The Joy of Creative Deprivation
Let's talk about one of the big traps of lifestyle inflation. Blogger Trent Hamm calls it "the repeated splurge."
Let's say there's a particular treat you enjoy. Maybe you like buying books. Maybe you like going to the coffee shop. Maybe you like going to the movies, or eating out. Whatever it is, when your income is low, you can't do it very often. It's a splurge and so you look forward to it. It feels special.
When your income goes up, it's very tempting to indulge in that treat more often. The problem is that as soon as a splurge becomes a regular event, it stops being special and becomes completely ordinary. You adapt. Something you used to think was a great treat is now just an everyday routine… except now the everyday routine is far more expensive than it used to be.
Do you see what happens? You think that being able to pamper yourself more often makes life better. But you're not any happier, you're just spending a lot more and you no longer savor something that used to be a treat.
How to keep the joy
How to keep the joy
Don't let a special treat become unremarkable. If there's something you really enjoy and appreciate as an occasional splurge, leave it that way. Don't increase the frequency just because you can afford it. Not only is that more expensive, but the treat will lose what makes it special. You'll pay a lot more money for a lot less satisfaction. And when you repeatedly indulge, you'll have to spend more and more to get the same level of happiness. It sounds like drug addiction, doesn't it?
In the same way, you may be able to afford to buy all the toys or treats or clothes your child wants.
But if you want to stay on a budget and out of debt, save for her education, save for your own retirement, and be able to give generously to causes you care about, you must control this spending. Just because you can afford something doesn't mean you should buy it.
This lesson is something more adults desperately need to learn. According to the Federal Reserve, as of December 2018 consumer debt in America exceeded $4 trillion for the first time ever (and that's not including home mortgages).
As scary as that is, it's almost scarier to contemplate a jaded child. A child who throws his toys and clothes around because there are always more to come. A child who learns to overeat because treats are readily available. A child who is never really thankful for anything. A child who has no patience. A child who feels entitled and sees no reason to work or save. A real-life Veruca Salt who always wants more now.
One way to prevent this horrible outcome is to practice what simple-living expert Amy Dacyczyn called "creative deprivation." The idea is that if you don't routinely buy a bunch of stuff for your children, they will be grateful for what they have and more creative with what they find.
When you give excessively to your kids, the constant influx of toys, treats, trips, and hours in front of the TV or computer begin to seem normal. Any reduction in the constant flow seems like a hardship.
For adults, this might mean going out to dinner twice a month instead of three or four times a week, buying new clothes only at the change of seasons instead of every week or two, or checking books out of the library and giving yourself a $20 monthly budget for new books.
Here's your challenge.
Sometimes the last thing we want to do is the right thing. We don't want to do the dishes, limit Facebook time, exercise, or cook a healthy dinner instead of calling out for pizza. Sometimes we have to trick ourselves into doing what we should. We move the alarm clock across the room so it's a pain to hit the snooze button, we add spinach and kale to our peanut butter banana smoothie, and we arrange automatic deposits to our savings account.
As the grownups, we need to help our children learn that there's a difference between needs and wants, and that not all wants should be gratified. Letting the occasional treat remain exactly that will not only help a child learn gratitude and self control, but will actually increase her enjoyment of the gifts and experiences she receives.
So keep joy in your child's life. Provide what he needs in terms of food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, affection, time, and attention. Make him feel secure in those things. Then occasionally, frugally, and surprisingly splurge on something he wants.
Updated January 2023