Ask A Financial Therapist: How Do I Get Over Spending Guilt?
The hangup: I feel guilty about spending money, even if it's on things that I want or need, and I have the resources. What do I do about these feelings?
"Guilt is an emotion that is on the spectrum of anger, shame, and sadness," says financial therapist Bari Tessler. "And where it comes from, and how it manifests itself, will look different to everyone—but there are some universal themes." If you are feeling this way, the first thing to do is self-assess where it's coming from. Most often—but not always—it stems from one of two scenarios. The first: if you've come into the money through means with embedded emotional baggage, like an inheritance. The second: if you grew up with scarce or unstable finances.
Starting with the emotional baggage issue: Perhaps you've come into money from inheritance. Perhaps you were born with a trust fund. These can trigger guilt because you feel that you have more than others, maybe unfairly. One way to help ease this guilt is to make sure you are allocating some of the money to better yourself or those around you. "Get in touch with your deeper values, whether that's through charity, your family, your future, or any other cause," says Tessler. "Figure out how you can steward this money to something that's honorable for you and also give in ways that feel significant."
Another very common scenario: If you didn't grow up with money, it's completely reasonable to still inhabit that mindset. And it's not a bad thing to be frugal, even if you have the means to spend more. The only issue arises when you are frugal to a fault, says Tessler. Say, for example, you refuse to spend money on things that could improve your well-being. Or, another scenario that she says is very common is that you are willing to spend money on others but never for yourself. One way to get yourself over this, says Tessler, is to acknowledge that your frugality is an honorable thing, but pick one or two places that you allow yourself to spend a bit on yourself. One example, says Tessler: Traveling to see your family or friends or engaging in a self-care act of your choice, like more frequent dining out or starting a new hobby.
But, says Tessler, both of these scenarios should come with a plan. Since you have new aspects of your life that you will be spending on, there's going to be some uncharted waters. "Sit down, evaluate your finances, and draw out a new money map with the new expenditures in mind: What will your new budget look like? How much will be redirected to these new areas and from where?" she says. "And everyone's map is going to look different!" But having the plan on paper will help ease you into your new guilt-free (or lower-guilt) expenditures.
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