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Feeling Guilty After Spending Money? Here’s How to Figure Out Why

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Do you feel guilty after spending money?

I do.

And recently I found this guilty feeling creeping up regularly on our weekly date nights. 

On date nights we typically go out to eat or order take-out. And, per the new norm, I felt uneasy about potentially spending money. 

I try to tell myself that we budget money for going out to eat so I shouldn’t feel so guilty so I try to fight it. 

But that didn’t work. The guilt didn’t go away. And I continued to feel bad about spending money each time I was faced with another spending decision.

The fact that this has been happening to me on a regular basis got me thinking. 

Why do I feel so guilty when I spend money?

Maybe if I figured out why I was feeling guilty I could find a way to ease this feeling.

And that is where I started to question my guilt and work towards uncovering why I felt guilty for spending money. And once I figured out why I felt guilty I could work on easing that guilt. 

So if you are feeling guilty for spending money like me, 

Embracing the Guilt

After months and months of dealing with this damn guilt, it finally dawned on me that maybe the guilt wasn’t there to simply make me feel bad about my decisions. Maybe it was there to tell me that another darn growth opportunity had presented itself. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love growth opportunities. But they take work. And the work is exhausting at times, which is probably why I had been ignoring it for so long. 

With this said, the idea of flipping the script on guilt and using it for a potential growth opportunity was so exciting to me.

This is what I needed to relieve myself of the negative feelings that arose each time I felt guilty about spending money. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is growth_really_sucks.jpg
Guilt. Growth. Hard work. Not today, man. Not today.

Accepting Our Guilt

Guilt is simply one of the many emotions we feel as we travel through this life. And what are we supposed to do with emotions? Feel them!

Emotions aren’t meant to be swept under the table and ignored. They are there to remind us that we are human—that we are alive.

According to Psychology Today, processing and experiencing your feelings is part of having a full life.

By acknowledging the guilt and asking ourselves some questions to better understand why we feel bad about spending money, we have the potential to create something good out of this bummer of a feeling. 

So how do we acknowledge our guilt over spending money and figure out why these feelings are occurring? 

Here are three questions to ask yourself to get to the bottom of your guilt. 

Use them when you feel the guilt monster creep. They will help you turn your guilty feeling into a positive one, instead of something that simply frustrates you.

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Questions to Help You Understand Why You Feel Guilty About Spending Money

The goal with these questions is to dig a bit deeper into the source of the guilt. To figure out why you feel guilty about spending money.

By doing so, you can process and work through the guilt instead of shoving it under a rug—which, of course, is what we all want to do. But that won’t help us grow and feel good about our spending decisions.

When you ask these questions, remember to be kind to yourself when you answer. You made the decision you thought was best at the time. It ultimately may have not turned out to be the best decision, but as long as you’re using it as a growth experience now, then it’s a total win. 

Here we go with the questions to use to make some sense out of your guilt.

Image of Horse with a fancy hat and eyelashes saying it's ok to be kind to yourself even if you spend $175 on a hat for your horse.
Always be kind to yourself. Even if you spent $175 on a fancy hat and fake eyelashes for your horse doll.

1. Did You Plan for the Purchase?

The unplanned purchase is one of the most common triggers to make those guilty feelings pop up.

But when that unplanned purchase arises and hits that guilt trigger, think about why you feel guilty about it. 

Is it because it derailed your savings plan? Did you have to steal money from another priority to pay for the unplanned purchase? 

Now it’s time to use that guilt to your advantage and help your future self out. Think about things you can adjust. 

Maybe you have to budget more money in your fun money bucket to cover those unexpected concert tickets. Or maybe you have to make a pact with yourself that you will only buy what is on your Target list. 

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2. Is the Expense Lined Up with Your Values and Priorities?  

This question may be one of the harder ones to answer since you have to have a good sense of your values and priorities. 

Priorities change as we move through life, so this question ends up being a great one to learn more about who you are and what you want right now. 

When you are feeling guilty about a purchase ask yourself if the purchase aligns with the things that are important to you.

Maybe working to get out of debt is your current priority. And you dream of being debt-free and getting rid of all the stress that comes with debt. 

So when you spend money on a $300 new pair of shoes, guilt may creep in because it doesn’t align with your current priorities. 

Or maybe you feel guilty about spending money on a housekeeper. But after asking yourself this question, you understand that a housekeeper is one of your priorities because it frees up time for you to do other things you value.

Maybe your feelings aren’t necessarily guilt but fear of what others may think of you because of your choice to pay for some help around the house. 

Asking yourself if your spending aligns with your priorities can tell you a lot about why a purchase is invoking a feeling of guilt. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is the_blushing_bride_who_is_a_dog.jpg
Always dream of having a dog wedding for your precious pups??  Go ahead and throw them a lavish ceremony and reception!

