Happy Friday – Happy Money: Make It A Treat

This is part 2 in our series on the recently published book, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, by behavioral scientists Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton. Their tagline is:

“If you think money can’t buy happiness, you’re not spending it right.”

According to their research, there are five basic ways in which money can be spent that increase happiness for the average person.

  1. Buy Experiences
  2. Make It A Treat
  3. Buy Time
  4. Pay Now, Consume Later
  5. Invest In Others

And we’re hitting these main points one-by-one. Feel free to start at the beginning (links above) or hop right into this week’s.

Part 2 – Make It A Treat

Again, this is not anything that seems particularly controversial these days. Hedonic adaptation is our very human ability to become quickly accustomed to luxuries so they are no longer grand luxuries, but rather just something we simply expect as a matter of course. To fight this, we can simply take these luxuries and make them a rarity in our lives in order to retain a feeling of gratitude.

Sometimes we must force this upon ourselves (say limiting the daily latte habit so that it retains its feeling of luxury), and sometimes it is forced upon us by marketing geniuses who understand the average person’s response to something that is available “for a limited time”. Would people be as obsessed with pumpkin spice lattes if they were available year round? What about candy corn? Or the McRib? Scarcity imposed from an outside source turns these otherwise everyday items into treats that provide outsized enjoyment for most.

When we have too much access to something (even, for example, an experience that might bring us extended happiness as discussed in part 1), it’s very easy for people to become immune to it.

“After living in London for a whole year, residents typically report that they’ve visited fewer landmarks – from Big Ben to Kensington Palace – than visitors who have only been there for two weeks. Although London attracts more international visitors than any other cities in the world, most London residents report having visited more landmarks in cities other than their own.”

Because these landmarks are available to locals all the time, people never seem to get around to enjoying experiences that might be relatively inexpensive sources of great “experiential happiness”.


Mr PoP

One of the examples in this section talked about taking an ordinary activity and making it a treat, like driving. I confess that driving with top and doors off of my jeep is one of the most enjoyable things I do all weekend, probably because thats the only time that I do it! Cheap thrills man…


Mrs PoP

I’m not going to lie, I was disappointed when I read the section that described year-long residents of London having experienced fewer of the local landmarks than visitors that had been there just a couple of weeks.  That goes against my philosophy of loving where you live, but getting into habits and routines is an easy thing to do.

Heck, I asked Mr PoP what he thought I did as a treat, and he responded sarcastically with “your routine”.  It’s true.  I thrive on routine, but when things get too routine – even for me, the joy can be lost.  I used to really enjoy going to my weekend yoga class and then having a subway sandwich with a friend afterward.  It was a treat, only happening on occasion.  But we’ve developed a routine, and now it’s a given.  I feel like I need an explanation or a reason if I don’t want to sit down in Subway for half an hour.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy the 1-1 time with my friend, it’s just that it’s not a treat anymore, and I’m still trying to figure out how to turn that time back into a treat without any hurt feelings.


What do you spend money on to treat yourself?  Do you treat yourself enough?

42 comments to Happy Friday – Happy Money: Make It A Treat

  • Actually I just came home from the mall, I bought a new pair of jeans, sandals and I bought my daughter a new school shoes. And this Sunday after going to church I’m planning to treat myself and my mom a Swedish Massage. I think it’s not wrong to treat yourself sometimes right? :)
    Clarrise @ Make Money Your Way recently posted..Make money renting your car or vehicleMy Profile

  • When we entered our self imposed austerity measure period we really cut the number of times eating out. For a North America this may seem not that big because it sin’t too expensive. here in Europe going to a semi nice dinner for 2 means upwards of a $100. So we limited it and now it is such a treat to go to our favorite places. We alternate 1 each month with pizza every month. We talk so much more and enjoy it so much more now.

