If you’re struggling financially, trying to pay off debt, or just trying to get your financial house in order, there’s one piece of advice that will pop up over and over again from the “financial gurus”. That advice boils down to never enjoy anything ever.
Never Enjoy Anything Ever
Want to treat yourself to a coffee? Better not if you’re in debt! That two bucks could have gone to your credit card payment! Had a long day and don’t feel like making dinner? Clearly that one dinner out is the reason that you are poor. How dare you treat yourself when you have debt? How dare you try to find any enjoyment in life if your finances aren’t perfect?
This type of advice is all over the finance sphere, in blog posts, on Twitter, and in the mainstream media. If you aren’t scrimping and saving, living a completely bare-bones existence, then it’s your own fault that you are poor. You should have made better choices. Luxuries such as a night out, a decent phone, and good food are clearly not for the proletariat. If you want to get ahead, you must sacrifice all things that bring you joy or comfort.
What the “Never Enjoy Anything Ever” Folks Get Wrong
Clearly, I don’t agree with the never enjoy anything ever philosophy. I think it comes from a place of privilege and a gross misunderstanding of human nature.
It is incredibly easy to sacrifice a night out or a tasty treat when you have money. I know, willpower is a still a thing (just ask me about my junk food addiction!). But, it’s easier to sacrifice when you know that if you really wanted it, you could just get it tomorrow or next week. People trapped in poverty don’t have that peace of mind. If they don’t treat themselves today, they may not be able to treat themselves again for a few weeks or months. The scarcity mindset is real, and it affects the decisions of millions of people on a daily basis.
Never enjoy anything ever is not realistic advice for the middle class trying to dig themselves out of debt or get their financial lives on track either. People aren’t machines. We need some treats and basic comforts every now and again.
I get that there are some people out there who are capable of working 90 hours per week, eating only rice and beans for every meal, and forgoing anything unnecessary – just like there are people who can sprint 100 meters in 12 seconds, or eat 20 hot dogs in one sitting, or climb Mount Everest without getting winded.
These people exist, but they are exceptional. If you can do those things, you should be proud. However, you shouldn’t put down others for not being able to. You should try to understand that not everyone is capable of doing the same. There may even be some people who are physically capable, but their circumstances are different. You never know someone’s individual circumstances, so try to empathize rather than judge.
What You Can Do if You’ve Bought into the Narrative
If you followed along with this never enjoy anything narrative and are feeling down on yourself because you haven’t been able to achieve it, stop being so hard on yourself! Obviously, this philosophy is unrealistic and unachievable for most people. So give yourself a break.
After you relax and realize that the strategy that you were sold is actually unachievable, let’s consider a different approach. I think you will like it a lot better, and it will be much easier (and more fun!). This new strategy involves rewarding yourself every now and again!
I know, I know. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It’s been drilled into you that rewarding yourself is wrong, and it’s the reason you are struggling financially. That’s just not true. Life is expensive. Low wages and a high cost of living are why you are struggling financially. A five-dollar latte, every once in a while, isn’t going to make much of a dent in your thirty thousand-dollar student loan debt.
But in Moderation
Now I’m not advocating for going spend crazy. A five-dollar latte, every once in a while, isn’t going to hurt – but a five-dollar latte every day will. The never enjoy anything ever crowd does get one thing right, and that’s the idea that you shouldn’t just throw your money away. You should budget, you should be investing, saving, and putting money towards debt repayment. The difference is that you should include a little bit of reward money in your budget.
I do this when I go grocery shopping. If you’ve read my post on how to save money on groceries, you’ll remember that I always include room in my budget for my favorite snacks, and room for a special treat. These minor weekly expenses do go against the never enjoy anything ever mindset. How dare I buy myself brownies when I carry credit card debt? But I will never be able to go more than a month without tasty treats. If I don’t allow myself one or two a week, I will splurge and buy ten times that much later. That’s not good for my wallet or my waistline.
This same concept should be applied to everything. Allow yourself a treat! Budget for a night out every once in a while. Make sure you are enjoying your life as you go.
Why You Should Enjoy Your Life (Even if You’re in Debt!)
This is antithetical to all the financial advice you’ve ever gotten, but you really need to find a way to enjoy your life while you’re trying to pay off debt and get your financial life in order. It’s far more likely that you will fall off the wagon and make a financial mistake if you aren’t enjoying yourself.
A great way to do this is by giving yourself small rewards for reaching milestones. Did you get that first credit card paid off? Treat yourself to a night out. Get over 10K in debt paid off? Have a weekend getaway! Having a rewards system will help you stay on track and keep your motivation up.
But, you should also enjoy your life outside of your rewards system. Not only will it keep your motivation up and prevent you from slipping, but also, life is meant for living. Why throw away the best years of your life to scrimping and saving until you are too old to enjoy the fruits of your labor? That concept has never made any sense to me. Of course, that’s why I’m a huge proponent of passion fire, but even without that, you should find small ways to enjoy yourself during your debt repayment journey. It will make you happier, and if you are happier you are more likely to succeed.
What People in the Finance World Can Do Instead
I do think a lot of finance bloggers and gurus are guilty of perpetuating this nonsense. This entire post was inspired by a Dave Ramsey quote I saw on Twitter (which was shared by the 76K project, who’s an awesome proponent of enjoying your life while getting your finances in order!). That tweet basically said that if you have any debt, you should not be going to a restaurant unless you are working there. Talk about being privileged and out of touch!
Instead of shaming people for enjoying something, we should be celebrating them for trying. We should be advocating for self-care in addition to debt-free journeys (and yes, self-care can mean spending money “unnecessarily” on ourselves!). And we really need to stop advocating that people sacrifice every aspect of themselves to get their financial lives in order.
Not only is it hurtful, but it also perpetuates the myth that people are only poor because of their own choices. It places the blame on the individual rather than a system that keeps people trapped in this cycle of debt and consumerism. We need to advocate for changes to the system rather than tell people that they deserve poverty for trying to enjoy a small aspect of their life.
So let’s start celebrating our small rewards and treats! Let’s write blog posts about how we spend our money on self-care, or how we splurge on special occasions. You can start by sharing your small treats to yourself in the comments! I’d love to hear them!
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.