We have a lovely friend who is staying with us this month. He was in the process of moving anyway and he had agreed to stay with our cats for 10 days while we are on vacation. Besides, he would have needed to borrow money for August rent at his new place. Buying food this month is enough of a challenge. He is a 38 year old artist and art instructor and won’t see another payday until mid-September. I’ve been helping him budget and generally discussing issues of money with him so you can imagine my surprise when he declared last night that while he is willing to save some money once it starts flowing again he “deserves a vacation and plans to take a long weekend for his birthday in September to get up to the Appalachian Trail (12 hour drive from here) and hike for 4 days.”

Now I am all for treating yourself well. No one wants to be so consumed with saving money that they never spend any for personal satisfaction. But what was really interesting to me is that the “treat” was getting away for the vacation and that no amount of personal satisfaction was expected from saving money. That was just something that had to be done. I couldn’t help myself of course and gently pointed out to him that he would find an incredible amount of comfort in having even a small amount set aside for “unexpected” expenses like rent and food next semester. I suggested that perhaps a smaller treat like a massage might be acceptable in September and that the trip could be postponed a couple of months until he had some savings and there was a semester break. He was open to this and genuinely surprised to hear that some financial security could be liberating. I did not mention (though I wanted to) that if he had money set aside he could have spent some or all of the 6 weeks he wasn’t working or watching cats to hike the trail or anything else that pleased him.

Another friend of mine in similar financial straits recently sold a large piece of equipment that she owned for a few thousand dollars. With encouragement from her partner, she promptly went out and bought a brand new, electronic piano complete with extended warranty. Of course she deserved it because she’d been working hard and struggling financially. Since the purchase was made, there was nothing to be said so I simply admired the lovely instrument. She is currently in the process of moving into her parent’s home to get back on her feet financially.

The “I need to treat myself because I deserve it” statement is very pervasive, ingrained and difficult to counter. Who doesn’t feel like they work hard and deserve some reward? Our culture certainly reinforces that notion suggesting trips, new cars, clothing, etc as means of reward. What about the reward of providing for yourself financially? I think Nina and I must have been on the same wavelength today. Her question about money and spirituality ties in very well with this notion. Both of my friends are very spiritual and I wonder if they don’t have unconscious struggles with the relationship between spiritual growth and financial stability.

How do you treat yourself? Has there been a shift in your definition of a “treat”? Do you encounter this sentiment amongst your friends? I’d love to hear your suggestions and strategies for helping friends find balance.