5 Situations When It's Smart to Splurge

Sticking to a budget is great, but sometimes it's wise to spend a little.

Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy
Written by Joanna & Johnny, Daily Finance

The term "splurge-worthy" is one we sometimes use to help us feel better about a not-so-guilt-free purchase. It's like when your coworker tells you about the amazing "Star Wars" action figure collectible he bought on a whim over the weekend. After emphasizing what an enormous nerd he is, you ask how much it cost. And then the splurge-worthy convincing begins: "I mean ... it was a lot. But this thing is one of a kind. And in great condition. Super shiny. Authentic sound effects. It was such a splurge-worthy buy."

But deep down? He's feeling the guilt for going over budget on his very cool plastic doll. (And for all you "Star Wars" fans, I apologize for my poor job of channeling my inner sci-fi geek. Forgive me, you will?)

The truth is that very rarely is something legitimately splurge-worthy. But when those occasions present themselves, you should be able to splurge your heart out without feeling a drop of guilt. So without further bad "Star Wars" figurine hypotheticals, here are five splurge-worthy moments to anticipate:

Purchasing it will help make you money. If you have a solid framework for making money from an item, by all means, buy it. Case in point: When my husband, Johnny, was doing freelance graphic-design work right out of college, he needed a new computer to keep up with the kind of work expected of him. So we splurged on a new computer, which was also an investment in his career. If you have a side business that requires nicer equipment in order to take your income to the next level, buying that equipment could be well worth the temporary extra expense.

When your FSA deadline is just around the corner. American workers lost millions of dollars last week thanks to use-it-or-lose-it flexible spending accounts. While the tax advantage that comes with an FSA is pretty sweet, if you don't use that money by the end of the year, it dies and goes to money heaven. (Actually, it's worse than that: It goes back to your employer!) So you best use that money while you can. You might not normally consider spending a lot on a blood-pressure monitor or an electric nursing pump. But using your FSA account, you could buy the item and resell it online. Or you could become the owner of a really nice blood-pressure monitor that's the envy of all the neighbors. Either way, it's better than letting the money go to waste. You may even still have time to spend that cash: Some companies give employees a two-and-a-half-month grace period after the year ends to use up their FSA dollars. You may just have some time left to splurge!

(Next year, though, it may not be so bad. The Treasury this fall changed the rules on FSAs: Companies are now allowed to let you carry $500 over into the next year -- but it's up to your employer to make that benefit available to you.)

Buying an everyday item in bulk for cheap. Optimizing on a deal is totally worth it if it's a non-perishable item that you'll be buying in the future anyway. Some of these items include diapers, wipes, soap (can you tell there's a dirty little toddler running amok in our house?), shampoo, toilet paper, paper towels, canned food essentials, etc. You get the idea. For some reason, many people (including me) have a really hard time laying down a bunch of dough all at once. They'd rather spend $30 each month rather than $200 in one transaction for the entire year because it feels like less of a blow. But in this case, splurging is the smarter move.

Buying quality is a better investment. When faced with buying two similar items, the more wallet-friendly option may seem like the right choice at first glance. And many times it is. But sometimes the more expensive item is cheaper in the long run because it'll last longer. At the beginning of our marriage, Johnny and I learned the hard way that a $30 particle-board table has a short lifespan. So rather than buy a $30 table every couple of years, we splurged on a solid wood table that will last forever, with the occasional fresh coat of paint. Other times to consider quality are when you're buying cars, electronics, and appliances. So the next time you scoff at a $20 light bulb that lasts several years, you might want to think twice.

Budgeting for the item in advance. An around-the-world cruise might look like a splurge to some. But if you've saved up each month for three years, it's in your budget, and you can make it work, that's well within the realm of a healthy splurge. Any item can go from not-splurge-worthy to definitely-splurge-worthy if it's been calculated and planned out within a balanced budget -- no matter how seemingly unnecessary the item. We work hard, and we all deserve a good, planned splurge every once in a while. Yes, even your Star Wars-obsessed coworker who's now the proud owner of another plastic doll.

