Due to my less-than-stellar intern pay, I spend a lot of time contemplating my budget (November numbers coming soon!). I survived just fine on grad student pay, and I didn't obsess too much over little things, but $190 a week gives me little margin for anything. I actually have a slush fund of allowable money to cut into for indulgences during this year (for example, I'm going to DC in January to visit Zandria and some other friends. In my budget? No. In the slush fund, and a reasonable treat? Yes). I saved up for the slush fund once I realized that I would be taking a significant pay cut for this job, so I feel okay spending it. Part of this contemplation is realizing where my wants lie on a continuum of happiness. Today, I read a stellar blog post about how you can't always get what you want. In it, JD at Get Rich Slowly relates a conversation he had with his cousin. His cousin came up with sage advice: "It’s not want that’s the problem, but the habit of constantly satisfying wants.” That is to say, it is okay to sometimes indulge. You just can't indulge all the time. JD's big indulgence wish is a minicooper. He pines after that thing. He must mention it at least twice a month on his blog, if not more. But he's considering whether or not it's okay to buy one if he comes into some cash (say, from an inheritance or a book deal). When is it good to address the indulgence? When should you do something more practical with the money? For me, I'm starting to figure this out. I've got a few examples that ramp up in scale. Since I make nothing near what a normal person might make, we won't even start to talk about cars (tho I must say that I am fortunate to really love a car that is affordable and reliable, so I managed to get my paid off dream car while still making crap for money). We'll stick to little things that actually do influence my minor budget.
(Fun side anecdote: my brothers and I like this book called "The Tightwad Gazette." We've been reading it for years. Inside, the author gives lots of frugal tips. My brothers and I always decreed one sheer torture, but it doesn't seem so bad now that I've matured some. The parents in the book write about giving treats to their kids. From time to time, they buy cheap little McDonald's ice cream cones for their children. Once the kids start taking it for granted, or if they start clamoring for sundaes, you just reduce the frequency of taking the kids out for this treat. Thus showing that indulgences are not evil . . . in moderation.)
The take home lesson: wants and indulgences are fine. Encouraged, even. But make sure that you don't let these indulgences and wants become everyday needs.