The Questions We Ask When Debating to Save or Splurge

posted by Andrea | 01/21/2019

The term “splurge” often has a negative reputation for being an irresponsible, impulsive, and/or bad choice — and while there are definitely times when splurging is not nearly as beneficial as saving (especially in the long-run), I do NOT think “splurging” is always irresponsible, impulsive, bad, or even wrong.

In fact, I think a few carefully thought-out splurges can really do a lot to brighten our mood, lift our spirits, and give us something extra to look forward to (going out to eat, attending a concert, shopping with friends, a small bouquet of flowers, a nice card, something new at home, etc.)

Of course, there is no one right or wrong way to splurge, and we all have individual preferences and ideas of what would be considered a splurge for us. So instead of trying to come up with a list of things we should all “save” on, and another list of things we should all “splurge” on, I’ll simply share a few questions Dave and I ask ourselves when we’re debating between saving and splurging.

1. Will this hurt our current financial situation?

Dave and I currently have a healthy emergency fund, fully funded Roth IRA’s, and a few investments that have picked up steam over the past few years. Of course, we could always do more, but in general, we feel OK about where we are financially, so if an opportunity arose to splurge on something we really felt would be beneficial for our lives, we could say “yes”.

However, if we were aggressively trying to pay down debt, build an emergency fund, or save up for something specific (like a car or a family vacation), this might not be the time for a big splurge.

Of course, I would never encourage you to deny yourself a small treat just so you can save every single penny, but spending hundreds or thousands of extra dollars might not be the best splurge if you’re trying to save up for something or pay down debt.

2. Can we afford to pay cash?

Even though Dave and I use our credit card to buy almost everything, we still won’t buy something if we don’t have the money in the bank to cover the cost.

Of course, there are lots of things we COULD technically afford to pay cash for, but still choose not to splurge on them — which is why we have more questions below!

3. How long are we planning/hoping to use this item?

If the answer is “a long time”, then it’s probably more worthy of a splurge — this is the route we took with many of our home renovations since we hope to live here for a long time. We also usually invest in good computers since we both use them several hours every day.

If the answer is “not very long”, then it’s probably better to save — like with vehicles that we usually replace every few years, or furniture that I regularly rotate and/or sell again.

4. How long will we need to work to pay for this item?

The vast majority of our income is not paid by the hour — but we still often use this question to decide if something is worth the splurge or not.

I might consider my rate for sponsored posts — and then determine if money spent on new furniture or new technology is worth the number of hours it might take me to write another sponsored post.

Or I might consider if the cost of going out to eat for one meal is worth an extra 2 hours of VA work, or if it would be smarter to eat food we already have in the house and save up for something “better”.

It might sound silly, but this little math game works well for me in terms of putting the cost of something into perspective for me.

5. How extravagant is the splurge?

To some, a splurge might mean buying a brand new sports car, the most updated technology, a kitchen renovation, or a $500 pair of jeans. To others, a splurge might mean a 15-minute massage, a new lipstick, or swinging through Starbuck for a fancy cup of coffee.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am 100% in favor of small splurges as a way to add a little something extra to our otherwise very ordinary days — but huge splurges definitely don’t make the cut for me on a regular basis.

Dave and I don’t make many extra purchases without at least consulting the other person — and we’ve both talked the other person out of potentially bad splurges in the past!

6. Will the benefits be worth the cost?

This is another question that is very hard to answer “across the board” since everyone finds enjoyment and fulfillment in different ways.

One example from our family is going to Culver’s once a month. Thanks to coupons, we usually spend $10-$15 for our entire family to have dinner AND frozen custard for dessert… and our whole family really enjoys it.

I enjoy not cooking, Dave loves Culver’s food, and the kids think it’s fabulous to eat at a “restaurant”, which makes this $10- $15 splurge worth it for our family right now.

However, spending $100+ for Dave and I to pay a babysitter and go to a fancier restaurant definitely would NOT be worth it for us. Dave and I don’t get a ton of enjoyment from fancy restaurants and our kids do not go to bed well for babysitters. So we’d spend a bunch of money and come home to crabby, over-tired kids. Not worth the splurge!

7. Will I be extremely upset if something happens to the item?

I love decorating my home with cute primitive antiques — however, I haven’t done much decorating over the past 5-7 years because know I would be upset if I spent money on a new decorative item, only to bring it home and have my kids break it somehow.

So before I splurge on anything, I consider how upset I’ll be if my kids ruin it. If I think I’ll be quite upset, then I know this is not the season of life for me to buy that particular item.

However, if I realize I wouldn’t care either way, then I know it will probably be an OK splurge.