Joanna and Johnny are the writing duo behind OurFreakingBudget.com, a personal finance blog documenting the joys, pains and realities of living on a budget.
Stephanie Heller January 16, 2014 at 01:44 PM
i rent an apartment where every light has those spirally expensive bulbs that put out no where near the light of an incandescent bulb. i have replaced 10 bulbs with incandescents that put out more light, but they are getting harder to find. i think that 20-30 dollars a year i might spend to replace bulbs that burn out is preferable to having a bulb that lasts 10 years and needs to be disposed of properly, has mercury, puts out less light is and is 3x the cost of one light bulb is a scam.
s.l.h. January 16, 2014 at 10:17 PM
I have no idea what an "FSA" is. What is an FSA?
SomeGuy January 17, 2014 at 10:36 AM
FSA is "Flexible Spending Account." Many employers allow employees to contribute pre-tax dollars each paycheck over the course of a calendar year to an FSA for medical expenses and child care expenses. There are IRS limits as to the amounts and what may be submitted as a qualified expense. You then have until March of the following year to submit for reimbursement. Money in accounts do NOT carryover from one year to the next, so you need to spend it or lose it.
Alan Eckert January 17, 2014 at 12:02 PM
FSA takes some planning, but it is worth it even if you underestimate how much in medical expenses you will use in the next year. For example, when I got my braces 5-6 years ago, I had a plan. 1st my Dental insurance took $1500 off the price (that was their limit). Then, I started my braces in January, and I could prepay the entire amount to my orthodontist. They gave me an additional 10% off the bill for paying in full instead of installments. Finally, that total amount I paid was pretax, so when I add it all up, I saved thousands of dollars.
SomeGuy January 17, 2014 at 12:16 PM
Alan is right. The key is planning so that you don't overfund an account and then lose the money for which you do not have qualified expenses. But if you know you will have qualified medical or childcare related expenses, using pre-tax money can save thousands of dollars.
Francis Soyer January 17, 2014 at 04:29 PM
Stephanie - There are several factors to consider when buying light bulbs that most people never consider. The "spirally" bulbs are CFL (self-ballasted Compact Fluorescent). 1) When comparing one bulb type to the next you need to look at the "lumen" output. This is the amount of light actually coming out of the bulb. In most cases the CFL's actually put out more light then an incandescent. example a 60w A19 (standard bulb) puts out 750+/- lumens, while the 60w CFL equivalent might put out 900+/- lumens. However a CFL does not come to full brightness instantly like an incandescent, it can take a couple minutes, also when a CFL is near its end of life the light output significantly drops. So when you put in your new incandescent it will certainly give you more light as a new bulb will always be brighter than an old one even if it is the same type. 2) temperate of bulb, this is the color of the bulb when you look at it. When you look at an incandescent it looks yellowish but if you look at a strip fluorescent it looks whiter, cool white vs warm white. Incandescent lights are about 2700k, the higher the number the whiter it is. If you get over 4000k it will start looking blueish. 3) Life, wattage, operational cost. A 60w incandescent is really only 43 watts, has a life of about 1000hrs while a CFL is probably around 14 watts and has a life of about 10,000 hrs, while the LED might be around 10 watts but has a life of about 25,000 - 50,000 hrs (depending on manufacturer). Here is how you calculate cost (wattage x hours used / 1000 = kwh x $/kwh = cost). So if you have a 43w incandescent that is on for 8hrs/day, 365 days that would be 125.56 kwh at an average national rate of 0.10/kwh = $12.56 to use that bulb for 1 year. The CFL would cost $4.09 per year while the LED would cost $2.92 per year. 4)initial cost of bulb. Based on pricing at The Home Depot a 4 pack of 60w incandescent bulbs are about $4 ($1 ea), CFL 60w equivalent 4 pack is $4.50 ($1.12 ea), LED 60w equivalent is $13 each ($52 for 4) based on CREE, it's a good product. So if the cost of an incandescent is nearly the same as a CFL but the CFL last 10x longer and 1/3 of the cost to operate you will definitely save money buying the CFL over Incandescent. However the LED is 13x the cost to buy then the CFL and the LED is only a 25% savings on operation cost and only 2 1/2x the life. So the LED will actually cost more money over the life. 5) location in your house. If the light is in your living room you probably turn it on when you get home from work at lets say 5pm and turn it off when you go to bed at say 10pm so it is on for 5 hrs a day +/-. In a bathroom it may only be on for 1hr in the morning while you get dressed and put your make-up on and then 2 or more times for about 5-15min so maybe 2hrs per day. The kitchen maybe only 2-3hrs per day. A closet 5min per day. The life of a light bulb is based on using it for a 3hrs per day, so if you use it more then that or less then that the life depreciates. The worst thing you can do to a light bulb is turn it off and turn it on so in a closet or 5-10min in the bathroom significantly reduces its life. That was probably more then you ever wanted to know about light bulbs. The bottom line is buy the type of light that you like because this is a very insignificant in the grand scheme of things and is in no means a "splurge"... unless you decide to buy LED's for your whole house, it could cost a couple hundred dollars!!!
