How can we keep our eye on the prize and still celebrate?
December 21, 2009 8:48 AM   Subscribe

How can my wife and I celebrate good things and not undermine the things we are working for? (i.e. no dining out, no purchases, no travels?)

Life can be so dreary and monotonous sometimes that when good things happen to my wife and I we would like to celebrate them. We used to celebrate by going out to eat or by purchasing an item that we've wanted for a while...but both of those have gotten us into trouble. We are working now to be more financially responsible, pay off credit card debt, etc. and we're also working on getting fit and losing weight.

As such, now we don't know how to celebrate. We're working so hard on getting fit we don't want to undo that for a meal eating out, and we don't really have the money to go buy expensive things in celebration.

So when good things happen (promotions, milestone weight loss, credit cards paid off) we say "We should celebrate" and then look at each other confused how to do it.

So far ruled out: dining out, purchasing things, trips (which are a combination of dining out AND spending money), and parties (lots of our desires to celebrate are private affairs, plus we're very busy as are our friends so it's really hard to get together often, especially spontaneously).


Some tips...we're fairly erudite, mid 30s, live in the midwest, not into hunting, boating, etc.
posted by arniec to Human Relations (26 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
May I ask why you've completely ruled going out to dinner even on special occasions? I definitely respect that you're trying to cut back, but...dining out once in a blue moon on special occasions won't make THAT much of a dent. It will also help you stick to your guns the rest of the time, too, if you consider "dining out" to be "for special events only".

If you're still not comfortable with that idea, though, maybe cooking something fancy at home. Yeah, it's still your house, but if you dress up for dinner, use the good plates and serve coq au vin, it's still more celebratory than hoagies eaten on TV trays in the living room or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:53 AM on December 21, 2009 [6 favorites]

What about just going out for dessert?
posted by something something at 8:58 AM on December 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

Clear a space in the living room, turn on some music and cut a rug.

Cook something out of the ordinary; try a new recipe

Go for a walk to someplace you haven't explored before.

Play a game together. Cards, board game, something on the computer.
posted by Zinger at 8:59 AM on December 21, 2009

Candle lit dinner (at home). Simple things like putting a little garnish on the food, etc., to ramp up the niceness.

If it's a personal milestone (like weight loss), a card (homemade).
posted by anaelith at 9:00 AM on December 21, 2009

You mentioned erudite, and not sure if that means "read lots" to you - a trip to the library to get book(s) you wouldn't ordinarily buy or something that's outside your usual type of read, snuggle on the couch and read together.
posted by Zinger at 9:01 AM on December 21, 2009

posted by thejoshu at 9:08 AM on December 21, 2009 [6 favorites]

Three thoughts came to my mind.

If you want to reward yourself or just acknowledge the importance of the milestone you reached (but don't need a tangible keep sake) you could hold a special night or whole day of celebration for just the two of you. This could, depending on your creativity, be done for minimal cost. Supermarket DVD rental, bag of microwave popcorn, you get the idea.

If you want something tangible and are willing to make small purchases, you could do a photo album or scrap booking to record your progress (or even do your own Web site---may be free from your ISP---or a social networking blog to save the cost of paper). If you want something more special but not expensive, a plaque with a space for multiple engraved plates which could be added as you reach milestones. The same concept could be done with charms on a charm bracelet for your wife or something on your key chain.

Also, if you are altruistic you could spend a day together helping others in need, or make a modest contribution. The memory would stay with you, and others would benefit also.

My 2 cents.
posted by forthright at 9:08 AM on December 21, 2009

Cancel your cable ($100-$150 per month) and get Netflix ($9 - $17 per month depending on your plan). Movie night once a week in front of tv or computer with candles, wine and a nice homemade meal and popcorn. Invest in a slow cooker for like $40 and you don't even have to really cook that damn meal! Plenty of recipes online. Take turns choosing movies so no one has to compromise on mediocre middle-of-the-road movies.

This is my favorite night of the week with the husband.

(I'm a bit of a hypocrite though, I don't allow him his beloved horror movies on movie night and he still has to put up with my love of anime!!)
posted by eatdonuts at 9:09 AM on December 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Yeah, that's tough stuff. However, if you can't celebrate the milestones then things aren't so worth doing.

Maybe you could look into multiple savings accounts with a little squirreled away each month for "fun money." This is really the best way to tackle these things if you're trying to be more financially responsible. Here's an older article about this concept. If you don't want to open or manage multiple accounts, you can just stick with one savings account. Put in a set amount each month but track it in excel. So, if you put in 10% of your take-hope into savings, maybe 1% is earmarked for fun. Then, when you have a milestone, pop open your spreadsheet and note how much you've already socked away. Pick a dollar amount, say $100 and go out! Debit that amount from your running total in your spreadsheet and you'll be able to keep on top of it.