  • We certainly get into our routines. With a little one, it really rocks the boat if we get too far off, at least during school nights. I guess we do treat ourselves if we take a weekend trip. Our last camping trip turned into a cabin trip and we ate out twice. I felt a bit guilty about that, but I guess it was a treat and we had a great time. I would say individually, I don’t treat myself very often, and I should certainly try to plan better. I have a credit from bartering with a massage therapist, why aren’t I using that?
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Fincon 13: Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone and Loving ItMy Profile

  • I went to London a few years ago for a week of sightseeing and it seems like everyone I’ve talked to from there since hasn’t seen half the things I have. The reverse is also very true, I need to pretend I’m a tourist in my own home town sometime!
    FI Pilgrim recently posted..FI 101: Manage Expenses To Become Financially IndependentMy Profile

    • I think being a tourist in your own town is worth it – especially if there’s an “off season” when things are less crowded or cheaper.

  • We used to treat ourselves with wine and Chipotle but now they are routine. I love wine and Chipotle but a little scarcity wouldn’t be so bad :).

    I think it’s really easy to ignore your local landmarks. You can always “see them later” so there is not really any rush to see them now. I need to make more of an effort to get to know my new city!
    Erin @ My Alternate Life recently posted..Turning 24My Profile

  • Jonathan

    I have a theory on the London tourism issue. What’s one of a tourist’s favorite things to do when they go back home? Tell their friends about all the cool places they saw! Now, if you’re a Londoner, how exciting is it to tell your friends around the water cooler, “I went to Big Ben on Saturday!” Really, not so exciting. There’s no mystique to the local landmarks, and no prestige factor either.

    P.s. I’m jealous of Mr. Pop’s open-top jeep. But he’s jealous of my dad’s NSX. The grass is always greener…

    • I think that’s a good theory, but I still think it’s pretty cool to be able to say you saw everything at least once. Otherwise how can you tell visiting friends which tourist traps are worth visiting and which are a waste of time?

      As for the cars, it’s a shame you guys can’t just meet up in texas and swap cars for a week… but on the other hand, Mr PoP was just telling me about the Ferrari one of the guys at work showed up with today. I think he’d still prefer an NSX given the choice, though.

  • We don’t go out to eat much anymore so that’s become a nice treat when we do. Our routines are pretty frugal, but that allows us to give ourselves little treats every now and then without worrying about it. It’s nice to be able to be able to enjoy those spur-of-the-moment decisions without a rush of anxiety behind them.
    Matt Becker recently posted..When Procrastination Costs You MoneyMy Profile

  • Anne

    My fiance loves eating out, so we probably do that twice a week. It’s starting to get a bit routine for my taste, but we still look forward to it so it feels like a treat even though it’s “regular”. I enjoy trying out new recipes in the kitchen, especially on the weekends when I have more time, which is usually a treat for both of us.

    And it’s so true that when you live by things you take them for granted. I lived within 500 feet of the beach for a few years and barely went. I still enjoyed it in other ways (breeze, smell of the ocean, etc) but almost never just sat on the sand like I would on vacation.

    • So many people live near the beach and never go! Just the other week we were at the beach at sunset and two couples were taking each others pictures thinking the others were tourists, but it turned out they both lived a couple miles away and neither had been to the beach in about 8 years!
      I love it so much I have trouble putting myself in those shoes – but I don’t spend a whole lot of time sitting out on it like a vacation. Mostly walks or running on it – the ocean kindof centers me.

  • I see what you mean about making things a treat. It seems as time goes by, society starts to see more and more things as given rather than treats. Of course, this is a good thing when it comes to stuff like polio vaccinations or education… less of a good thing when it comes to stuff like homeownership.

