Non-monetary rewards
August 2, 2015 9:15 AM   Subscribe

How do you reward yourself (for achieving goals big or small) without spending money?

I am not destitute. I am working my way along the brambly path to lifelong frugality. Many of the achieved goals I'd like to reward myself for are financial goals (putting $X in a savings account per paycheck, packing my lunch and coffee all week, saying no to a potential impulse buy).

Yes, I realize that I am not a dog, and I do not need a 'treat' every time I do something correct. The reward is often in the achievement itself. However, it can be very difficult for me to always appreciate the long term benefits of goal-achievement. I have overcome many of the impulsive, stimulation-seeking symptoms of my ADHD, but the urges are never going to disappear for good. I gladly accept that I am a work-in-progress and see life as a journey of continuous self-improvement.

It would be not just nice, but also cool, challenging and inventive, to feel like I could occasionally reward myself without spending money. I've tried to dream up examples of 'non-monetary rewards' on my own*. Inevitably, even seemingly 'free' things still require some funds like a little bit of gas money, or using up disposable items in my house that I'll then have to spend money to replenish. (That is the reality of disposable household items, yes: but the less of them that you use, the longer they will last. ...Right?)

So, how do you reward yourself without spending money? I'm open to any ideas, whether they seem like they may apply to my situation or not.

*I will say that my Zen meditation Meetup group (we meet once a week) is a great, free reward in and of itself. I also meditate at home. But I'd like to keep it diverse so that there's always a list of new or different rewards to which I can look forward, as I am (once again) impulsive and easily bored. So far I've come up with "go edible mushroom hunting" (this is already one of my other personal pastimes, but the best nearby places for mushroom hunting require at least a 40 minute roundtrip drive, which = gas $$), "invite friends over for a potluck/BYOB" (but, most of my friends live 30min to 1hr or more away and have lives just as busy as my own, so this is not simple to organize - plus I'm still spending money to provide my own contribution to the potluck) and "barter items I no longer need or want for ones that I do" - like a tea/tisane trade? Geo-caching, maybe? I did a search recently and there appears to be a pirate's booty worth of geocaches right outside my home (seriously, foot steps - I live in a historic downtown) and yet I have no idea how to start.
posted by nightrecordings to Work & Money (13 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I like going hiking on my favorite trail, preferably with at least one dog along. I have my own dog, but I can frequently borrow friend's puppies as well if my friends trust my dog handling skills and their dog's manners--which winds up being beneficial for everyone, because the dogs get some much needed exercise my friends don't have to provide. Everyone wins!

I also enjoy reading--you could look for library books that are interesting as a treat, maybe? For me, it's a treat to consciously block out an hour just for myself to wallow in an interesting topic without having to comment on it or do anything about it. I tend to be bad at dedicating time to self-care, though. Libraries also loan out movies and music, which might be a good thing to investigate.

If you enjoy cooking, you could try a new and special dish when you want to treat yourself, and maybe release yourself from worrying about the price if it goes wrong. That way, if it goes right you've had something new and interesting, and then you can add it to your cooking rotation. I mention freeing yourself from worrying about it if it goes wrong or you don't like it because otherwise it will be a source of stress, not a treat.

One thing I'd like to mention to you is that spending a little money as a treat now and again is much more sustainable than never spending any money at all as a treat. It seems to me like you're at the phase where you're worrying about literally every penny you spend, even if it's something that's relatively inexpensive (like a shared meal for a potluck--that can be like $10!) or using something like bath salts you've laid in at your home for a spa evening or something. That way leads to never treating yourself at all, or at least avoiding genuinely inexpensive things that you actually find rewarding while you focus on spending. It's honestly better to decide on a small monthly "treat me" budget and then figure out how you want to allocate those resources than to decide that you can't allocate any money to treats at all.
posted by sciatrix at 9:27 AM on August 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes, I realize that I am not a dog, and I do not need a 'treat' every time I do something correct.

Actually, sensible rewards are a really amazing way to motivate yourself to achieve the things you want to achieve. You might want to look up the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-limited) rubric. (The 'R' is sometimes redefined as Relevant or Results-oriented).

One of the ways I've integrated this (spottily) into my own life is to write down a list of all the things I like to do that are indulgences, joys, things that bring me pleasure that don't really serve much of a goal beyond that pleasure.

