The Trouble With Moderation

The trouble with moderation - once you cross the line once once, it’s easier to do it again… and again - with food, frugality, or anything else.

Growing up I was always averse to the idea of cheesecake- nothing about the seemingly random combination of cheese and cake sounded appealing to me. So while others were drooling over dessert trays filled with cheesecake variations, I happily passed with no threat to my willpower or waistline. That is… until I tried cheesecake. Yummm.

On the one hand, I was grateful for the forced introduction to this delightful combination of creamy cheese and sweet crustiness, on the other, I was now facing a tougher uphill battle post-dinner- passing on the dessert tray without caving in.

It’s much easier to say no to unnecessary decadence when you don’t know what you’re missing – a lesson I’ve found applying to my finances with increasing frequency.


[tweetthis]It’s much easier to say no to unnecessary decadence when you don’t know what you’re missing[/tweetthis]


For example, the cost of an Equinox gym membership has always boggled my mind. I’ve been gym-free now for well over five years, enjoying my outdoor running and at home Pilates workouts free of charge. The idea of struggling to stretch my budget an extra $80/month just to do all that around other people is something I simply can’t justify. So when I heard that Equinox‘s monthly membership dues were a whopping $225/month, I figured I must’ve misheard. I can understand why some people might enjoy the gym environment, but not for that kind of money….

Then I went to Equinox. While I was on tour in Chicago, our company gave us complimentary access to the Equinox next door. I took a killer class that sculpted my booty in 45 minutes in a way that I have never seen my booty sculpted before (not even after 4 plus hours of running the marathon). At the end of the class I grabbed a towel- it was chilled and scented with eucalyptus- SOLD. Well, not really, I’d still never pay $225 a month for a gym membership, but I was sold on the luxury of it all.

The same thing happened during my first Dry Bar experience. When I first heard the concept, I struggled to understand how an entire business was could be built around $40 blow outs ($50 with tip)- no cuts, no color. Then I got a gift card, which led me to that ever so dangerous first taste. Turns out, I look pretty damn good with a $40 blow dry- shit.

Now while I may be money conscious and frugal, I’m not an extremist by any means. I love my little luxuries as much as anyone else. But these days, I’m admittedly having some trouble with moderation.

The more I discover new indulgences, be they cheesecake or eucalyptus scented towels – the more wants I have gnawing at me. That means more little luxuries to balance on an already limited splurge budget. It would almost have been easier to stay in the dark, cold turkey to begin with.   


[tweetthis]The more I discover new indulgences, the more luxuries there are to balance on an already limited splurge #budget.[/tweetthis]


The Trouble With Moderation

Over the summer I read Clayton Christensen’s “How Will You Measure You Life?” essay in The Harvard Business Review and one point really stuck with me…

“It’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.”

In other words, once you cross the line once, it’s easier to do it again… and again- with food, frugality, or anything else.


The Trouble With Moderation


I know I’m all about balancing the broke and beautiful, implementing moderation to have it all, but I wonder if Mr. Christensen’s policy of 100% commitment to a principle or lifestyle- in my case, frugality- might be a better policy (at least in some instances) for avoiding the one off excuses and justifications that multiply with increased temptations.


Does experiencing new luxuries lead you to trouble with moderation? What do you think of the 100% vs. 98% policy?



66 responses to “The Trouble With Moderation

  1. Sounds like a fancy gym. But $225- OMG!
    That really is crazy. I looked into the gym around the corner from us recently and am still thinking about it. $55 per month for the 2 of us but there’s no contract. I really just want to go the gym for Dec-March or so.

    1. $55/month for two people, no contract sounds totally reasonable. As much as I dislike NYC gyms, I wouldn’t mind having a warmer place to workout for the winter months

  2. $225 a month? Wow! I think there is some validity to the 100% vs. 98% policy. Like you said with the cheese cake example, you never new any better and always passed on it, until you experienced it and then the flood gates are open. Much more difficult to say “no” when you’ve already said yes.

