Fiscal Fitness '09: How Much Do Your Guilty Pleasures Cost?

Fountain soda. There, I said it and I can't take it back.

I spend $1.62 many mornings just to get my fix from the Subway soda fountain. I do so even knowing that I could save $1.37 a day -- $27.40 a month -- by buying a can out of our 25-cent pop machine at work.

It may seem like a wasteful expenditure to most, but a fountain soda -- particularly from a machine calibrated to deliver that perfect mix of carbonation and syrup -- is my guilty pleasure. And I'm not going to give it up anytime soon.

This week during our Fiscal Fitness '09 money-saving challenge, we've been sweating over the small stuff -- those seemingly innocuous expenses that add up to some serious cash outlays over time. We've already covered "mystery spending," groceries, and utilities. But the truly dedicated cost-watcher knows that there's a lot of spending fat hiding in the nooks and crannies -- spending on things we'd rather ignore altogether than risk having to cut back or altogether quit.

It's personal, people
If you want to go the extra money-saving mile, you've got to work your way down the budget and home in on the line items that are unique to your spending situation. Once you identify areas where you spend but maybe shouldn't (fountain soda, anyone?), you've got to make some decisions about what stays and what goes.

On the Fiscal Fitness '09 discussion board, Ellen Bowman (TMF Kabellen) asked Fools to fess up to their guilty pleasures -- those things that might not cost a bundle but do give us pause when we consider where to cut back.

The responses ran the gamut (check them out for yourself) -- but what they all had in common was that the "extras" really do enhance the lives of each confessor.

  • Jennlee222's top-of-the-line cable TV package is worth the hours of entertainment she gets from watching the shows she likes.
  • Sofaking6's house cleaning service is a stress-reducer: "It's just purely joyful to come home to a clean house, and never have to stress or feel guilty about not getting to the cleaning chores."
  • Zero7159 bought NFL Sunday Ticket and spent $1,247 between November 2005 and January 2007 on an Xbox 360, a Wii, and a Playstation 3, not including games and accessories! He admitted that it was a lot of money, but also said he got his money's worth.
  • And it's clear that ezragreen's $2-to-$4-a-day Red Bull addiction, MaestroBelle's 6-times-a-year professional eyebrow waxing and GordonGeckoIII's $1.40-a-day pre-workout Monster Lo-Carb drink habit all bring a level of gratification that is clearly worth the price.

Given how everyone has their own particular luxuries, it's not surprising how they add up across millions of people. Looking at the amount of revenue some "guilty pleasure" companies earn is an eye-opener:

Company

Annual Revenue (millions)

Tiffany (NYSE: TIF  )

$3,070

Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  )

$10,380

Hansen Natural (Nasdaq: HANS  )

$1,030

Callaway Golf (NYSE: ELY  )

$1,120

TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO  )

$265

Marriott (NYSE: MAR  )

$13,180

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Nearly every confessor could pinpoint to the dime what they spent on their guilty pleasures. And while it's hard to calculate, I assume the psychological cost of passing up these "treats" is much higher than the actual dollar amounts that they require to fulfill.

Take the "guilt" out of guilty pleasures
"Budget" shouldn't be a dirty word. In fact, I prefer to call it a "spending plan." "Budget" smacks of denial and a strict regimen. "Budget" does not sound like the kind of plan that includes daily guilt-free fountain sodas.

A better way to manage smaller expenditures -- after you've taken care of the cost-cutting on big-ticket items as we showed you how to do during the first weeks of this series -- is to make them a formal part of your spending plan. First make sure the expenditure truly does bring you joy and is worth it. (I'm the first person who'll tell you to enjoy your daily latte if it truly brings you pleasure.) Then identify other similarly sized expenditures that don't put a kick in your step. Cut back spending there and suddenly those vices are pleasures you're free to enjoy guilt-free.

In a discussion about the philosophy of saving, oldblandy illustrated how a few daily tweaks freed up about $30 a month for pleasure spending: "Since I started this discussion board I'm grinding my own coffee (and saving for me and not spending at Starbucks, Peet's, etc.), making my own lunches, and using regular gas instead of premium."

If I do the same then those daily fountain sodas are covered in full -- guilt-free.

More ways to save ...

  • Skip the dry cleaner and D.I.Y.: So far as we know, no one's done the perp walk for ignoring the "Dry Clean Only" warning label on their garments. Clothing pros say most anything can be hand-washed -- cashmere, linen, and silk included -- so long as it's not lined. (A moment of silence, please, for my favorite lemony yellow jacket.) Save money by spot-cleaning ASAP. Dab away lipstick and other shmootz with a baby wipe or delicate detergent on a damp towel. Use a steamy bathroom to destroy all evidence that you borrowed your roommate's silk blouse and let it sit balled up in the corner for a week. Corner-test any garment before soaking and squeeze (don't wring) until the water runs clear. Wash darks inside-out and hang dry (the dryer does the fading). And use at-home dry cleaning sheets (Dryel or Dry Cleaner's Secret) -- a bargain 60 cents per item -- and cut your cleaning bill $1.40 to $5.40 per garment.
  • Dump the pump and save $5 to $25 a week: If global warming and road rage aren't enough to inspire you to put your car up on cinder blocks and start hoofing it, perhaps saving $5 to $25 a week is. Until GM's (NYSE: GM  ) Chevy Volt or some competitor makes filling up as easy as plugging in, gasoline is a big cost. With the average worker's tank guzzling 3.3% of each paycheck (or $1,341 a year), carpooling and public transportation are looking mighty attractive, eh? (Check out eRideShare.com.) If you must fill 'er up, avoid stations in affluent neighborhoods, ones just off the freeway, and gassing up on weekends (when prices are jacked). Check out GasBuddy.com to find pumps nearby with the lowest per-gallon price.

Read the latest from Fiscal Fitness '09: 1 Month, 2 Grand, 3 Stocks to get our other money-saving tips. You can also keep up with our tips through our daily Foolwatch email. Share your frugal insights and experiences through our Fiscal Fitness '09 discussion board, or leave a comment below.

The Fool owns shares of Starbucks, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection and a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fiscal Fitness boot camp instructor Dayana Yochim owns none of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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