8. Can we undo the splurge if we change our minds?

I am much more likely to splurge on something I know I can return or exchange if it doesn’t work out for me (new clothing, items from Amazon, new technology, etc.)

On the flip side, I am less likely to splurge on Craigslist or at a thrift store since I know I can’t return anything.

9. Are we willing to wait 24 hours?

Sometimes, splurging is confused with impulse purchases — and while they can both be bad for a budget, they really aren’t the same thing.

A splurge CAN be well thought out (as most of mine are after thinking through the whole list of questions above). However, impulse purchases are just that — impulsive, without much thought.

So whenever I’m contemplating a splurge (especially anything pricier) I always ask myself if I’d be willing to wait 24 hours to make my purchase. If I’d be willing to drive back to a store or log back into my computer to make the purchase, then I know it’s probably worth it. If not, I usually let it pass.

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Of course, there are always little factors and individual situations that veer from these basic guidelines… but in general, these are the questions we think through whenever we’re contemplating a splurge (big or small).

Sometimes I make the wrong choice and regret a splurge, but for the most part, this mental checklist of questions helps put my purchases into perspective, resist impulsive spending, and still enjoy regular splurges and special treats for myself and my family (without feeling guilty!)

How do YOU decide when to save or splurge?

NOTE: I did a little research while writing this post, and realized that June 18 is considered our “National Splurge Day” — ironically 2 days after my birthday!

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12 comments

  1. Eileen

    01/22/2019

    My wedding anniversary is June 18, glad for an extra reason for my husband and I to splurge that day on a trip or something special together!

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — perfect! Definitely worth a splurge 🙂

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  2. Jenny

    01/21/2019

    I, too, spent a lot of years saving as best I could, and am now at a stage where I could splurge if I wanted to. Sometimes I do, although my splurges, like yours, are fairly modest! Small things can make me pretty happy! A few times a year I do get that fancy coffee, and it is exciting and special. If I did it every day or every week, it wouldnt be a treat or a splurge- it would be more like an expectation, and no longer special, really. I guess I’m glad for those frugal years, sort of, because it makes me more grateful for what I have now. I can sleep great at night knowing I can pay my bills, help others appropriately, and splurge a little. I see people my age who are bitter or even struggling becasue of not planning ahead or letting those little splurges kind of take over. It requires self-awareness and the ability to delay gratification. For me it also involved a lot of negotiating with a husband who was a spender and felt he shouldnt have to deny himself anything since he worked hard. I am lucky to be where I am today but I will continue to practice my principles as you do, Andrea.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Wow — good for you Jenny!
    Thanks for sharing your story — I fully agree and think it could be very helpful for many of my readers!

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  3. Mary

    01/21/2019

    I’m also an older reader and just watched a new Netflix show about tidying up. The question they ask is, does it bring you joy? Looking around at my possessions I can say much if what I’ve accumulated doesn’t but some things I’m glad we splurged on.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — you and seemingly half the country watched that Netflix special!
    Glad it’s motivating you to purge!!! yay!!

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  4. Lynn Arnsdorf

    01/21/2019

    Being 30 years ahead of you, Andrea, I look back at that stage in my life as the “accumulating” years, and if I could go back, I would have done things differently concerning this subject. There was so much unnecessary junk brought into the home. I could have used some guidelines like what you have written, good job. Now, I remind myself that I was born naked and with nothing, and I will die naked and with nothing…I don’t need to collect anything, or look at meaningless plastic objects laying around, or dust collectibles. I need love and smiles, and a nice piece of pie once in a while.

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    Anonymous Reply:

    After having to go through a deceased in-law’s home who had SO much stuff, this certainly puts things into perspective. No one wants most of the things. I have been decluttering. My husband has so much stuff but I decided to go through my own things first. It is amazing how much stuff we have that no one else knows about (books, etc.) and getting rid of some is so easy. Better to do this than for someone else to do it later and have to trash most of it.

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    Andrea Reply:

    ah yes — this is what usually does it for people. Going through a close relatives things (usually because of a death) is very eye-opening for SO many people.
    Glad you were able to help in this situation, and glad you were able to gain some perspective too!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Haha — definitely pie!
    I think it’s easy to look back and say “I would have (or should have) done things differently” but when you’re actually living it, it’s not so easy to make those decisions. Don’t be too hard on yourself — it sounds like you are doing a good job keeping up with your stuff now!

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  5. Meghan

    01/21/2019

    Our family “splurge philosophy” is if we could drop the item from a bridge or throw the money needed for the item/ trip/ service out of a car window and it has no overall impact on our lives or financial situation, we go for it! Granted there are other factors we consider also, but that’s our big one.

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — I laughed when I read this earlier today! So funny when you just read it… but really a great perspective to have!

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