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The Psychology of Splurging

There are times when I just want to spend money.

Spending on something that you didn’t exactly plan for can offer you a high. It’s fun to be a little spontaneous and splurge. And there are other reasons that many of us splurge as well.

What’s behind the urge to splurge? And is it always a bad thing to spend you money on unplanned purchases?

Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., is a psychologist and physical therapist, and the author of Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. She recently shared some of her insights on splurging with me, and you might find what she says interesting, too.

Why Do We Splurge?

“We splurge as a way to feel good about ourselves and our lives,” says Lombardo. “Perhaps it is a consolation for a tough day, or a reward that we deserve.”

I know that when I’m having a tough time, there is little that cheers me up like splurging on a book … or two … or three … for my Kindle. When we’re feeling down, or when we feel like we’ve worked really hard, a splurge can be something that serves as a pick-me-up, or a motivation to keep going.

There are plenty of negative triggers for splurging, according to Lombardo. “Stress, low sense of worth, looking for happiness in all the wrong places, anger, resentment, fear, and sadness can all trigger a splurge,” she says.

When you feel that sort of a trigger as the motivation for your splurge, it’s probably a good time to step back. After all, it rarely goes well when you make snap spending decisions based on fear [3] or resentment. Plus, using splurges as a replacement for true happiness can be problematic in the long run, since it doesn’t actually solve your problem.

When It Makes Sense To Splurge

This doesn’t mean that splurging is all bad. In fact, there are times when it can be a good thing. “Splurging can be a good thing when it has meaning that ties into your values and strengths,” Lombardo says. She uses a beautiful cashmere coat as an example. If you know that you will wear it for years to come, and you really like it, splurging isn’t such a bad thing.

Sensible splurges should have true meaning and purchase. What are some examples of sensible splurges? “Organic and other high quality food to prepare a special dinner, or something is that is meaningful, like an engagement ring,” Lombardo suggests. Think about your own values and what you derive the most enjoyment from. If you are going to splurge, don’t make it on something that you think is merely “okay;” instead, splurge on items that really will increase your enjoyment of life.

Lombardo also points to research that indicates that spending money on others can make you happy [4]. So, if your splurge benefits someone else, that can be a good thing, too. There’s no reason that your splurge can’t be a special gift for a loved one, or a donation to a cause that you truly believe in.

What do you think? Can splurging be a good thing? What do you like to splurge on?

(Photo: Daniel Borman [5])