I have waltzed with riches more than once in my life. I have tangoed with poverty a time or six as well. Usually I find myself dancing along somewhere in the middle, definitely not rich enough to spend a ton on the finer things, and not poor enough that I can’t enjoy life at all.
In 2011 particularly, I was really, really down (financially). I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to make money blogging and I had become so obsessed with my money problems that I began clamping down on everything so tightly that there wasn’t much fun to be had anymore. Things got very depressing.
I mean, I would wake up and use less toothpaste than I wanted just to save money, and then I would brush my teeth without water to save money. I would take a luke-warm shower in the morning to save money. While in the shower, I would wash my hair with the dollar per bottle shampoo, and barely use any of that so that I could save money there, too. For breakfast I’d pour myself some cold cereal from a giant bag. Getting it in a box was too expensive. Getting any healthy cold cereal was definitely too expensive. At one point, I ate my cereal with water instead of milk for a week straight before I finally couldn’t choke it down anymore. And so my day went on.
All day, every day was spent thinking about how to save money, literally worrying about how pennies here and there would stack up. I got more unhealthy, more down, and more desperate as time went on. It seemed my financial life was spinning down and down and down. I couldn’t help but go to bed at night and think, I’m too poor to even sleep.
And then one day, one of my equally poor friends started telling me about this incredible facial she had received the day before. It sounded really expensive.
“How can you afford that?” I asked her.
She just laughed. “I can’t. But I just started this thing where I’m forcing myself not to live like a poor person every once in a while so that I don’t forget what I’m working toward.”
And that’s when it hit me. I had somehow begun living the life of a chronically poor man, instead of the life I personally wanted to be living. My energy and time was being focused into making it possible to be poor, and not into making things better for myself. And for me personally, that wasn’t okay.
So I decided to follow her lead and make a list for myself. I went home and thought of all my favorite things I used to barely be thankful for when I was “rich.” Things I’d just toss money toward any time I had the chance. I came up with about fifty or sixty items, and then I narrowed it down to ten, and I hung it on my wall with the title (scribbled at the top), 10 things I will force myself to splurge on at least once in the next year.
I promised myself that I would find a way to do each of those things, even if it meant washing cars or mowing lawns or cleaning up dog crap to make them happen. And over the next year, I did them. All of them.
10 Things I Make Myself Splurge On At Least Once a Year
1. A hundred dollar pair of jeans.
Having a pair of jeans that actually fits you, is sexy, and that you love will make all the difference on your tough days. And the best part is, they don’t shrink and they don’t wear out in less than a year like other pants do. Just make sure you wait to wear them for the first time until you have a day that you just don’t want to get out of bed. Then watch how quickly new, sexy jeans will turn your day around.
2. A nice steak.
And I’m talking $50-$100 per head steakhouse nice. Food is usually the first thing we start trying to save money on when we’re poor, and after being neglected, your body and your tastebuds really need some love. And have you ever had a premium steak like that? The kind that is sizzling even as you take the bite toward your mouth? The kind that you can practically rest your knife on and watch it sink through? The kind that somehow actually melts against your tongue? The kind you chew incredibly slowly because your mouth literally will not move any faster? Yeah, get that kind of steak and remind your palate that the Top Ramen and canned meat is only temporary.
3. A nice rental car.
When I say nice, I mean sports car nice. Or luxury car nice. Or big ol’ Hummer nice. Just for one evening. If you get on the email lists of some of the big rental companies, there are days that they are practically giving away cars because nobody needs them at the moment. The first year I did this, I rented a souped-up, fully loaded, all leather, Mercedes E350 convertible for 45 bucks. I drove it everywhere that day, warm summer wind in my hair, music cranked. I didn’t really have anywhere to go. I just needed to, for one day, feel awesome.
4. A mani/pedi.
I know, I’m a dude. But I’m actually writing this paragraph for you other dudes out there (even you straight ones) because the lady folk already know how essential a mani/pedi is when life bogs you down. Make sure you go to a place that gives your hands and feet a bath in paraffin wax. To have someone else work on your hands and feet has to be one of the most soothing and resetting things you can do. I mean, have you ever felt your nails getting longer and longer, and your hangnails starting to form, and every time you look down you think, I need to, but not today. It’s a whole lot of pampering for not that much money at all.
