Why I’m Feeling Guilty Spending Money

by David@MoneyNing.com · 40 comments

guilty with money

I noticed the way I spend money changed. Not only am I spending less, but I feel pressured to not spend even for necessities. In short, I think I changed myself from frugal to cheap.

A few weeks ago, I asked everyone whether I should celebrate on my big career accomplishment and splurge. I ended up not spending a dime. In a way, this is good since I didn’t waste my money on something I might regret later, but some might say that I have almost gone mad with saving money.

guilt and moneyThe argument is that I should reward myself for making such a big accomplishment with SOMETHING… ANYTHING. I agree with this somewhat, but when I think of all the things that I want, I just couldn’t get myself to purchasing any of it even though I can comfortably afford the bill.

When I shop, I don’t look at the features or how it might be useful for me. The most important deciding factor of purchasing something has become the hit it will have on my bottom line.

“I want to retire early” I think to myself.

“But if I end up retiring early and do nothing at home every single day, would I be happy?” I know I will just drive myself crazy if my day was too relaxing (maybe that is a problem in and of itself).

I feel sad about this sometimes. Isn’t the idea of saving money so we have some to spend?

During the weekends, all I can think of is how much activity A is and how much activity B will cost. This is totally unhealthy but how do I get out of this? How did I get into this?

This seems to be a problem many people face, or have to deal with: How do we balance the current and future since they both compete for the same pile of wealth? Do you have a systematic approach to this or do you just go by feel?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Pamela cordova says:

    i think I’m the opposite of you. I spend a lot on unnecessary things and I don’t feel guilty that mess.

    But I’m in a terrible mess right now. College student and in debt.

    Do you think college students should have credit cards? My university recently had a post that says students should have credit cards…

    What’s your opinion?

    Write a post about this!

  • Jennifer says:

    I find having a budget helps a lot. We have a fixed budget for groceries and also for personal expenses. I can enjoy spending my “pocket money” on anything I want, including hobbies / personal care etc. without worrying about it.

  • Jacqueline says:

    I have a terrible time spending money. I am always in fear of not having enough or not paying my bills. It’s so easy for me to buy for my children or husband but when it comes to me I can’t. I can’t buy myself clothes, I’m only 28. Young, in shape and I feel confident in my looks but I dress like I’m poor. My husband gets so angry with me because I wil not spend on myself. And if he buys me anything I take it back, I just have so much guilt having anything nice. We grew up poor, my three brothers and I. I never had new clothes, everything was second hand. Never any good, I ate ketchup sandwhiches or opened a can of corn when I was a young kid for hunger pain. My mother is an emotional spender, was always buying tuff when we were kids. My dad always complained about spending money. I remember when I came into puberty my dad was upset because he had to buy me feminine products. Maybe this burden to not buy stems from my childhood? My parents divorced when I was a young teen and I lived with my mom who was irrisponsible. We never had money and lost our home often. I went without breakfast and lunch and ate dinner every few days. So I became accustomed to going without. Unfortunately it drives my husband crazy now. He loves to spend and wants me to look nice and enjoy myself because if it just money to him. Why can’t I do this? Do any of you have any tips for me to overcome this ridiculous mindset? Thank you all so much.

    • Graceyzamora says:

      Try to look good without spending too much…dont waste your youth and looks because when u get old u will realize what have u missed. Try too look good for your husband dont give him a chance to look for another woman. U understand that u went without…but pls love yourself

      • Jacqueline says:

        Thank you for your response. You are right about the fact that I do not want him looking elsewhere. I wished I could just get over this mental block of sorts. I don’t want to waste my youth, I feel like I have done that a bit.

    • Genea Wyrick says:

      Hello, I am a 24 year old female living with my boyfriend and my dog. My story is very similar to yours, and I really could relate. it was nice to see that somebody else out there in this world has similar issues and I’m not just crazy googling random things.

