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“Defiance or delusion? How we’re feeling about treat shopping in this cost of living crisis”

At a time where millions are facing an increase in bills, many are analysing their spending habits. But, as senior digital writer Leah Sinclair writes, spending on little things you may want but don’t need can play a bigger role in our general wellbeing than we may think.

As I write this article, I’m sitting outside one of my favourite coffee shops in east London. It’s a sunny day (one of the rare sunny days before the typically British fog and rain returns), so I’m making the most of the outdoor seating and people watching while writing and sipping on a particularly frothy flat white.

The flat white in question costs about £3.40 and I get at least one of these every other day. If I added up how much this costs per month, it’d probably result in a shockingly surprising number that would leave me staring absently into my phone and feeling riddled with guilt for spending money on hot beverages that I could make at home.

But you know what? I’m not going to get the calculator app out and dissect my caffeine habits. Because these little purchases are a nice treat that I like to have in a world that wants us to be devoid of all that – and I just refuse to.

Now there is a certain level of privilege in me saying this. After all, if I was in particularly dire circumstances, my coffee habits and sporadic purchases at Arket would cease to exist. 

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But with gas and electricity bills set to increase by £693 a year (around 54%) in April, benefit rates set to rise by around 3% next month and everything else (except wages) under the sun going up, it’s all beginning to cast a rather bleak shadow over our lives.

And I’m choosing to get that little sliver of sunshine where I can – and treat shopping here and there seems to be the thing that’s doing it, for better or for worse.

While in conversation with my friend while sipping on watered-down margaritas that should’ve been a lot cheaper than they were, we began to dissect the dreaded daily news and what we can and can’t afford.

But in the midst of that, my friend shared the numerous trips she has planned over the year, including visiting family in Germany, a baecation in Thailand and, most importantly, my 30th birthday trip to St Lucia in December (which I’m saving all my pennies for, I add).

There’s a cognitive dissonance between us discussing our millennial financial woes while at the same time planning to live our best lives IRL, but it’s a dilemma many of us are facing and at a time when we should probably grab our planners and start counting the pennies. 

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But there’s also a spark of defiance within us that wants us to keep spending and keep experiencing in a bid to just feel something beyond the day-to-day slog that tells us this country is robbing us blind and we can’t afford to spend £20 on a candle, £100 on an Easyjet flight or £3.40 on oat milk flat white.

It’s something my friends and I have battled with, repeatedly asking ourselves: are our shopping habits an act of delusion or defiance?

Now, it’s important to note that making sure all bills are paid, that money is put into savings and being a responsible adult still comes first and will always be a priority. And if I can allow myself to buy a cheeky reed diffuser or a fresh pair of trainers and sign up for a new yoga class, I will. And if you do too, you shouldn’t be made to feel bad about it – by others or yourself.

After all, food bills are estimated to cost us an extra £180 this year, according to experts at consultancy firm Kantar. 

Inflation has soared to 6.2% in the fastest rise for 30 years and Rishi Sunak recently announced a rise in the threshold for paying national insurance. 

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The point is, many people’s pockets are about to feel a lot lighter with the most disadvantaged being hit the most.

And amid times that are particularly bleak, I’m all for doing what’s reasonable and feels good to you if you are fortunate enough to be able to do so.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to question every purchase and feel guilty if we decide to follow through, and equally, sometimes spending that little bit extra on something we want almost feels like burying our head in the sand amid this cost of living crisis.

But the cost of living doesn’t begin and end with finances. When your own wellbeing and happiness are at stake, doing little things here and there to retain it is key – even if I do decide to purchase a little something that isn’t a complete necessity.

Now, this is not a PSA to throw caution to the wind and purchase things you can’t afford or forgo responsibilities.

But taking a moment to do something for yourself every now and again isn’t something you should be made to feel guilty about – and I personally refuse to.

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