Guilty pleasure

There are so many interesting English phrases that puzzles my mind on a daily basis. Today we’ll explore the phrase Guilty Pleasure.

By Wikipedia definition, Guilty Pleasure is something, such as a movie, a television program or a piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard.

Treats like ice cream, chocolate, and cheesecake are generally considered guilty pleasures by many people. People realize these treats are not the healthiest, but people eat them because they taste so good.

When it comes to the finance side of things, things like watching a movie at the theater, eating out,  having a latte at a coffee shop, and perhaps owning a pet all have been categorized as guilty pleasures by many financial advocates, because they are considered unnecessary expenses. So when people try to reduce their spendings, entertainment and dining out are usually the first few items that people reduce or eliminate. (You can’t just cut your pet lose, that’s just wrong).

Think about this for a second… does it make sense to call these items Guilty Pleasures?

Imagine eating a scoop of guilt instead of a scoop of ice cream. Guilt probably doesn’t taste that great, does it?

If you keep calling these items or activities guilty pleasures, aren’t you simply spending your money on buying guilt?

Shouldn’t we all focus on pleasures instead? Pleasure in a good and balanced amount will only bring positive things to our lives.

As someone that advocates living below your means, being frugal, and minimizing spending, what I’m writing now seems very contradicting.

Please allow me to explain.

The human mind is a very powerful tool. If we believe in something, subconsciously we will make all effort to make sure that we achieve what we believe in, whether this is a positive or negative belief. Our subconscious will re-enforce whatever we believe in and make our belief come true sooner or later. Ever wonder why people say: “words of affirmation is a very powerful tool?” Simple, because what you focus on expands. Words of affirmation allows you to keep focusing on the things you want to achieve in life. If you believe in something and focus on it, your mind will put all the energy, consciously and subconsciously, into making it happen. Furthermore, the universe will bend over backwards to help you achieving your goals.

So when you’re eating that piece of delicious cheesecake with ice cream on the side and telling yourself that you’re having some guilty pleasure, you’re telling your subconscious mind that you’re eating guilt. Consciously you may feel good, but subconsciously you are making yourself feeling worse and worse.

Instead of spending a solid 2+ hours watching a movie in the theater, having a good time, and not being disturbed, you’re telling your subconscious that you’re watching guilt and you’re missing out on all the different tasks that you’re supposed to do. You feel guilty for spending money on the movie ticket and feel guilty for not managing your time efficiently.

When it comes down to it, you’re telling your subconscious that you’re wasting your hard earned money on buying guilt.

That’s probably not the right message you want to send out, right?

I’m all for being frugal and minimizing expenses, but when you decide to spend your money, stop feeling guilty about it and enjoy it fully instead.

Feeling guilty or sorry for yourself whenever you spend money is not the vibe that you want to send out to the universe.

Stop feeling guilty about spending money.

Start feeling good about spending money, start thinking that the money you spend will return back to you in non-monetary value by 10 times. Start thinking that the money you spend is helping out others somehow.

The root of the problem is not about spending money on pleasure. For some, the root of the problem is spending all your money or spending more than you have, on pleasure. This is why some people get into the never ending debt issue. It’s a downward spiral.

Sounds great but how do we put this to practice?

What do we do in our household?

The practice that works for us is that we allocate a certain amount of money each month in a category called Play. We spend this amount of money on activities and things that we enjoy and we must spend all the money each month. So we use this money to have a nice dinner, having coffee at a local cafe, enjoying some handcrafted Artisan chocolates, getting a massage, or going for a movie or play. The small amount of play money we spend brings pleasure to both Mrs. T and I. We get to spend quality time together and enjoy a small slice of luxury.

To be perfectly honest, it took me a long time to feel good about spending our Play money. I used to think about not having the $10 lattes so we can save that money for investing instead. But what I failed to see was how much pleasure the $10 lattes provided both Mrs. T and I as we could sit down in the coffee shop for an hour and have a heart to heart conversation. We would be soaked in happiness and joy after. To me, the $10 that we spent was well worth the pleasure that we received. When I changed my belief system and started to truly enjoy the activities that we do with the play money, I felt liberated.

