Four Tips for Dealing with Spending Guilt

by Jessica Sommerfield · 0 comments

We’ve all done it. We were convinced we needed something, bought it, and then felt guilty about it (sometimes even before leaving the store!) Just this weekend I made a purchase I felt was justified because I needed it. But it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, so I ended up finding and purchasing the correct item a few days later. I still have the first item and don’t plan to return it for various reasons, but I still feel guilty for spending more than I needed to because I bought something I wasn’t 100% satisfied with.  While my purchase wasn’t an impulse buy, as most shopping guilt is associated with, it still carried the same effect because I’m an extremely frugal shopper and a minimalist and it really bothers me. Since spending guilt a common problem, I’d like to share a few tips on how to deal with it.

Don’t suffer from false guilt.
I tend to be hard on myself (I’ve heard it’s a trait common of firstborns), and that includes my spending. While having a budget and savings goals is important, don’t be a Scrooge. Sometimes the best use of money is in purchasing something we can enjoy, no matter what the lasting value. Don’t deprive yourself just because you don’t feel like you’ve earned it or deserve it. Have a logical reason for depriving yourself (such as debt elimination or a savings goal), and plan in a reward after a ‘spending fast.’

Don’t punish yourself.
It’s human nature to want to punish ourselves when we feel guilty, whether that be physical or mental. If you overeat, you might punish yourself by severely restricting your calories the next day or pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion at the gym. With spending, we often ‘punish’ ourselves by telling ourselves we are either (a) stuck with the item, even if it doesn’t meet our needs, (b) required to return it, no matter how much we like or need it, or (c) restricted from future non-essential spending. While these reaction are an attempt to regain control, they are often unnecessary and even harmful to our spending mentality and habits.  By forcing yourself to keep something you don’t need or even want anymore, you are encouraging the build up of clutter, making yourself unhappy, and possibly becoming a pack rat.  Conversely, forcing yourself to return something you need or just want can lay the groundwork for feelings of deprivation, which can lead to binge spending. That’s not to say if you have to choose between paying the electric bill or keeping your $100 shoes, you should keep the shoes, but if, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not going to hurt anything, allow yourself the mistake.  You also shouldn’t tell yourself you’re not allowed to have blow money anymore. Everyone needs a splurge now and then to relieve stress and enjoy simple pleasures.

Learn from your mistakes.
While you shouldn’t grind yourself into the dust over a spending mistake, you also shouldn’t ignore it. If nothing else, mistakes are useful for the learning experience they provide. Study the scenario to determine what triggered you to overspend or impulse spend. Was it pressure from friends? Was it because deprived yourself too long? Were you in a setting or store where you have a particularly hard time retaining self control?  Once you’ve determined why you overspent, make a plan of action to avoid it in the future. One simple thing might be to enlist a friend to shop with you and help you stay accountable.

Make something good out of it.
Although they cause us grief at the time, epic spending blunders can provide great material for stories and laughter for years to come. If you can’t stand to look at the guilty purchase, return it or gift it to a family member or friend who will appreciate it. Whatever you do, don’t wallow in spending guilt. It’s just money…get over it.

Bonus Tip:

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