Do We Deny Ourselves More Often Than We Treat Ourselves?

Photo credit: Daniel Oines, CC BY 2.0.

So I’m going on the JoCo Cruise next week and I am suddenly obsessed with the idea that I need some fake hibiscus flowers to put into my hair.

Like, to the point where Amazon is probably already moving a pack of clip-in flowers towards a Seattle dispatch, because the algorithm is assuming I’m going to buy them.

I am not going to buy them. At this point I know it’s less about what I need for this cruise and more about what I hope will happen, which is that I hope I’ll look good. (Let’s be honest. I hope I’ll look pretty.)

My new “cocktail dress.” It cost $15.94.

I have already invested in a few new sundresses and a fresh box of pre-color-coordinated makeup and a haircut. Me telling myself I need to buy a pack of cheap silk flowers is the equivalent of worrying whether the oven is turned off or—to use a more realistic example—looking up whether you can actually catch colds from changes in barometric pressure after I spent this weekend accidentally getting caught outside in the rain.

I’m also not going to buy them because—as Ester Bloom wrote earlier this week and as I am going to quote incessantly—we like to control the small expenses. It is very easy for me to say, virtuously, that I will not spend $6.99 on hair flowers when I am secretly planning to book a $100 massage the minute I get on the boat. (I am waiting until the minute I get on the boat because I got an email from the cruise line advising me to take advantage of the spa discounts available immediately after boarding. Again: micromanaging the relatively small expenses.)

But I’m also not going all-in on every last purchase, whether it’s clip-in flowers or a new dress that costs more than $16, because of—well, because one of our regular readers just sent me a link to this Lifehacker piece that says it’s better to go without than to owe money, and then asked me whether I also consistently denied myself stuff that I could easily afford, just because I’d also internalized this whole “it’s better to go without” thing.

And the short answer is: of course not. I am about to leave on my annual cruise, after all. On Monday I bought myself a Valentine’s Day present, and it wasn’t even Valentine’s Day. This year I created a book budget so I could treat myself to more books. I buy myself things all the time.

But the longer answer is: sure, I deny myself too. I eat scrap meals to save money. I go outside in a jacket that needs to be replaced and shoes that are almost worn through—but since they haven’t completely fallen apart yet, I won’t buy another pair. 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.

So yeah, I deny myself stuff all the time. Maybe because I feel like that stuff isn’t as important to me as, say, buying a box of Russell Stover chocolates, and maybe because I feel like I need to cut back somewhere.

Maybe I feel like if I bought myself everything I wanted and needed, I’d be out of control. There is always something new to want, after all.

But I’m not sure I deny myself more often than I treat myself, all things considered. I need to collect some data on this, so I’ll keep track over the rest of the week and give you a report on Friday. I’ll start my tallying with what I spent (or didn’t spend) last weekend, so you’ll have a full week’s record of how often I treat vs. deny.

What about you? Do you feel like you treat yourself more, or deny yourself more? Does it change depending on how much you have in the bank (or how much you have on the credit card)? Does anyone else want to tally up how often they treat or deny themselves this week?