Life is all about balance. We should take our financial independence journey with a balanced approach too. Saving is important, but quality of life is important too. Which sounds like a more balanced approach? Working for 120 hours a week at 5 different jobs so your mortgage can be paid off in 3 years, or working for 30 hours a week at 1 job and pay off the mortgage in 10 years? Since life balance is different from person to person, I can’t answer the question for you. For me, the latter case makes more sense to me. Working 120 hours a week means missing out on Baby T’s growing up completely. Although the mortgage can be paid off 7 years faster, I probably would miss 3 full years of his life. To me, that is just not worth it.

Live below your means, save, invest, and not to forget to have a little bit of pleasure here and there. Life is all about balance. Don’t deprive yourself. Feel good about your choice in pleasures.



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23 thoughts on “Guilty pleasure”

  1. My friend went out and brought a $100 dollar massage and thought she saved money by not buying a $400 one. I think $100 to drop for a one time, 45 minute pleasure seems like a lot in her financial situation. I would like to term think a good guilty pleasure as something under $30 a go (a day or a few times a week) or else I think it does add up to big money.

    • Yes and no. Again it really depends on the right level of balance for you. My key point here is if you’re spending, stop feeling guilty about it.

  2. I mostly agree with this. When we first made early retirement a goal, we cut a lot of things back. Over the past year or so we’ve been adding stuff back in, trying to find a balance. We definitely do the “allowance” system, as it avoids the fights about money that are simultaneously the worst and the silliest (because of the small $ amounts involved).

    My criticism is that it’s all too easy to let the “guilt-free spending” mentality lead one right back down the road of lifestyle inflation. My favorite counter to this mindset is something coined by livingafi where he stresses that retirement savings is best viewed as spending – spending on one’s future.

    So I usually view it that way. Spending on the now versus spending on the future. There’s rarely a straight yes/no right/wrong answer to this but it’s something I like to have in mind. That way it’s not that I’m guilty about spending, I’m acknowledging a priority of one thing over another.

    • Hi David,

      Yes it’s easy to let the “guilt-free spending” mentality take over but the key here is to find the right balance so you can avoid lifestyle inflation. There’s no right and wrong way to spending as it depends on the individual. I do like that idea of retirement saving is like spending on one’s future.

  3. Hi Tawcan. 🙂 Hooray for artisan chocolates! And congrats on the Rockstar Finance shout-out. 🙂 I like this post a lot. I’m definitely in a place these days where I feel like I *shouldn’t* spend money on anything if I can help it, but your point is very well taken: if I do spend money on something, it shouldn’t be on guilt! I suppose it’s all about making conscious choices about spending money rather than just spending it without thinking.

    On a related note, in October I challenged myself not to buy any restaurant food or takeout (a big change for me because I had been mindlessly getting takeout for dinner for months), and I managed to pull it off…and then, when I did finally go out to eat in early November — not out of habit this time, but out of choice — I think I appreciated it a lot more than I would have otherwise. 🙂

    • Hi The Yachtless,

      You’re right, it’s all about making conscious choices about spending money rather than just spending it without thinking. Keep thins in perspective and find the right balance for you.

  4. Excellent and timely post. My wife and I are both very frugal and have had frugal upbringings. We live below are means and do not spend frivolously but sometimes I find that we beat ourselves up too much about spending on something. Even when it’s something worthwhile, we still have that problem. It is ingrained in our heads…but we really need to just enjoy it sometimes.

    • Hi Andrew,

      I was like you and your wife, it was really tough for me to spend play money. Somehow “saving” was ingrained in my head. It took a while for me to get over that. Learn to enjoy life and you’ll break out from this “always saving” concept.

  5. I prefer to tell myself that something is enjoyable and, as long as it’s been budgeted for, that it’s fine in moderation.