  3. Once you stick your hand into the candy jar… it is hard to not go back.. LOL I do it and a lot more than I should given that one of my large life goals is to build a portfolio that will sustain me for the rest of my life. One thing that I have really found as a way of indulging in new luxuries and keeping cost low is to go all in and get involved… You like working out being at a gym.. Take a few step to becoming an instructor for a class or a personal trainer.. This can usually be done with a minimal commitment and the perk is it becomes part of your job to keep up your appearance and work out and you membership is then free.. Most will say that is too much work. It is an added time commitment but for the most part you can scale you own workouts back to the classes you teach and you were going to be there for that anyway.. and you just put $25-$50 in your pocket for working out. I can’t think of a better way to do that. Exercise is just 1 example. There are many aspects of life one can get involved with to make their own aspirations cheaper.. I don’t have many indulgences that I take part in …. in which I can’t spin it around and make money from it as well as long as I have that desire.

    Cheesecake would be a tough one… Since I’m not one for baking them… But, I generally only have stuff like that when it’s free or included with dinner… The dessert menu if foreign to me.


    1. Thanks Tim. I think you have a great point of finding ways to make those “luxuries” cheaper. I’ve been able to do it with travel through credit card rewards, I just need to find ways of affording my new little luxuries 🙂

  4. I cannot imagine paying that much for gym membership. I will go out on the limb and say I will never pay that much for gym membership ever. I do think that once in a while as a women….(sorry men) you are entitled to a few physical luxuries here and there like a pedicure, facial, or body massage. I mean who wants a woman with tore up feet?

  5. Holy crap, that’s a fancy gym!
    I agree with the 100% v. 98%. If you give yourself permission to indulge occasionally, it is difficult to control when and how often the occasions happen. If I do allow myself to indulge, I’ve found it is a lot easier to have bright line rules. E.g. I don’t buy coffee at work. If I buy lunch at work, I can buy it once/week. I don’t get dessert at restaurants. …… why are these all food related? I have a problem. lol.

  6. So true! Companies are masterful at evoking emotion and memory with advertising, whether video or in-store. Just seeing the Jello-cheesecake box on the shelf usually does it for me (and my diet). It’s a tough one. On the one hand, I don’t think we should castigate ourselves and live like monks but it’s also really hard to resist the temptations.
    As far as finance, my wife and I have been frugal for so long that we don’t think about a lot of things because they are just too far outside our budget. Would hate to think what might happen if we tried it a couple of times.

  7. Oh my gosh, I love this post! And I actually agree with Christensen 100%. It’s easiest if you just don’t know what you’re missing. I’ve definitely avoided some more upscale free opportunities because I feel strongly that it’s better just not to know, especially on a backstage worker budget. Drugs are a pretty extreme example, but it’s way easier to quit smoking by just never trying it. Just like it’s easier to quit caviar and champagne if you just never try it (although, I mean, fish eggs, really? Why is that appealing??)

  8. I love how you said, “and then I went to Equinox.” Ha! I think everyone has the same reaction stepping into that gym. Do they have the eucalyptus steam rooms there? OMG, heavenly! I joined that gym when I had no business joining and I guess at least it was only $118 per month, but still. I had a hard time quitting but knew I had to. Back to the point, I think moderation is sometimes very difficult. I am that way with chocolate. I do ok if it’s not in the house, but then if it is I say I’ll only have one square. Ha! Cut to 3-4 squares later… It’s that only expression: give an inch, they’ll take a mile.

  9. I definitely see the potential to become enamored with the finer things in life, especially when you have been avoiding them for so long. As someone who overly indulged in the finer things, I can say that I don’t miss them at all. It’s all about a mindset. Sometimes you do need to indulge here and there to get it out of your system. After you see your bank account post the indulgence, though, I am sure you will feel like I do now.

  10. I totally agree with your observation here. Not just in finances but I find that in many ares of my life it’s better not to know what you might be missing out on if you believe that habitually participating would be detrimental. This sort of goes hand-in-hand with my attitude toward making life changes: jump in with both feet, none of this gradual change nonsense, e.g. when I started saving for retirement and tithing it was 10% off the bat, not “just start with 1%, then get to 2%…” I guess I just have a bit of an extreme personality as I know my approach would never work for some!

