If there’s one money tip that’s repeated time and again, it’s the importance of sticking to a frugal budget. This money rule says your bills and necessities come first, and every other penny should be put away in savings or investments.
But, what this advice doesn’t account for is the need to treat yourself every once in a while. No one tells you that you can be smart about your money without sticking to the sale or clearance rack. In fact, it’s OK to shell out the money for a lavish dinner with friends, or that you should feel free to dole out the dough for an expensive handbag or new pair of shoes.
You work hard, and you should feel amazing about spending money on things you love. The problem is, that can be easier said than done. It’s pretty normal to feel bad when buying expensive things — especially for yourself. Luckily, there are ways to conquer this issue.
If you feel stressed, anxious, or guilty when making big purchases, here’s why it happens, and what you can do to spend money on yourself without any guilt.
Why do people struggle with expensive purchases?
So, why do people spend the way they do, and why do they struggle, feel guilty, or feel judged when they make expensive or luxury purchases? Well, the answers aren’t always cut and dry.
Your childhood experiences with money may cause you to struggle with financial matters. In fact, you may not even know how to spend money on yourself because of what you learned when you were young.
Let’s say you grew up in a household where money was tight and you watched your parents struggle to make ends meet. There may not have been enough money in the budget for groceries for food every month, or your family may have had to move from one house to the next because it was tough to pay rent.
Your parents’ stress over money matters would have had a huge impact on how you view spending. It may feel wrong to buy things that aren’t “necessary,” and spending on the things you want might leave you feeling insecure or guilty.
Or, perhaps you’re on a limited budget now and you’re concerned about running out of money for the necessities, like food or rent.
You may have overdrawn your account recently, or had your card declined while in line to pay for a coffee or groceries. The fear of running out of money can lead you to keep an eye on every dime that leaves your account, and you may try to stretch every penny.
That can also make it tough to spend money on yourself, especially on anything that’s a brand name or comes with a full retail price.
Or, it could just be that you feel like the money you’d spend on an expensive subscription, a weekly delivery, or some other splurge could be going to something more useful or important instead.
For example, you may think that the money you want to spend on an expensive purchase should be diverted to your savings instead. Or, you may think it’s smarter to make an extra rent or car payment with your extra cash.
The feeling that you’re using your money the “wrong” way can also cause guilt to creep in. But, using your money for things that make you happy isn’t wrong. It’s just unfamiliar.
Our past experiences with money have a big impact on our spending habits today and can get in the way of making the purchases we want to make, no matter what the payoff would be.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are ways to make yourself feel good about spending on yourself, with no guilty feelings attached.
That doesn’t mean spending without abandon, though. You still have to make good choices for your money.
After all, there’s a pretty significant difference between spending your money on things you love — even if they cost more than you’d normally spend — and simply buying whatever you want and dealing with the consequences after the fact.
The first step in the process is to learn how to decide whether or not to buy something expensive. If you know whether or not you should buy something expensive, it will cut those guilty feelings down immediately, and make it much easier to spend on the things you love.
How to decide whether to buy something expensive
There are a few easy ways you can decide whether it’s a good idea to spend on something expensive, and it starts with being conscious about your spending. For starters, you should make sure to:
If you want to buy something new, it may be smart to use more of what you have first. Once you’ve used up what you already have, you’ll feel less guilty about indulging in something new.
Let’s say you want to buy an expensive gym membership at the top-of-the-line gym that just opened down the street. It offers all of the classes you want, including that spin class your current gym doesn’t offer, but there’s just one problem: your old gym membership doesn’t expire for another two months.
You’ve already got a perfectly useful gym membership, so why do you need to double-dip for the next two months? If you want to avoid the guilt from the big purchase, you should use the one you have until it runs out.
Once it’s time to renew, go for it! Feel free to splurge on that more expensive membership. There’s nothing wrong with working out — in fact, you should; it helps with stress levels and helps keep you healthy — but you can’t be at both gyms at once, so you don’t need two memberships.
If you use what you’ve got before spending, you’ll feel a lot better about the choice you made for your money.
You may also want to find ways to earn more — and that doesn’t mean waiting for your next big raise or promotion or figuring out how to save up for something expensive. If you take on a side gig, a part-time job, or find another way to earn a side income, you’ll find it much easier to justify the splurges you make.
Let’s say you’re hesitant to buy the new pair of Jordans you’ve had your eye on because money is tight. You’re earning enough to cover all the necessities, but Jordans aren’t a necessity right now.
Well, it doesn’t take long to find a secondary income stream to fund your purchase. And, it doesn’t have to be a long-term thing, either.
If you have a skill that you can use on a freelance or contract basis, you can take on a couple of short-term projects on the side to fund your expensive purchase. Or, you can purge some of the things you own that you don’t use and sell them to cover the costs of your new kicks.
By working to earn more money to fund your extra purchases, you aren’t risking damage to your budget or your savings, and you’re doing what makes you happy. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Dedication can pay off in multiple ways, but one of the best ways it pays off? It helps to remove the guilt from expensive purchases.
