“You Deserve It” Advertising Campaigns

There are three words in the English language that I’m beginning to loathe. Those words are “You Deserve It!” How many times have you heard those words. “Buy yourself a new outfit. You deserve it!” “Take a vacation. You deserve it!” Even the old McDonald’s commercials used it, remember? “You deserve a break today….at McDonald’s!”

“You deserve it” makes us feel good. “Yes,” we say. “I’ve worked hard! I’ve slaved for 40 hours a week at my job! I deserve to take that cruise this summer!”

Like any advertising strategy, there is some semblance of truth to the statement “You deserve it.” After all, is there anyone out there who works hard at what they do that doesn’t deserve a nice reward every once in a while?

But rewards aren’t rewards if they get in the way of your long term goals. When rewards get in the way of your long term goals, they become burdens.

Last year about this time our 5 year old cheap computer died. Now, I will say we did need a new computer. We used our computer for a lot of essential things, such as managing our finances and keeping in touch with people. When buying our computer, we took into account that we had paid down a lot of our debt. We had even paid off all of our credit cards. In May of last year, we knew we’d be getting the last bit of my husband’s inheritance.

And then we made the mistake of thinking back over the last year. We thought about the rough year that we’d had….a death in the family, two surgeries (one for me, one for my husband), lots of rehab on my husband’s hand…and we thought we deserved to splurge a little and buy a nice computer…one that was a little more expensive than the cash we had on hand. Big mistake.

We charged a nice computer on our then zero balance credit card. We knew we would pay it off in May, when we got the inheritance money. We wouldn’t even have to pay any interest.

But then my husband lost his job in May (the first time). And instead of paying off the Visa, we needed the extra money to live on. And while we were trying to cut back expenses, we had a new Visa payment to make. Suddenly, “I deserve it” didn’t sound so good.

Now, I’m not saying that we should never take vacations or buy nice things. If these things are in your budget, and you don’t have to go into debt to purchase them, go right ahead. After reading everyone’s comments and talking more with my husband about our economic stimulus rebate, I’m fairly certain we’ll be taking a vacation. We do need a break after our horrific last year. But we won’t be going into debt over it. We definitely do not deserve the bondage that comes with being under obligation to a credit card company.

The next time you find yourself wanting to buy something because “you deserve it,” please consider whether you deserve the bondage that comes with debt. Consider whether you deserve to sacrifice your long term goals. If you can buy that thing you’re eyeing without going into debt or sacrificing your goals, purchase it with a clean conscience. But don’t let advertising campaigns seduce you into thinking you deserve something that will make your life more difficult in the long term.

Have you ever purchased something you regretted, because you convinced yourself you deserved it at the time? How do you feel about the words, “You deserve it,” especially as they’re used in advertising campaigns?


By , on Apr 7, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. I know exactly what you mean. People tell me take a rest as I deserve a break from work (I am self-employed and work all of the hours I can). What I deserve is to be able to pay off my mortgage more quickly and doing nothing is not going to help me achieve it!

  2. sarah:

    I agree with your post. The problem is that we as people can be so short sighted with what we “deserve.” If a person really valued himself highly enough, he would know he deserved (owed himself) financial security, which is *more* valuable than a toy!

    We constantly short change ourselves with what we feel we “deserve” and end up getting just what our actions warranted… a financial mess we “deserve” to clean up later! When I want to buy something I don’t need because “I deserve it,” I have to ask myself: “Do I *deserve* being a slave to someone else for that much longer just so I can have this [insert cool object here]? Or am I worth more than that?”

    When debt isn’t in the picture, of course, the answers to “Do I deserve this treat?” might be different, but I think many of us are on the same page here… still shoveling ourselves out of our financial pig sties!

  3. If I don’t have the money to pay for it…then I don’t deserve it. Basic food and shelter possibly excepted as things that all human beings should have, whether or not “deserving” enters into the matter.

    My mom used to go off about such slogans.

    What people don’t deserve is to pay twice an item’s price because they let it go so long on their credit card.

  4. Emily:

    Ever notice we do the same thing with another unhealthy habit …. junk food. And usually these “breaks” or “indulgences” keep us from focusing on the underlying issue that makes us feel like we need to spend or eat to get a break. I left a job I hated last summer and immediately noticed two things: more money in my bank account and 5 less pounds on my body. I was no longer “giving myself a break” by stopping on the way home to mindlessly shop accompanied by a grande frappachino.

  5. Hestial:

    This was such an excellent post to read! I admit to a huge twinge of guilt: at the beginning of the year, I bought myself a new laptop. Instead of going for something cheaper and functional, I went for something pretty expensive and flashy (works really well, though. . .). It seemed like a GREAT idea at the time, and I deserved it for starting my last year of college — except, oh yeah, I may not be able to pay rent next month.

    The words, “You deserve it” as they’re used in advertising campaigns are a low form of emotional blackmail. People work themselves half to death to pay bills and make ends meet, of *course* this slogan appeals to them. But I feel like all it does it start a vicious cycle of buying things you can’t afford.

  6. Stephanie Chance:

    I absolutely hate it when my husband wants something and says, “I work hard; I deserve it.” Well, he wouldn’t have to work so hard if we didn’t have so many payments on things that he wanted and deserved but didn’t need. So pay off what you already have first. Or you’ll be working even harder. And never have any time to enjoy what you have. He actually told me one day that because he makes most of the money, he deserves to spend more of it. Oh, I tore him another one after that statement. Beginning with, considering all the unpaid work I do around the house and with the kids, in addition to a full time job, I think I contribute just as much, if not more, to this household. Second, considering that you created 90% of the consumer debt, I think you have way surpassed your assumed right to spend more than me. But it’s like arguing with a brick wall.