  • Jenn says:

    Thank you for this post. After reading this post, I feel that I can ease my mind of all the harsh things I’ve been telling myself. I am not alone!! I am 30 years old. I am a elementary teacher, and I stress about money in every way. I feel like I have a lot of stress in my life, but I have actually come to the conclusion that it all stems from spending/not spending money.

    For example, it is 12:37, I have been up since 7:00 and have been dreading going to the grocery store for hours! What is my deal? I need food to live, and I LOVE food, but I don’t want to pay for it. Food is not free!? Why can’t I accept that I work hard and save money so that I can buy the things I need.

    Another example. I often complain about not having hobbies that I like. However, could it be that hobbies cost money, and I don’t want to spend money to participate in those activities? I love crafting, being on the water, and drinking wine–but all those things are expensive.

    I was raised in a family of big savers. I learned early on save…everything, not just money. I remember this coloring book that I had, it was an Aladdin book. I had a favorite picture in the book. Normal kids would go straight to that page and start coloring, not me. I would wait and wait and wait–but 25 years later, that page is not colored. And now I have no desire to color it. What is my fear? That it’s not the perfect time? But we might not get a tomorrow!! I frustrate myself with these kinds of actions. I feel that even this example shows how I am with money. Often, I want to buy something, but I just keep putting it off until I don’t want it anymore. Therefore, I never get what I want.

    I am even planning to get married. I love this man, but I believe the money-stress of the wedding is making me not want to get married. He lives paycheck to paycheck, whereas I have the money. Therefore, the wedding costs will fall on me. This is causing constant fear and resentment because I feel he cannot support me.

    Thank you for all your listening ears…any words of advice is appreciated. It is nice to be surrounded by like minds.

    • Jacqueline says:

      Did you have your wedding yet? I hope you have found some tricks to overcoming your spending fear. Let us know how it’s going.

  • Johnny B says:

    I’ve just recently started looking at this fear I have and reaching out to others, getting their experiences. I was 26 when I was finally clear of school and landed my first job, low 6 figures in the medical field at a hospital. I was ecstatic, even if I did have a mountain of debt behind it. I spent money, paid my bills, and was relatively happy. When the bubble popped, and shortly there after the new health care bill passed, I found myself at the mercy of the medical markets. Hospitals slashed costs. I lost my full time position only to have “as needed” work. I had to cash out any and all saving/investments, and they were rather meager.

    The bottom of the barrel for me was on my 32 birthday, I had moved for the 4th (4th!!) time in a year, bouncing from cheaper place to cheaper place. I needed a few kitchen items so I decided to go to the Target down the street. I stood looking at the dish drains for several minutes trying to decide if I really needed the $5 one or could I just settle for the $3 version. It hit me like a kick to the stomach. I broke down and cried in the aisle, I just couldn’t believe what was happening. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was a dish drain. I still laugh when I think about it.

    Four years after losing my full time status, working other jobs, and living paycheck to paycheck, I was finally hired back at 4 days per week after a co-worker retired. A year and a half of working 4 days/week and I’ve managed to save a little but am so risk averse that I am pretty paralyzed. Seems like everywhere I look someone is having the same problem. The issue is, I don’t think I’ll ever fully be over this. I went through some tough times and felt like a complete failure. When I graduated I had to move half way across the country for my job. I didn’t have money for 4 years and missed so many family gatherings. Now I feel like I can’t forgive myself…it’s a terrible way to live.

  • Kevin says:

    Hi, great post and found it as its at the top in Google. I am like ” housewife” Feb 20. Amassed , retired and scared to spend for irrational fear of losing due to poverty in childhood. Well, we now know the reason. So what I do is taking baby steps to be more charitable. Gives me more joy than splurging on stuff I don’t need .

  • JJ says:

    Excuse me, please. I mean toilet paper, paper towel and kleenex. Sorry for the goof. I just had a senior moment a few years early! ????