    One thing that I recently shifted from the daily column to the treat column is cooking meat at home. Now, I use meat as flavoring rather than the main attraction. Besides it saving money, I think I’m healthier now too :)

    Local landmarks make for a great inexpensive, cheesy date. I’ll check them out from time to time.
    Debt BLAG recently posted..What are YOU saving up for? Why they’re wrong about delayed gratificationMy Profile

    • “less of a good thing when it comes to stuff like homeownership.” and the latest tech gadget! =)

      As for the meat, let me know if you want any vegetarian recipes…

  • Your post reminded me of:


    I intuitively think that spreading things out to make them rarer and more of a treat is the right strategy. But I remember Lyumbormirsky along the lines of small, regular pleasures actually having a bigger impact on our happiness than big, infrequent ones. So the regular latte may give a bigger payoff than the irregular fancy dinner. Sorry to pimp my own post…

    Done by Forty recently posted..The Cherokee Land Lottery: What Happens When You Randomize WealthMy Profile

    • post pimping requires no apologies when they are excellent posts, DB40 =)

      I think I’m going to have to find The Myths of Happiness to give it a read – I did recently listen to the audiobook of one her other works – the How of Happiness. It’s one that I think I need to listen to a few more times to really internalize, though.

      And that video is ridiculous. I’ve never actually seen Parks and Rec, but that looks hilarious.

  • CF

    Getting my hair done is definitely where I get myself. Sure, it’s a big chunk of money but I feel good for months after getting it done.
    CF recently posted..Top 10 Side Jobs – #7: Newspaper DeliveryMy Profile

    • Agreed – I tend to cut my hair so infrequently (only every couple of years) that when I do I make it a real treat and go to the fancy salon. =)

  • ha ha I’m probably that way about LA. I just don’t want to sit in f’n traffic even to go to free places like the getty. I’m seriously lazy. And if you ask anyone in the valley the last time they went to the beach they probably wouldn’t know the answer. It’s a running joke. Going out to eat now is a treat for me. I savor it because I don’t do it often. And I’m glad too because if I went out to eat all the time I’d weigh 200 pounds! I think starbucks is another one. I don’t go that much, but dammit I must try this PSL that everyone talks about, so I might go right now…
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..Surround Yourself with Financially Positive PeopleMy Profile

    • Traffic in LA is insane. Is there any time of the year when it lets up a little? Here it’s much worse in the winter than it is in the summertime.

  • I have to agree with everyone who is saying they don’t take advantage of things nearby enough. I didn’t go to the beach this summer at all, I live a train ride away from the city but never go…if it’s always going to be there, it’s as if we have unlimited opportunity to go, versus going on vacation and sight seeing for two weeks. We feel pressured to see as much as possible during that time.

    I guess I consider it a treat when food I like is on sale and I buy it, since I don’t buy anything if it’s not on sale. Weekend trips I would count as a treat, too, though that hasn’t happened in a while.
    E.M. recently posted..Being Grateful – Fourth EditionMy Profile

    • Oh, I know exactly what you’re talking about treat food when it’s on sale. Our favorite bagels only come home when they’re BOGO… mmm… cinnamon raisin…

  • I live very close to Central London, but I avoid the main sights like the plague. Why? Because it’s extremely hard to enjoy yourself being surrounded by hundreds & hundreds of tourists that visit these sights daily. You can compare it to a Tube ride to/from work in the rush hour. NOT fun! I enjoy less touristy places of interest and hidden gems that only locals know about 😛

    As to little treats, my life is pretty simple these days but I do treat myself occasionally. Sometimes I would go out for dinner, other times I would book one night stay at my favourite Mayfair Hotel. I don’t make it a habit (plus I can’t really afford to just yet) so I enjoy these little treats even more. 😛
    Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted..Are You a Closeted Minimalist?My Profile

    • Is there any time when the sites aren’t jam packed full of tourists? An off-season of sorts? I don’t remember them being insanely crowded when I visited around Easter-time many years ago, but perhaps a tourist’s tolerance for crowds is a bit higher. =)

      • There is no off season in London, it’s one of those cities that is jam packed with tourists all year round. I agree, a tourist’s tolerance for crowds is a bit higher, I don’t mind the crowds when I travel, but not in the city I live in. It’s too tiring. Occasionally, I would take a ferry along the Thames and pass the Tower Bridge, the Shard, the London Eye and other sights along the way. This is much more enjoyable! 😛
        Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted..Are You a Closeted Minimalist?My Profile

  • Debbie M

    Is it cheating if you’re always getting a treat, but it’s not always the same treat?