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3. Does the Expense Meet Your Expectations?

This question is a new one I’ve been trying out and it’s been helpful at bringing intention and reflection into a purchase decision. 

If you feel guilty after spending money, then maybe this is a sign that more intention needs to go into the next purchase.

This could be in the form of a list of what you both want and need from your expense.

And then you could do a little more research to make sure those priorities are met before making your next purchase.

Or if you are feeling guilty even before you make the purchase, use this as a sign that you need to dig deep and figure out exactly what you want this expense to do for you before spending the money. And then make sure your expense meets that expectation.

For example, if you are feeling guilty before you even buy a new jacket, take the time to think about what you want/need to get out of that purchase. Do you want it to be waterproof, warm, or with a hood? Buy exactly what you need so it doesn’t feel like you wasted money. 

Asking Myself These Three Questions to Understand My Guilt

Let’s go back to where this all started—me feeling guilty about spending money on going out to eat. 

When I realized there was something behind the guilt that I needed to address, I walked myself through these same three questions.

Was it planned?  

Yes, it was. We budgeted for it and have a pre-planned date night once a week where we typically go out to eat. 

Did it align with my priorities and values?  

I was pretty sure it did. Like I said, this one is the toughest question as you need to have a strong sense of your values and priorities. Dining out is something that we love to do and we make it a priority to support local restaurants. Therefore, it felt like going out to eat was part of our values. 

Will I get what I expect out of the expense?

Here is where my aha moment happened. 

I realized that I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of the expense of going out to eat. I wanted the expense to be a fun night of spending time with my partner doing one of our favorite things.

But instead, our date nights turn into simply looking for the cheapest place to fill our stomachs. We weren’t trying new restaurants or going to one of our favorites. 

After this realization, we are working to address this in two ways. 

First, we plan to make some of our date nights a little more special by picking a new restaurant or an old favorite instead of simply finding a happy hour. Sure, we may spend more money, but the expense more closely matches our priority of enjoying our local restaurants. 

Second, we are going to focus on making our date nights about spending quality time together as that is why we started doing them in the first place. This could end up being things like making a nice dinner at home together, playing a few uninterrupted board games, or heading to the local beer garden for a drink.

You Got This

Figuring out why you feel guilty about spending money is the first step to feel good about your money choices.

I’m feeling great about my aha moment and how I plan to move forward with addressing the guilt I felt when faced with the decision of going out to eat or not.

But I know that there is another darn growth opportunity waiting for me right around the corner. Personal growth is never-ending. And guilt about spending money is going to strike again. 

But by treating the guilt as a pathway to growth instead of a “dammit I screwed up again”, we will feel empowered to make a positive change instead.  

The answers to these questions may not reveal themselves right away, but stick with it and eventually, that aha moment will hit you right in the face.

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10 Responses

  1. Excellent post! I love asking myself questions when I feel something uneasy and I can relate on you aha moment being right where it was! It was an aha for me too when I think of the time I have felt guilty for spending

  2. you know what feels crappy? buying a $40 bottle of wine and not liking it that much. it’s not a race to the finish, is it? i’ll still get a fancy bottle going forward and hope for the best. when we made more combined money sometimes i had to remind myself that just because there was money in the travel bucket doesn’t mean we have to spend it all on something we might not fully enjoy. it will be there for another opportunity. i reckon that’s the flip side.

    1. So true Freddy. There have been many meals out that have disappointed me but that hasn’t stopped me from going out to eat. I think it’s all about remembering why you are spending the money.

  3. I seldom felt guilty about spending money … till I discovered FIRE … especially in the early stages, I would feel guilty about small purchases E.g. a takeaway cappuccino. Now I am much more intentional and the guilt does not rear its ugly head as often

  4. “When you ask these questions, remember to be kind to yourself when you answer.” So true!! I’ve been on a spending spree lately and shaming or beating yourself up doesn’t solve anything. I do think we can use “negative” emotions to learn something about ourselves. I think we are almost letting ourselves off the hook too much these days, ya know? You just have to learn from the experience and be aware! Great post!

  5. I love that you’re finding a way to turn guilt into a positive learning experience. I had a very similar experience facing my guilt around going out to eat for date night. Turns out, my guilt was stemming from an unrealistic expectation of how soon I could reach FI. I was trapped in a habit for a while where I couldn’t buy ANYTHING without feeling like my goals were totally derailed. However, it took a lot of reflection and planning with my fiance to realize that we just needed a better game plan of how often and how much we were willing to spend in areas like date nights and entertainment activities. Once we made our goals and vision more concrete, the guilt definitely has minimized! Great read.

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Picture of Melody Creator of Cash for Tacos

Hi! I’m Melody and I want to help you create a vision for your life and provide you the necessary tools to use your money to make your vision a reality. 

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