As someone who writes about financial issues all day long, I'm certainly not one to spend money frivolously. At the same time, I don't believe in depriving myself of the small luxuries that make my days more pleasant and easier to tackle. And sometimes, that means splurging on expensive store-bought coffee knowing full well that I can make a cup at home for a fraction of the cost.
When I first got into this habit (which, to be clear, I don't indulge in every day but rather once or twice a week -- at most -- as a treat), it was hard to sip my store-bought coffee without feeling guilty. There I was, paying between $2 and $3 for something that would cost pennies in my own kitchen. But there's a reason I'm able to now drink my fancy coffee without stress: It's not stopping me from meeting my financial goals.
If you want to enjoy your beverage of choice in a similarly guiltless fashion, here are two things you ought to do.
1. Pay yourself first
You might argue that spending $2 or $3 a day on coffee won't impact your long-term financial goals, and in many cases, you'd be correct. But personally, I feel much better about spending that money when I go in knowing that I've already done my fair share of saving for the month. That's why I make a point to pay myself first before treating myself to things I want, whether it's food or clothing or vacations.
As a freelancer, I don't collect a steady paycheck, but rather I get paid for the work I produce. As such, automating my savings isn't as easy as it would be for someone who gets paid a set amount every two weeks. Still, whenever I get paid for an article or project, I take at least 20% of my earnings and stick it into an account earmarked for retirement. Because I'm caught up on emergency savings and I'm not setting money aside for any near-term goals at present (I already own a home, so I don't have a down payment on my radar), I can use that portion of my income to save for the future.
Now if you're behind on emergency savings, establishing that safety net should take priority over all other goals, including retirement. But if you make a habit of paying yourself first, it'll buy you the option to use your leftover cash to treat yourself without worry. So go ahead and set up an automatic savings plan with your bank, or sign up for your employer's 401(k) if you're good on near-term cash reserves. It's a smart move regardless, and if it helps you avoid feeling guilty about indulging here and there, even better.
2. Follow a budget
I'm a firm believer in following a budget because doing so helps me understand where my money is going. This way, if I do encounter financial issues at any point (like the time I needed to plunk down more than $15,000 to fix a grading issue on my property), I'll know exactly where I have room to cut corners.
If you want to enjoy your luxury purchases without guilt, create a budget and factor them into it. If, for example, you come to see that you can afford to spend $3 a day on coffee and still pay your bills and save money, then there's no reason to feel bad about it. On the other hand, if you come to find that your daily beverage is causing you to get squeezed in other areas, you might want to scale back -- or reduce another expense category if buying store-bought drinks does more to improve your quality of life.
Most importantly, make sure your favorite treats, whether in the form of coffee or something else, don't impede your ability to save reasonably month after month. If they do, then once again, you'll need to consider cutting back or altering your spending elsewhere until your income increases. And again, paying yourself first can make that decision easier. If you automatically factor a certain level of savings into your budget and work backward from there, you'll be more apt to make smart choices about where the rest of your money goes.
Though it took some time for me to get to a place at which I can treat myself to small luxuries without guilt, I'm happy I'm finally there. And I encourage anyone who regularly feels bad about indulging to take the above steps and join me.
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