How to spend money on yourself + your happiness

This is not a post filled with budgeting tips or advice on how to save money. This is a post filled with advice on the weirdly hard topic of spending money on ourselves. If you're a mom, this might be something you struggle with! Read on for tips on how to stop. #FIRE #budgetingtips #moneytips #personalfinance


I’m standing in the aisle at Target, staring at a plump, pink tube of $20 ‘cheek gel.’

My cart is already filled with sensible, not-really-for-me-purchases. Toilet bowl cleaner, frozen peas, ibuprofen.

Can I afford this blush? I can.
Is my current tube of ‘cheek gel’ almost used up? It is.
Do I feel cuter and more on top of it when I’m wearing makeup? I do.
Am I pretty sure this particular blush would work best with my skin tone and type? Yup.

And yet.

I sigh and shuffle my way to the Wet & Wild and buy the $4 blush instead.

Maybe you’ve never done this. Maybe you’ve never spend $150 on sensible purchases and gifts for other people and then denied yourself something you want and can afford. Maybe you’ve never bought the ‘close enough’ jacket because it was cheaper (even though you could afford the jacket you truly loved).

If you’ve never done that – congrats! You can stop reading now. Here is a post with photos of animals in buckets.

If this behavior sounds familiar: I see you and I get you.

One of the things I hear from many of my ‘Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is’ students is “I just can’t seem to spend money on myself or on anything fun.” They don’t have trouble living on a budget and they top out their 401 k every year. Their savings accounts are flush and healthy but their closets, homes, and calendars are, uh, less so.

Why do we do this? Why do we deny ourselves things we can afford and we know would make us happy?

Maybe we grew up poor and we’re squirreling it all away so we’ll never, ever be poor again.

Maybe someone in our lives – a parent, a partner, a close friend – repeatedly shamed us for spending money ‘frivolously.’ (If you have discretionary income, there’s nothing frivolous about spending it on your happiness.)

Maybe we subconsciously believe that money will protect us from life – from a cheating sweetheart, a health scare, an unstable political climate. (Money can certainly help us navigate difficult situations, but money doesn’t matter if everything else sucks.)

Maybe we’re saving for that imaginary day in the distant future when we’ll have time for travel/big dinner parties/white furniture.

Maybe we’re caregiver types who have no problem spending time, money, and energy on others while our own wells run dry.

Maybe – on some level – we just don’t think we deserve to be happy. We don’t think we deserve haircut that makes us feel amazing and happens to cost $120. We think we deserve the $50-a-night fleabag motel but not the $100-a-night historic inn. 

I am not, of course, advocating emptying your savings account so you can adopt 17 kittens. (But if you do this, please invite me over.)

And this is not where I suggest you cash in your Roth IRA so you can pursue your dream of becoming a professional mermaid. (Again, if you do this, please let me know where you’re performing so I can come see you.)

What I am suggesting is that if you are a financially sensible human, with a comfortable cushion in your bank account, you are totally allowed to relax that white-knuckled death grip and spend some money on yourself and your happiness.

If this is weirdly hard for you, here are 6 ways to spend money on yourself and your happiness

Create a fun fund

A fun fund is a separate account or folder with money that is only for fun. NO YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO SPEND IT ON CAR REPAIRS. You are 100% required to spend this money on things that bring you joy. (Not sure what makes you happy? Here’s how to figure it out and add more of it to your life.)

How do you set up a fun fund? Run the numbers and decide how much you’re comfortable spending on your happiness each month – could be $45, could be $450. Set up an auto-transfer from your savings account to your fun account and then set up a reminder in your calendar to, yes, spend that money.

Remember that nothing is promised

Allow me to go dark for a moment, friends: Nothing in life is promised. Every single day, people get hit by busses and receive heartbreaking health prognoses. 32-year-olds become widows. 24-year-olds discover they’re carrying the breast cancer gene.

This is not an excuse to spend all of your money. It is, however, a reminder that putting off everything till retirement is no way to live our lives. There’s no guarantee you’ll reach retirement age.

Spread your happiness over your whoooooole damn life. Don’t save it for later. Share on X

Tell people what you’re doing so they’ll hold you accountable

If you really struggle to spend money and time on your own happiness, tell the people in your life that you’re trying to be better about it.

Tell your partner “Hey, skiing makes winter really fun for me and I’ve been putting off buying a ski pass. If I haven’t bought one by the end of January will you remind me?”

Tell your best friend “You know I’ve been wanting to make massages a regular thing. Next time we hang out, will you ask if I’ve had one lately?” Just saying what we want out loud makes it more likely we’ll take action on it!

Treat your ‘today’ self as sweetly as you treat your ‘future’ self

Many of us sensible, Type A sorts make decisions with our future selves in mind. We go without today, so Tomorrow Self can have a comfortable retirement. We skip dessert today, so Future Self will have low cholesterol. We work at the boring job today so Tomorrow Self will have a pension.