5. A housekeeper.
I don’t care who you are. If you’re a parent (or any other human being) you know that despite your best efforts, sometimes the house gets so out of control that you want to sit down and cry. I remember after I made my list, I waited until the first time I looked at my house and thought, there’s no way I can do this. No way I can get on top of it. And even though I didn’t have the money, I called my maid (from my “rich” days) and paid her fifty bucks to come deep clean for me. I left while she was there, and then came back inside after she had left. As I walked from room to room, I didn’t want to touch anything. It was so immaculate. So clean. So what I needed to see that day. When I made it to my bedroom, I stood in the doorway and actually had to wipe a tear away. She had made my bed, a sight I hadn’t seen in a long time. I don’t know what it was about it, but that clean house gave me the oomph to jump back into everything else at full speed again.
6. An epic dessert.
When I say epic, I mean epic. And you can’t get this the same night as your steak. In fact, you shouldn’t do any of these on the same days you do the other things. The entire purpose of the list is to give you a mental break at least every five weeks. So don’t cheat. For the dessert, pick a really fancy restaurant. Go sit at the bar. Don’t order any other food at all. And then pick the best, most delicious looking dessert on the menu. It’ll probably cost you $10-$20. Who cares. You know that in real life you’re never going to order that kind of thing with your $10 Wednesday night special, so go do it all by itself on a night that you need a win.
7. A nice pair of underwear.
Have you ever spent $25-$35 on a single pair of underwear? Neither had I until I finally did (go figure). And I didn’t know what I was missing out on. The way it forms to your body, the way you don’t sweat and stink in it, the way you feel cool and fresh all day? It’s worth its weight in gold. And you really need only one really nice pair because you don’t need a really nice pair every day. Make them your special occasion underwear and wear them when you need them. Wear them on the days when you need good things to happen. It’s almost as if you can’t go wrong when you pull on a fresh, nice pair of undies.
8. A nice pair of sunglasses.
“You’ve got designer shades, just to cover your face… you wear ’em around, you think you’re cooler than me.” Or whatever the words to that song are. But seriously. We all need to feel like we’re cooler than everyone else every once in a great while, and nice sunglasses have a way of making you feel like you’re not the dollar store junkie you usually are. Plus, they end up paying for themselves. When you know you paid decent money for shades, you usually don’t lose them. When you know you paid a dollar, you lose them pretty much weekly. This of course, can be a once every several years purchase if you can keep them around long enough!
9. Nice shampoo.
If your hair never feels nice, you are never going to feel nice. At least not as nice as you should. At least once a year I spend about $45 on a bottle of shampoo. The best part is, it lasts me a year because, as it turns out, you need way less of it to get the job done. That, and you don’t need to wash your hair every day because it stays clean so much longer. The more I used the cheap $1/bottle shampoo, the grosser I always felt my hair was. It was tough, and rough, and heavy, and fuzzy, and not nice to touch at all. Switching to nicer stuff ultimately saved me money but it also saved me from a lot more bad hair days.
10. A good laugh.
Unnecessary entertainment is also one of the first things to go when money gets really tight. But you have to get out once in a while and laugh. It makes life so much more bearable. So much more fun. It makes not having money be nowhere near as bad as it should be. I make sure that once each year, no matter how poor I am, I find a way to buy tickets to a stand-up comedy show at a well-known place that I know will deliver the laughs. Sometimes, laughter really is our only weapon against the dog days of life, and it has such a powerful way of transforming us from our worst to our best, almost immediately. A good night of stand-up will leave you with your sides hurting. And that’s a good thing.
And that was my list.
Actually doing those things affected me so greatly that I determined that never, at any point in my life, would I go a year without fulfilling my list.
What’s funny is, when I started focusing on making sure I could have a taste of the finer things every once in a while, my finances and life started turning around and got better and better until I could keep my list, add to my list, and even repeat things on my list without hurting at all. Since I really didn’t want to clean up dog crap, or do any of the other last resort stuff, I never had to mow anyone’s lawn or beg for money on the corner to make my list happen. Just putting it up on my wall somehow made it happen.
Which is why, if you’re struggling with money, I would challenge you to make a list of your own. And keep it, no matter what you have to do to make it happen.
Except murder for hire or turning tricks or dealing drugs. Don’t do that. I’ve seen enough TV shows to know that that never ends well for anyone.
Dan Pearce, The Single Dad Laughing Blog
PS. What’d you think of the things on my list? What would you add to your list if you were to make one?