Larry and Colleen have a daughter in high school. Although they are not wealthy, they make a good income. They came to see me to put together a Personal Spending Plan.
Colleen is a very dutiful parent, attending to her daughter with the utmost of care. She concerns herself with her husband’s wellbeing, and she is always doing things for other people.
She also has her own passion—Colleen is fanatical about raising and training border collies. She travels with them in order to let them do what they love to do—herd sheep into corrals. Whenever the subject turns to border collies, she has the enthusiasm of a girl with a new doll, and she can talk for hours about them.
However, she was always apologizing to her husband about the money she was spending on vet bills, dog food, training classes, and equipment. When she wanted to breed a dog, it cost money. As her number of dogs increased, it became necessary to add to her flock of sheep so there would be enough to herd. Competitions cost money to enter, as did the barn and the feed. There were never-ending expenses that came with her passion. She was always apologizing for how much she was spending. She didn’t feel she could just go spend that money on her passion without apologizing.
The fact was that her husband and her daughter completely and enthusiastically supported her. But she wouldn’t allow herself to acknowledge that fact. She believed that it wasn’t okay to spend money on herself.
We put together a spending plan that included all the necessary expenses for the family, the retirement savings, college savings, and other long-term goals. When we got to the line item concerning raising her collies, Colleen began a litany of excuses and apologies.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Let’s first find out what this really costs.”
When we added it up, and she saw the actual figure, she was surprised. “Well, we can certainly afford that,” she allowed. For the first time, she stopped trying to justify it.
I said to her husband, “Is it okay with you for Colleen to spend $175 a month on the dogs?”
“Absolutely!” he said. “She’s so alive when she’s training her dogs. She is a joy to be around. Our daughter is so proud of her that she brags to all of her friends. Of course we want her to spend that money! It adds so much richness to her life!”
Awestruck, Colleen looked at him and said, “Really? You really mean that?”
“Of course I do,” Larry said. “I’ve told you that before. It’s okay. In fact, I don’t want to live with you if you don’t do the things you love. It’s okay, honey. Go for it!”
Colleen was speechless.
Before that moment, Colleen had never let herself believe that it was okay for her to do what she wanted—to spend money on her passion.
In that moment, Colleen realized it was not selfish to spend money on herself. She saw that it was actually a contribution to the family. When she was involved with her dogs or in talking about them, she became so lit up with enthusiasm that it became contagious. Her husband and daughter loved being around that kind of energy. The family was better off when she was taking care of herself. By following her passion, by enjoying her genuine interests, she was an inspiration to others.
Maybe what you really want to do is raise orchids, but you don’t do so because the expenses seem too much. Maybe it’s building model railroads. But you don’t do it because you think your spouse won’t approve. Of course you haven’t talked about it; you just assume that you can’t. It might be climbing mountains, taking accordion lessons, a weekly trip to the spa, a yoga retreat, new clothes, a concert, or a sumptuous night out.
What would you love to do? What would you give yourself if you were your best friend? What would you do that at first glance might seem selfish—but if you did it, you might feel more alive, more fulfilled, and more pleasant to be around?
I have a client who started out with one dance class, one night a week. Now he is taking salsa, tango, and swing dancing. He can’t get enough. The people in his life love the enthusiasm this has created in him. He tells me he has more energy, and he is more positive and sure of himself. He has more to give others, because he is doing something for himself.
This point is not an excuse to ignore the needs of others in your life or to be irresponsible, nor is it promoting “retail therapy”—the buying spree to try to overcome unhappiness or loneliness. Blindly consuming only for yourself is not the answer. You should, however, spend money on things or experiences that truly restore you, that energize you and give you the opportunity to be more helpful and generous to others.
Now that you can see through this myth that it is selfish to take care of you, what is it that you could do for yourself? What can you do to take the first step? Take it. Go ahead, do something truly special for yourself. The only person’s permission you need is your own.