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Are You an Abstainer or a Moderator?

moderator vs abstainer

When it comes to goals, there are two types of people out there: Abstainers and Moderators

Many personal finance bloggers try out “no-spend” or “no-shop” challenges where they abstain from certain purchases for a set period of time. I’ve never had much success with these types of challenges (in fact, I rarely go 2 months without buying something, even if it’s just something small like a belt or clutch). Originally, I thought I just lacked the sheer willpower (and, ahem, awesomeness) of other bloggers, but apparently the reason is that I’m a Moderator, not an Abstainer.

According to The Happiness Project:

You’re a moderator if you…
— find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure – and strengthens your resolve
— get panicky at the thought of “never” getting or doing something

You’re an abstainer if you…
— have trouble stopping something once you’ve started
— aren’t tempted by things that you’ve decided are off-limits

Abstainers and Moderators need different types of financial goals

Figuring out if you are an abstainer or a moderator will help you set financial goals in a way that encourages your success (instead of secretly undermining you).

An abstainer would find “No” goals – NO Starbucks, NO shopping, NO going out to lunch at work, etc. – a way to motivate herself into saving more money. A moderator, however, would chafe at such absolutes, and would find MORE/LESS goals easier to stick to. A moderator should instead aim to drink LESS Starbucks, buy FEWER clothes, bring lunch MORE often.

I am definitely a Moderator. The thought of “never” getting to do something – buy something, eat something, try something, etc., makes me break out in a cold sweat. It’s akin to a giant case of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. For example, I’ve dramatically cut back on clothing/accessories purchases and Starbucks consumption compared to years past. But if you tell me I can’t buy anything or drink a latte for a year (or more), the FIRST thing I’d do is rush to the mall and clean out the entire Sales section of Banana Republic while chugging a Venti vanilla soy latte.

Hat tip to Blonde on a Budget

Are you an abstainer or a moderator? How does that affect your financial goal-setting?

  • Life [Comma] Etc - I love having terms for this kind of stuff… and not that you talk about diets too much, but I'd be curious how you think this could apply to how people eat, too. Abstainers would need hard and fast rules about what's a good food and a bad food. Moderators would just try to eat less…. but somehow when it comes to food it seems like Moderators would just talk themselves into eating "fewer" steaks. (Read: I talked myself into eating a steak just writing that sentence). ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I think Abstainer vs. Moderator model is a great one when it comes to diet/health. I can't stick to ANY diet plan that says an absolute NO to any food – even if it's a food that I don't like. I just don't like the feeling that I'm not allowed to eat something, even in moderation. On the other hand, I've had a lot of success in limiting or moderating my intake, and it's helped me to lose weight and still be able to splurge once in a while.

      Abstainers would just say no to steaks, foreverandeveramen. Moderators, on the other hand, would just have fewer steaks, in quantity or frequency or both. But to succeed as a moderator you really do MODERATE your intake. No cheating! 😉 ReplyCancel

  • Emily - What if I'm not a coffee drinker???

    J/k I'm definitely an abstainer. That's why my low-sugar diet worked so well for me. No cookies, cake, candy, or citrus fruits ever again? No problem! Peanut butter is OK but only in small amounts? Big problem!

    The abstainer mindset work well for staying out of financial trouble. I've decided never to carry a balance on a credit card, pay a late fee, skip a month of our savings plan, buy lunch at work… – so I don't. ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - No cake ever again!?! The moderator in me died a little. Hahah kidding (kind of…). ReplyCancel

      • Emily - Flip side: As much meat, cheese, and oil as I could ever want. I'll gladly give up cake for bacon. ReplyCancel

  • Nick - I'd like to think I"m an abstainer (I like to be "extreme"), but I'm definitely a moderator too… I like having a bit of drag to slow me down and point me in the right direction. I think a year of abstaining could be doable for me and accomplish a ton considering we make pretty good money but I'm not sure about my wife, who would probably pull her hair out abstaining for a year while staying at home with a 7 month old and a 2 and a half year old…). It would definitely not be fair to her, obviously. So moderation it is! ReplyCancel

