Let me eat cake.

The Entertainment Book is replete with coupons for discounted oil changes, theater tickets, comedy clubs, hardware, symphony concerts, driving school, carpet cleaning, and a dizzying array of other goods and services.

Me? I went straight to the cupcakes BOGO.

Yes, I zeroed in on Cupcake Royale, which was a cupcake seller when cupcake sellers weren’t cool (“Est. 2003”). The coupon promised three gratis treats if you bought three.

After checking the flavors on the website, I was a goner – how can you not love a shop that offers a “Royale With Cheese”? That’s a chocolate cupcake with cream-cheese frosting as well as a wink-and-a-nod toward this scene from “Pulp Fiction.”

I went, I saw, I bought.

Then I second-guessed. A lot.

A sweet transgression?

With the coupon, the cost was $9 for six large cupcakes in four different flavors. Way more calories than I needed but dang, they were tasty. Next time I’m going to focus on the Lemon Drop, whose icing was so good I wanted a cigarette afterwards.

That’s the way I feel now. At the time, I felt guilty. I shouldn’t have spent that much on sweets. Aren’t I supposed to be saving for a vacation? I could have bought 15 pounds of pinto beans for the same amount of money. Shame on me.

After a while I switched to rationalizing the purchase:

After all, a movie ticket costs $9, and six cupcakes provided at least as much enjoyment. No annoying previews, either.

After all, I’m not going to bake myself a birthday cake this year because I’ll be traveling. Happy natal day, a month early.

After all, I hardly ever go out to eat – what’s $9 compared to what I’d be paying at a restaurant?

And then another part of my brain interrupted, a part that remained silent for years but has finally begun to assert itself. Here’s what it said: It’s my damn money! I earned it! I’ll spend it any way I want!

Seriously. Why this need to justify my behavior?

As if I were somehow transgressing by indulging in a non-essential item.

As if I should donate to charity every dime not spent on pinto beans and the electric bill.

As if I’m not ever allowed to have fun. Or cupcakes.

A little give

I remembered a Grumpy Rumblings of the Untenured post called “Is it OK for personal finance bloggers to be balanced?” In it, pseudonymous bloggers Nicole and Maggie tweaked the unwritten law that PF bloggers must always be beyond reproach, or at least approaching the off-ramp.

A line of theirs that stuck with me: “Do you have to call all of your spending ‘sinful’ and admit guilt and swear to do better any time you stray?”

Well, no. I’m usually the one telling people, “Go ahead – budget for a little fun.” As my friend and colleague Liz Pulliam Weston has written, a little splurge money should be written into any spending plan.

“Even the tightest budget needs a little give,” Weston notes, “or the whole thing is likely to go out the window.”

She’s right. I know she’s right. But for far too long, my wishes and wants were riders attached to the legislation of other people’s needs. I suspect this is true of many middle-aged women.

For example, I liked to take my daughter and her husband to a movie every now and then. Until recently I would rarely if ever treat myself to a movie, even if it were one of those free movie tickets. Someone else had to be involved to justify the excursion.

Zombies and sprinkles

Well, I’ve seen two movies in the past three weeks. Neither of them was very good. There weren’t nearly enough zombies in “Resident Evil 3,” and the vignettes of “Hereafter” just didn’t knit together cleanly. Good thing I didn’t pay for either one of them.

But I did go. And while I do feel somewhat sheepish about eating six cupcakes in a little over three days, I will defend to the death my right to have bought them.

In fact, the next time I want to celebrate a special day I’m going to go back to Cupcake Royale. I might buy one of those “Legalize Frostitution” pins, too.

What about the rest of you? Do you agonize over treats? How often do you give yourself permission for small or large indulgences?

And if your budget is uber-straitened, what kinds of frugal delights do you enjoy? I used to savor a long, hot bath and a new library book. In fact, I still do. The combination is almost as good as a Lemon Drop.


14 Comments

  1. We obviously do not agonize over treats (thanks for linking to us!)

    My biggest treat is fancy cheese at the grocery store. I love the freedom to buy *whatever I want* at the grocery store. It really beats the days of living on split pea soup and losing my ability to digest meat. And, after my birthday, if I’ve got time, I often buy up whatever’s left on my Amazon wishlist that I really wanted but nobody got me. (Sadly, some years I have so little dedicated free time that all of a sudden it’s Christmas again and people have a second shot at getting me things I really wanted.)

    I do have to limit sweet treats, but that’s for health reasons, not money. That means I only eat sweets that are either good on the glycemic index (cherries! high fat ice cream!) or that are really really really good (desserts at fine restaurants). I don’t feel guilty after eating a “bad” sweet, I just feel like crap. Ah, if only my body processed insulin better.

  2. And oh yeah, today we actually posted our “pet joys” as our blog post. Apparently we’re also into down duvets and fluffy kittens. :)

  3. Hi Donna,

    I just wanted to drop by and say “hi” and I’m looking forward to meeting you at Save Up! :)

    Maria – http://www.mychicagomommy.com

  4. Nope, I do not beat myself up too badly for treats. I grew up very poor with no budgeting for “treats” of any sort. Now I pretty much let myself have what I can afford without guilt. Makes life a lot easier if it’s “now with less guilt”, lol.

  5. LOL Donna, it seems many of us are going through the same thing. I think we are reaching the top of the mountain. We saved, we were frugal, and now the rewards are flying in. I bought a box of chocolate covered cherries and cow tails on Monday with no regret! Ok, they were at the dollar store, but still I certainly enjoy them.

  6. @Donna
    Those are nice too.

    As is the green and black 85% dark chocolate I’m currently sucking on.

  7. Wow the voice in your head is just like mine!! Sometimes I feel REALLY guilty for getting nonessential things, mostly stuff for myself though. My little guy is hungry or thirsty while we are out? I’ll get him soemthing without a second though. When I’m thirsty? I wait hours until my head is about to explode fromt he headache before giving in, and then I feel guilty!! Slowly overcoming that, but some days are better tha others!

  8. The problem is when you start buying cupcakes every day! I do budget $20 a week as “mad money.” That’s ME money that I do not have to answer for nor apologize for. I certainly spend other money foolishly, too, but I agonize over that and rationalize it like crazy.

    I, too have the probably of cutting myself off from small treats, then blowing the saved money on something equally foolish for my children or grandchildren. If I do it for them, why is it so hard to do it for myself?

    • Donna Freedman

      @Grace: Good point. I will treat my daughter, my niece or my nephews without a second’s hesitation. Me? Not so much.
      Balance is what I’m seeking. Here’s hoping I find it.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  9. lostAnnfound

    Those cupcakes look Delicious!

    It’s a small splurge. You earned the ability to do this. It just gets dangerous if you start thinking like that frequently and it start to become a habit. Also, if you were to be these cupcakes every week, I think the anticipation of having something special for yourself is totally lost.

  10. I agonize. A lot. Enough for me, the money/numbers person, to go to my husband, the do-what-makes-you-happy person, to help me justify my desire to buy something. I have to remind myself sometimes that it’s really ok, that I’m not irresponsible or wasteful and that I’ll just have to say no the next time(s). It’s usually yarn that gets me. Mirasol Qina yarn was my latest downfall – and what a beautiful downfall it is!

  11. Isn’t it crazy what we put ourselves through over $9, or sometimes less? I agree that the splurge budget is a good idea (though I haven’t done this for myself yet).

    I don’t tend to agonize over spending on treats, but on a bad day you can find me agonizing over forgetting to bring a coupon that would have saved me $2. Go figure.

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