  • JJ says:

    Hi again, folks. I’d like to tell you what I do and why I do it. I buy organic toilet paper, toilet paper and kleenex because it’s conserving trees. I use rags to clean with instead of paper towels—it’s environmentally friendly as well as money-saving. I don’t buy as much paper towel if I clean with rags. Yes, organic & recycled are a bit more expensive, but worth it. The way people use them as if there’s an unlimited number of trees to cut down. I just try to conserve in other ways—but I can use advice in how to conserve even more without compromising my principles. I feel that if God expects us to be proper stewards of our finances, shouldn’t we be the same with the natural resources He provided?

  • A says:

    So glad to have found these posts. Most of the blogs about clothing on the web are “How to stop buying all the clothes that you don’t need” instead of “How to buy the clothes you actually do need without feeling guilty about them”. My husband has been helping me with this. He told me I HAD to, so I finally bought the prescription sunglasses that I need (sun was giving me headaches driving home from work) and the expensive sandals that I need (I have feet problems and have not worn skirts or dresses for years rather than invest in expensive shoes).

    Now that I have purchased new shoes I am seeing the other gaping holes in my wardrobe but am still hesitant to spend money. I feel ungrateful. Haven’t I just spent a lot of money? My fear of spending money is not helped by my insecurity. I don’t really know what clothes I look good in and I hate buying something to try and realizing I’ve spent money unnecessarily (even though most of my purchases are cheap 2nd hand.)

    Thank you all for your comments. It helps me not feel like such an oddball.

  • Sarah Johnson says:

    It seems like there is a common theme… Fear of the future. Once you can identify what saving gives you, then you can begin to look at the issue more rationally, and make the changes you need to live more balanced, more happy.

  • housewife says:

    My husband and I have amassed almost $2 millions in net worth and yet I can’t get myself to buy a $30k car 🙁 I truly believe that our childhood have a lot to do with it. I always felt insecure and scared growing up and I still feel like that sometimes. My husband is predicting that we will have millions (accumulating because we will have company pensions and investment income to live off and thus not needing to withdraw from savings) and yet I can’t feel free in spending JUST IN CASE SOMETHING BAD happens tomorrow!!! How do I overcome this fear? Help!!!

    • IndGuy says:

      I can relate to this well !
      I believe I have enough wealth to maintain my current lifestyle till I am 100 years old, still pass on remaining savings money to my children WITHOUT dipping into any of my retirement money funds and assets.

      However, I am still extra careful with spending money esp. on myself. I am trying to deal with this and at times spent on luxury occasionally. However I spend too much time rationalizing the purchases !
      Still I have learnt to spend it sometimes. but it does not come naturally.

      One constant worry is landing in some unfortunate situation where I don’t have ENOUGH money to tackle it. Also worry about children, the next generation and feel any money set aside for children is never enough !
      ( example : what if I have medical situation where I need $1 million to treat it…..
      and/or need to similar amount to my kids if they fail to get good grades and secure their future ….)

      I think the insecurity will always remain !

    • Donna says:

      I grew up with relatives who amassed millions of dollars but ended in poverty due to health issues later in life. Stop feeling guilty about being frugal. Frugality does not mean you are selfish. It means you spend money on things that you feel are worthy. I would not pay $30K for a car either. Being prudent with your money is not something you need to fear. Being wasteful and a spendthrift is. Relax. Enjoy life. You don’t need to be insecure–just mindful. THAT is NOT something to fear.

  • Felisha says:

    I feel the same way. My problem extends to things that I actually need though. I am currently in a crazy cycle of paying down debt and I’m killing it. But, as one example, I need new glasses and new contact lenses. But I keep telling myself, “A few more months…after this bill is paid off…I can wait another month.” It’s a good thing and a bad thing.

  • Been There says:

    This original post was several years ago, I see, but there are some relatively recent comments, so maybe someone will still be around to read what I have to say about the topic.

    First off, to the OP, yes, it sounds like you are definitely in “cheap” territory and quite possibly suffer from a type of cash hoarding disorder (yes, they do exist). Hopefully, in the intervening years you have sought help or figured a way out of this on your own.