  • Melissa - I'm DEFINITELY a moderator. I don't really do well with abstaining from something all the time, if it's something I enjoy. I do, often, make rules for myself. One of my vices is that I get take-out coffee often. Partly because I just like my regular spots, and partly because I just drink a lot of coffee! When I was super broke, I made this rule for myself: In any given week, I could have either one latte, two Americanos or three regular coffees. Basically, I allowed myself to spend $5 a week on coffee, which isn't going to break even the tightest budget. I kept my spending way under control, and didn't at all feel like I was giving anything up. Similarly, I have a rule where (generally speaking) I won't eat out or pick up takeout unless I'm with another person, so my buying food instead of making it at home is social, rather than lazy. Again, not missing out, but still keeping my spending in check. ReplyCancel

  • Christopher @ This That and The MBA - Hmm i try to do the moderation, but my wife just got a job in the past few months and we are still feeling like we came into new money. We have been spending a bit more because we have only had one income for the past 3.5 yrs. Bills are still getting paid and we are saving for retirement but we havent built up that emergency fund yet…. ReplyCancel

  • Frugal City Girl - I'm definitely a moderator! This has caused a little tension as Frugal City Boy is an abstainer, and I didn't realise how difficult he found it when, for example, I have a glass of wine (but no more) in evenings – he saw it as either a No Drinking Night or a Drinking Night (in which case there wasn't really a line between a glass and three glasses). It took us a while to work out why we were fighting over "why are you starting down the path of binge drinking?!"/"why are you accusing me of binge drinking when I'm having one glass of wine?!" Now we've realised that what works for us is just different. ReplyCancel

  • Cait - You know which one I am! I think the word "no" just makes me angry, even when I'm saying it to myself… ha! ReplyCancel

  • jmbyberg - hmm. I'm not sure what I am. I'd like to be a moderator but try to be an abstainer… in some areas, nothing seems to work for me. Recently I tried to put myself on a bit of a diet from fast food/ take out and cut our food bill. I did not decide that I would not eat take out / fast food altogether- just that I would cut down a bit. Even though I hadn't decided to abstain completely, when I did get a $5 hot and ready pizza after a couple weeks of no eating out I felt like I had failed and things went downhill from there. I ended up binging and ate out way more than I normally would have! It was like I just gave up. I would like to be a moderator but I seem to naturally make absolute goals that just set me up for failure… I suppose a better way to have challenged myself in regards to the food would have been to set a dollar amount of what was acceptable to eat out rather than vaguely say that I was going to cut down. ReplyCancel

  • Newlyweds ona Budget - Your picture cracked me up! one of the many reasons I love your blog ; )
    I am much more of a moderator than an abstainer. I think everything in life should have balance. And what's the point of living your life if you're just saving for retirement the whole time?! Balance is key. ReplyCancel

  • Leigh - I'm definitely a moderator as well. By setting a spending plan that has lots of room for the things I want, e.g. clothes and shoes and lunches out, then I don't feel guilty by spending on those things. I used to set $0 clothing budgets and then I would go and spend hundreds of dollars, which drove me nuts. So abstaining definitely doesn't work for me, but moderation does :) ReplyCancel

  • Jordann - Moderator over here! Except for one thing: Shopping at a lululemon store. Something about their advertising makes me go bonkers, and its better if I just avoid it altogether. For everything else, if I abstain, I just end up binging. ReplyCancel

  • thisaggiesaves - I'm a mixture of both when it comes to different things. I moderate spending on clothing and abstain from impulse daily purchases. ReplyCancel

  • oilandgarlic - Husband is moderator. I'm an abstainer. Sigh… I do like to do things in moderation but I find that I tend to spend/splurge and unless I make it a real habit of not doing something, I go down that slippery slope quite easily. ReplyCancel

  • Happy_Homeowner - Hmm…can one be a mix of both?? I'm definitely an abstainer in some aspects (latte habits, etc.), but I'm a true moderator when it comes to travel experiences and periodic indulgences such as good chocolate or vino. ReplyCancel

  • bogofdebt - I'm a moderator for the most part. I tend to abstain from Starbucks because I'm not a huge drinker of coffees or lattes or whatevers. But occasionaly I will buy one. I am like you-tell me not to have something and I will go and make sure I get it all. I usualy reference why I don't diet with this. When I "diet" and can have no cookies, I'll be good for a bit even if I'm craving cookies. But about a week or so later, I will eat a gigantic batch of cookies instead of the 1 cookie I would have had when I first had the craving. So mostly moderation for me. ReplyCancel

  • wmwo - I'd say I'm more moderator, but I've thrown in a few abstaining habits over the last year to try and get my money under control. I fully intend on reverting back to a full (responsible) moderator once I'm back out of debt. If I don't allow myself the occasional treat, I end up binging and spending more than I intended. ReplyCancel