    For example, with food, this week the treats are potato cheese soup and apple pie. Last week they were chili and cheese puffs.

    I get to play on the internet, then I get to take a nap, then I get to meet friends for dinner, then I get to watch a new episode of a favorite TV show while knitting, then I get to read a book …

    I probably have too many treats and should make myself do important things first so they don’t get out of control.

    To answer your question, the main things I spend money on to treat myself (besides food) are movies, books, board (aka table-top) games, and nights out dancing. Sometimes something super pretty (like a fancy scarf) or super comfy (like a soft, warm sweater).

    • haha, I have no idea if it’s cheating. I’d be inclined to think probably not since there’s still a relative scarcity of whatever isn’t your treat of the moment. (BTW – potato cheese soup sounds excellent – may have to make some for lunches next week)

  • I can say I’m guilty of not taking advantage of local landmarks. I spent two years living in Washington DC and barely ever visited the Smithsonian museums. I don’t know why but when you can always go, suddenly they aren’t a priority.
    Micro recently posted..Ice pack vs Heating pad: Knowing the tools of the trade for injury maintanenceMy Profile

  • One little treat that would be no big deal if we did it all the time is going out for breakfast. About once a month or two, my daughter and I stop at McDonalds for breakfast. We both get breakfast burritos and she also gets apple slices. Its about a $4 treat but we have so much fun and its our little secret. We could afford to do it everyday but it wouldn’t be a special treat at that point.
    ND Chic recently posted..Eating Poor in the CountryMy Profile

  • I can relate to the London blurb, since I don’t really take advantage of some San Diego areas – they tend to have too many tourists, and parking is a nightmare. I do, however, take advantage of them when I have guests in town and play tour guide – it’s kind of fun to do stuff like whale watching, kayaking with leopard sharks, etc., but it’s not something I would have done on my own. I do love my beach runs, though :)
    anna recently posted..Wedding Update: Cupcakes and CoordinatorsMy Profile

  • I find the London story quite interesting. I love exploring the quirky parts of my own city as well as the super touristy stuff. So many of my friends don’t bother checking out the iconic sites because they’re locals, but they’re missing out.
    I treat myself to chicago style pizza about once every two months or so. It’s such a common meal, but imposing scarcity on it makes me so excited every time we hit up Chicago’s or Giordanos.
    Cash Rebel recently posted..Getting past the hype of clean diesel – Is diesel worth it?My Profile

  • Travel! While I can’t afford much of it, I make it a point to travel to an awesome destination once in a while. Kill a couple of birds with one stone…I get a great experience and its certainly a sweet treat :)
    Simon @ Modest Money recently posted..Scottrade Review – Exclusive Review of Scottrade Investment BrokerageMy Profile

  • I live in NYC and I still have yet to go to the top of the empire state building!

    I agree with the need to not make luxuries every day items. I’m trying not to buy dessert ever that is pre-made and to have to either make it myself. Forces me to enjoy it more!
    Tara @ Streets Ahead Living recently posted..Falling in love with an old loveMy Profile

  • […] I love how the PoP’s are sharing their thoughts on this book I want to read! […]

  • You know, everything in NZ is crazy expensive so almost ANYTHING can be a treat. Esp once we get home after having gotten used to US prices, we aren’t going to be splurging a whole lot!
    eemusings recently posted..Monday motivation: Sarah @ Greesonbach CreativeMy Profile

  • […] I love how the PoP’s are sharing their thoughts on this book I want to read! […]

  • […] One last, often overlooked downside to sabbaticals is that, when you’re not working, all the extra vacation becomes commonplace to the point that you might just adjust to this “new normal” and forget that you’ve been looking forward to this time for the past 5+ years. In other words, you may suffer from hedonic adaptation. As ridiculous as it sounds, “treat yourself” is actually sage advice when applied occasionally. […]