How a Financial Cheat Day Can Hurt Your Goals

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When we set out to improve fitness goals and lose weight, the first thing we often think about is what kind of diet will help. Do we restrain calories? Carbohydrates? Fats? Sugar? How much, how little? And how to deal with the mental effort of new austerity when it comes to what we eat, in order to achieve the long term goals we want?

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A lot of the same language gets used when it comes down to our approach to financial health. Cutting back spending and improving savings can be approached from a variety of angles and methods that work best for a given individual or family. But should we be treating our efforts to save money like we treat dieting? Maybe not.

Some personal finance advocates have championed the idea of a diet-like “financial cheat day” for spending. Much in the way you would cast aside the calorie-tight meal for a delicious burger one day a week, this strategy would advocate for making a modest couple spending splurges on a periodic, infrequent basis in order to avoid being mentally run down by the hard work that goes into budgeting and planning for financial health.

The trouble with financial cheat days from a nutritional perspective is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. No matter how austere your habits have been for recent weeks, a momentary big splurge is still going to take work to plan around. Feel free to eat that burger… as long as you know you’ll commit to doubling down on the next workout. The reality is that a lot of people don’t take the second half of that equation.

So what’s the solution? Instead of thinking about that day on the calendar when you get to “cheat” your budget, try budgeting the cheat. In essence, rather than scheduling a financial cheat day, make a goal (like a purchase you want to make in the near future) and integrate saving for it into your existing budget. It will feel incredibly rewarding when you make that achievement, no matter how long it takes. No one is saying you can’t buy what you want: you just have to build it into your budget and work toward it, just the same way that an athlete gains strength and new capabilities by working through a progression of harder and harder movements.

 

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