and peas to last me for the next few meals, I got a pizza instead.

Is this a treat? When you’ve already preheated the oven and pulled out your broccoli and thought “wait, this wasn’t supposed to happen!” it feels more like a necessity. So I’m not counting it as a true treat.

Thursday, February 18

This doesn’t really count, but I went back to the grocery store to buy a bottle of dish soap and get $60 in cash back without having to pay an ATM fee. While I was there, I saw these adorable owl vases in the floral section that would perfectly match the blue/gray colors in my bedroom and looked almost exactly like one of the six owl necklaces I already owned. (When your necklace matches your vase, you know you’re doing coordination right.)

The vases cost $20, and I did not buy one, but I’m not counting this as a denial because I didn’t plan to buy a vase and then tell myself I couldn’t. It was more like me refusing an impulse buy, which is a pretty smart thing to do. If I continue to want that vase for the next month, think about buying the vase, and then tell myself I can’t have it, it counts as a denial.

Friday, February 19

We’re already halfway through Friday and I don’t plan to buy any treats or deny myself anything today, so let’s tally up:

Four treats (bobby pins, chocolate, Lyft, Magicians episode), totaling $26.03.

Six denials (shampoo, cupcake, avocado, olives, flowers, silk hibiscus hair clips), totaling -$22.48.

You’ll probably have different opinions on what counts as a treat or a denial. For me, what’s most important is what it feels like. Is this something I’m doing that makes me feel happy and taken care of? Or is it a piece of happiness and care I’m denying myself in order to save money?

The Lyft car might be the best example of this. Yes, I could have stood in the rain (and walked a little under a mile in the rain, without an umbrella) and denied myself the happiness and self-care of not having to do that. But I chose to give myself that care, even though it would cost $16.96.

What do you think of all of this? Do you agree with the way I track treats and denials? If you were to tally up your treats and denials this week, what would your lists look like?