Do You Have Spending Guilt Or Frugality Disease?

Do you have frugality disease? I do, which is one of the main reasons why I've started to decumulate my assets at age 45.

My parents taught me never to order a beverage other than tap water because prices were astronomically high compared to cost. 

Until this day, I still have trouble ordering anything other than a glass of water with a lemon slice if I'm going out to eat.  I start rationalizing how water has zero calories, is plentiful, and good for me. Meanwhile, I'm craving the $6 fresh young coconut juice to go with my chicken satay at my favorite Malaysian restaurant.

One of the best tricks I've devised to overcome spending guilt is to actually purchase what's desired, marvel at it through the duration of the return policy, and return it! If there was a 30 day return policy on cars, I would literally be the most hated customer in the area because I would have no shame buying a new one every other month and handing back the keys. 

I'm addicted to cars and their new car smell, even though I've stayed “sober” with Moose for over 5 years now. Today, I still follow my 30/30/3 car buying rule even though I have way more money than I will ever need.

Old Frugal Habits Are Hard To Break

Look down upon me all you want, but I'm telling you I have a frugality problem which needs course correcting.  People have told me I'm overly frugal or cheap many times before. Each time it stings.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I decided to create a challenge to only buy things with only the money I earned online during that 4-day weekend.  Who the hell works online during those four days?  It caused me to think more deeply and go seek business.  I concluded that practically everybody outside of America works on that Thursday and Friday. Ao I pinged my Australian and English clients.

I managed to secure $1,100 in online income that weekend. Therefore, felt relieved I could go spend some money on some socks and business shoes. I mustered up the courage the first week in December to hunt for my favorite Tod's loafers at Barney's. They usually run $485 a pair after tax and are never on sale. 

Miraculously, I found one good enough for my liking for “only” $315 after tax.  I bought them immediately and brought them home to admire.

I'm keenly aware that $315 is still a ton of money to spend on shoes. However, relative to the income generated during the same period, it's not much. If I hadn't made any peripheral money in addition to my day job income, I would definitely not go ahead with the purchase.

I highly encourage all of you to stop letting frugality lead to lifestyle deflation. enjoy your hard work and sacrifices from time to time. Otherwise, you will regret working so hard and stressing so much.

In fact, conduct a regret minimization exercise to help you be more intentional with your life!

Spending Debilitation Strikes Again

It's been over 10 days now and I still haven't worn them outside!  Spending guilt has taken hold again, given these shoes are more than double what I spend normally. 

I cannot fight the urge to return the shoes and go find some other sale for a third the price. The kicker is that since Thanksgiving weekend, I've done much more online and still can't manage to step outside and scuff the new soles!

By highlighting my monthly personal credit card expenses, I fear it'll make me want to spend even less.  I even write posts expounding there's no point making money if you don't spend your money to will myself and others to stop being so frugal.  For the life of me, I can't break free from my spending habits.

Related posts:

The Best Things To Buy With Your Massive Investment Gains

Before Having Kids, Consider Spending Lots Of Money

Reader Questions And Recommendations

I'm curious to whether any of you also have spending guilt and frugality disease when you can afford the items?  What are some of the things you do to make you spend a little and not feel guilty?  Why are we so conditioned to act the way we do?

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Photo: Tod's Shoes. Are these shoes worth $315 after tax? I'll wear them 5 days a week.

63 thoughts on “Do You Have Spending Guilt Or Frugality Disease?”

  1. When I was growing up money was always scarce and what little we got was stretched as far as it could possibly go. Our beds were dirty old mattresses salvaged from the dumpster (mine had an old blood stain bigger than I was, but it was better than the floor) and we lived on beans and white bread most of the time, so needless to say splurging on things like “new” clothes from the thrift store was a very big deal and didn’t happen very often. Money was a source of constant distress and family turbulence, culminating in a divorce and the foreclosure of my childhood home.

    I’m an adult now, far away from there and not nearly so financially strapped, but that mindset has been burned into me to the point that spending any money at all makes me literally nauseous. And I’m not talking about getting Starbucks or going to concerts or buying a new phone. I wear my clothes until they can’t be worn anymore before going to Goodwill for more, then panic the whole way home feeling like someone is going to come bust me for spending $50. I won’t drive my car or mow my grass for weeks if I can get away with it because the thought of the dollars ticking up on the gas pump makes me sick. I’ll skip meals to put off the next grocery trip as long as possible.