So for me, for example, a reasonable reward can sometimes be baking or cooking something that takes a lot of steps/time. Yes, I need to feed myself anyway--and I can make myself a credible onion soup quickly. Indulging myself is taking the same ingredients and puttering in the kitchen for hours. Pure pleasure.

Maybe a reward can be saying "bugger it" and plopping down in front of the TV for a couple hours. Or if you e.g. limit your online time to e.g. an hour a day, maybe a reward is giving yourself an extra hour. Rewards are really, really idiosyncratic; something free/non-consuming that brings me joy and pleasure may not do the same for you, and vice versa.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:31 AM on August 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

Can you accept spending money you would be spending anyway? You could take your lunch to the park and sit on a bench and eat it there. Do you have unlimited long distance? You could call someone you haven't talked to in a long time. Or you could skype/facetime someone. You could watch youtube videos of cats or dogs or owlets (assuming the marginal cost of the electricity and wear+tear on your computer doesn't rule it out). Listen to a podcast. Get a book from the library that you've been wanting to read and give yourself time to read it. Or a movie, as most libraries these days have DVDs available as well as digital download movies. Are there any free museums, parks, or zoos near you? Any of the above that have a free day once a week or once a month? If there's a farmers market near you, you could go to it and enjoy the free samples, the people watching, and potentially live music or other entertainment. Google "free fun [your town]" for cool free events near you. Get a bird-watching app for your phone or just look them up on your computer and observe (binoculars are helpful, but you can enjoy just identifying the birds that are readily visible).
posted by katemonster at 9:31 AM on August 2, 2015

So all of these suggestions do cost incremental amounts of money but I assume that you should have most of these things to hand at home/a small amount of fuel is permissible. But it is really about taking time to do something nice for yourself (and perhaps people in your life).

Have a nice hot bath, nice smellies, candle, drink. It's really about luxuriating and me time.

Extend this with a home manicure/pedicure/facial. Plenty of recipes of how to turn food into facemasks on the internet.

Make time to prepare a nice meal, perhaps something that takes more time or is more involved than what you'd normally make. Lay the table nicely, and enjoy eating it. Perhaps with a nice drink (if that is the kind of thing you do have at home anyway).

Sit down with a beverage of your choice and read for an hr or three.

Take dog/children to park and play. Borrow either from friends/family if required.

Go to some local perhaps slightly secluded beauty spot to go for a walk/hike and meditate, instead of doing it at home.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:46 AM on August 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by Jacqueline at 9:55 AM on August 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Reading Metafilter and following links down rabbit holes.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:02 AM on August 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

put up a wall calendar. Give yourself stars, preferably actual stickers. No, you aren't a dog or a child, but tangible rewards are effective motivators. 1 star for small goals, a big sticker for bigger goals.
posted by theora55 at 10:45 AM on August 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's always masturbation.
posted by sudo intellectual at 10:52 AM on August 2, 2015

I guess all rewards involve spending some sort of money, or losing money, but I'd reward myself by playing hooky for a day and going out around town instead of working.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:57 AM on August 2, 2015

Exploring the community. Lots of museums have free nights from time to time, free concerts in the park, etc
posted by peppermind at 3:51 PM on August 2, 2015

Find a series of some sort (show on Netflix/hulu/YouTube, podcast, online serial) and reward yourself with an episode. If you have "nice" dishes or table settings that you don't usually use, pull them out for a meal. Wear your favourite shirt. Go sit in your favourite park.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:40 PM on August 2, 2015

Using the good china?
posted by Pigpen at 8:23 PM on August 2, 2015

Okay, the reward that has been the biggest motivator for me (and I'm about to start a new quantified challenge this month and will use this one again) has been money with a twist. I use beeminder because it is super happy great for me, but whatever tracking system works for you, but I set a sort of compliance goal (I will get to X days in a row of hitting my target!) and then I get my reward, and reset back in beeminder to zero to build up to my target again.

I buy treats for friends. I set it at $5-$20 per goal, depending on the goal, and I think of someone dear to me and how lovely it will be to surprise them with a gift out of the blue randomly and to know to myself that I "worked" for that. It's not for birthday presents or expected treats, but just random nice things to make someone's day. That way, if I failed, I wasn't punishing myself by denying self-care which is something I often suck at, and if I succeeded I got to do something I enjoyed for someone I liked, encouraging more connection. It was a big motivator and helped me reach several significant goals earlier this year in a much happier state of mind than buying myself rewards or setting treats like x hours of TV.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 2:40 AM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

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