You’ve likely heard countless times that you need to stop throwing money away on things like your daily latte. In fact, best-selling personal finance author David Bach popularized the concept of “the latte factor” to show people how small expenses add up over time.
But that doesn’t mean you have to give up all of life’s little luxuries if you want to get ahead financially.
“If your goal is to deprive yourself of any pleasure, it’s going to backfire,” said Dr. Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and associate professor at Creighton University.
So if you’re like many Americans who are vowing to save more and spend less, you can reach your goal without cutting out everything you love. There are plenty of reasons why giving up your favorite things to save more isn’t always the right solution.
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You’ll Think You’re on a Diet
“If you are going to approach your finances with the objective of cutting out things you enjoy, it’s like a diet,” said Klontz. And research has shown that dieting fails to help people keep weight off over the long run.
“The reason diets fail is that you tell your body that you’re about to starve it,” he added. “Then your body kicks into planning-for-the-famine mode by slowing down your metabolism and telling you to eat.”
“It basically works against you,” Klontz said. “As soon as I say the word diet to myself, I start craving cheeseburgers. The same thing happens with a budget.”
A Financial Diet Can Fail Just the Same
When you tell yourself that you need to restrict spending, you can end up spending more unconsciously or rebelliously. You justify your spending by saying that you deserve to treat yourself because you’ve been depriving yourself.
Studies have shown that eating healthy during the week and having cheat days on the weekends doesn’t necessarily mean a healthier body. Cheat meals are more likely to cause you to overeat because foods high in fat, sugar and salt can be potentially addictive.
The same sentiment is true for your spending habits — a strict money diet during the week could lead you to overspend during the weekend. You have more time in a day to spend your hard-earned dollars on entertainment, expensive dinners and cocktails. Try to turn your spending habits into a sustainable lifestyle, not a crash-and-burn budget.
Focusing on Big Wins Is More Important
Focusing solely on eliminating small expenses can be misguided. Sure, they can add up over time. But you can boost savings more — and avoid feeling like you have to give up everything you love — if you focus on slashing major costs.
“I’m a big fan of cutting back on the big stuff,” said J.D. Roth, founder and editor of Get Rich Slowly. “When you trim your car expenses — for instance, by driving an old car or selling your second vehicle — that not only helps your budget more than you would by clipping coupons or getting rid of family movie night, but it also allows you to keep those things you love.”
Slashing big expenses and practicing mindful spending will not only help you balance your budget, but it will also improve your mental health, he added.
It’s Good to Live for Today
There’s no denying that it’s important to save for the future if you don’t want to work forever or live a life of poverty in retirement. But your savings strategies shouldn’t involve giving up all enjoyment today to live comfortably in the future.
“It’s important to do both,” said Klontz. “Save for the future, and live for today.”
There Are Dangers in Living for Tomorrow
If you create a life of deprivation, you can get stuck in that mode. Klontz has seen this happen with clients. Some work so hard to save money that they don’t get any practice enjoying money during their working life. They have a fantasy that when they reach 65, they can relax and enjoy their money, he said. At that time, however, it’s hard for them to get out of deprivation mode. Remember, some splurges — like flying first class — can be worth it.
The other risk you take by avoiding all spending on little luxuries now in hopes of having more money to enjoy life later is that later never comes.
“Some neglect enjoyment of life — which may never come because you could die before retirement,” said Klontz.
Don’t Make a Budget
People feel depressed when they try to create a budget that focuses on cutting out things. “It’s a terrible exercise,” said Klontz. “That’s why hardly anyone does it, and we all feel like failures because we don’t have a budget.”
So, your savings strategies shouldn’t include a goal of self-deprivation. “You enter with a goal of spending money where it matters most,” said Klontz. You do this with a spending plan rather than a budget.
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Make a Spending Plan Instead
Ask yourself — and your partner, if you have one — what is most important to you. Figure out your dreams and goals, which might be owning a house, traveling the world or retiring by age 40. Once you’ve identified the things you want to spend money on, cut out spending in categories that don’t matter as much.
For example, Roth said that he doesn’t care much about cars but likes to travel.
“So, I drive a 13-year-old vehicle, which I’ll keep until it dies,” he said. “Plus, I try to walk and bike for as many errands as possible. This frees up room in my budget for more travel and for little luxuries, too — like gourmet hot dogs and occasional trips to the local wine bar.”
Automating Savings Is Less Painful
To make sure you actually spend money on what you value, you need structure. The best way to do this is through automation, said Klontz.
Set up a savings account for each of your goals and name the accounts. If you have only abstract savings accounts, you won’t be motivated, said Klontz. Create a Tahiti vacation 2018 account or a Toyota minivan 2020 account. “The more specific, the better,” he said.
Next, set up automatic monthly transfers from your checking account to each savings goal account. “If you automate these savings, they’re more likely to persist,” said Klontz. Using a mobile banking app can help you automate your savings easily.
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How to Make Automation Easy
The online bank Simple makes it easy to create savings goals within a single account. You can designate the total amount you want to save and the date by which you want to reach your goal. You also can schedule payments for bills. Simple will show you how much in your account is safe to spend after covering savings goals and scheduled payments each month, and you can feel free to spend whatever money you have left.
Capital One and Ally Bank also allow you to keep multiple savings accounts with no minimum balances or additional fees. A Capital One 360 savings account offers 1.00% APY for all balances while allowing you to open 25 separate accounts for your savings goals. Ally Bank offers a higher 2.20% APY on all balances, also with no maintenance fees. Both banks have easy-to-use apps to help organize and track your savings goals.
Enjoy Little Luxuries — Without Hurting Your Finances
If having little luxuries is something you value but you don’t want to end up sabotaging other financial goals, focus a little bit of your savings strategies toward this expense. Create a “pleasure of the day” account or “live in the moment” account, said Klontz.
It’s OK to allow resources for today to enjoy yourself, he said. In fact, you’re going against your hardwiring if you try to defer all pleasure. Setting aside a certain amount will ensure you can afford little pleasures without sacrificing bigger priorities.
“Life is a journey,” Klontz said. “You have to find ways to plan for the journey and enjoy the journey. You can’t sacrifice one for the other.”
Click through to see how you can live a fabulous life while still being frugal.
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Priscilla Aguilera contributed to the reporting for this article.