  11. It’s so true – you don’t know what you’re missing until you try it. And then it can be incredibly hard to give it up! I do not work out at Equinox but I do have a gym membership and pay for Boot Camp. Like you, I found out when I take a class, I get a much better workout so it’s worth the cost to me. It’s also amazing how different a professional blowout looks. Those I save for very special occasions otherwise what I can do myself is fine. But I definitely don’t skimp on coloring my hair, but I am also hiding more than dark roots. 🙂

  12. I think sometimes people end up “torturing’ themselves due to moderation. They spend so much time and energy trying to strike a balance instead of over-indulging or avoiding altogether that it can be really draining. I’m not sure if this is a good or terrible example, but my wife and I don’t really take quick frugal vacations. We only go every ~2 years (at least recently) and try to go some place awesome each time. Granted we do credit card churning and even won the trip to Hawaii we’ll be taking, but if you really love going to incredible places for travel it may be better to indulge in an awesome vacation every 2-3 years versus taking a bunch of smaller “not quite as fun or incredible” vacations every 6 months. Maybe that was a forced example, but hopefully you know what I’m getting at.

  13. Oh my goodness, this is so true! I am constantly saying to my husband, “THIS is why ignorance is bliss.” You don’t know what you’re missing if you’ve never tried it. My husband and I enjoy cruises. I have luckily been able to find some stellar deals that fit our budget. For our honeymoon, we saved and splurged on a suite. Now I don’t want to cruise unless we have a suite. Needless to say we aren’t planning a cruise any time soon. 🙂 There are so many things that I would love to be a part of my regular experience. I have been known to spend (too much ) time trying to figure out how to fit more of these luxuries into a limited “fun” budget. Ha! Now I am working on ways to bring in more income so I can save more and expand the fun budget a little. This post made me nod my head in agreement. By the way, I didn’t start liking cheesecake until age 26. 🙂

  14. Oh I definitely think luxuries can be a slippery slope! Getting used to driving a certain type of car, shopping in certain stores, etc.
    I don’t like cheesecake, but I’ve never really given it a fair shot. Now I know not to! 🙂

  15. The situations you described helped to spiral me into the credit card abyss for years! I don’t regret some of the experiences but yikes I spent way too much. Now, I tend to indulge very seldomly and really savour the finer experiences when they do occur since it’s likely I won’t be doing it for a long time after the fact.

  16. Yes, it’s so much easier to do things 100%. I’ve realized I’m an abstainer, meaning I can’t just have “one cookie”. I’m an all or nothing type of gal, so if I have a cookie, it probably means I’ll have three. It’s something I had to learn about myself and relate it to my finances as well. Great post!

  17. Great post! With some things I’m all or nothing. For example, if I can’t spend a couple of hours at the gym every day, I’d rather not work out at all. People say to go out and walk or jog for 30 minutes 3 times a week but I feel like that’s a total waste and end up not working out at all! Which… Is obviously worse.
    But when it comes to things like dessert or snacks, it’s pretty easy for me to have a few and then leave it. Meh. Whatever.
    I’m still figuring out my financial style 🙂

  18. I thought I would hate cheesecake too. I was wrong.

    I definitely agree. When you remove the option to cheat, it’s a lot easier for me to keep at something. In January we only buy food at the grocery store: No restaurants/drinks/treats. After the first week we’re really awesome at just hunkering down and whipping something up. By March/April we’re usually back to our old ways.

  19. I’ve found that the 100% approach works best for me. It’s easiest for us to be fully in the frugal zone and structure our lives entirely around that approach rather than allowing for little slip-ups here and there. For example, we never eat at restaurants or get coffee out. It sounds extreme, but, it makes it easier for us. We’re not caught in a tangle of decision-making and budgeting, we just don’t eat out. There are certainly exceptions to our rules, but, we stick to them the vast majority of the time.
    P.S. I too love cheesecake :). It’s just so good.

  20. I actually still don’t like cheesecake, so that’s awesome. However, I did discover (a long while ago now) that I liked ranch dressing, and talk about something that has the tendency to be fattening! Ah! I definitely think the 100% rule is better – if I never try it, whatever ‘it’ is, I’ll never be tempted to do/buy/eat it. It’s extremely hard though… which is why, I suppose, gift cards work!

  21. I totally hear you on this, and I’ve had the same thought before. It is so much easier to say no when you haven’t had the experience, as there’s nothing to really be tempted by. I didn’t grow up deprived, but my family wasn’t big on luxuries, so I am certainly perplexed by $225/month gym memberships! I often wonder if I should stay under a rock on some things so I don’t end up wanting them.