That’s all very well and good. There’s a reason the ant who worked all summer is the hero of that tale Aesop told.
Your current self is just as worthy of love and care as you future self. Share on X 2017 you deserves a vacation exactly as much as 2025 you. This version of yourself deserves a massage as much as the future incarnation of you.

Make a reservation, an appointment, or invite a friend to join you

If you’re the type of person who struggles to spend money on yourself, I bet you’re also the type of person who hates to be late, to flake out, or disappoint anyone. (Hi, I am also part of this club.)

You can ‘trick’ yourself into spending money on happy-making things by signing up for a class, making an appointment or a reservation. Make reservations for that hot new restaurant you’ve been meaning to try. Make an appointment with the hairdresser your friend loves. Sign up for the dance class you’ve heard so much about.

If you want to take it even further, invite a friend to join you in your happy-making endeavors. You’ll be extra likely to follow through and you’ll have someone to share memories with!

Remind yourself “This makes me happy”

I CAN SEE YOU ROLLING YOUR EYES but here’s the deal: When we make a conscious effort to remind ourselves of something – either internally or aloud – we’re strengthening neural pathways.

Every time you tell yourself “this makes me happy,” you’re digging an awesome little trench in your brain and making it easier to do happy-making things in the future. You are literally creating a path of less resistance in the direction of happiness!

Why is this important? Many of the things that make us happy are, honestly, a hassle.

Travel, home improvement projects, entertaining – all of these things make me happy. They’re also time-consuming, logistic-intensive, and kind of stressful. It’s very, very easy for me to talk myself out of doing them and keep my money in the bank and my life in the Less Than Fulfilled Lane.

But when I look around at the (stressful, time-consuming) happy-making thing I just did and remind myself that this is where my happiness comes from, I’m so, SO much more likely to do it again in the future.

Do you struggle to spend money or energy on things that make you happy? If you do, how do you get past it?

P.S. 23 ways to treat yourself that don’t involve eating or buying anything

P.P.S. Did you know I have a (free) private Facebook group dedicated solely to the topics of money and happiness? And the stuff we talk about has helped members change jobs, save thousands of dollars, and fight less with their partners? Join us!

photo by Clarisse Meyer // cc

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  1. Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    This is me, me, me! I grew up thinking that I should save – maybe I got it from my parents, but I find it so hard to treat myself to small things like a minibus ride even when I’m dead tired. I’d save like… a few cents and walk home instead, burning myself out. Thank you for the post!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      It’s something that resonates with SO many people! <3

  2. Victoria

    I certainly find it difficult to spend on myself. For others? No problem at all. Hehehe.

    If I do think of splurging, I also find myself in the discount aisle. Things have to change because we just don’t know what’s around the corner. 🙂

  3. Anne

    Ugh I wish I’d checked my e-mail before going to the store just now!! Bought everything on the “must-buy” side of the list, everything on the “stuff he requested” side… but literally walked around and put back FOUR items that I wanted, but ya know, didn’t NEED.

    “This makes me happy.” I need to write that on my forearm.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Maybe I should make temporary tattoos for my Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is students! 😉

  4. Annie

    So much good stuff here! True story – I was telling my spouse “When I retire, I want to learn calligraphy!” To which he said, “uh, why wait ’til then?”

    And now I’m registered for a workshop in March!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! Good for you!

  5. Laura

    Your last point is SO true. I love to travel, but without fail, when I am actually packing for a trip, I DREAD going and want to just bail. And this is true even when I travel for work every week and am used to packing in 10 minutes or fewer! Packing/preparing to travel just always gets me down, no matter how short/easy it is, and I’ve found it really helps to remind myself that I will LOVE the trip once I get there, and I’ll be so glad I went.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! I swear to god, “This makes me happy” can be a life-changer!

  6. Sam

    I just recently had a conversation with my friend similar to this topic – how we sometimes deprive ourselves of today’s luxuries to save for the future. While there’s value in saving there’s totally value in, as you said, spreading happiness across your whole life. What’s the point of having $10,000 in savings if you feel guilty over that $20 blush! I love this so so much, it’s really perfect for the times right now as there’s an emphasis on self-care and self-love. P.S. I just discovered your blog after listening to the Reach podcast, I am super happy to be a new subscriber, I love what you’re doing and I also appreciate some good humor.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh, wonderful! Welcome, Sam! <3

  7. Piggy

    Ugh, I so needed this. Spending money on myself when I know I have more pressing priorities is always so stressful/guilt-inducing. I NEEDED YOUR PERMISSION TO BE HAPPY YOU BEAUTIFUL WANNABE MERMAID MOTHER OF KITTENS.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      <3 <3

  8. Stephanie Salyer

    Oh wow I needed this….. My husband has no problem spending money and actually we fight because i teams to put off things I need to pay extra on bills or so everyone else gets what they want first. Sometimes it makes me sad but I like paying off things and getting ahead financially. So it evens out… It’s almost winter and its already snowed once and I have been trying off getting new boots. I love love shoe shopping. New boots would make me happy thanks for telling me that it’s okay.

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