Why You Need Financial Cheat Days

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By Josh Felber

When we think of "cheat days," we tend to think of a sweet treat or indulgent meal that breaks a cycle of strict dieting. A cheat day is meant to satisfy cravings, and it's a great way to incorporate foods you normally wouldn't include in your diet without ruining your metabolism. Similarly, a financial cheat day can help you budget better and prevent an overindulgent, perhaps impulsive, shopping spree.

There are plenty of financial resolutions that can help fatten your wallet this year. You can check your credit card history, increase your savings or adjust your lifestyle to live well below your means. The Internet and mobile apps make it easy to monitor spending, and even blogs like this one provide helpful tips on how to maximize your savings. But sticking to a strict money diet can be mentally exhausting, and even the most diligent saver can suffer the occasional slip up here and there.

The discipline and patience needed to stick to your financial resolutions can be taxing, just like how following a strict diet can drive you crazy. Just like a cheat day when you diet, allowing yourself the occasional financial celebration can help you feel indulgent without going overboard. "Overspending and not showing cash available to support your debts can make it hard to get home mortgage financing or get a commercial or business loan," says Brad Hettich, founder of the finance and loan company Commercial Lending X. "But that does not mean you have to reserve all of your cash. I usually tell my clients they can still make a purchase here and there, but the key is not to overindulge every month but just occasionally, making it so most months they continue to build up their cash reserves."

Culprits of Overspending and Indulging

It's difficult to live a frugal lifestyle when we're surrounded by messages telling us to buy, buy, buy. We're pressured by our peers to spend money in order to keep up with our social lives; fashion trends encourage us to always be on the hunt for the latest styles so we can fit in with our friends. Shopping is a sport that requires time and mental energy. Last year, the National Association for Professional Organizers found that 54 percent of Americans feel overwhelmed by all the stuff they have, and 78 percent don't even want to deal with it. This habit of overspending has led to roughly $712 billion in credit debt owed by U.S. consumers, according to a NerdWallet analysis, and is why many financial advisors recommend planning and sticking to a monthly budget.

Triggers such as stress or a bad day at work can also lead to trigger-happy spending habits that may leave you with buyer's remorse the next day. Extreme emotions like depression or sadness can encourage people to shop or make purchases as an easy way to cure their emotional state. Have you ever gone out and impulsively ordered something from Amazon when you were upset? Or how about dropping Benjamin's at a club to celebrate a bonus you received at work? Instead of waiting for a moment of overindulgence though, make it a point to reward yourself every now and then for your hard work. Small, semi-regular treats are a welcomed break from your regulated money diet and can provide an additional incentive to help you stay on track with your financial milestones.

Moderation Is the Name of the Game

A financial treat doesn't have to be a large purchase; it could be something as simple as buying a grande mocha from Starbucks or buying lunch instead of bringing leftovers to work. Or a financial indulgence can be an investment toward a more expensive reward, like a piece of clothing or a new bag. Giving yourself a specific reward or goal to work toward can help you to avoid temptation and keep you from spending your paycheck on a single item. It also helps to keep some sort of schedule in order to keep track of your financial rewards. Consider creating a calendar with an end goal so you can always keep your eye on the prize. For example, mark in your planner when you want to treat yourself with a trip to your favorite coffee shop.

It's important to remember that financial cheat day's only work when they're incorporated into your regular saving habits. If you find you're overspending monthly, try holding on to your pay stubs and calculating how much you spend in one week. Consider switching to cash and leaving your debit and credit cards at home to avoid spending on a whim. Sometimes all it takes is bringing your lunch to work everyday to help you reach your financial goals and free up cash so you can reward yourself.
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