In Bustle’s series How Much I Spent, women get honest about how much they're investing in a particular aspect of their lives, and why. For Bustle's Rule Breakers issue, we asked 16 women and non-binary individuals around the world to tell us how much they spend on the little indulgences that bring them joy — even if society deems these purchases as "non-essential."
Sometimes we all need an indulgence — whether it's a book, a massage, or a simple chocolate bar grabbed from the drugstore. Even when life gets expensive, there are some items that we refuse to give up, for the sake of our self-care and feeling of worth. Feeling guilty about the therapy, books, or candles you love? Don't. People worldwide are making similar non-essential investments in their own happiness.
There's currently a debate around the impact purchasing "non-essential" items has on personal finance, and whether it's sensible for young people in particular to spend on small luxuries rather than save for bigger things. Those who condemn non-essential spending, however, have been accused of shifting the blame: instead of looking to systemic problems preventing home ownership and savings among millennials, like student debt and unstable job markets, they're blaming spending habits instead.
But experts say that spending on small luxuries — whatever that means to you — can have a strong psychological impact. “Budgeting is often confused with deprivation," Elaine Grogan Luttrull, CPA, the founder of financial coaching service Minerva Financial Arts and a board member of the Financial Therapy Association, tells Bustle. "But that's just not the case. Spending on self-care or things you love should be part of a healthy overall financial plan — even if some things seem frivolous or luxurious to an outsider."
The lipstick index was invented during the recession in the 2000s to track spending on cheaper indulgences, such as lipstick, because people tend to invest in them even when times are tough. While bigger expenses like vacations are put off until times are better, we often refuse to stop buying the cheaper things that make us feel great. Because, let's face it: Living in late capitalism can be rough, and everybody deserves a little luxury in their lives.
Here are the 16 non-essential items women and non-binary folks wouldn't give up for anything.
Heather, Early 30s, Sydney, Annual Salary: $100,000 AUD [$75,000]
"Eyebrow lady. Bonsoy instead of all other soy milk. Italian sparkling mineral water. Lurpak butter. I could list some of the other things but I’d be embarrassing myself. I spend $50 AUD [$33 US] a week on butter, S. Pellegrino, and Bonsoy. (The butter is for baking for work as part of cupcake diplomacy.) Eyebrows cost me $65 AUD [$44 US] every three weeks."
Reb, 42, San Diego, Annual Salary: $90,000
"Massages — for sure something that doesn’t just physically help me relax, but also mentally. I have to have a massage at least every two weeks. I usually pay between $50 for an Asian style/group room massage and $75 for an individual massage."
Louisa, 28, New Jersey, Annual Salary: $120,000
"The first thing that came to my mind was my annual bikini wax subscription at European Wax Center. [Bikini Line ($497-$535), Bikini Full ($599-$650), Bikini Brazilian ($688-$752)]. The thing is, I had no idea a subscription service even existed until I moved from Alaska. I don't know what it is but I love the idea of being ready to wear a swimsuit if the need arises. And what's even funnier is that I don't even know how to swim!"
Rosie, 35, Los Angeles, Annual Salary: $60,000
"I won't give up my expensive face creams! I spend around $30-50 for my creams. I have never gone to $100, but really tempted. This is actually a lot for me as I grew up with $10 drugstore face creams in my family. You would think making a decent salary, I would be able to splurge on creams, but I just grew up thinking it was extravagant."
Beverly, 30, NYC, Annual Salary: $75,000
"The one non-essential expense I can't seem to give up is my (individual) eyelash extensions. While it seems silly to some, it's an extremely relaxing experience and I can subsequently avoid ever having to use mascara. It also just tends to make me feel better about myself, like a new haircut or a fresh manicure would for a lot of us.
I go every three weeks and the cost of the touch-up (including tip) comes to about $100 for 90 individual lashes per eye. It's definitely not essential, but I'd never give it up."
Stacy, 27, Chicago, Annual Salary: $75,000
"I am currently obsessed with Kombucha and have one almost every single day. It's $3.50-$4 a bottle depending if I get it at Mariano's or CVS. It is quite expensive for a single drink a day, but I love the way it makes me feel and how it tastes. I won't give it up because it is a small luxury I look forward to every day, and I think we all should have those small treats in our days, even if they are slightly expensive."
Dani, 36, Upstate New York, Annual Salary: Six Figures
"The absolutely non-negotiable expense that I will never give up is my book collection. I happily invest in my own growth and pursuit of knowledge. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been an avid reader. Books bring ideas and concepts to life and they inspire me in a number of ways. Are books essential to everyday life? No, of course not. But books allow us to exchange ideas, share personal stories, and become better versions of ourselves. On average, I invest around $1,000 annually on books."
Zina, 30, Indianapolis, Annual Salary: $60,000
"The biggest non-essential thing I won't give up is my monthly therapy appointment. I've been going to therapy off and on for 10 years and I feel it's an essential part of my health, like getting a physical or flu shot. My therapist helps me make changes in my life and points out patterns that I wouldn't be able to see otherwise. Unfortunately she doesn't take insurance and her rate is $150 per 45-minute session. That's the most I've ever paid for therapy but I feel it's worth the cost."
Self-care can be part of your spending plan without guilt. "As long as someone is approaching the budgeting process with intention, and as long as they check in with that spending to make sure they are on track overall, then there is no reason why a healthy financial plan can’t include some indulgences," Luttrull tells Bustle. As these women share, a little personal indulgence can go a long way.
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