    In my experience, I believe at least part (perhaps most) of this kind of behavior trap comes from our upbringing, but I suppose there could be a genetic component as well. I say this because my dad behaves exactly like this, as well as one of my siblings. I too, leaned this way, but I have another sibling who appears to have escaped intact (as far as I know).

    My dad practically lives as if he’s poor. All while we were growing up, and he was still working, he worked all of the overtime he could, and was extremely, extremely cheap, but he said it was for retirement. Well, as you probably have guessed, retirement came years ago and nothing has changed. My mother suffers because of this, especially because I think she believed that her life would improve post-retirement. My dad has admitted that he just CAN’T spend money even though he knows that his pension alone provides more income than he could spend–and there are many other retirement and non-retirement accounts in addition to the pension.

    My sibling is actually worse. From a young age everything was about preserving every penny, even to the point of taking advantage of friends and family in order to come out just a little bit ahead. He continues to live this way, and with the same argument that it is so he can retire early. I do not believe he will be able to turn his behavior around without help. He is SO FAR on the other extreme that it would probably take years of therapy (or possibly something more extreme–see below) just to get him to baseline “normal” spending behavior.

    I also suffered from this kind of mindset, although to a lesser extent than my father or brother. I would still spend, but saving/earning was too important to me. I realize now that no matter how much I would have saved, it would never have been enough. Money took on an identity that I can’t even explain, because I lost sight of its actual value.

    What woke me up is losing everything. Ahh, the financial collapse of 2008…I’ll never forget it. 6 figures of savings gone in a heartbeat, and not just barely 6 figures either. I was extremely depressed for several months, but thankfully I came out of the other side with a much healthier appreciation for money and with a better understanding of how much is enough.

    The accumulation of money lost it’s death grip on me and this has actually helped me become more successful. It was an absolutely horrible experience, but I’m not sure if anything else would truly have worked.

    Money is a means to an end. It is a tool. Nickel and diming your way through life WILL NOT make you a richer person–metaphorically or literally. With that type of relationship with money, you are doomed to lose out in the long run, whether it is by cheating yourself of opportunity, being too risk averse, dying with a pile of unused cash while you’ve lived a life of poverty, etc.

    I wish you a financial disaster and then a speedy recovery! Just like any other addiction, you must hit bottom before you can begin to rise and conquer!

    Been There

  • Witty Artist says:

    It’s good and healthy to save money. But when this leads to the extreme of feeling guilty when buying something you wish for, well, that’s stupid in my opinion. Of course we would all like to retire as early as we can; but that doesn’t mean we should turn into robots, without enjoying life. A little flexibility is more than welcomed in everyone’s life – not splurging, nor scrooging – just living life as it comes and as we shape it.

  • HS says:

    I have been in this rut too far too long (saving, saving, not spending even though my circumstances did not demand it and I have amassed decent spending – and in fact, need some clothes and general personal maintenance like a decent car as I run my own consulting business and need to look good to clients) to the point where my husband informed me that I looked horrible. To save my marriage from sliding, I forced myself to go out and spend about four hundred dollars on a few selected high quality items… wow, finally having jeans that fit was a revelation (by the way I felt terrible about how much I spent and literally racked myself over it for weeks and weeks) – and now I realize that gosh, it’s good to spend on oneself strategically, plus high quality purchases last a lot longer and look better and are way more functional, thus enabling one to cut down on clutter… but yes, it has been a huge upward battle to spend money on myself whereas I have no problem forking out for friends & family.

  • Emily says:

    My husband told me that I needed to go out and buy myself some new clothes since most of mine are hand-me-downs and do flatter my figure at all. I’m feeling terrible because I know that the money he wants me to spend on myself could be going towards more important things like vacation, or something like that. I’m really terrible, because I’ll go out with my friends and family and have $100 to spend where $15 of that would go on a meal and the rest I would spend on them. I don’t know how to get out of this funk.