Let’s say you really want to spend a couple of hundred dollars on some new running shoes, but you feel bad even thinking about spending that on shoes. Well, it becomes a lot easier to justify the costs of those super high-tech running shoes if you dedicate more of your time to running.
Or, let’s say you want to finally take the plunge and buy an expensive kitchen gadget that you’ve had your eye on. You can justify the purchase by making a promise to yourself to dedicate more time to cooking at home rather than eating out.
These small changes to your habits can make it a lot easier to stomach the idea of splurging on yourself and your wants. The purchase becomes purposeful, and if you stick to the dedication you’ve promised in return for the purchase, you’ll get payoffs in other ways, too.
You’ll become a better cook, or maybe save more money on your food bill each month, or find yourself in better shape from the new running schedule. And, all of these positives will make it less stressful to indulge the next time, too.
Consider the personal value
If you want to nix guilt from the equation, you should also consider the personal value of your purchase. We’re not talking about the resale value of the item, though. That can be helpful, but what’s even more helpful is to weigh what the purchase means to you instead.
Think about what this purchase means to your everyday life. Does it fill a need? A void? Can you grow from it? Does it help with your productivity, like a fully-loaded laptop or tablet would?
Consider what the purchase will help you with, and decide whether that value will continue past the initial excitement of the purchase. That can help you decide whether or not it’s a purchase worth making.
Take, for example, a big purchase like a dream trip overseas. You may not need that trip for anything. It won’t help with your productivity, it won’t add value to your work or home, nor will it fill any other day-to-day necessity.
But wait! That doesn’t mean there’s no value to the purchase, though.
You can still find value in the trip. Perhaps it will allow you to immerse yourself in a foreign language, the one you’ve been trying but failing at grasping for the last two years. Being bilingual or trilingual (or more) can be an extremely useful skill — one that can pay off in many ways.
Or, perhaps it allows you to learn about your heritage, or meet distant relatives for the first time, or it will bring some other connection to your life. That’s all value that can’t be quantified — but it’s valuable to you, so there’s justification right there for your purchase.
The same goes for anything else that enhances your life in a useful, meaningful way. That could be an expensive information product or a class that teaches you a new skill, or new training, or a new degree.
Decide ahead of time what metrics the purchase is going to move the needle for. If you can find a concrete payoff for yourself via a new opportunity or a new skill, you’ll have a concrete reason to pay for something, even if the price tag is extremely high.
Determine whether it adds value in other ways
Personal value is useful, but it’s not the only factor at play. If you’re making a big purchase but are having trouble justifying the price, you may want to consider whether the value is there in other ways.
Let’s say you’re struggling to decide whether to spend the money on a beautiful, top grain leather laptop bag. You love the bag, but you don’t love the price tag — and there’s a cheaper one on another website that would probably work, too.
Don’t just immediately jump on the budget bag because it’s not as costly. Think about the value of each of the bags. Does the more expensive bag offer more useful features? Is it going to make it easier to travel for work? Is it going to last longer? Does the warranty offer lifetime coverage?
There’s value in all of those factors, too. A budget purchase may not be the right move just because it makes you feel less guilty. You may have to replace that budget buy in a few months or a year because it’s worn and torn or falling apart at the seams.
That other bag, though — the one with the higher price tag — will be something you can use for years on end. If it falls apart or fails, the warranty covers the replacement or cost.
Or, think about whether the purchase will save you money in the long term. Let’s say you have an older but perfectly fine SUV with a massive V8 engine. You want to upgrade your vehicle, but you’re having a hard time with the idea. It feels unnecessary and irresponsible to buy a new car when your old one works just fine.
But, you haven’t considered that you commute to work, which is expensive when gas prices are high. And, the regular upkeep on the engine is getting more costly every year, too.
In this case, the value you’ll gain from having a new car with a solid warranty and a flex-fuel engine outweighs the value of keeping your old car. It’s actually a smart money purchase, despite the big price tag. Your gas costs will be lower, and the repairs won’t cost you a dime, at least for the next several years.
This type of value is just as valid as personal value when it comes to expensive purchases, so don’t overlook it. Weigh whether these types of factors justify your purchase and you’ll cut out the guilt in no time flat.
How to make expensive purchases less stressful
The bottom line is this: we all feel guilty at some point or another about spending money on ourselves, but we shouldn’t. It’s OK to spend money on the things you love and the things you want if you make your spending decisions consciously.
Use what you already have before buying, find ways to fund your big purchases, and dedicate more time to using what you buy or pay for to make the money worth it. That alone will help rid you of the anxiety and guilt that comes with spending lots of money on a purchase for yourself.
And, be sure to weigh whether what you’re buying has value. That value can come in many different forms, whether it’s adding a new skill set to the mix, meeting a personal need, or just being worth more in the long run.
If you take the time to incorporate the tips above, you’ll feel free to spend on what you need or love without the negative emotions bogging you down. That makes all of the work you do before swiping your card worth it.