A few days ago, I was on a call with my client, Emma*. Emma was in the thick of paying off a lot of credit card debt–not from shop-til-you-drop mistakes, but because she needed credit cards to get her through some hard times earlier in life.
We talked about her successes, tweaked a few little parts of her money management system, and generally tied up loose ends.
In the last 5 minutes of our call, I asked Emma if she had anything else on her mind before we parted ways.
At this point, most of my clients say something like, “Nope! I think I’m good now!” From there, we hang up, and my clients march on through life—hopefully, a little better than when I first met them.
Emma did have a question, however, and it hit me at my core.
She said, “Will I ever stop feeling guilty about spending money?”
Every fiber of my being wanted to tell her yes. I wanted to tell her that once she got a handle on her finances, she would never guilty about spending money again. That she would make perfectly rational decisions and never second guess herself.
Only that’s not true.
For some people, perhaps spending guilt goes away. But I’d venture a guess that’s the exception, not the rule.
I’ve personally felt guilty about spending money at every level of income I’ve experienced.
My salary straight out of college was $46,000 (before taxes!), and I felt guilty about every red cent I spent. I felt guilty about buying name-brand paper towels, guilty about shopping at T.J. Maxx(TJ Maxx Return Policy), and even guilty when the electric bill got higher than I wanted to pay.
I figured my guilt was warranted. I really didn’t have much to spend, and I thought I just shouldn’t spend any of it.
But even during my peak earning years, when my wife and I topped out at well over 6 figures, the spending guilt didn’t go away. I still hung on to mostly hand-me-down furniture, only shopped at TJ Maxx (generously, for 4-6 outfits per year).
There was virtually never a time between $46K & $136K that I felt good about spending.
I talk about money mindsets a lot, and I believe that having a positive mindset around money is of high importance if you want to move the needle on your net worth.
That said, I have never developed a truly positive mindset around spending. I feel positive about saving, investing, and planning for the future–but spending? not so much.
What I tell people is to only buy the things they need, love, and will use for a long time. I believe that’s the right mindset, although I trend toward not buying anything at all until I desperately need it—and then buying the cheapest option I can find.
In the interest of honesty, I shared my story with Emma, but I also shared with her this–
To this day, I still feel guilty about spending money, but it has gotten better. I can go to the grocery store and buy name-brand goods and feel fine (although I do prefer some generics) and I am not leaning into the territory of hoarding money anymore.
And I also think learning to budget early on with $46K made me really good at prioritizing. I cut out a LOT of stuff I don’t need so as to afford the things I really, really want-like…
Saving up for my trip, And getting the house I really wanted, and invest in some good stocks.
At the end of the day, I still feel spending guilt, but I also think that spending guilt has channeled itself into creating a life that’s a true reflection of what I want to be, do, and create in the world. My spending reflects my absolute highest priorities.
If that’s the result of spending guilt, it’s probably not so bad after all.
So tell me–do you experience guilt around spending? Did you find this helpful? Let me know in the comment section below.
*Of course, Emma is a fake name!