s.l.h. January 17, 2014 at 05:08 PM
Thank you, SomeGuy. We actually have an HSA (Health Savings Account), but I wasn't familiar with FSA.
Vincent January 17, 2014 at 06:00 PM
Francis Soyer: So this is the type bulbs we are supposed to buy? Really? Sorry to see you didn't make any mention of this. Although I may have missed it. http://commcgi.cc.stonybrook.edu/am2/publish/General_University_News_2/SBU_Study_Reveals_Harmful_Effects_of_CFL_Bulbs_to_Skin.shtml
BN January 18, 2014 at 09:09 PM
CFL's suck. Stick up on incandescents while you still can.
Alexander Cuttleworth January 18, 2014 at 11:42 PM
CFLs are another dumb idea from the Feds. I've been stocking up in incandescent bulbs ever since the Feds announced their not-so-bright idea. Every light and lamp in my home is on a rheostat so that I can turn them on low when I don't need the brighter light. The first generation CFLs had 100 milligrams of mercury, in power form. You couldn't just sweep the stuff up. It had to be disposed of properly. The current CFLs have 5 milligrams but again, don't sweep the stuff up.
Argile January 19, 2014 at 04:56 AM
CFL's are another libtard agenda gone awry. We finally got mercury out of the homes only for these clowns to put it right back in. Other than saving a few pennies CFL's offer ZERO benefit over incandescent lights. CFL's are not disposable. You know what's scary? Approximately 2% of CFL's are properly recycled! The rest go into landfills that can contaminate local water supplies! In short, CFL's should be banned! I've replaced most of the lights in my home with LED's. Yeah they're a bit pricey but in the long run I save. I've done the math.
T. Smith January 19, 2014 at 07:36 AM
Smithrez: The only factual thing you say in your posts is that CFL's are not 'disposable'...in the regular trash stream. It's a shame only 2% are indeed recycled properly. But your claim that CFL's are part of a liberal agenda is pure nonsense. Zero benefit? Think again: CFL's use LESS WATTS of power for an equal amount of lumens (light) emitted. Most of your power in an incandescent goes into HEAT....think old-style Easy Bake Oven and you have the right idea. I am indeed impressed you are an 'early adopter' of LED technology. As with all new technologies, the price (for me) WILL come down when 'early adopters' (like you) initially pay the high prices necessary to increase production. Thank you. We have each other to thank by switching to 'something 'new' and getting away from ancient-technology incandescent bulbs we collectively reduce demand on the grid, lower our utility bills, and forestall building baseline generating stations....anyone want to get into a discussion about nuclear power ???? How about coal-fired plants ??? Liberal agenda? Absolutely not. Getting rid of incandescent bulbs is a SMART agenda.
Kenneth L. Blackmore January 19, 2014 at 09:50 AM
Smithrez: It was George Bush #2 who gave the order that no more incondesents could be made and sold not a Liberal. You would need some LED bulbs for your dimmers, they have one that does dim.
Argile January 19, 2014 at 04:48 PM
T.Smith, what I'm saying is the ban of incandescents will force consumers to purchase CFL's who do not have the awareness to RECYCLE them. So that means now the land fills will end up more toxic. Not a 'smart' agenda IMO.
T. Smith January 19, 2014 at 05:23 PM
Smithrez - thank you for the reply. Your absolutely right RE: recycling awareness. That is a education problem, not a product problem. Do you know the statistics on the proper disposal of smoke detectors...you know, the items (that should be) in every home which contain RADIOACTIVE material ???? I'm making the assumption, as a smart individual that you are, that these devises have saved many lives and have a value which exceeds the 'danger' of the chance of improper disposal. Now do NOT misunderstand....I am absolutely NOT in favor in mishandling ANY hazardous material, be it radioactive or toxic mercury. My point returns to your initial statement: that CFL's are part of a liberal agenda. When you hear it spoken back to you in this way, doesn't it sound foolish? CFL's will NOT save lives like smoke detectors, but they DO have a useful purpose in reducing lighting expense and baseload generation capacity. Nothing that I've identified has a 'liberal agenda' as you originally stated. You're not a bad person; just misguided and listening to a bit more propaganda than you should to keep an open mind, that's all. I've enjoyed this banter with you. Good day.
Argile January 19, 2014 at 06:43 PM
