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Savvy Shopping

How to Make Spending a True Treat

Pick Something You Love and Do it Less Often

Think back to the last time you splurged on a luxurious, bliss-inducing spa treatment: Chances are you were seriously stressed out at work when it dawned on you that it had been ages since you'd last visited your favorite masseuse.

While at the appointment, you probably relished every second of that hour of pure relaxation—and then started thinking about turning it into a Friday ritual, as a way to reward yourself for getting through yet another hard week.

Believe it or not, that may actually reduce the pleasure you get from the massage, says Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of “Happy Money." And it's not because he's against the idea of splurging, either.

Rather, occasionally rewarding yourself with a spa treatment after a long day at the office supports one of Norton's favorite, science-backed strategies for spending money more effectively ... and joyfully.

It goes like this: In order to really appreciate life’s little luxuries—like spa treatments, or, say, eating at your favorite French bistro—you shouldn't indulge in them all of the time. According to Norton, if you can limit your consumption to just once in a while, you’ll not only save money, but you’ll derive more pleasure from the experience.

Why It’s Worthy of Being Called a Power Play

The beauty of Norton's "make spending a true treat" strategy is that it can enable you to stick to your monthly spending allowance—without feeling deprived.

"Abundance, it turns out, is the enemy of appreciation," Norton writes in his book, which is precisely why giving up something you enjoy for a little while ultimately makes the act of indulgence much more meaningful.

Take that massage. If you showed up at the spa every single week, you’d not only blow a big chunk of your paycheck, but you’d also lose the thrill of the once-in-a-while treat. But if you only get a massage every couple of months, you spend lessmoney for more pleasure—a win-win scenario.

How to Get Going

To adopt Norton's strategy, isolate an enjoyable habit that’s become so routine it doesn’t feel special anymore. It should be something you do all of the time—and spend a decent amount of cash on. Maybe it’s Friday night dates with your significant other or something as simple as buying lunch five days a week.

Next, make a plan to stop indulging in the purchase or experience just long enough for you to miss it.

One strategy is to create a weekly schedule for yourself. So instead of splurging on that gourmet lunch every day, resolve to only do it once a week, packing a lunch the other days. You’ll save a few bucks on the days you brown-bag it, says Norton, plus “you’ll actually love the experience again because you've turned it into a real treat."

Of course, after a while, he adds, “anything can become mundane.” So if that weekly schedule starts to feel routine, another strategy is to randomize the experience. According to Norton, that’s because we tend to derive even more pleasure from an indulgence if it's spontaneous.

So go ahead and get that package of quarterly massages at your favorite spa—just book them on a day when you could really use a special treat.

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