[Study] How Comfortable Do Americans Feel Spending Money to “Treat Themselves”

November 30, 2018


“Treat yourself.”

The expression has become a rallying cry among proponents of self-care, a catchphrase for Americans to justify fun (but non-essential) expenditures and, by some accounts, a gold mine for advertisers looking to sell consumers on things they could do without.

The saying has firmly rooted itself within the cultural lexicon. So, how has the idea influenced how American consumers spend their money? To find out, we surveyed 4,000 Americans about their non-essential spending habits.

Major takeaways include:

  • 74% of Americans don’t feel guilty treating themselves to non-essential items or experiences.
  • Half of Americans “treat themselves” once a month or more.
  • Americans aren’t willing to spend large sums of money to treat themselves.

74% of Americans Don’t Feel Guilty “Treating Themselves”


When asked if they feel guilty “treating themselves” — defined in our survey as spending money on non-essential items or experiences — the majority of Americans reported that they do not feel guilty when they buy something superfluous for themselves.

Surprisingly, there was no major split between generations when it came to feelings of guilt. Approximately 24 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 reported feeling guilty when treating themselves, which is in line with the responses from Americans between the ages of 25 and 64, despite the noticeable differences in income and lifestyle for the different generations.

Women Are More Likely to Feel Guilty Than Men When Treating Themselves


However, we found that there was a major discrepancy in the buyer’s remorse between men and women. Approximately 1 in 3 women feel guilty treating themselves, while only 18 percent of men responded that they feel guilty when spending on non-essentials.

Women Treat Themselves More Often Than Men


The difference in feelings of guilt between men and women may be influenced by how often each gender treats themselves to something that isn’t essential. Our study found that women are more likely to treat themselves than men; 80 percent of women treat themselves more than once a year, compared to the 67 percent of men who report doing so.

53% of Americans “Treat Themselves” Once a Month or More


According to our research, more than half of Americans treat themselves once a month or more. A combined 53 percent of Americans said they treat themselves once a month, once a week or more than once a week. Only 26 percent of Americans reported treating themselves once a year or less.

Gen Zers Are the Most Likely to Treat Themselves Once a Month or More


When it comes to demographics, Americans who fall within the Generation Z cohort (those surveyed between 18 and 24 years old) are the most likely to treat themselves once a month or more. Sixty-four percent of Americans within that age range admitted to treating themselves that often. In contrast, Americans within the oldest generation surveyed, those above the age of 65, were the least likely to treat themselves once a month or more, at 43 percent.

50% of Americans Said They’d Spend Less Than $50 to Treat Themselves


When polled about how much they’d be willing to spend to treat themselves, half of Americans said they’d only be willing to spend the smallest amount possible, less than $50, on a non-essential item for themselves.

Americans Prefer to Spend Small Amounts on Themselves, Even When It’s Not Their Money


Even when gifted money, Americans were the most comfortable spending the smallest amount possible on themselves. In this scenario we pitched, where Americans are unexpectedly given money, 54 percent reported that the amount would have to be less than $100 in order for them to spend it all on a gift for themselves.

Men Are More Willing To Spend Large Amounts of Money on Themselves


Overall, we found that men are more willing to spend large amounts of money on themselves, regardless of whether it’s their own money or money that was unexpectedly given to them. In both scenarios, 25 percent of men were willing to spend the highest amount possible — more than $250 of their own money or more than $500 of gifted money — on a non-essential for themselves.

In contrast, only 14 percent of women were willing to spend more than $250 of their own money on a non-essential for themselves. That number ticked up slightly, to 17 percent, when the choice was to spend more than $500 of someone else’s money on themselves, but remained lower than the percentage of men willing to spend that much.

So, just how are Americans treating themselves? According to our findings, Americans are treating themselves often and don’t feel guilty doing so. The catch? They’re not spending much money on the non-essential items, typically less than $50.