" just misguided and listening to a bit more propaganda" I find this humorous. Considering the fact that these CFL's are a long term environmental disaster waiting to happen I am baffled as to why these lights, with a toxic element, are not banned. Especially from these so called 'environmentalists.' If the left truly cared about the environment they would ban both incandescents AND CFL's. I'm a big believer in energy conservation and I practice what I preach. I have about 25 LED lights, all 2700k, and am phasing out all that lights that aren't LED's. Not to mention I've been recycling CFL's since the 90's. And yes this was when I had to drive recycling locations before Lowe's and Home Depot did it. In short, I find the left a bit hypocritical towards environmental issues.
Vincent January 20, 2014 at 08:55 AM
T. Smith: Are you from the government or do you work for a company that manufactures the God awful CFL's. You may not heed the results of the Stony Brook U. study but if you have little children please keep them away from these poison emitting bulbs. Do it "for the children".
Francis Soyer January 20, 2014 at 10:58 AM
Vincent - I went to the link you provided and found no mention of a study on CFL's, not sure if you posted the correct link or I'm just missing it??? I do find it funny that you want to keep children away from these "poison emitting bulbs". Did you know that ALL fluorescent lighting contains mercury? Not just CFL's? Also all HID (metal halide, high pressure sodium) contains mercury? So if you send your children to school, their classroom most likely has fluorescent lighting and the gymnasium has HID. Do you take them with you to the grocery store, the department store, to the doctors office, etc... if so you are exposing them to the "poison emitting bulbs". Because about 90%+ of all building have fluorescent lighting in them. Most all street and parking lot lights have HID's. For me it is all about application. I'm not putting them in a closet, bathroom or bedroom because by the time I turn them on and then turn them off they haven't reached full brightness. I don't like the way they look in the bathrooms. I have LED can lights in my kitchen. I have no problem putting them in lamps in my living room, dining room, basement or hallway where they will stay on for longer periods of time. But until the price comes down on an LED A19 equivalent, I'm not paying the outrageous price. But that's just me! While I agree it is best to recycle these types of bulbs, in my state the department of natural resources only requires business owners to recycle them. They only "recommend" that residents recycle them.
T. Smith January 20, 2014 at 11:52 AM
Vincent: I'm amazed at the passion with which you write without knowing the facts. Have you even read the report from Stony Brook U "The Effects of UV Emission from CFL Exposure on Human Dermal Fibroblasts and Keratinocytes in Vitro" ???? Neither have I, but I did read the Summary. The most important advise given is: at close range, around a foot or so, CFL exposure is "........the equivalent of sunbathing at the equator. This may not be cause for alarm for those who have CFLs mounted in ceiling fixtures, but it should be a concern with desk or table lamps." READ THIS CAREFULLY. Do you have any CFL's in your home where you regularly place yourself within ONE FOOT of the lamp? Think about it.....probably not. And we're talking about the equivalent of sunbathing at the equator, not a nuclear blast site ! As much as I appreciate your position, I have a hard time taking any comments seriously while you position yourself behind the "safety of children" to bolster your opinion. Pul-eeze....enough drama. Know the facts. And no, sir...I do NOT work for the Government nor a lamp manufacturer. Stop being driven by fear and propaganda and know the facts. Live long & prosper...and if you want to stay away from CFL's please do so.
Anna Miller January 24, 2014 at 05:10 PM
Buying quality is a better investment also applies to shoes, especially for men who don't want to change style or color all the time. And as far as light bulbs I saw that Home Depot is going to start selling a $10 LED bulb that will fit in incandescent fixtures. The best of both worlds.
Vincent January 27, 2014 at 07:43 AM
T. Smith: Children should be kept away while this process is going on. Steps to take when cleaning up broken CFL's. Before Cleanup Have people and pets leave the room. Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment. Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one. Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb: stiff paper or cardboard; sticky tape; damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces); and a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag. During Cleanup DO NOT VACUUM. Vacuuming is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken. Vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor. Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder. Scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag. See the detailed cleanup instructions for more information, and for differences in cleaning up hard surfaces versus carpeting or rugs. Place cleanup materials in a sealable container. After Cleanup Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors. Next, check with your local government about disposal requirements in your area, because some localities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center. If there is no such requirement in your area, you can dispose of the materials with your household trash. If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.