  7. to Heidi,

    As a Christian you are glad you don’t get what you deserve? If that is in reference to sinning then ok ignore this, but seeing as this is a money related blog I assume you mean in reference to “the poor shall inherit the earth…” which is so often taken out of context (and which my “why its not immoral to get rich” post got a lot of nasty emails) I have to point out that being poor in spirit and poor in money are two very different things. Of course, if I took that out of context, then apologies…

  8. Working with college students, I see this attitude in action all the time. Some young adults think they they ‘deserve’ a good grade because they showed up to class (never mind that they were late, that they didn’t submit the homework, that they didn’t study for the final). I think much of this attitude comes from parents who also have the “I deserve it” attitude, and who pass that along to their kids.

    I have a very ‘spendy’ friend, who sometimes worries that she’s spending too much money on this or that. She’ll ask for my opinion (or rather, for my ‘permission’ to purchase something outrageously priced). Because I don’t want to be judgmental, I’ll often reply with “you deserve it” (because she makes enough money to afford it, because she works so hard, etc, etc, etc). But just the phrase itself leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    I loved Working Rachel’s comment: I deserve to get out of debt (and that means I’ll be working hard and living frugally to get there)!

  9. Pete:

    I think this is a huge problem in our society.. the “I deserve” it generation.. When you boil it down it just comes out to people wanting all of the goodies without any of the responsibility. If you want it, buy it. It’s selfishness and materialism plain and simple.

    We need a dose of the “I deserve to treat myself right by not getting into debt”, and “serving others” type thinking.

  10. Jeannee:

    Its the sense of entitlement, indeed! I’m not shaking a finger at you my fine friend ; I actually am complimenting you for recognizing it!

  11. LJ:

    Great Post and I completely agree!

    A little “treat” here and there is one thing, but going into debt because you feel you “deserve it” is another.

    Nobody “deserves” to be in debt!

    Sometimes, if it seems like it has been forever since you last took a vacation or bought yourself something nice you can be tempted to overspend. So, I think it is a good idea to set aside a lttle “fun” money when the budget has room and buy yourself a little treat or save it up for a nice vacation. Working hard and being frugal can sometimes feel lonely or like you are depriving yourself, so the occasional treats are necessary.

    Great post!

    Take Care


  12. Great post! If you’re really committed to getting out of debt or to a long-term financial goal, you deserve to meet that goal and not spend your money on short-term gratification.

  13. Natalie:

    Great post! I too hate the phrase “you deserve it”. What I really deserve is death, but by grace I’m given so much more than that! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  14. “As a Christian, I am glad that I don’t get what a deserve.”

    Love it!

  15. I agree, but people forget that when you save, say, 15% of your income it means you get to spend 85%.

    Money IS for spending, so – once you have met your commitments and savings goals – go ahead and sepnd it! Unless, you really want to be a Frugal Miser …

    The key is to balance your spending to what you really CAN afford (in cash).

  16. Bellen:

    After admiring my purse, canvas with leather trim, and telling me she wanted a nice purse like that too, even tho “it probably cost you an awful lot” I let my neighbor in on my little secret – $1.00 at a yard sale. She then told me she ‘deserved’ better than buying somebody else’s castoffs – and she really liked my purse.

    She & her husband are in debt up to their eyeballs, my husband and I have no debt. We all ‘deserve’ to live well, but not at the expense of perpetually owing money to somebody.

    I feel so bad for all the people here in SW Florida who ‘deserved’ those nice, big houses that are in foreclosure. Because of their need to validate themselves, they have put their and their families’ future, finanical & mental, in jeapardy.

  17. Erin:

    I once went out on a whim and bought a $250 ipod with my visa. I had never done anything like that before and told myself everyone is allowed to do it once right? I told myself I needed it to take to the gym with me. That balance stayed on my credit card for a long time, I didn’t end up paying it off until i got my tax refund which was months later. Mind you i still have that ipod, i still use it at the gym and it still works just as good as the day I bought it, but with the way technology moves so fast, I kinda want a newer model now. :(

  18. As a Christian, I am glad that I don’t get what a deserve.

    Good post.

  19. I get very frustrated with Credit card companies using that statement as a form of advertising. “you deserve it” – yea right! you deserve it turns into – here take it now and pay us interest on it for 10 years, because we (credit card companies) deserve it!!

  20. I deserved myself right into the credit card mess that I have right now! I’m getting the mess cleaned up, but now I’m having a hard time deciding on an opportunity I have in September. I will have the cash to do it, but I’m feeling like I “should” use the money to accelerate debt payments.

  21. dawn:

    My sister & I just had a conversation on this topic yesterday.
    Our mom embraced this attitude of “I Deserve It,” and it got her and my dad into so much financial trouble.
    We would try and tell her – only to the point of what you can afford.
    But she and dad, financially speaking, continued to live for the moment.
    “I Deserve It,” can be very toxic on a family’s finances – that’s for sure!

  22. I’ve bought so many things in the past because ‘I deserve it’, being in debt is never worth it. Now if I haven’t the cash I don’t buy it.

  23. Ron:

    “When rewards get in the way of your long term goals, they become burdens.”

    THAT is a brilliant statement.

  24. Right on!

    I think the only thing we all truly deserve is to be debt-free.

  25. I totally totally agree. I’ve read other posts like this one and I remind myself of it often. Not because I’d go into debt for something but just simply not using “deserve it” as a rationalization for buying something. I’d rather “need it” or “love it” even just because it’s not such a reward thing. I agree that treating yourself to something indulgent now and again is imperative to healthy finances but it doesn’t mean you have to use that in a way to bury yourself deeper when there is an obvious alternative to just buy the one you can afford.

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