If you don't yet have $100 saved up, maybe pick out $50 and buy a bottle of wine and some fancy cheeses and have a dining room picnic. Red wine is good for your heart. Cheese has calcium and protein. It's good for you! If you don't have any saved up yet, wait another month and do something free or cheap - a summer sausage and some gouda, a few apples and you're off on a hike with a delicious snack. Take photos and remember the event fondly!

Life is for living and celebrating! If you are mindful and do it with purpose, you'll feel good about it and remember that you were both living well and loving life.
posted by amanda at 9:15 AM on December 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

I would go with a nice dinner at home (something the two of you enjoy, but maybe takes more effort, costs slightly more than you would make on a normal night) accompanied by a nicer but affordable bottle of champagne like Veuve Clicquot - at $35/bottle it's an excellent small splurge - IMO nothing says "celebration" quite like a bottle of champers. Additionally, you could set up a celebration fund - put a couple dollars a week in a jar/savings account, or just collect your change - so when an occasion for celebrating comes about you have some extra money laying around.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:18 AM on December 21, 2009

Deconstructing this concept, I think you're running into something fundamentally tied to the concept of rewards.

Rewards are supposed to be things you enjoy, and somewhat "special" or excessive or somehow better than average. As you have posted, however, it is these things--the things you enjoy--that were getting you in trouble in the first place because you were doing them too much.

The answer, of course, is that you don't make progress while staying happy by totally abandoning behaviors you enjoy. In fact, by relegating things like eating out or going to a movie or picking up some nice (overpriced) ice cream to strictly significant rewards, you are actually rewarding good behavior. It's just important to keep the behavior sacred without letting it happen more and more often. Presumably you do not have to follow the alcoholism model and totally abstain.

You've posted a question asking for things you like to do. I'd posit that you already know, generally, things you like to do--and you need to learn to incorporate those things into your life more responsibly. Treating yourself to something reasonably nice a month, or once every few months, doesn't "undo" anything.
posted by Phyltre at 9:25 AM on December 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

My husband and I like to celebrate with an $8 bottle of Cristalino. It's bubbly! And festive!
posted by Jemstar at 9:29 AM on December 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

I agree with Phyltre, the problem is sort of that the things that in the past have been fun splurges are exactly the thing that are also problematic. I had this problem with food. I felt like I was too hard on myself generally and so when I wanted to relax or celebrate there was always that "oh eat that extra piece of cake, you deserve it...." or whatever. This can also be hard when dealing with other habits like smoking or alcohol where you have patterns that are themselves directly the problem.

So first off, congrats on moving towards your goals. A few things you may be able to do to help you.

1. have a sort of "regular" celebration, maybe quarterly where you do one extravagent thing [nice healthy dinner out] that's built into your budget and have a list of the things you are celebrating.
2. crafts and/or personal touch items can be good remembrances and keepsakes for happy days/events. I buy a bunch of frames at little thrift stores and make photo prints and hang them around. It's goofy, very cheap and has a nice "hey I did that!" vibe.
3. find other tactile pleasures. This can obviously be something like sex, but also something that while not super spendy seems like an indulgence. For me this is good coffee and nice smelling soap [neither of them bank-breakers but things where the enjoyment of them spreads over weeks] what might it be for you.
4. if it's a private thing for the two of you, writing each other letters about how proud you are of the other person, even just a paragraph, can be a nice way to track progress and keep the love fires stoked as you both approach this difficult task together.
5. Find a place that is "your place" and find a way to say "hey we have a celebration, let's go to our place!" even if it's the library, a local coffee shop or maybe just a rock in the woods that you sit on.

Marking milestones together in a way that is relevant and meaningful to you is a grat idea. Untangling the idea of what it means to celebrate from the things that have historically been trouble areas is definitely challenging but can be done. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 9:33 AM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Buy a bottle of bubbly! Won't kill your diet completely, and won't kill your wallet, either.
posted by Grither at 9:38 AM on December 21, 2009

I have a list of museums in my area that I've always wanted to visit, but never have. Admission to museums is usually pretty low-cost. Could you have a nice brunch at home and then browse through interesting things in a museum as a reward?
posted by WeekendJen at 9:40 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Looking at the website TheSimpleDollar, here is another way to think about that reward cycle, and here is a list of 100 free things to do. Lots of personal finance bloggers address these types of questions, so you should be able to find many more posts with suggestions.

Another thing to think about is similar to Dave Ramsey's shout-out when someone calls in and declares themselves debt-free: create a little ritual that will make you happy, but won't cost anything. Do a happy dance, run around the house shouting about your achievement, do a row of somersaults, punch fists in the air, make up a song, whatever. Make it silly and fun, then everytime you need to celebrate something, go for it. By repeating it every time you succeed, you are creating a mental reward that will mean something to you.
posted by CathyG at 9:41 AM on December 21, 2009

My parents always do a little ritual they call "the money dance." If one of them gets a raise/bonus/promotion or if a big bill was paid off or if they get a nice refund from the IRS, they stand up, face each other, clasp their right hands, and walk/dance clockwise in a circle humming "We're In the Money" and kicking up their feet.

