06/19/2012 04:24 pm ET Updated Aug 19, 2012

Investing in Your Happiness

By Cassandra Paré, Marketing Manager, Women & Co.

If you lie flat on your back in the grass in Tocumwall, Australia, you will see so many stars in the sky that within minutes you will probably catch one darting by. Once you try tapas in Barcelona, you may forever re-evaluate the sensibility of a restaurant that asks you to commit to a mere ONE entree on a menu. And if you get the chance to see Nureyev's rendition of Swan Lake at the Opera National in Paris, you may never again consider anything on a screen to be a suitable form of entertainment. But even though I think the sunset off the rooftops of Marrakesh may have changed my life, it wouldn't be fair if I didn't include the obvious caveat: The ticket to Africa wasn't free. Nor will the ticket to Paris or Rome, or anywhere else for that matter, increase the return on your retirement account. And because the profiteroles I swallowed whole in Paris aren't exactly coming back anytime soon, we often equate such fleeting indulgences with a proportional amount of guilt. But I'd like to introduce a new concept, something that may be difficult for us financially responsible women to accept: There is such a thing as an investment in your happiness.

Now hear me out. I am not proposing you empty your son's college savings account to fund a trip to Africa, or you go on some kind of wild designer shoe-shopping binge. What I am saying, however, is that just because the thing you love most in life -- be it travel, shoes, or rare Mongolian antiques -- doesn't have a ROI (return on investment), this doesn't mean it holds no value. In these budget-conscious times we are inundated with reminders to save, invest and sometimes even deprive, but like a South Beach Diet gone wrong, if you don't allow yourself a slice of cake every now and again, you will find the process practically unbearable. "Splurging," as we often call it, can actually be good for you sometimes.

I don't fly off to Africa every other week; I've got student loans and bills just like everyone else. But I prioritize my budget based on my income: I've never rung up credit card debt in my life, I make my lunch (almost) every day, I contribute to my 401(k) regularly and I shop at discounted retail stores, but traveling is my splurge. And so if a friend calls me and asks me if I'd like to plan a trip with her, I consider the steps I will have to take to make it happen. I won't eat out that month, I'll cut back on shopping and I won't exactly be booking the 5-star hotel, but as long as I've still got an income and I can find a way to work it into my budget without incurring debt, I am not going to deprive myself of the thing that makes me the most happy. Rather than looking at it as a wasted indulgence, I consider it an "investment in my happiness."

The idea of an "investment in your happiness" came to me from my sister. It's something she always used to say when she would plunk down the money for the new bike she'd been pining over for months, and though I used to roll my eyes at the concept, it's never made more sense to me than it does now. That's because as a recent M.B.A. grad with a heap of loans who is living in an economy that isn't exactly rosy, I am reminded nearly every day to save, save, save. I followed those instructions so well, in fact, that I began to lose sight of what it all was for. So when my friend called me and said, "Let's go to Paris," I cashed in my frequent flyer miles and formulated a budget that would make it work. I made a strategic decision to splurge on what I love, rather than to incrementally spend the money on random things or put it away in a savings account that wasn't making me happy. After a week in Paris, I came back refresh, revived and recharged about building my life AND my financial future. And despite an initial surge of guilt, I realized through all my strategic budgeting, I actually hadn't spent that much more that month. Surprisingly, there really was room for this "investment in my happiness" and it hadn't damaged my other investments. Looks like all this time my sister may have been right.

About the Author:
As Women & Co.'s Marketing Manager, Cassandra brings professional experience working in marketing within the media industry. She has an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. from Fordham University. Cassandra seeks to understand the distinct financial needs of our members in order to help provide extensive financial resources. In addition to her role at Women & Co., Cassandra is an active member of Fordham Women in Business and is a regular volunteer with New York Cares.