Can Financial Cheat Days Help You Stick to a Strict Money Diet?

by Reader Contributors

Financial Cheat Days on a Strict Money Diet photo

We asked our readers about financial cheat days and whether they hurt or help them stick to a budget. See if their advice about the dangers and benefits can help you decide if a cheat day can help you stick to your budget.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
When it comes to losing weight, some experts recommend having an occasional cheat day where you ditch the diet and eat whatever you want (within reason). Others advise against cheat days because it can be harder to go back on your diet the next day. Has anyone tried taking financial cheat days when living on a tight budget? I feel like I do so well with my money for three or four months and then suddenly get burnt out on sticking to my budget and start overspending. I take three steps forward toward my financial goals and then a big step back. What do other Dollar Stretchers think about financial cheat days?

J.P.

Pocket Money for My Financial Cheat

I would advise having some pocket money every week, rather than a whole day of “cheating.” If you budget a bit of personal cash and give yourself permission to use it any way you want, you are still controlling the amount and not running big risks, while still enjoying the liberty of spending a bit on something that will make you happy.
Alicia

Be Realistic, Don’t Cheat

Rather than have financial cheat days, I suggest a realistic budget that allows for minor treats each week. Put aside $10-$15 or whatever is reasonable for you as money you can spend without guilt. There is no cheating, and you’ll stay on budget.
Barbara

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Cheat Days Untrue to Long-Term Goals

Write your goals down. This way, your cheat days may be less tempting if you focus on goals. Instead of financial cheat days, how about treat day? Go for a walk in a beautiful place or buy an appetizer instead of dinner at your favorite restaurant or just dessert after you had dinner at home. You can treat yourself with mindful spending on little things, still keep your sanity, and be true to your long-term goal.
Judy M. in NY

Financial Cheat Days Part of Mentality of Lack

No, don’t allow yourself so-called “financial cheat days.” Why? Because by their very construction, you don’t have any limits set and will absolutely begin to find them cropping up more and more until you have completely fallen off the debt repayment wagon.

To help with the natural backlash that our brains have when we set them on any sort of limits or diets, work with the mentality of lack. When our brains perceive a lack is arising, they will move heaven and earth to make sure we don’t suffer from it. It is like when we’re dieting and want to eat every doughnut in sight because we “can’t.” Therefore, reverse engineer your budget, so your brain doesn’t see all the repayments as “lack.” First, always keep track of how much your debt is declining by showing the then available credit going up. Secondly, when you are working hard to pay off debt, you still have to set up an account for yourself that allows you a budgeted and limited amount each month for a small, planned splurge. By knowing that you can always tap into your splurge account, you defeat your mentality of lack and quit fighting with yourself.
Kamia

Build an Emergency Fund

With these simple tools, you could save $1000, even while living paycheck to paycheck.

Plan for Fun

Plan some fun money into your budget. Even if it is just $50, allow yourself that line item, so you can splurge now and then without feeling guilty.

If you know in a future month, there is something special you want to do, attend or purchase, add it to your budget. This way, you won’t go overboard when that month arrives and you will have the money set aside.
Leslie in Arlington, Texas

Balance Spending with Earning

I like to balance spending with additional earning whenever possible. My financial cheat days are spent at garage sales and flea markets. My main goal is finding goods and collectibles to resell on eBay, but I definitely look for splurges for myself.
Margaret

Thrifty Binge Cheats

Whenever I can’t restrain myself from that “gotta spend” craving, I allow myself one thrift store splurge. I only go on sale days. Also, I only take cash. The amount depends on your budget, but I usually allow myself up to $10.

I always find something very cool. It’s amazing how careful a shopper I become when I only have a $10 bill. I take my time and really make sure I will use whatever it is I buy. If I am not sure what to buy, I put a few items in my cart, and at the end of my shopping trip, I make my decision. The rest goes back on the shelves.

Last week, I bought an awesome toy chest for $7.99! It was “50% off furniture” day! I took it home, took it apart, sanded it, painted it, took off the front panel, and added chunky legs. It is now a perfect new doggie bed for my two little Chihuahuas. They love it, and I got my shopping fix.

I am sure I have saved hundreds with my thrifty binge. Try it! But no cheating!
A

Reviewed June 2020

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