    I can afford not to do these things, but I was so conditioned to associate money with fear and uncertainty growing up that I can’t get out from under it, even when I’ve just gotten a $700 paycheck and know for a fact that it won’t total me to go buy a pair of $10 shoes. Maybe eventually it will go away or diminish, but somehow I doubt it.

    1. I’m sorry you’re struggling still with your inherited sense of scarcity. I too grew up poor and now I can more than afford anything I desire, but I feel guilt when I buy something “too nice” like I stay away from brand names, I’m proud of my thrifting or sale finds. I rarely ever pay full price for anything.

      If you’re unable to purchase food for yourself and clothes that are suitable for your work or aren’t so worn that they have holes, then perhaps it might be worth it to visit with a counselor. I saw mine for many years and she really helped me undo some of the things I inherited from my upbringing. You should be able to set a budget for yourself and purchase items you need to live and not be without.

      I sometimes play a game. I call it “what’s my willingness to pay for this item.” I cover the tag and set an amount that I deem fair for that item taking into account quality, longevity of that item and how much use I would get out of it. (Think winter coat that you wear daily vs a t shirt you’d maybe wear once a month) then I reveal the price tag. If my WTP was higher than that amount then I buy it. If not I pass.

  2. Guys, just buy what you NEED, buy what is worth it. You decide if those $300 shoes will be worth it. Will they last long? Do you love them? If not, buy something cheaper.

  3. “One of the best tricks I’ve devised to overcome spending guilt is to actually purchase what’s desired, marvel at it through the duration of the return policy”

    There’s nothing wrong with returning something you decide you don’t want or like–but to make it a routine lifestyle choice ultimately passes the costs on to other people. I do not approve.

    1. Ditto what Doug says. Frugal means being careful and prudent with your money…and others. Cheap means being frugal with your money and profligate with other people’s money. Purchasing something to use that you intend to return is cheap at best and immoral and dishonest at worst. Yes. The policy permits it, but a well-formed conscience would not.

  4. I’m half Dutch, and my wife is still way more frugal than I. I have been taking about buying a big screen tv for years, but said I was going to wait until my 27″ tube tv wore out. We have the money, even have extra income, that would easily take care of this, but every time I mention it, I get the “whatever you think is best” deal. I feel I have earned it, but she is also right that we don’t really need it and we can still watch stuff on the old tv. Haven’t figured out how to deal with this. Wait until we have holograms in our living room?

  5. I think you made a wise investment on the shoes. Classic style. High quality leather. If you wear them every day to work 48 weeks in a year, 5 days a week. You are paying a little over $1 a day to wear the shoes. This is cost effective.

    If you have a sweater in your closet that you paid $100 for and haven’t worn it even once a year…then you have wasted your money.

  6. Ah, I did love the grunge era! Lol. But yeah, I’m going to treat myself to some new, needed, and well-deserved clothes at the after Christmas sales. I actually do think Payless makes sense for trendy shoes. You’re right, it’s great to wear the stuff you really love, not save it. Great post!

  7. Hi. I’m trying to find answers on spending guilt too. I have advanced to the stage where I look truly shabby all the time in thrift store clothes and Payless shoes. Yet I work like a demon to make over $100,000 a year in a corporate job. Like you I bought pricey for me $100 sandals 2 years ago as an experiment and have only worn them maybe 4 times so I don’t ruin them. Lol, writing this makes me see how sick and silly I’m being. Maybe we need to start with small smaller indulgences, feel good about say, the $6 juice and take baby steps up from there. What do you think?

    1. Sounds like good steps to me! Sounds like you’ve got it worse than me w/ the thrift store cloths and payless shoes. However, those are great stores! The only thing I wonder is you looking “truly shabby”. Maybe grunge is back in?

      Where you favorite things the most!

  8. Marissa @ Thirty Six Months

    There are lots of worse things to be than being Frugal. I get spending as well now, oddly it wasn’t something I had experienced before.
    My parents, especially mom, is extremely good with her finances, and she taught us to be aware of our spending habits. However, the frugal mentality took a while to develop. Now I have to justify every big purchase.