    Right now, I try to steer clear of sugary stuff. But last weekend the cravings were too strong, so I indulged. I didn’t feel guilty because I reminded myself how well I do the rest of the time. So the occasional sugar binge will happen, and it’s not worth feeling bad about. (Especially since that’d probably just lead to seeking comfort in more sugar.)

    So I was annoyed, but not guilty. And I was only annoyed because I knew I’d feel like hell for two days afterward.

    • Hi Seattlegirlluw,

      In moderation is indeed the key. It’s fine eating sugar here and there, as long as you don’t consume too much of it. 🙂

  6. Hi Tawcan, enjoyed reading your post. I like pieces of FI that actually talk about spending because we focus so much on saving and investing. When you retire, you face the prospect of possibly having to spend what you’ve accumulated so it’s good to get some practice in. My “guilty pleasures” have pretty much been blowing cash on holidays, but I don’t regret a penny and I intend to continue with them, even although retirement is pretty much like an extended holiday anyway!

    • Thank you for the comment. Good point about not used to “spending” if you spend the entire life “saving.” That’s why many savers continue to save even in retirement and couldn’t get out and live a little.

  7. Well said! Stop being guilty when pleasure is involved! It’s all about balance and happiness. I’m for reducing our belongings and live simpler, but all this is to ENJOY life! No way I will feel guilty about pursuing my dreams and my pleasures. Life is too short for regrets!

    Cheers to that Tawcan!


  8. I love the lifestyle posts from you. I agree with the “splurge”. Mr and I would do the same. The one piece that is missing from this is the Tawcans, and the WRIs are the same, we all saved a lot of our income and work pretty hard in our 20s to get to this point. When you are young, it’s okay to live as frugal as possible, so your 30 yo self would have a choice to no longer work or no longer working as hard. 🙂

    • Hi Vivianne,

      Glad to hear that you enjoy reading posts like this one. I was worried that people are finding these posts too helpful and thought provoking. 🙂

  9. I see guilty pleasure as something I enjoy but may be embarrassed to share. For instance, some night time tv shows that may be characterized as “soap operas” I enjoy watching for the drama. Ack! The cat’s out of the bag! 🙂
    As far as finance guilty pleasures go, we have a system too. Our version of Play money is called allowances. It started as “anything that just benefits you” i.e. lunch out with co-workers, a 6 pack of nice beer (Mrs. SSC doesn’t drink beer), homebrew supplies, music supplies, etc… It’s morphed into clothes, any restaurants, birthday and Christmas gifts, and more but it’s where the guilty pleasure spending comes from.
    If I want to spend money on lunch out, then it’s from my funds and they’re accounted for already in the budget. So no guilt or overspending. It works well for us and lets us have the chance for some “free” spending however we see fit.

    • Hi Mr. SSC,

      I don’t think there’s anything to be embarrassed about. Feel good about doing something that you enjoy!

      Sounds like you guys have it sorted out on the finance side of things when it comes to spending for pleasure. Great stuff! 😀

  10. Tawcan, great post. I agree with you wholeheartedly about our internal thoughts on guilt. Spending without guilt is such a great feeling which is why a “Play” account is a healthy practice. I definitely find that I’m the happiest when things are in balance.

  11. Balance is the key. I’ve never really thought of purchases or foods as guilty pleasures, at least not consciously. Getting your financial house in order and coming up with a plan for your money before it comes in goes a long way towards removing the guilt. I don’t have an issue with spending $5 on coffee or $20-30 for my wife and I go to see a movie or whatever else we do because I know we’re making huge progress with our planned savings. Sure that extra money would help on the journey but I don’t want to go through life not enjoying it. The problem is when people just spend with no regards to the income they bring in or don’t have a solid backup plan if SHTF.

    • Hi JC,

      Balance is definitely the key. You need to go through life and enjoying it. Quality of life right now is very important because you never know if you’re going to be around tomorrow. Things happen. Need to go through life with present time in mind while saving for the future. Too many people just spend for now and do not plan for the future.


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