Deserve is a Dirty Word

The most dangerous lie you can tell yourself when trying to take control of your personal finances is how “deserving” you are of some reward.  Take it from me: deserve is a dirty word.

We’ve all heard it a thousand times.  Out at the mall, or in a department store, someone, maybe you, worries over whether they can afford something that the vast majority of the world would call a luxury.  Maybe it’s a new phone, or a designer handbag, or a new television set.  And that’s when it happens:  Either that person or one of their friends says something like, “you’ve been working so hard lately.  Just buy it.”

“You deserve it.”

The shopper nods, considering.  He or she has been working awfully hard lately.  If that much is true, then surely the part about whether he or she deserves it must be, too!

In the end, our shopper walks out of the store with the new trinket, beaming with pride and more broke than ever, all thanks to a phrase that is utterly devoid of meaning in the modern world.  The endorphin rush of the purchase wears off, the item gathers some dust or ages quickly, and before we know it, the shopper is back in the store deserving his or her next purchase.  Little by little he or she or you or I deserve our way to debt and financial ruin.

What is Deserving, Really?

To be clear, it is possible to be deserving of something.  People in poverty-stricken nations are deserving of food, clean water, and shelter.  Orphans are deserving of loving homes.  Heroes are deserving of praise and respect.

These are the most clear-cut examples of “deserving,” but the bottom line is that that which we deserve is merited because it is either so necessary that to deny it would be criminal, or because it has been utterly, thoroughly, and completely earned.

Don’t Deserve It, Earn It

For those struggling with debt, or towards an audacious financial goal like early retirement, the real questions in those situations should be: Do I need it, and did I earn it?  We should evaluate whether we have earned something with the following thought process:

  1. Have I eliminated all high interest debt?
  2. Have I established a sufficient emergency fund?
  3. Do I have enough to meet the basic needs of myself and my family?
  4. Have I built this purchase into my budget?
  5. Can I cover the entire cost with money I have already saved towards this item?

If the answer to all of those questions is yes, then you have earned it. You can make your purchase without guilt, and beam with pride not just at your new possession, but in the badass discipline you exercised to get it.

Of course, you and I will stumble along the way.  We’ll deserve our way to weekend getaways and expensive meals and LED TVs and designer purses.  But, little by little, if we focus on earning rather than deserving, we’ll conquer our financial demons and we’ll begin to give real weight to a word that has an actual, noble meaning.

And that we deserve.

11 thoughts on “Deserve is a Dirty Word

  1. Jim @ Route To Retire

    Marketing is funny, isn’t it? They’ve figured out ways to really make you feel like you would be treating yourself to something you don’t need without feeling guilty about it.

    Sometimes I feel lucky that I’m cheap! 😉 Actually, my wife and I are both pretty frugal in the “things” department, but still have plenty of fun in other areas – camping, vacations, and other “experiences” that we enjoy (especially with our daughter).

    I do agree with you that you need to earn it. If you don’t have the money to do it, you just shouldn’t.

    — Jim

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Marketing is indeed a powerful force– somehow, this notion that you can waive all responsibility for a purchase if you justify it as “deserved” has crept into our belief system. I indulge in the occasional unnecessary purchase too, but I have to at least face the fact that I’m acting on impulse!

  2. John

    I guess we deserve it if we can pay for it without debt after meeting all of our “grown up” financial responsibilities, including saving for the future. Seems fair to me under those circumstances!

    Thanks for a great post.


  3. rockstache

    I really love this post. I don’t think it’s just about finance either. Entitlement is a way of life for some people. I am continually evaluating my own attitude to keep it in check. Why am I disappointed that I didn’t get that promotion…did I really deserve it or did I just really want it…etc. Good stuff!

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Thanks, for the comment, rockstache! Yeah, I think we all can benefit from stepping outside our own heads now and again; It’s bound to make us a little more compassionate with each other.

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