On the Deserving/Affording Fallacy

I have a seasonal job.

With that seasonal job there are always a few ebbs and flows and ups and downs, just like any others, but there are also onslaughts that seriously test me. They test my ability to undersleep and still function, my ability to survive on mostly empty carbs or allegedly “whole meal” bars, and they sometimes seem to test my sanity.

By the time I get past peak freak out time, I’ve been seriously overworking without anything that resembles a break for quite a while. I haven’t grocery shopped, gotten a haircut, replaced my old shitty jeans that somehow started disintegrating, or done any laundry for weeks.

It’s when I crest that peak that I start REALLY feeling the urge to “self care” like a crazy person. That means I feel like I REALLY DESERVE a massage. I REALLY DESERVE a manicure and pedicure, and I also REALLY DESERVE the ten minute chair massage for only an extra $10 while my nails are drying. I REALLY DESERVE a couple new pieces of clothing since it’s likely I’ve been wearing the same things for weeks on end, and I TOTALLY DESERVE a date night with my partner, a spa day with my good friend and coworker I’ve barely spoken to for months, and a few new outfits.

I can totally afford this.

Because I work a lot at a pretty decent job and live a really frugal life, I can also afford all of these things, depending on how you look at it. I have the money to do any and probably all of them and still eat, pay for housing, and keep the lights on. However, doing all of these things has the potential to really derail some goals that are important to me

This is why asking whether I deserve an indulgence or can afford an expense is asking the wrong questions.

Asking whether we deserve something, or making decisions based on what we deserve, is a pretty slippery slope. Who is worthy of what is based on subjective and arbitrary criteria. I tend to think almost all humans deserve the basic elements of wellness and a good life as long as they are not actively causing others harm. Didn’t have any styrofoam bonfires today? Haven’t kicked a puppy? Great! Chances are I think you deserve a $10 chair massage. If you’ve done “the right thing,” fought the good fight, or maybe just helped somebody out, then you really deserve it!

However, that doesn’t mean it’s the best decision.

Figuring out if you can afford something is only a little more cut and dry. If you have to put it on a credit card because you don’t have cash, it’s a pretty sure sign you can’t, but if you can pay cash without starving or being late on bills, then by some standards, sure. You can afford it.

But more often than not, those guidelines are bad barometers.

Sure I think I deserve these little things, but more so I think I deserve a life of purpose, the freedom that comes with financial security, and the satisfaction of achieving goals. I definitely deserve the little things, but what I should actually do with my money and my time  is better determined by asking whether those experiences and expenditures and services will bring me closer to the purpose, freedom, and achievement that I need to feel like I live a life of meaning.

The answers to those questions vary. I’ve had massages so effective they rejuvenated me after my work related chaos so I could devote time to friendships and other things I really value, or even put some more heart and soul into my job. I’ve bought clothes that look really great and help me feel confident and cute and I value that. I had a spa day once that I’m pretty sure made me not spontaneously quit my job out of exhaustion.

But when I feel like I need all those things on the same day, despite how well they might work temporarily, the real issue at hand is that something in my life is not quite working, and what I really deserve is a long term solution

Sure, any of that pampering is bound to help me face another day at work, but eventually I’ll be experiencing diminishing returns. And despite being able to afford it and very much deserving it, they just aren’t things that serve me.

Careful anecdotal research suggests that libraries and coffee are in service to 99% of larger goals.

And that’s a better, if harder, question to ask: is this expense in service to my larger goals?

NB. Topic for another day: I said yes to the spa day. 10/10 would recommend.

4 thoughts on “On the Deserving/Affording Fallacy

  1. That’s awesome you said yes. While personal finance is about having a better financial future, we shouldn’t develop a mentality of “just save.” It really should be saving some and spending some, so you get to enjoy life now.

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    1. That is true. But there is also a bit of a problem for those of us with seasonal work that can mean we have a sort of mental tally of all the things we’ve missed out on, and it can translate into feeling like we should be able to have all those things at once. It’s kind of like how they say you should chew each bite slowly and carefully, and then you realize you are full. Two of the ten things I thought I couldn’t live without turned out to satiate my need for some relaxing. 😉

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  2. Boy, did you hit on a sore spot for me! I had a roommate in college who deserved all the fun things, but was too strapped for cash for the necessities (like rent and bills). That’s when I really started thinking about deserve vs afford and money not equalling self-worth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true it can be a really frustrating issue to deal with, and people have really different ideas of what it means to deserve and ESPECIALLY to be able to afford something. I’m hoping to deal with that one in a future post;)

      Liked by 1 person

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