T. Smith January 27, 2014 at 09:42 AM
Vincent: On behalf of everyone following this blog thank you for your public service announcement. As for me - spending a great majority of my career in MRO (Maintenance and Repair Operations) I am well-versed in the issues regarding florescent lighting, not to mention mercury-vapor and high-intensity sodium lighting. Just as an observation and an opinion: your interest in these products borders on paranoia. I truly hope you convert your household to LED lighting immediately - at any cost - and rid yourself of this burden. By the way - stay out of any commercial space like WalMart or Costco that use florescent or HID lighting. I'll be there along with the rest of the world. Thank you again for the public service.
Anna Miller January 27, 2014 at 10:33 AM
In trying to find the article you all were discussing I found this instead. “The Stony Brook study comes on the heels of several recent reports addressing artificial light. In 2008 Europe’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) reviewed the literature on the topic and concluded that the flicker and UV emissions from CFLs could adversely affect sensitive individuals with epilepsy, migraine headaches, eye diseases, and skin diseases affected by light.7 Numerous medications and personal care products—including antibiotics, antidepressants, diuretics, antipsychotics, and certain cosmetics—can render people hypersensitive to UV light.” http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/120-a387/ My husband has a CFL bulb in his reading lamp so I told him to change it out per this article since he has migraines and your advice about the one foot away thing.
Vincent January 28, 2014 at 07:38 AM
Anna Miller: Thank you so much for your concern in sharing this information. You can be assured that some of the readers of the Patch value it. And as T.Smith would say (I'm sure) do not let little children handle broken bulbs.
Anna Miller January 28, 2014 at 09:56 AM
Duh? :-) Reminds me of a story a friend tells about a preschool test her daughter took that asked what do you do when you see a broken light bulb. She answered "go get mommy". The "correct" answer was "clean it up with a broom and dustpan", but mom argued. Little children should not handle broken glass, even if not contaminated.
Vincent January 29, 2014 at 07:35 AM
Anna Miller: My previous comment about the children was actually directed toward T. Smith. Wonder if he picked up on it?
T. Smith January 29, 2014 at 10:29 AM
Vincent: Yes, I did indeed 'pick up on it'. I just find it amusing you are expecting me to comment on such an amazingly simple example of common sense: little children should NEVER come close to broken glass, be it from an incandescent light, a CFL, or a glass-top coffee table. Are you expecting an argument? If so, I'm sorry to disappoint you.
Vincent January 30, 2014 at 07:48 AM
T. Smith: Truthfully I didn't expect you to comment no less start an argument with me.
Vincent January 30, 2014 at 08:16 AM
Francis Soyer: Point of information if you will. When one is going to install the new LED light bulb which would be the preferred choice? The MiracleLED Un-Edison 60W Equivalent Frost or the Samsung A19 60-Watt Warm White. From the knowlege you demonstrated above I thought I would ask an expert.
Francis Soyer January 30, 2014 at 10:27 AM
Vincent - Honestly I'm not too familiar with either product. Neither is an "industry standard" name brand. Samsung is obviously know for their electronics, I don't know if they are actually manufacturing their LED's or using somebody else's, but Samsung generally has good products. MiracleLED, unknown??? However I did a quick search on both. Samsung: 10.8 watts, 810 lumens, 27,000k, 15,000 hrs, 130 degree beam angle. MiracleLED: 5 watts, 500 lumens, 27,000k, 30,000 hrs, they claim "360 degree lighting" but do not list an actual beam angle, but it would certainly be much greater then the 130 on the Samsung. I would look at application first. Can you see the bulb in the fixture you are putting it in? If so the Samsung's heat sink is very visible and if it were in a glass fixture that I could clearly see the bulb I wouldn't want to see the Samsung bulb, I would pick the MiracleLED even though just by first appearance the Samsung looks like it is made better. I think the only application I would use the Samsung would be in a can light as the light output is more directional especially if I needed more light as the Samsung puts out 60% more light. Both seem to be priced at about $16 each. The more recognized LED name brands are Cree & Nochia, also, GE, Phillips & Sylvania make them as well. I like the "Cree 60W equivalent soft white (2700K) A19 dimmable LED light bulb", sold at Home Depot & Lowes.


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