Frugal but Regret It?

by Ron Haynes

Chocolate coffee pie
Everyone has some guilty pleasures, good chocolate, a fine wine, new shoes, or a little vacation trip here and there, but for many it appears that our day to day spending decisions are tempered by a deep seated feeling that we would be better off in the long run without those little indulgences. We tend to think, “I’d really shouldn’t buy this,” or “Could I invest this money and have $10,000 more at retirement?” and we have that nagging sense that we should choose needs over wants, work over leisure, and saving money over impulsively spending it.

But are we happier?

Recent research seems to indicate that forgoing little indulgences today can cause strong resentments later and, according to researchers in a recent Harvard Business Review article, near-term regrets about self-indulgence dramatically fade over time. Conversely, those who dutifully work, build a career, pinch, and save seem to experience a growing sense of “having missed out” on life. Guilt fades but regret intensifies.

Perhaps that’s why Consumer Credit Counseling Services insists that you have a budget category called “fun” in addition to one for savings, debt, food, utilities, mortgage, etc.

According to the article, people who consistently resist any self-indulgences suffer from a financial farsightedness or hyperopia. They have incredible self control and an intense focus on acting responsibly. Indulgences are wasteful, irresponsible, and in extreme cases, immoral. You and I have read about these people, commonly called ‘misers” in our society. You know, the little old lady who lived in squalor, yet left her church $50 million in her will. Or the highly “successful” business person who brags about putting in 70 hour work weeks, but has a family life in shambles.

Frugal to the extreme can result in regret.

What researchers uncovered was that, if we think we will regret our actions in the short term, we will be more virtuous today, but if we think regret won’t affect us until the distant future, we will be more extravagant today.

So what does this all mean? I think it means we need to find a balance between frugality and our enjoyment of life today. Self control is highly important, but if you have an extra $50,000 for retirement because you never took your children on a nice family vacation, is it really worth it? If you build a company into a multi-billion dollar corporation, but your wife and children hate you for it, what have you gained?

I think we should always remember the words of the late Massachusetts senator, Paul Tsongas: “Nobody on their deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’”

I believe we should be highly frugal with purchases of stuff, but be willing to indulge ourselves and our families with experiences. I’ll always have those memories, but things fade. Things break. Things lose value. But memories and experiences with those you love will only increase in value.

I’m not saying to lose your self control and revert back to old bad habits of spending and debt. No. I’m saying that if you’re experiencing that nagging sense that you’re missing out on enjoying life, you might need to loosen up a little and allow yourself a few simple pleasures. Save for the experiences and allow yourself to enjoy them. You won’t regret it.

Just remember: “No Fun” compounded over 30 years at 10 percent equals “Regret.”

This article was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance #167 at Broke Grad Student. Thanks!

[tags]frugality, regret, frugal, money, simple pleasures, family, budget, finance, introspection, heartache[/tags]

photo credit: jessicafm

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1004 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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Sara at On Simplicity

This is a great reminder! It’s also a relief to know that I probably won’t spend my later years regretting the discretionary spending that seems so naughty right now.

My first thought at this idea was panic–”That’s me! I’m doomed to a life of regret!” But considering my husband and I recently ate our way through Seattle and indulged quite a bit, I think we’re doing pretty good with creating balance. :)


#Sara at On Simplicity→
That’s funny! We ate our way through the World Showcase in Epcot. My wife didn’t make it. The bratwurst in Germany got her.

Mr. Survival

What a relief…. I have always felt this, but felt guilty for feeling this…. but it didnt stop me from going to Jamba juice for a smoothie and muffin this morning… these things are very necessry… whats the point if you cant enjoy from time to time?


#Mr. Survival→
Enjoying a few of the simple things along the way helps keep you from going overboard on some of the larger things.

Kate at Living the Frugal Life

I think I’ve solved this one. My greatest luxury is eating well. It’s very easy to do this very cheaply, because I know how to cook very well and I garden. The truth is that since moving away from the metroplex to a more rural environment, there’s really no place locally that I could go out to eat that could give me a better meal than I can make at home. (I trained and worked professionally as a chef, once upon a time.) So, I have my indulgences and I save money at the same time. We eat incredibly well for a pittance in fact. Most of the other money-blowing opportunities are either behind me (international travel), or I’ve decided not to do them at all (kids).


I share Mr Survivors relief.

My family is just starting our journey of frugalness and we already feel guilty about “over doing it” at the county fair.
Did we really need that smoothie and cotton candy? Of course not…just like we didn’t need the snow cone or pony ride either…but come on, its the FAIR!


You know, there is a lot of truth here. I’ve always been the responsible one (with money, work, school, etc.), but sometimes I wish I would have let loose more often in school and not put so much pressure on myself. I stressed out about way too much and didn’t have as much fun as I should have. And yes, I still think about that from time to time. So now I try to plan a little fun every now and then. Weekly sate nights with my wife (even if it’s just staying in and watching a movie), skydiving with family members, weekend festivals, etc. It’s so much more fun to go out and have fun. ;)

Funny about Money

This is so true! But it’s hard sometimes to distinguish between an irresponsible self-indulgence and reasonable spending that makes life tolerable.

I tend to justify my taste for expensive coffee beans and top-quality meats with exactly this argument: small indulgences that you can afford make it possible for you to enjoy life and should not be ignored. On the other hand, buy enough steaks, enough salmon, enough scallops, and enough espresso roast, and before you know it you’ve got a $500-a-month grocery tab…for one person.

Then there were all the experiences the ex- and I enjoyed: $3500 for the trip to Hawaii, god knows how much for the junket to New Zealand, the business trips to the Greenbriar that the firm didn’t cover, the stays at the Mark Hopkins when we were in the City…good grief! Yeah, we each have lots of memories. Our separate memories: the $750,000 in debt we racked up didn’t do the marriage any good. ;-)

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