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Fountain soda. There, I said it in a public forum and I can't take it back.
I spend $1.79 several mornings a week just to get my diet soda fix on my way to work. I do so even knowing that I could save $1.54 a day -- $30.80 a month -- simply waiting until I get to work and purchasing a can of the stuff out of our 25-cent pop vending machine.
It may seem like a wasteful expenditure to most, but a fountain soda -- that perfectly proportioned mix of carbonation and syrup -- is my guilty pleasure. And I'm not going to give it up anytime soon.
And now, a word from your inner party pooper
Ask nearly anyone to name their guilty pleasure and I bet that, like me, they're able to pinpoint to the dime what they spend on their indulgence of choice. It's not that these things necessarily cost us a bundle. But they cost just enough to give us pause every time we fork over money to give ourselves a treat.
The very fact that we've done this bit of mental accounting suggests two things: (1) That we wrestle with feelings of guilt that detract from the enjoyment of these small splurges, and (2) that the psychological cost of passing up these "treats" is much higher than the actual dollar amounts that they require to fulfill.
Sure, I know that companies like Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX ) , Hansen Natural (Nasdaq: HANS ) , and Hershey (NYSE: HSY ) make billions based on the propensity for people to splurge a little every day. And when money's tight and everyone's trimming the excess fat from their spending, our gut tells us that the "responsible" thing to do is to forgo our latte/fountain soda/trashy magazine/morning bagel/fill in the blank with whatever's your pleasure.
But it is possible to indulge guilt-free without damaging your finances. The fix: Formally add your guilty pleasure to your budget.
Go ahead, latte it up!
When building a budget, it's common to build it solely around the necessities -- must-haves like food, shelter, safety, transportation. Devoting thought and care to working in those "unnecessary" extras can feel frivolous and self-indulgent.
"Budget" smacks of denial and a strict regimen. "Budget" does not sound like the kind of plan that includes daily guilt-free fountain sodas.
Get over it. "Budget" is not a dirty word. In fact, I prefer to call it a "spending plan." A spending plan sounds like it has room for some fun. If yours doesn't, then it's time to make a few modifications. Here's how to turn that forbidden "vice" into a guilt-free pleasure.
Identify your guilty pleasures: What are they? How much do they cost (be honest!)? Obviously, an obsession with Tiffany (NYSE: TIF ) or Callaway Golf (NYSE: ELY ) is harder to combat than a TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO ) subscription.
Measure the pleasure: Ask yourself, "What is it about this item that I so adore?" Before you make room for it in your budget, you want to make sure the expenditure truly does bring you joy and is worth the money you spend.
Set a splurge schedule: How often do you really need to get a fountain soda (or whatever your indulgence) to feel a tad more alive? Every day? Or maybe just Monday mornings to start your week right? Your aim is to find the perfect balance -- a schedule that is regular enough so that you don't feel like you're denying yourself (which can lead to compensatory overspending) but not so frequently that it becomes a burden to your budget. Add up how much money your planned splurge will cost. Then …
Boot a different expenditure to the curb: Hey! You didn't think this was going to be completely painless, did you? Scour your spending for similarly-sized expenditures -- ones that don't put a kick in your step and bring you less joy than the splurge you're trying to fund. Start your search in spending areas where costs aren't fixed. Now it's time to make some decisions about what stays and what goes. Put these expenditures before your budget Tribal Council. Take a vote and determine where you could cut spending or eliminate it completely.
It might only take a few daily tweaks to free up $30 for pleasure spending. For example, brew your own coffee at home; use regular gas instead of premium; cancel some of those premium cable channels; actually make a grocery list -- and stick to it.
When your goal is to fund those "extras" that enhance your quality of life, suddenly what you once considered a "must have" becomes an "I can do without it."
What are you willing to give up?
What are your guilty pleasures? You know, those little things that are worth so much more to you than their price tag suggests. Satellite radio? If it gives you hours and hours of pleasure, do your part to keep Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI ) in business and find somewhere else to cut back. A monthly housecleaning service? For some, it's an essential stress-reducer in your life. Professional eyebrow waxing every other month? A bad experience with DIY brows may make this a necessity.
Go ahead -- share your guilty pleasure secrets below -- and tell us what you are you willing to give up to fund it.