  • seedebtrun - Can I be both? Or does that make me a moderator? ;P

    I always try to completely abstain from things, but I don't freak when things come up. We are completely abstaining from going out to eat, for example, but my son wanted to go to a restaurant for his birthday and we took him. No problem. Also, we are completely abstaining from buying clothing right now….but then my husband *accidentally* gave away all of my summer clothes, so I had to buy a few pieces. I don't ever buy coffee or gum or treats, only drink maybe one drink every couple of weeks (at home!), so I think I'm a mostly abstainer with a level head about the things I have to purchase in moderation. haha…I'm such a pain in the ass. I couldn't possibly just pick one, right? 😉
    -Michelle ReplyCancel

  • krantcents - I am definitely a moderator! I spend within limits. Do I splurge, I do not think so. ReplyCancel

  • eemusings - Totally a moderator. That probably leads me to set less ambitious goals than some – but I'd like to think of them as being more realistic. ReplyCancel

  • jeff sustainlifeblog - I am surely an abstainer – saying "no" to things is easy for me, but if I'm trying to do something that I like but moderate it, it's hard for me to stop unless I put other road blocks up. best example: beer. If i've got some, I'll drink it, so I do the following things: I dont buy it and keep it at home often, and if I do buy it, I buy in single servings (like a 24 oz can) instead of a 6 pack. It may be more expensive that way, but at least i can still get stuff done. ReplyCancel

  • YPFinances - Moderator. I can't give up things completely but as long as I can do them in moderation, chances are I won't do them very often, if at all. It's all psychological. ReplyCancel

  • Shopping to Saving - I'm a moderator! My BF is an abstainer. We make quite the match haha. I like to stay balanced..or basically moderate all of my activities. I get bored easily (sometimes I think I have ADD) so it's much easier for me to be a moderator rather than an abstainer. ReplyCancel

  • Harry - Moderator.

    You may want to check out http://www.GoalsOnTrack.com, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It’s clear, focused, easy to navigate, worth a try. ReplyCancel

  • BlueCollarWorkman - I am definitely a moderator and my wife is definitely an abstainer! The balance works out well :) ReplyCancel

  • SavvyFinancialLatina - I am definitely a moderator. I am always thinking about the budget but sometimes can help but splurge here and there. ReplyCancel

  • @momoneymohouses - Haha love that cartoon because once I read it I was like "Yup, I'm an abstainer". Stupid latte factor has made me feel guilty when I buy a latte instead of a normal cheaper drip coffee. ReplyCancel

  • Little House - I'm definitely a moderator – I would never say "No Starbucks!" When I need to reign in the cash, I just cut back on things, but I don't cut out things for exactly the reasons you pointed out: I feel heightened pleasure from them! ReplyCancel

  • Food Friday: What I’m looking forward to eating after Passover ends | Frugal City Girl - […] ban, rather than just moderation, makes it so much worse. (Well-Heeled Blog had a good post about absention vs moderation this week, […]ReplyCancel

  • Anthony Thompson - Me? Moderator, of course. Abstinence to me sounds and feels almost like a curse word. I don't believe in living a life purely based on instant gratification. However, I don't think that constantly deferring gratification works either. In fact, I don't even think that it's healthy. There has to be some type of balance. So, my vote is moderator. ReplyCancel

  • @Financeyoga - I'm a moderator by nature. It just comes naturally to my personality I guess. Interesting and unique topic.

    Jeremiah Brown http://financeyoga.com ReplyCancel

  • Andrew - I guess I'm a moderator and didn't know it. There's not very much I totally abstain from. ReplyCancel

  • Weekend reading from the Cult | Cult Of Money - […] Abstainer or moderator?  It works in so many areas!  Go check out the Well heeled Blog. […]ReplyCancel

  • AmericanDebtProject - I loved this! I am an abstainer. I have to be, it's the only way I've learned to exhibit impulse control. I am like a Pringles commercial, "once you pop, you can't stop" and I know my spending would quickly spiral out of control. So until I get to just a little more comfortable place, I have to abstain, abstain, abstain. But I'm happy with it so far. ReplyCancel

  • Food Friday: What I’m looking forward to eating after Passover ends : Frugal City Girl - […] ban, rather than just moderation, makes it so much worse. (Well Heeled Blog had a good post about absention vs moderation this week, […]ReplyCancel

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