  22. Maybe I’m in the minority but for me personally, I don’t like to be 100% in all the time. I think I’m good with self-control and if budget for a trip to Starbucks once a week, then that’s it. I’d rather not deprive myself of something I’d enjoy.

  23. I’ve never really considered this idea, but after reading your thoughts, it seems like the most obvious way to look at the little luxuries. In the moment, who can remember if they’ve already used their allotted 2% or not. Seemingly, the 98% compliance will start down a slippery slope to 95% then 90% and continue to fall. I’ve always promoted ‘all things in moderation’ but will have to rethink my position… Thanks for the new way to look at it!

  24. I loved this post, thanks for sharing.
    What you talked about happens to me sometimes. I don´t really mind saving and not buying things for ages, but then, especially around Christmas time, I start spending and it seems like I can´t stop. “Everything in moderation” is very hard to actually do.

  25. On impulse I decided to give myself a BIG treat and get silk eyelash extensions. Really, if you’d asked me a month ago whether I’d even consider it, I’d burst out laughing and say you were crazy. SOOO not me. Yesterday: there went $190, plus tip. And 2 hours of my life. But you know what? It does look great. However … how long will it last? Three to six. WEEKS, not months. That means if I want to keep this up, I have to go for regular “fills” @ $100. And I had to buy new mascara, liner, cleanser, and make up remover. DAMN, I wish I’d been content with my skimpy little lashes and ordinary mascara.

    At least I don’t like cheesecake.

    1. Ah, those eyelashes. I wanted to do my lashes (for the first time) a few months ago, but was told that the cost was EUR 210 and like yours, they only stay for three weeks. Can you imagine? That’s a lot of money that would do a lot if I sent it to Zambia. I just said to myself I would not have them.

  26. That eucalyptus towel sounds divine. I could NEVER pay $225 a month for gym membership. My brain just says no to this idea. I do pay for posh dinners a couple of times a year and never regret it. I’m so frugal that I need to do this from time to time. I have to watch it though because I can get crazy based on my emotions at the time.

  27. For me it’s easier to be 100% holding on principles because once you cross the line, it’s gonna be hard not to be tempted again. When I say “no”, it should never mean “maybe”. No means no. That’s how has helped me save more and get what I want to achieve.

  28. I completely agree with the 100% vs 98% rule.

    I’m terrible at moderation, especially when it comes to food!! :S

    I personally do visit the gym because running outside in negative temperatures is not pleasant and the fact that it costs £14 ($22) a month and that includes all classes. I just use too much of the equipment (barbells, cables, etc) that I couldn’t at home.

      1. I could never swear off eating out for long. It’s like the one treat in nyc that a person who is working should have. We put up with enough! I have severely limited it though. And I like it better that way. it is even more of a treat because I have to think really hard about where to spend my eating out money:)

  29. This is similar to my first time flying first class. I was able to do it with an awesome credit card bonus, but then on other flights I booked I peeked at the first class price and thought, “Hey I can afford that. It’s only a few hundred more.” Thankfully I slapped myself back to reality and continue to travel coach, but these companies know how to manipulate us. Like Lays potato chips say, you can’t have just one.

  30. I was traveling a lot for 18 months and my feet were really killing me because of airplanes. So one time at the airport in Philadelphia I saw this place that offered foot massages. I’d had a pedicure a couple of times & was cut both times so I didn’t want any of that, but a foot massage seemed like a good idea. It was wonderful, so much so that I started going out of my way to get at least 2 a week, whether traveling or not, at $40 a shot; uh-oh!

    Luckily my gig is over and I’ve only had one since I’ve been home. I can’t believe how easy it was for me to slip into that kind of spending; I could have used that money in so many other ways… then again, I enjoyed myself and I felt good, so I don’t beat myself up over it.

  31. Great article. I personally find gyms uninspiring, even the luxury gyms. I’d rather walk, run or bike outside. If you are looking for a toned butt, walking up stairs is a great option. I know stairways are uninspiring, but if you need to go somewhere anyway, why not kill two birds with one stone and opt out of the elevator?

