How to overcome spending guilt
For some of us, spending money on the things we enjoy comes easily and freely. For others, it can be hard not to feel anxiety or regret when we splash out on non-essential items. Have you ever felt bad for buying a pair of trainers you wanted but didn’t really need, or for indulging in more takeaways than usual? Maybe your conscience even stopped you from making a purchase at all. Feelings like this are commonly referred to as spending guilt. What triggers this guilt may vary from person to person. With the cost-of-living crisis driving prices higher, you might have experienced this feeling more than usual lately.
For a healthy money-mindset, and personal wellbeing, it’s important that we balance joy and purpose in our lives. If you’ve any spare income after paying bills and other expenses, you shouldn’t feel bad for spending on items that make you happy.
If you’re struggling with feelings of spending guilt, we’ve outlined some practical ways to help you overcome this.
Set aside money for your ‘wants’ at the start of the month
If you’re buying on impulse throughout the month, it can be hard to keep track of your spending. This might add to your buyer’s remorse if you spend more than you intended to on items you ‘want’ and don’t ‘need’. To prevent this, you could allocate some of your income to a different ‘pot’ as soon as you get paid. One way to do this is the 50-30-20 budgeting method, which typically splits 50% of your income towards things you need, 30% on wants and 20% on goals (such as debt or savings).
It’s up to you how much you set aside for your ‘wants’. By doing so upfront each month, you might feel more at ease when making purchases, as you’ll have already assigned the money for this purpose. Remember to make sure you’ve set aside enough for all your essential costs before doing so.
To learn more about other common budgeting methods, read our article Which budgeting method is best for you? If you need help creating or sticking to a budget, there are tools that can help, such as MoneyHelper’s budget planner.
Identify how your spending brings you joy
Our research found that only 1 in 5 people are aware of what makes their life enjoyable.1 Having a good understanding of what gives you joy, can make you more financially aware of your money and how you want to spend it.
We tend to allocate money mentally into different spending categories – whether it’s good food, entertainment or a hobby. Identifying how each purchase will bring you satisfaction and joy might help you feel more at ease when you’re spending money.
Think about the memories that you’ll make with each spend. You could even keep a diary to remind you of how you felt in that moment and take photographs to look back on. We can’t turn back the clock – remember that your happiness now is just as important as your happiness in the future.
Make sure you have a financial safety net
Ensuring you have a sufficient financial safety net before buying too many non-essentials, could make you feel more comfortable when you spend money. You’ll know you have money to fall back on in case of any unexpected expenses or change in circumstances – for example if your boiler breaks or you’re made redundant. It’s recommended to have at least 3 months’ worth of easily accessible savings for this purpose.2
The more well-rounded you are with managing your finances, the more confident you may feel about money in general. This could make you feel less guilty about spending as a result. Our Financial wellbeing index shares a wealth of new research and tips on how to become a ‘financial wellbeing all-rounder’.
Make compromises (only if you have to)
You shouldn’t feel you need to punish yourself for spending – even if you’ve gone a little over budget. However, if it puts your mind at ease, you could try making some compromises to relieve your guilty conscience. Perhaps you decide to cut back on one type of spending for a week – such as your daily takeaway coffee – to redirect that spend to something else. This way you’re not spending any more than you usually would.
If you’re worried you’ve spent too much in one month, you could try adding extra to your savings the following month to balance things out. Rather than turning down a social invite, give yourself a strict budget for the evening, or perhaps have one or two less drinks than usual.
Try not to make any compromises that will impact your overall happiness. Remember to always think about how each spend is bringing you joy. Making compromises isn’t a long-term solution for managing your spending guilt, but it could help to relax some of your concerns in the short-term.
Remember you’re not alone
It’s normal to worry about money in general. Our research found that 55% of average earners and more than 1 in 3 top earners worry about money.1 So, you’re probably not the only one feeling this way. Talking about your feelings to loved ones might help you to get those anxious thoughts off your chest and stop you feeling alone in the situation.
If spending guilt is causing you distress, and impacting your daily life, it could be worth speaking to a trained professional, such as a counsellor or GP to help you work through this. For managing your money, a financial adviser might also be useful to help you feel more confident in your spending. You can get help finding an adviser on MoneyHelper. There is likely to be a charge for financial advice.
Work towards a healthy money-mindset
While it’s a good thing to be careful with our money, it’s important not to let spending guilt consume us. Current times are hard for many, so finding the right balance between what you want to spend and what you can afford to is key. Enjoying our money beyond what we ‘need’ is important for bringing us joy and adding to a happy, fulfilling life.
Try focusing on our money and mindset building blocks to help you build financial wellbeing. Work towards this, and your spending guilt could be a thing of the past.
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1 Research conducted with 10,021 UK residents by Aegon’s Centre for Behavioural Research. Carried out online in August and September 2021.
2 Emergency savings – how much is enough? Data source, MoneyHelper, accessed 8 July 2022.