Since I started Shopping for Happiness last fall, I’ve become much more comfortable buying some big-ticket items, like a ticket to Venice – I’m going in May! – and a new handbag. But I’ve noticed another change: I’m also more comfortable spending small sums on things I used to deny myself, and it’s making my life a little sweeter each time.

Here’s some examples from the past week.

It’s Monday morning and I’m feeling a little slow. Normally I’d make a cup of tea at my desk rather than spend $1.50 on a coffee. Instead, I go to the cafeteria and buy a coffee.

I’m in the drugstore. It’s usually easy to find vitamins on sale, but the item I want is only available at full price. I know I could go to another store another day, but instead, I just buy the vitamins. 

Coming home on the bus, I miss my stop and the next one (crossword + podcast = oblivious). I consider walking but my family is holding dinner and I’m already late. Luckily, there’s a bus coming the other way. I briefly consider telling the driver what happened and asking if I can ride a few stops for free. Instead, I get out a token and just take the bus. 

None of this is life-changing stuff, right? Or is it?

I think it is. 

 It’s gradually dawned on me that my preoccupation with  “not wasting money” — making calculations, shopping around and doing a cost-benefit analysis – may pay off when I’m buying car insurance or looking for new headphones, but it becomes a life-sucking black hole when I apply it with equal rigour to every purchase in my life. 

Increasingly, and thanks to the bigger changes I’ve made in my life this year, I’m not willing to throw my time and energy down that black hole just to save a few bucks.

It’s February, after all. I could really use some inexpensive treats and moments of zen – and I bet you could too. 

I’m not saying that putting the impulse back into “impulse purchases” is easy, or even smart. I’m all too familiar with the “Latte Factor” – personal finance writer David Bach’s theory that cutting out small splurges can make you richer in retirement provided you invest the money instead. [footnote]

And to be honest, I feel some qualms about parting with the smug feelings that sometimes go along with my self-denying frugality. (Look, everyone in the meeting has a coffee but me. Suckers!) But my behaviour has also reinforced two dangerous mindsets: “I’m not worth it” and “I don’t have enough.” (Look, everyone in the meeting has a coffee but me. I guess they’re living the dream and I’m not.) 

Well, it’s time to live the dream, one cup of coffee at a time!

Reader, if you can relate to my penny-wise, pound-foolish ways, I’d like to challenge you to join me in an experiment. Try giving yourself a break. When you feel the urge to treat yourself to something under $5, $10 or $20 (whatever seems doable to you) don’t squelch it. Do it! Spend a few bucks on drinks or food, spend a few bucks to buy yourself some time, spend a few bucks to conserve your mental energy.

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