Drop the Guilt: How To Splurge Without Breaking the Bank

Is it just me, or do I come off at times as a real financial stick in the mud? Uh huh. That’s what I thought.

Look back at my archives and you’ll notice I’ve written plenty of articles about the importance of saving money and spending less than you earn. But when it comes to posts on spending money and having a good time, well, you have to look a little harder.

Please accept my apologies; I never meant to be such a wet blanket.

The Conflict Between Splurging and Frugality

One of the first personal finance lessons I ever learned came from my dad, when he first told me that he’s never seen a Brinks truck follow a hearse. He’s right, you know.

Sometimes we owe it to ourselves to splurge a little. After all, what is the point of working if we can’t derive a little pleasure from the money we make?

The truth is, in the same way that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, all saving and no spending makes Jill a depressed girl. Very very depressed. In other words, splurging is not only an essential part of our financial life, but it is also critical for keeping most of us happy. (Well, at least it is for those of us not lucky enough to have a Xanax prescription.)

Part of the problem for many folks is that they equate “frugality” with miserly living — but in reality that’s truly a perverted understanding of the word. In fact, frugality should be more appropriately thought of as a technique for smartly managing our money.

How to Splurge Without Breaking the Bank

I love buying music for my iPod. Even though I know how to save money on iTunes, over the course of a year I figure I still spend close to $1000 on new music. The Honeybee and I also like to splurge on the occasional weekend getaway at a posh resort, but it’s all good.

The important thing to remember is frugality and splurging are not mutually exclusive. The trick, of course, is to pay for those splurges by consciously reducing expenses in other areas. Here’s how we do it:

1. Our home. We minimized our monthly mortgage payment by purchasing a nice, but smaller, home that was well under our budget. We also decided to stop making extra principal payments on the mortgage.

2. Our cars. We drive older, well-maintained, fuel-efficient vehicles to avoid monthly car payments; besides, why own a luxury car?

3. The kids’ education. We send our kids to public schools. (I know. So sue me.)

4. Our lifestyle. We maintain an otherwise minimalist lifestyle. In addition, we constantly strive to reduce the impacts of our money leaks. We’re also not afraid to buy used items as often as we can.

It also helps to budget for some of those bigger splurges. For example, we set aside a place in the budget each year for our annual family vacation. By doing so, we ensure that we save a fixed amount of cash every month to cover the expected expenses of our trip.

When It’s Okay to Live It Up

Merriam-Webster defines a splurge as “an ostentatious expenditure.” Even so, there is no reason to feel guilty splurging every once in awhile when your financial house is in order. If you’ve already built up an emergency fund, are saving for retirement, and have eliminated all of your credit card debt, then by all means, go ahead! Treat yourself to something that will bring a little joy to your day. Just be sure when you do splurge, you do it in moderation.

Remember, it’s never wise to sacrifice our passions simply for the sake of saving money, because it’s our passions that ultimately make life worth living.

Photo Credit: tsuacctnt


  1. 1


    After I make my investments and pay my bills, I like to enjoy the rest of my money. What’s the sense in working so hard and saving so much, if you can’t enjoy part of your life? The secret for me is not trying to enjoy money I don’t have.

    • 2

      Len Penzo says

      For me, I don’t want to die with tens of thousands of dollars in my savings accounts. My goal is to just have enough money in my bank account when I die to pay the mortician. 😉

  2. 3


    Wow, what you’re hitting on is huge. If there’s no pleasure coming from having some money, then what’s the point of having it? We can forget that in the pursuit of better finances.

    The other thing is that we all need to recharge our batteries, and that comes from diversion. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, but it’s completely necessary. Ultimately it empowers us to do what it is we’re tying to accomplish with both careers and money.

    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      I never thought of splurging as a recharging our batteries, but I like that analogy, Kevin!

  3. 5


    We take international vacation once a year, but that’s on hold now that we have a baby. That’s pretty much our biggest splurge. We’ll take more road trips now and it should be a bit cheaper. Although with the gas price going up….

    • 6

      Len Penzo says

      I love road cross-country roadtrips. After we canceled our Hawaii trip, I wanted to take one this year for Plan B, but the Honeybee vetoed that idea.

    • 8

      Len Penzo says

      Splurging on investing — hey, if that’s your idea of splurging I strongly suspect you’ll probably do very well in life financially over the long haul. Good for you! :-)

  4. 9


    First and foremost I am a saver and maintain a similar low cost lifestyle! We started traveling on a regular basis roughly 25 years ago to enjoy some of the fruits of saving and having a low cost lifestyle. Besides, maybe we won’t be able to do some of those things when we are 80 or 90!

    • 10

      Len Penzo says

      I agree. I think we should all plan on getting the travel bug out of our system by the time we reach 70. I may be wrong, but I think traveling will be too difficult for me to enjoy after that.

  5. 14


    I love my itunes too! Did you know that if you log in through Ebates, you can get cash back when using the gift cards?

    I am a huge fan of the free pick of the week at Starbucks…and no, I am not dropping $4 for a latte, I recycle my coffee bean bags and get a free cup of coffee.

  6. 15


    I enjoy the money I have. I stay away from other people’s money like credit card bills even though I use credit card for almost everything. But I do pay my bill before the due date and in full.

    The issuer’s three week grace period is enough for me.

  7. 16


    Definitely agree. My parents are the ultimate miserly couple. (I think this is why I went haywire in my 20’s!) They live very frugally, which is great, but they don’t enjoy it. For years and years they’ve been talking about taking a trip. They finally did last year, but that was after 20 years of talking about it. It will probably be their last trip. My step-dad is just shy of 80 and they are already talking about how they’d like to go again, but they don’t want to part with their money. (They are just fine, financially.) It’s too bad they didn’t find that balance between frugality and splurging.

    • 17

      Len Penzo says

      That is too bad, Jen. You know, I honestly think — in fact, I’m positive — I’d rather live beyond my means early on and live from paycheck to paycheck and die a pauper, than live frugally my whole life and die with a stuffed bank account.

      • 18

        Binkstar says

        Len, you must be young. Find someone who is living paycheck-to-paycheck entirely because they were foolish…as you propose, they’ll tell you a different story. Every week for them is filled with stress wondering how they ever will be able to retire – or what will happen to them if they lose their job.

        Jen’s parents should try more to enjoy the fruits of their efforts, true…but their “extreme” and your “other extreme” are equally bad and wrong. Your version is even worse if your irresponsibility affects a spouse and children.

      • 20

        Binkstar says

        I see Len talks out of both sides of his mouth…his response to another area of his blog (“19 things the suburban millionaire”), he doesn’t really think people should be living beyond their means:

        “And then there is the other extreme where people live a very openly rich life with the big over-sized homes, fancy luxury cars and private elementary schools for the kids — yet they are up to their eyeballs in debt and one paycheck away from total disaster and losing everything. On top of that, they will be forced to work well into their golden years just to dig themselves out of the hole they’ve created. And for what?”

        • 21

          Len Penzo says

          Oh please; chill out, Binkstar. I was speaking hypothetically from a self-centered point of view. Of course both extremes are terrible choices.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *