Personal Finance

Why Do I Feel Guilty When I Spend Money

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 6 minute read

It’s fascinating to see the range of reactions people have when making a financial purchase. Some people get a rush from spending their hard-earned cash, while others find the act of buying anything to be deeply unpleasant. 

When it comes to making purchases, some people actually feel bad practically every time they do it. Maybe this is the most unpleasant feeling you’ve ever had while making a purchase, but maybe you’re not alone.

Can one legitimately experience remorse for monetary outlays? Is there any way to silence that voice in your head? Guilt might be a warning that you’re being too harsh on yourself, or it can be an emotional signal that you’ve done something wrong. Check out these clues to see if your suspicions of guilt are founded.

When to Feel Remorseful About Your Purchases

The following are conditions in which feeling guilty can be beneficial. The guilt you experience is your conscience telling you to make amends by doing the right thing.

1. You Breach a Promise.

Consider the scenario where you and your significant other decided to refrain from making any purchases this month, but you went ahead and bought a new pair of shoes nonetheless.

Maybe you promised yourself you wouldn’t buy a new TV until Black Friday, but now you can’t stand the suspense anymore.

To paraphrase, keep your word if it was that you wouldn’t be making any financial outlays. It’s hard to build trust if you constantly break your promises. Moreover, how can you have faith in yourself?

2. You warned your spouse about

This is one where I must confess that I have been remiss. I warned my spouse last month that our excessive restaurant bills would have to be eliminated entirely from our budget. 

But then the next day, what did I do? I was so hungry that I gave in to the drive-thru, but I afterward felt terrible about it for more than simply the extra calories. My hubby is quite understanding, thank goodness.

3. You’ve already over your budget

Spend your $50 monthly splurge money on whatever you choose. Once you reach your limit, though, exercise restraint and wait until next month to treat yourself to those new shoes or whatever else has caught your attention. If you overspend, you’ll just be hurting yourself and your family.

4. You Don’t Own the Money

It’s not about ill-gotten gains here. But you can feel bad about your spending if you didn’t earn that money (i.e. common with income inequality in marriage). Not necessarily in the form of hard currency.

Help out by doing things like cleaning the house, minding the kids, doing errands, or simply being there for your loved ones when they need an ear to talk to or a kind face to greet them. 

However, if you’re a complete couch potato and do nothing to help support your family, then you have good reason to feel guilty.

5. You Lead an Extremely Luxurious Lifestyle

If you treat yourself occasionally, it’s not a problem. But if you live a completely self-indulgent life, you won’t have any money left over to help others or put toward your own future. Consider if your spending habits may be described as frivolous or risky.

For instance, if you’re aware that you give in to practically every impulsive buy, you might want to rethink your spending habits. 

The next time an opportunity to make an impulsive purchase arises, try to talk yourself out of it by reminding yourself of all the other things you might be doing with that cash instead.

6. You Fabricate Your Expenditures

You’ve likely had double the guilt if you’ve ever lied to cover up spending when you knew you were already over budget, broken a promise to a loved one, or broken a promise to yourself. 

One major motivation for fibbing about financial matters is guilt, however, this is by no means the sole cause.

7. It Increases Your Debt

There’s no need to get back into debt if you’re already debt-free. Why add to your debt if you can avoid it? This is the same as borrowing money from a bank, a credit card firm, or a friend. Avoid becoming weary of being thrifty by paying off your debts and building up your savings first.

When it comes to managing your money, that is the correct sequence, not the other way around. If not, you risk incurring late penalties, interest charges, and having your credit score drop as a result.

When to Stop Feeling Bad About Spending Money

It can be challenging to rationalize even the smallest of purchases when funds are limited. This list of scenarios should help you realize when it’s time to stop beating yourself up.

1. It Fit Into the Budget

Assume you have $50 to spend each month on whatever you choose and you come across a pair of shoes that you just have to have. You weren’t in the market for new footwear that day, and the only reason you bought the pair you did was because they looked interesting. 

But if they cost less than $50, go ahead and treat yourself. You’ve decided ahead of time that it’s fine to treat yourself to $50 monthly.

2. You Put Money Toward It

You worked overtime at the office, picked up some additional shifts at the grocery store, and managed to keep your expenses in check so that you could finally afford to buy an iPad. You have worked hard enough; give in to your desires. 

Even if you have to put off buying what you’ve earned because an unexpectedly large bill came due, you shouldn’t feel bad about doing so. You shouldn’t go into debt to buy a new toy or device.

3. Whenever You’re Prepared

Put aside money in a retirement account right away, such as a 401(k) or Roth IRA. The next step is to make sure you have a sizable emergency fund that can keep your family going for six to twelve months if you lose your job. 

You will receive your prize in the future if you have done your preparation. To that end, feel no remorse for indulging in a little self-indulgence every now and again.

4. If You Distribute the Wealth

I am a great believer in the value of giving to others, whether in monetary or in-kind forms. Being a good steward is consistently helping people less fortunate than yourself by giving of your time, resources, or possessions. 

Just by prioritizing the needs of others over your own, you have demonstrated your unselfish character. A purchase made only for personal use does not change that reality.

5. If You Need It

Clothes no longer fit the way they used to because, like most mothers, my postpartum body is not the same as my prepartum one. If you aren’t a rapidly developing adolescent guy, though, new clothing is more of a luxury than a need.

However, we cannot stress the need of dressing appropriately enough. Feeling bad about giving in to that desire is silly. Assess whether or not a perceived need is indeed a need before acting on it. 

Do you need it to get by, or are you going to be overstretching yourself if you buy it? In light of this, I went out and bought a whole new wardrobe for myself without feeling the slightest bit of remorse.

6. When You Lead an Economical Lifestyle

Your discretionary spending money goes further when you downsize to a smaller house and use an older automobile. This includes evenings out at nice restaurants. 

Think about how much you want to save, how much you want to contribute, and how much you want to treat yourself every once in a while when deciding what kind of lifestyle you want to adopt.

7. When a gift is given

It’s common practice for recipients to use gift funds to purchase necessities. When receiving a gift card to a store like Target or Amazon, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t feel obligated to utilize the money to buy practical items like dog food or a new garbage can. 

Don’t be a downer and waste the present money; the donor meant you to have a good time with it. Don’t utilize gift money to pay your debts unless that was the aim of the gift; doing so will just put you farther in the red.

Bottom Line

What can you do to stop feeling bad about spending money? A straightforward solution is to practice sound fiscal management. 

Create a plan, keep to it, and live frugally, but give yourself some leeway to enjoy life. Most essential, be truthful about your contributions to the family and give yourself due credit.

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