  9. I can fully understand the spending guilt… I have been talking myself out of buying a digital SLR camera for over a year now, despite having the money saved many times over! But from reading your comments throughout this post it is obvious you REALLY want these shoes and have justified their existence, so wear them and enjoy them and let that drive you to earn that much more extra income in January.

  10. I would have a hard time spending that much on shoes. My wife thinks I need to lighten up a bit and spend more on things. Even though I have plenty of money now I still like living cheap. I just keep reinvesting as much as possible.

  11. I think I have frugality disease… at least with respect to clothes. I’m not sure I would spend that much on shoes. But you picked a good way to do it by trying to spend only “extra” money you made. Of course, if you would have made that money anyhow then that changes things. I have no problem with people who want something specific “finding” that money by working more or selling something to get that particular item, even if it’s a luxury. (Of course, if people are in a bunch of debt they probably should apply that same “gusto” to earning money to get their finances straight…). Two cents :)

  12. I don’t have spending guilt unless something I buy gets wasted. I figure I save most of what I earn anyway, so when I do spend something, I go for quality and am comfortable with it.

    One area where I spend a lot is on food. It makes sense to me; food is an experience (both of the senses, and a social one), food should be nutritious, and food can have a big impact on the environment and on animals, so it makes sense to always go with quality in my view.

  13. Jeffrey Trull

    One trick I use to more when it’s deserved is to purposely save or budget for that item first. I know I’ll feel less guilty if I feel like I’ve thought it out and worked to earn that thing, whatever it may be.

  14. I, personally, wouldn’t spend that much money on shoes, because that’s just not my thing, but I’d say if you want them, and you can afford them, then they’re worth it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with splurging once in a while. (I actually wrote a post similar to this today.)

    Oh, and I’m totally with your parents on the drinks thing when eating out, though for me it only applies to fountain pop. The markup on milk and juice and similar specialty drinks isn’t too bad (high, for sure, but in line with the food markup at a restaurant) but the markup on fountain drinks is off the charts. A restaurant charges $3 for a coke that cost them (literally!) about two cents. I just can’t handle that one! Haha.

  15. All of you folks with Spending Guilt and Frugality Disease – SEEK HELP! You are hurting our economy. Don’t you know the world’s economic welfare rides on the backs of the US consumers? Get out there and spend your money! The world can’t survive if we all become savers.

  16. I have spending guilt only on things I say “yes” to but feel coerced into purchasing. For example, I think our household is fine without a TV. (I really don’t own a TV). However, my other half is begging for a huge 60″ flat screen. Thankfully, he is okay with waiting but I don’t know if I’ll ever have the guts to say “okay, let’s get it.” And if I do, I know I’ll have huge guilt afterwards. Spending wads of money is just not a comfortable experience. ;)

  17. What about value and style? I wonder why value products can’t just be stylish too? Like, why can’t a car designer just design something that looks like a Ferrari instead of a Nissan Leaf? Doesn’t cost much to draw!

    1. I’ve always wondered this too. My wife tells me that expensive clothes “fit better.” Why in the world can’t the cheaper clothing manufacturers figure out this magic formula of good fit and apply it to the cheap stuff?

  18. I understand what you mean by having guilt about buying something so expensive when there are so many cheaper alternatives. However, you have earned them, you can afford them, and they will last longer than your other main shoes (just guessing here…lol).

    1. Who knows! Affording is one thing, eradicating the guilt is the other. This is what I’m having the most difficulty with.

      Guess there’s always an extra buck to save or invest. It’s never-ending.

  19. Sam,

    Tod’s are nice, but they never fit me quite right. You made want to take a look at Ecco shoes. They are also very high quality (they used to get worn every day and were on and off many times a week due to the airport. The last set lasted me 4 years, and even then the insoles were what failed (even after replacing them). They are a nice middle ground at about $200. Of course if you break it down to a price per day or price per hour, I’m perfectly fine paying $.02 an hour for comfortable shoes.

    1. OK, will try Ecco. Never tried them on caught my eye, but will try.

      I think that’s the thing. I’m probably too lazy to spend hours looking for another shoe, since I HATE shopping! AH HAH! This is another enlightenment. thx!