    On the food issue… I have always taken the 80/20 rule where I will eat clean 80% of the time and then allow myself anything I want the other 20%. The problem is that the longer I eat clean most of the time, I’m starting to not feel well after my cheat meals. They just offset my internal eco-system, so I may have to approach this more of the 100% mindset to avoid the discomfort. But that is fine with me. I’d rather feel great than feel sick!

  32. I found that the only reason for joining a gym was to meet guys. Period. Other than that, outside exercise was always better, even in the winter. The butt thing though, seriously! I always found stairs do really well though, but hey, the butt thing would be hard to pass up! As for cheesecake, I wouldn’t try it either when I was a kid for the same reason. Mincemeat pie too. I thought it had meat in it. Then, of course, one day you try them and realize you were wrong and what you’ve been missing! You’re right, sometimes it’s better not knowing because it is really hard un-knowing. Dang temptations!

  33. Thank goodness my work pays for my gym membership. It isn’t at the Equinox, but it’s still a pretty nice gym in my opinion! Not sure if I’d pay the membership myself if my work decided to stop paying for it, but I do think it’s worth the money.

  34. I think a lot of people have a problem with moderation, myself included. If I tell myself I can do something “just this once” I end up doing it over and over again. Like, I stopped going to Starbucks which was great but I ended up eating a lot of fast food because I was too burnt out to cook at night. So, instead of saving that money I just reallocated it to something worse. Yuck!

  35. I can relate to this article. Being a full time student and working part time, sometimes I have to question myself; do I have the time or money for this? Is it really worth it? I agree with the quote, “It’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time that it is to hold to them 98% of the time.” Once one-steps out the box it makes it easier to do so. Stay strong, stay committed, and it gets easier with time.

  36. I’d like to balk at the idea of $225 for a monthly gym membership but my spending on eating out, makeup, traveling, clothes, etc won’t allow me. I intend to cozy up to moderation in 2015

  37. One definitely becomes used to luxury. I have, however, noticed that living in material comfort does not make one happier. I was a happy person as a broke student, and I am still one now. It’s inside of me. To prove it, I am embarking on a Less is More project, where I will buy nothing for a year. I’m excited!!!

  38. Moderation is a difficult thing…. I just recently took an overseas flight and was able to fly business class with frequent flier miles…. I think it may have ruined me. All of the extra personal attention that goes into the service made it one of the most pleasant flights I’ve taken in my life.

    Luckily since it was paid with frequent flier miles I probably won’t be able to do that again for a long long time. But now I will probably always look at the difference between economy and business class in the future. I’m just glad that I’m level headed enough to not want to pay the difference like your gym membership.

  39. Yeah, I don’t do moderation well either. If I quit anything it has to be cold turkey– a solid unmoving line of ‘no.’ Once I allow any leeway, I take that hypothetical mile. Unfortunately a simple way (and immature way) to get around this natural reaction is to vilify the thing you’re trying to quit. For example: smoking. Yes, smoking is bad for you and people shouldn’t do it but have you ever noticed how vehemently non-smokers and often those smokers who have quit like to remind how bad it is? Or those organic food, breastfeeding or running people. They are quick to point out how being organic, breastfed or running 5k’s every weekend is so much better.

    I am not immune. I automatically furrow my brow at those who have a paid TV subscription. I don’t care for those who insist on driving big, huge cars for little purposes. I have to bite my tongue when someone posts pictures of a bunch of presents on Facebook.

    It’s like I need to justify my actions by doin’ the “putting others down to build myself up” thing. Sigh. I gotta get over that.

    It’s good to have a line in the sand saying, “I will go no further on this issue” but it is often easier just to never dip the toe at all. Once we do we have to start building our internal support system for our decision and often it gets all yucky on others who aren’t where we are yet in their decision making.

  40. I have a slightly different point of view here especially with respect to giving in to luxuries vis-a-vis practicing frugality 100%. I often go to a gourmet food store, buy the things I like, try a lot of samples and look around like an excited kid set free in a candy store. While I now have some modicum of discipline to not go bonkers by spending there what it does for me is give a lot of motivation to earn the big bucks so that these things come into the realm of everyday affordable. In some ways, looking at some of the luxuries from a close quarter make the reason to dream and work hard to earn well much more real and worthy.

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