“Because I deserve it!” How often have you said that? It’s late, you’re tired, and you don’t want to cook. You pick up the phone and order a $25 dinner. You buy yourself a new gadget or outfit to get over a bad day at work. You mindlessly fill up your Amazon cart because you’re bored.

You can work hard and justify that $150 massage, or you can destress with some simple, free lifestyle changes.

Of course, you work hard – you deserve nice things, and a nice life.

But money shouldn’t be used as a constant reward or consolation prize. I have been there, too. I worked a stressful job with long hours.

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Come the weekend, I felt entitled to a good restaurant, or a spa treatment. But after a while, I realized I wouldn’t need all that if it weren’t to relieve the pressure from work.

Part of the spending was reducing my real wage, and I could earn less at a less demanding job, and be just as happy without all the expensive treats.

Over the long term, these little “I deserve it” expenses really add up. Between the nights out, the bottles of wine to unwind on weekdays, the massages, the new clothes… my overspending was well over $500 a month.

Invest $500 a month at five percent over the 40 years of your active life, and you could have $766,189.29 saved for retirement.

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So how do you change the spending habit without feeling down? In his bestselling book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about how habits are formed. They always follow the same pattern: first comes the trigger that will start the behavior. Then, there is the action you take as a result. Finally, your reward, or benefit that you gain from performing said action.

In this example, the trigger is the stress I feel at work. I go through it, thinking that I really deserve something to make me feel better. As a result, when I leave work, l overspend. The reward is, I feel better because I treated myself.

While the trigger will remain the same, for as long as you are employed, you have the power to change the consequences of that trigger. You must still get a reward, otherwise, if you just get rid of it, you will feel deprived. But you can change it, and try to find other ways to reach the same level of satisfaction.

There are lots of free or cheap things you can do to make yourself feel good:

•  Take a hot bath. Nothing better to relax after a long day than immersing yourself in a soothing body of water. Get some nice smelling salts or bubble bath to make it perfect.

•  Have a special dinner at home. I love making pizza and sushi for treats. With a $10 piece of salmon, plus rice and other ingredients, I can feed up to four people for less than $20.

•  Ask your significant other for a massage.

•  Do your own nails. I find self-manicure to be a relaxing activity. It requires focus and blanks my mind from other worries.

•  Meditate. While this is not a routine of mine, sometimes when I am stressed, I just lie down on my back, take deep breaths, and think about something pleasant.

•  Read a book. I love reading with a hot drink in hand, while curled up under a comfy blanket.

•  Invite friends over. Nothing better to take your mind off things. Have each friend bring a drink or a dish and you’re in for a good laugh all night.

•  Go for a run. As tired as you might be when you start, I bet you will never regret working out. The endorphins will energize you, and you’ll sleep like a baby.

And last but not least, picture your goal. In my last year as an employee, my goal was to save enough money to never have to work in an office again. I was so stressed that I had back pain and was clenching my teeth at night.

It was really tempting to swipe my card for temporary relief. But I had my goal in mind. Every $100 spent was one more day that I would have to work in an office instead of being free. That alone kept me away from overspending.

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