  20. We’ve been spending a little too much this month (or more like a lot!) but we had a trifecta that collided this month and I am just looking forward to starting fresh in the new year.

  21. I say you strap on the shoes and run outside before you can think. lol. I sometimes suffer from the same and have to shove myself mentally to go against this frugal side of me.

  22. Interesting thoughts sam – usually I dont mind ordering things other than water at a dinner out, but usually when I do its booze – I think the mark-up on soda is high, and I dont drink it anyway. That’s the nice part about online income – it really makes spending a bit extra on yourself easier because you can just earn it back!

  23. Wow, Tod’s loafers. Nice! That’s Mrs. RB40’s favorite brand although she hadn’t spent any money on them lately. There is no way I would spend $300+ on shoes. I am way too cheap to spend that kind of money. If you love it, you should keep it. It’s a reward for working hard over the long weekend! :)

  24. I came back to blogging for a reason – I have a spending problem and I want to change it. So, yes, I have spent $300+ on shoes before. But not because I wanted to spend actually. When it comes down to shoes, I’d rather pay for quality and get a pair that will last, instead of investing in ten pairs of crappy shoes. It all depends I guess.

      1. I guess no one wants to spend $300 on shoes but you see something that is really comfortable and great looking and you don’t look at a price tag too much. Unless it is waaaay over your head. :-)

  25. I have the hardest time finding shoes that fit and are comfortable so I only buy new ones when my existing pairs have totally worn out. $315 isn’t cheap but if they fit really well and you don’t already have a working pair I think it’s reasonable to keep them. My work shoes cost about $220 after tax and I get so much use out of them and they’ve lasted over 3 years already with a few more left in them. I dread shoe shopping so I tend to pay up for a pair that fits really well and will last so I don’t have to go shopping again for a while. Clothes on the other hand I get really cheap because they are much easier to fit and find replacements.

  26. I usually do not have spending guilt, however I only buy what I need (generally replacements) getting the maximum discounts I can find. If I can not find the item at a good discount (around 50%), I won’t buy it. For example, I could use a new terrycloth bathrobe. I generally look at stores like Marshalls, but there were none I wanted. I went online and found an $80 one on sale for $40. I like high quality at a low price, hence value conscious. It also lasts longer and provides better service.
    The guilt comes from what we learned from our parents. It skews our value system. As far as the shoes, I only buy highh quality shoes and keep them a very long time. I have a great pair of wing tips that are 33 years old. They still look great!

    1. Wow, 33 year old shoes………….. glad they’ve lasted so long for you! Good having a cobbler!

      I just dislike shitty shoes. I wear em everyday, so I might as well get something really nice.

      1. You know the difference between rich and poor is the condition of your shoes! Quality shoes feel better and will last longer. All you have to do is take care of them.

  27. I know what you mean. I still feel like I am in kindergarten and I have my ‘school clothes’ and ‘play clothes’. If I spend much on anything, I hide it away until I really need it. It is totally stupid because you would think that each use would bring the cost per wear way down.

    What would you do with the 150 extra dollars you spent on the shoes that makes you feel so guilty? You have the money, get those shoes out of the box and move on!

    1. Hmm, that’s interesting that you hide your nice stuff? Should you be wearing your nice stuff the most and chucking your bad stuff?

      Good point on what I’d do w/ the extra $150 dollars. Maybe go out to eat and stuff. Can’t think of anything!

  28. Well Sam, you and I are in different worlds. First, I wear shoes maybe once per 6 months. My work shoes I wear once per two weeks. My sneakers the rest of the time, and I buy them at Costco and Walmart, never paying over $20.

    You spend $315, who cares? You’ve got the money, it’s yours.

    1. Hey, if I can wear sandles or flip flops for half the year, I probably would too!

      The reason why I care is that it bothers me despite working so long and earning extra income I still feel guilty spending this money.

      1. “The reason why I care is that it bothers me despite working so long and earning extra income I still feel guilty spending this money.”

        I COMPLETELY HEAR YOU! I have been saving money from online ventures only for a new laptop…but I can’t seem to pull the freaking trigger! Even though I saved for it, I have allotted myself such a small budget and have spent too many hours searching.

        1. Maybe try and challenge yourself to make 10X the value of the laptop before you pull the trigger? I was gonna buy a new MacBook Pro on Black Friday, but spent $30 on a new OS upgrade instead and freed up space and improved performance. Gonna wait til next BF now!