    • Ivy says:

      If you do anything at all purchase something nice to “go out in”. Going out is not something most of us do daily. It is a start. Split your closet, with one side 1) Nice and 2)Everyday. Saves time when your looking for what you need. Or just change your earings often. Less expensive and you feel great.

      Good Luck

  • Jag says:

    I felt the same and couldnt bare it anymore, out of desperation, I searched the net and stumbled upon this blog, thank you so much Ning, for posting this, I glad to know that I am not alone… Yes, budgeting for “play money” seems to be the best solution for the problem I face and also trying to take things easy..Not to fear the unknown future.

  • nate says:


    The fact that you have saved 92% of your income from the past six months is great, but what is it that you are saving for? I think your case is a little extreme if you are “hating yourself” for spending and eating less than you would want just to spend less. You are so young, please realize your money worries aren’t supposed to come until later. Try this: set a budget. realistically save somewhere from 25% to 50% of your allowance (if that’s what it is). Then you will KNOW you have 12.5 or 25 pounds per month to spend and you wont have to feel bad about it. 50% is a phenomenal savings rate by anyone’s standards. good job thinking about money so young but try not to be so worried about it…. good luck.

  • Emma says:

    I have this problem and i am only 13. I get £50 a month and for the past sixth month i have saved up £275. But everyday i think about that £25 i spend over the last 6 months. sometimes i hate myself for it. Once i bought a pair of shoes and i felt so guilty about it i returned them for the money. I need someone to tell me what to do about this becuase my lunch every weekend costs £3.45 and i stopped eating as much so it only cost me a pound. help..

  • Stacey Grindal says:

    Well I can completely relate to wanting to save up to 505 of your weekly salary. I think to myself well I am here for 40 hours a week every week except Christmas. Public Holidays.I have gotten to the point where I have told myself to stop. In a few years I have managed to save a significant amount of money for my future an amount most can only hope for when they retire. To me it is never enough. I feel gut wrenching guilt when I spend money on myself even for a trip to the salon. Now it has gotten to the point where I have nothing to wear literally as I have worn my expensive levis for so long they have a hole in it. Pretty much everything expensive has worn out at once and I have just reached my goal. I need these things. I am dressing like I am poor when it is the exact opposite. Its gotten to the point that I feel anxious and un deserving for something I have worked so hard for. So now I am trying to un do my harsh ways and get a healthy balance because this isn’t healthy. I don’t need to punish myself. The voice in my head is saying try harder don’t be so weak. So I am making myself fo these expensive purchases this weekend so I don’t have people pittying me. Ultimately it is my fault for letting it get to this extent. So to all those stresser you do deserve to have nice things for the amount of work you put in. If you have already put away enough for the year that you esitmated give yourself a break. Dont go without clohes. Enjoy life, live happy, if buying that nice dinner out will relieve a bit of the daily grind stress do it. Find a balance 🙂

  • MoneyNing says:

    Mrs Micah: I’m not sure if quality of life is the same as a happy life. I think a happy life is more important though…

  • Mrs. Micah says:

    I sometimes even feel that way about food. Could I eat even cheaper? Could I eat less? It’s a hard mindset to get out of sometimes. But the point of saving, is , afterall to increase our quality of life, so it’s important to develop a good quality of life…a happy life (even if it’s on the cheap).

  • MoneyNing says:

    Andrew: Actually what you said about the clothing is so true. So many of us don’t spend anything on our clothes and we don’t realize how much opportunity we’ve missed to present a good image.

  • Andrew says:

    I go by feel. If I feel like I really need a stress reliever (night out) or a reward (buying a coffee instead of using the company’s free tea) I do it.

    Cost is not the same as value. I try to maximize (present happiness + expected future happiness). For example, I could buy really cheap toilet paper (that would make me unhappy many times a day) or I could buy a fancy brand (which would make me unhappy when I pay my grocery bill).