Any loss of money (loss of job, owe money to IRS, no bonus this year) results in the "reverse money dance," where they do the same thing, but walk backwards (counter-clockwise) and look sad.

Just saying--the "celebration" doesn't even have to be a tangible thing.
posted by castlebravo at 9:42 AM on December 21, 2009 [23 favorites]

Now that I think about it, brunch at home is a fantasticly easy, good meal to make - have fruit , yogurt, waffles, eggs... That in and of itself is a nice little reward
posted by WeekendJen at 9:43 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

What's wrong with going out for dinner? If we're only talking once a month or less, it's not going to break the bank. And there's plenty of restaurants and foods that will serve you a healthy and tasty meal.
posted by jckll at 9:46 AM on December 21, 2009

I'm in the group that says you're looking at things a little backwards. Its not "dining out" that is getting you into trouble - its the amount of money you spent doing it. Likewise, its not "buying something" that gets you into trouble - its the amount of money you spent on the thing.

Frankly, I could easily spend more money buying fancy groceries and making brunch (or dinner) for myself and my spouse than we could spend eating a meal at our favorite local diner. "Going out" or "Buying something" isn't the problem here - its your budget for those activities that is the problem.

So: Figure out how much you can budget for a celebration. It might be $50 or it might be $5, but make it a figure that works with your budget. Then spend that amount of money doing something special to celebrate. That might be "dining out" (for $5 - but a very special and sentimental meal for my husband and I is hot dogs in the park from a local hot dog cart, which rarely costs more than $5) or buying something or buying special groceries or putting it in savings or renting a movie or whatever. But the place your restriction should lie is in your budget, not in the activity you spend your budgeted funds on.
posted by anastasiav at 10:15 AM on December 21, 2009

A cheap bottle of decent wine from Trader Joe's, a dvd taken out for free from the library, and footrubs or backrubs. Combine this with a bouquet of flowers from the grocery store and a bubble bath for two, and you've got a very nice relaxing celebratory evening.
posted by np312 at 11:01 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Going out to a sushi buffet is festive, fits in with most eating plans, and is not particularly expensive.

Splurging on a fancy food you'll cook or eat at home that fits in with your eating plan--a couple of perfect out-of-season fruits, or a wedge of pate, or an aged steak, or a duck, or an elegant sorbet--is also a way to celebrate without breaking the bank or your eating plan.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:49 AM on December 21, 2009

I disagree with Phyltre. I think you already know the things you *know* that you like to do, and you're looking for new things to learn to enjoy.

I'd say look into community-based activities. Presumably the local community center, or other nongovernment or government organizations, put on events for people near you, or have recreational facilities. I'd look into those, or into local blogs, for ideas of stuff to do that's fun and that doesn't cost money. If you have a list of "so and so probably has ___ function coming up that we like taking part in" at the ready, then that can be your reward when special milestones come up. If you're into fitness and you have a gym membership, maybe you two would enjoy a nice dip in your gym's pool, followed by a hot shower together back at home? Maybe you can make kites together out of plastic bags and go fly them and have a picnic as a fun project? You can take your bicycles, if you have them, out for a ride to somewhere new or just to see the local area from a non-car perspective. You can try new hobbies together and as a reward for progress, instead of eating out, take the time you would have devoted to that and put it toward your hobbies. Try to think of the wackiest, stupidest stuff to say to each other for an hour, taking turns.

Basically, to try and put together what I said above, the way I'd look at it is not that the reward is in getting stuff you like (food, toys), but rather in being able to spend ____ amount of time doing whatever you want to do, so that your reward is active time for you two to invest into really living your lives.
posted by lorrer at 2:18 PM on December 21, 2009

Or on preview, basically what CathyG said.
posted by lorrer at 2:23 PM on December 21, 2009

Keep a family calendar, and note progress towards your goals. Gold stars or stickers work even for adults. I think you're smart to try to learn non-moneyed reward systems. Maybe even a thermometer-style chart showing progress. You could still celebrate with an extra special at-home meal, with candles, and a nicer than everyday menu.

Save up your budgeted small purchases to mark progress. If you budgeted for 10 songs at iTunes a month, save the purchase for the day the account hits a goal.
posted by theora55 at 4:07 PM on December 21, 2009

You mention that you don't like hunting, boating, "etc.", but I don't know if that "etc." basically means you don't like doing outdoors activities in general. Because if you're not completely anti-outdoors, then finding special "spots" can be a great way to create memorable times together. If it takes a little bit of physical effort to get there, it's a double bonus. There are wide swaths of the midwest that are a little lacking in the "blow you away grand vista" department, but there are probably little gems all around you.
posted by drlith at 6:09 AM on December 22, 2009

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