“…in fact, pleasure should, as a rule, precede compensation.” – Mireille Guiliano, author, French Women Don’t Get Fat
The title of this article should get your attention. How can spendthrifts, who by definition spend lots and lots of money, not become poor? On the flip side, how can you eat anything that you want—chocolates, pastries, wine, pizza—and not get fat? It is what author Mireille Guiliano promises each of us in her book French Women Don’t Get Fat where she introduces us to a world of pleasure and indulgence without negative consequences. Intrigued?
Mireille’s experience and motivation behind writing this book was the approximately 20 pounds she gained by eating her way through a year abroad in America (the financial parallel: she went on a prolonged spending binge). In the days leading up to returning to her family and the svelte people of France she was embarrassed and ashamed…but still could not stop reaching for pastry after pastry in the style of American graceless and robotic consumption. If she wanted to fit in with her own and feel better about herself she had to change her patterns. Her quest to lose the 20 pounds led to a lifetime of culinary pleasures sans the muffin top.
As I am a person who is constantly thinking of finances and frugality I couldn’t help but see that the rules in this book can apply to personal finance as well. Think of calories as dollars and the rest falls into line. Even though some of the thoughts were shocking to my system, such as the above quote (what happened to dangling the sweet, honey-dipped carrot in front of my face as motivation instead of Ms. Guiliano’s suggestion to consume first and pay later?), I enjoy stretching my mind and challenging my principles.
Below I have outlined Mireille’s rules to ascend the stairway to heaven as it relates to personal finance—with any luck, I’ll see you on the other side.
Become Aware of Your Spending, Then Let it Go
The first order of business for Mireille was to keep a diary of her eating habits; every single morsel of pain au chocolat or crumb of bleu cheese that passed her lips was to be written down for the course of three weeks. She was on a mission to determine how she was proportioning her precious number of prescribed calories per day. In the same way, you can look at what you spend your money on. Does anything strike you as out of proportion? Are you spending more than 70% on living/surviving, and nothing on future pleasures (i.e. savings)? See what jumps out at you.
Now, get rid of the numbers.
Choose Your Proportions
This is not a diet for finances or for weight, but rather a rebalancing or “recasting” of your life in order to bring things into harmony with one another. Instead of counting calories or dollars, you simply need to wing it. You need to feel your way to a balance that works for you, to where you feel bien dans sa peau (rough translation: comfortable in your own skin). Figure out a proportion that you are comfortable with for each of the spending categories in your life (living/surviving, pleasures, future pleasures, etc.). Think of these categories as food on your plate: 1/3 salad, 1/3 meat, 1/3 potatoes, or whatever makes sense to you. Cover all of your bases, such as living expenses, retirement, and savings, but you don’t need to do so to the detriment of your pleasures in life.
Chances are you spending your money on things that you simply could care less about, like cable television or name brand shampoo. Allocate a smaller proportion to these categories (yes…even if it is your vegetable category. No judgment here). What about spending on things that you enjoy, such as the finest specimen of chocolate, or travel? Heap more on your plate for these categories (I’d like another scoop of mashed potatoes, please).
Incorporate a Checks and Balance System
When you take an indulgence, make a corresponding reduction elsewhere to compensate. This does not require deprivation—like skipping a meal or conversely going without gasoline in your car—but it does require cutting down in other areas to compensate your consumption. By mercilessly cutting spending on the stuff you don’t care about, you can carve out more money to spend on the things and experiences that give you the most pleasure. This delicate checks and balance systems will allow you to indulge without guilt (or without emptying your bank account).
Shamelessly Pursue Your Pleasures
With the money you have prioritized for pleasure, purchase good quality items and experiences. You will be purchasing a smaller quantity than you are used to, but this means that you can purchase better quality, thus heightening your pleasure. Indulge in quality wines, cheeses from the glass case, 500+ thread count sheets, pottery classes, etc. Remember, you are pursuing the best quality only of the experiences and things that you have identified as most pleasurable to you. If you could care less about sheets, then buy the 200 thread counts.
Stop Mindless Consumption
Are you finding it difficult to only pursue a few pleasures? Perhaps it is because you are mindlessly consuming things. You may not even know it. Savor is a term that has been lost on much of America. Mireille points out that the best part of any meal is only the first few bites, when your senses and tastebuds are heightened. What if you were to take the time to savor your belongings and experiences instead of treating them just as a means to an end? You don’t need two, three, or four of everything. One is often enough to give you the satisfaction you are craving.
Indulge your Senses
Indulging your senses is a core part of this regimen; after all, how can something be pleasurable if it doesn’t involve your senses? Mireille discusses the importance of indulging the senses in order to feel satisfied and to get pleasure out of whatever you do. Whatever you spend your prioritized money on, make sure you indulge at least two or three senses in order to heighten your pleasurable experience.
Over the last week or so while in Europe, I have had the luxury of time to think about my own pleasures and to reconsider their priority in my life. Some of them include (in no particular order): homemade jam, animals, praline pecans, pottery, cooking classes, yoga, and travel. Thanks to Mireille’s book, I will be incorporating these more into my life.