by Jenny Smedra
Last weekend, after a shopping spree with my niece, I had a strange realization. We had spent the day browsing and bargain hunting in the local outlet center. And as always, I wondered if I should return my purchases to save money. As we were shopping by the window and sipping our coffee, I felt very guilty about spending money. Although every item I bought replaced a worn item in my closet, I felt guilty about each one. From the $ 5 drink in my hand to the $ 50 pair of shoes in my pocket, I felt selfish for indulging in an afternoon of splurging. I kept telling myself that I should have spent this money more responsibly.
When my niece noticed the turmoil I was going through, she asked me a very good question: Why do I feel guilty about spending money? Even if it’s being spent on things I need, why is it so difficult to spend money on myself?
Getting to the root of the guilt
The more I thought about this question, the deeper I realized the problem was. Even when I was young, I denied myself things in order to save money. I rarely looked at candy at the checkout and generally avoided shopping until I was forced to leave. My family wasn’t poor, but we always struggled to make ends meet. We only spent money on things we needed. It doesn’t matter to think about things we wanted.
During the leanest years, I always made sure that I did my part to avoid wasting food and to save every penny I got. I was already a natural saver so learning where to put it helped me save on my first car. However, I didn’t touch the balance on my savings account until it was time to buy the vehicle.
In fact, I never spent any of the money I got from birthdays, holidays, or summer jobs. Every dollar went to either my savings account or monthly bills. I’ve never spent my savings on things I wanted; just what i needed. This trend continued throughout my studies when I was living on a barebones budget. While this lifestyle suits a hungry graduate student, I had more breathing room early in my career. Even so, I still feared that there would come a time when I wouldn’t have enough to pay the bills and regret those stupid purchases. I am still saving and saving today to stretch my budget.
The negative effects of feeling guilty about spending money
When I started asking others if they ever felt guilty about spending money, I found that many people had the same fear that I felt every time I spent money on myself. While I don’t think I’m extremely afraid to spend money, I do recognize that this is not a normal reaction when I buy things that I need. In reality, this hesitation in spending has had several negative effects on my life.
Looking back, I can remember several instances where handing over large sums of lumps was very similar to a bowel stroke. Even if the money were used for investments, tuition, or cars, I would adjust my spending habits and keep my belt tightened. Despite living well below my means, I lost comfort and convenience in order to save a few dollars.
That is, until I decided I was tired of living this way and went on a shopping spree. After years of limitations and denial of simple pleasures, I’ve had enough. So I decided to travel and used my credit cards like there was no tomorrow. The impulse buy that I made over 10 months took two years to pay off. In addition, the guilt I then owed for getting into debt made it even more difficult to buy small things like quality clothes or household products.
When I saw how far into debt I felt like I didn’t deserve to have new things. So much had been spent in my mind that it would be years before I was back on track. Even though I was able to pay off my debt, I still beat myself up for all the wasted dollars that could have been better used on retirement accounts or investments. However, as I keep telling myself, what is done is done. The only thing you need to know is to learn from the past and move on.
Coping Mechanisms When I Feel Guilty
Today I am much more balanced with my finances. While I still refuse to pay large sums of money for things, I’ve learned to deal with when I feel guilty about spending money.
1. Make room in your budget.
I keep a strict monthly budget to make sure I live within my means. However, I also know that putting money aside for myself is important to my social and emotional wellbeing. That’s why I’ve set aside 5% of my monthly earnings for fun money. As long as I know it will be included in my budget, I don’t feel guilty about spending any money.
2. Investing in quality products will save you more money in the long run.
Another way to streamline expensive purchases is to invest in quality items. As they say, you get what you pay for. Therefore, I can alleviate my guilt by reminding myself that buying things that last will save you more money. It may cost more at first, but well-made items pay for themselves in a timely manner.
3. Small indulgences prevent expensive impulse shopping.
As many people have pointed out, when you’ve worked hard to achieve something, it’s important to reward yourself. With this justification, I can justify small indulgences, which in turn reduces the likelihood that I will give impulses for shopping. As long as I have met all of my other financial obligations and am still under budget, there is no need to feel guilty about treating myself.
After reviewing these three coping mechanisms, I found that all of my purchases met these requirements. So I decided to keep it all. In fact, I’ve already used or worn most of the things I’ve bought. But you can bet I kept all of my receipts just in case.