  29. I have a degree of frugality disease, as you call it, but most if it is tempered by a lack of desire for stuff. I don’t care about clothes or shoes, don’t play video games (other than casual phone/computer games that are free or a dollar), I don’t crave splurges on expensive hobbies, and I enjoy a good meal at In-N-Out burger just about as much as a fancy dinner at a sushi place or steakhouse.

    That said, years ago I made a conscious decision not to be “cheap” like I always perceived my parents to be. I don’t believe in going somewhere on a nice vacation and then skipping the famous museum because of the $5 entrance fee (we may skip the museum due to lack of interest, but not because of the cost of admission). I don’t believe in going to a concert and driving around for half an hour to avoid paying $10 in parking and thus missing the beginning of the show. If I need to buy something, I will often buy the nicer and more expensive version if I feel it will give me a better value (longer-lasting, preferred features, etc.)

    I would not pay $315 for shoes. Heck no. There are many, many things I would prefer to do with that $315. Including burying it in the ground to be discovered years or decades later.

    1. I can relate 100% on not cheaping out on stuff that are truly important or things one will use frequently. Hence, why I decided to go on the nicer ship to Europe this fall for about $1,500 more. In fact, it’s the same reasoning with shoes since I’ll wear em so much. But since they are a material item that can be had for much less, I feel bad.

      Would you still feel bad buying $315 shoes if say you made an extra $10,000 in side income since then for example? If so, maybe you do have frugality disease!

      1. Yeah, I wouldn’t buy the $315 shoes under any circumstances. The reason that the $10k in side income wouldn’t budge my position is that, at this stage of my life (age 27), any money not spent gets invested. We put away $4-$5k a month in our checking accounts (no, we are not tempted to spend it despite its accessibility) and when investment opportunities come along, we invest it. We just opened escrow for our second rental house and are about to make an offer on a third. In 10 years, if I’m making $10k a month in side income, and need shoes, I may look a little higher end (or my wife would – she does all my shopping fortunately). But today and for the foreseeable future, I have no reason to think that a $300 pair of shoes will do anything for me that a $30 or $50 pair won’t do.

      2. Cool. Sounds like a good plan to build wealth. So essentially, you are saying no amount of money made would compel you to buy $300 shoes.

        Do you mind giving me a lead to where I can buy $30 leather dress shoes? I’d like to check em out. Thx

        1. Haha, to be perfectly honest I have no idea how much my shoes cost. I have 3 pairs of dress shoes for work and my wife bought them for me. She’s the queen of finding deals on stuff like that though so I’m sure they were all under $60. Probably not $30 though.

  30. Wow, Financial Samurai – you have the opposite problem as I do!

    I’m still trying to train myself to want even less stuff (my most expensive footwear is a $90 pair of Timberland hiking boots with over 3,000 walking miles on them now). Not because I can’t afford it, but because I find that wanting less seems to make me happy. Perhaps I’m addicted to minimalism.

    On the other hand, you appear to be making an absolute crapload of money these days, which would indeed present different challenges.

    You’re a really generous guy – maybe if you set up a big charitable foundation that did something like promoting entrepreneurship and scholarships, and mentally dedicate all your net worth to go to that eventually, (someday when you don’t need it), it would provide the “higher cause” that would allow you to feel good about your frugality no matter how rich you become, rather than guilty for cheating yourself out of killer fancy shoes :-)

    1. I hear ya. Desiring less and desiring nothing increases happiness for sure. It’s the Buddhist’s way!

      I plan on working on the Yakezie Scholarship/Writing Contest for 2012 agai . Perhaps you will help contribute and spread the word! Thx

  31. They are beautiful shoes! I can’t tell with much accuracy from the picture, but they seem to be of very high quality, meaning they’ll last longer, which generally, for shoes, means they’ll even out in the end for cost-per-use if you’re taking good care of them!

    Great post! I’m checking out this challenge now; I definitely need to get a reign on my spending!

    1. They are well made and very comfortable. I figure since I will wear them 4-5x a week, might as get something of good quality. Kind of like a mattress.

      The challenge of making side income and use only the side income generated to pay for superfluous items is a good one!

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