    I’m happiest somewhere in between, e.g. good quality on sale for something I need. Or, if I need a new shirt for work, I find one at a good price (relative to the market) which makes me feel like it’s a deal (happy I’m saving), but ABSOLUTELY MUST fit well and make me look great (not just for my self-esteem, but my boss is happy to introduce me to other managers and clients because I make the office look good which helps at salary time).

    Like Jim said, saving is only a means to an end not an end in itself.

    • Jag says:

      This is exactly where the problem lies: ” I’m happiest somewhere in between, e.g. good quality on sale for something I need. ” You buy something and enter into a loop thinking if you really need it, or if you need it; if it were really a bargain.. that is the problem….

  • MoneyNing says:

    Carl: Wow that was probably a better call than any stock will give you 🙂 Congratulations on that and hope to see you back in a few years…

  • Carl says:


    I sold my house in Irvine, CA and moved with my wife and dogs to Raleigh, NC in spring of 2006. I could see the writing on the wall, and wanted to lock in my profits. I think we will move back to Orange County in a couple of years, but there is no hurry.

  • MoneyNing says:

    Carl: Good advice 🙂 $500 a month is a good chunk of money to be able to spend it on anything.

    Btw, you mentioned that you used to own a house in Irvine (I’m assuming Irvine, CA). Where do you live now?

  • Carl says:

    I used to have this problem, especially when I owned a house in Irvine. What I have found helps is to budget some “play money”. For example, my wife and I budget about $500 a month to do whatever with. We can go out to eat if we feel like it, she can buy some new jeans, I can get a new CD… it doesn’t matter since we already have a budget. This way you don’t need to feel guilty because you are still keeping to your sound budget

  • MoneyNing says:

    Lise: Work towards your goal. As long as you have the desire to accomplish this, you will be able to do it.

  • Lise says:

    I guess this isn’t really a problem for me yet because I don’t feel I’m at a point in my life where I *can* splurge. I very much feel like I’m “living on the edge” and I worry whether or not I buy a pair of jeans will lead me into a cycle that will have me falling into bankruptcy. I like to think I’m reasonably secure, but with only a very small emergency fund and no non-retirement investments, I still feel like all it would take is a job loss or a serious illness to ruin me financially.

    On the other hand, I often what it would be like to HAVE to live with less… so I guess I’m not obsessed with this so much as concerned, as I feel I have the skills to deal with financial shortfalls.

    I want to retire early, and for me, I KNOW that’s what I want to do. I am so full of hobbies, and interests, and intellectual curiosity that I often feel stymied by the fact that I spend the best hours of my day at work. So I guess I’m saying I haven’t reached that point yet, because I have a clear final goal in mind and I feel strongly about it.

  • MoneyNing says:

    Jim: Great to hear that I’m not alone and there is hope. 🙂

    I am happy to say that I have had nice dinners with my fiancee because of this so maybe I’m not so cheap after all 🙂

    Good luck to you too and thank you for your advices.

  • Jim says:

    So, I guess I’m not the only one who feels unnecessarily cheap. I had a bad habit of blowing lots of money on frivolous purchases after I graduated college and entered the workforce, and after a few years of reality set in and having purchased a house a couple years ago, my feelings towards saving and investing have changed dramatically – for the better. So much so that I am also having the same feelings of being cheap, but I don’t look at that as being a bad thing – just the contrary.

    Because of my newfound frugality, I’ve amassed a small, but respectable cash cushion and investment portfolio and I take tremendous pride in that. In fact, when I come across a windfall, I gladly sock it away into my investments and get just as much if not more satisfaction from that than going out and purchasing a Nintendo that may give me a few months of temporary enjoyment before I get bored with it.

    The key for keeping my frugality in check is balance. There are certain purchases that I feel provide a worthwhile value that I really don’t think twice about such as nice dinners with my girlfriend or travel to visit family and friends.

    My advice to you is to figure out your priorities and goals and develop a spending/saving plan with those in mind. Simple advice, I know, but it’s worked pretty well for me. Best of luck to you.

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