Some people dream about winning the lottery. I used to, until I realized that I got a bigger kick out of far less grand (and improbable) day-dreams. Would winning $10 million be, like, totally awesome? I’m sure … but I have no real idea of how different life, post-win, would be. With that kind of figure, all I can do is assume that a lot of things would change – some with predictable consequences for my hypothetical future happiness (like paying off my mortgage), and some with perhaps less predictable ones (like never having to work again). On the other hand, a more modest imaginary windfall of, say, $100,000 offers greater scope for pleasant daydreams. Sure, my life wouldn’t change that drastically, if at all; but that amount would let me accomplish some short-term goals that would be very satisfying to check off my list – because they matter to me more, in an immediate and concrete way, than the abstract idea of early retirement (which I might end up hating anyway).
On an even smaller scale, I sometimes day-dream about what I call the “guiltless splurge”. This can be any amount of discretionary spending that doesn’t affect one’s bottom line – essentially “free money” … but free money one has to spend on something fun. [Otherwise, if you’re a fiscal worrier like me, “free money” tends to find a way into some sort of savings vehicle or practical purchase.] A gift card is a good example. In real life, of course, one is grateful for any measure of generosity on the part of friends and family, but it’s always extra nice to get a gift card that allows for the possibility of multiple purchases – it comes with the added bonus of a pleasant exercise in splurge planning. It’s for this reason that, for the past couple of years, I have looked forward to my Christmas work bonus – a nice round figure provided in the form of a gift certificate from Holt Renfrew. Every year I face the task of having to pick a strategy for spending my bonus: a little bit at a time on various smaller things, or all at once on a big ticket item.
This is a nifty little psychological exercise, because it requires me to predict the best way to maximize my happiness yield. Will I get a bigger buzz from spending $100 five times over the course of a year, or dropping $500 in one big extravaganza? Additionally, will it be more satisfying to have five new $100 items, or one splurgy $500 one? There is no universal right answer. Some people will be happy doing the former, some doing the latter, and some (like me) will pick some sort of middle ground. For example, last year, I used my bonus to buy a gorgeous Diane von Furstenberg blazer – a practical purchase for my work wardrobe, but outside my regular budget at about $300 – as well as to partially fund the acquisition of a new bag (which would otherwise have remained off-limits). This year, I ended up following a similar strategy, though indirectly. I planned to save my bonus for one big splurge, allowing my “shopping itch” to build up to a sufficient fever pitch to get me over my instinctive reluctance for spending large sums at once. I ended up waiting more than 6 months (a long time in the BCRL shopping universe), but maybe I still pulled the trigger too soon, because my “big splurge” ended up being more of a “medium splurge” after all. What did I get? A pair of beautiful nude, patent leather wedges for $300 (on sale) – another sensible investment in my work wardrobe (in as much as $300 shoes can be classified as a “sensible investment”). The remainder of the bonus awaits my further deliberation for the time being. Needless to say, I adore my new shoes, though it may be some time before they see the light of day again. They’re elegant, comfortable and classic, so I’m not worried about their future wearability.
Your turn – ever dreamed about the “guiltless splurge” and, if so, what’s your strategy for maximizing your satisfaction?