The False Guilt of Spending Big Money

photo of green and red concrete buildings

Photo by Christian Koch via Unsplash.com

Hey Team,

Lately, I’ve been feeling mentally stuck with my budget and my money. I’m out of debt and therefore more financially free than ever, but I find myself unable to shake the feeling that I am not being a good steward of my finances.

This came up very clearly when I was creating my May budget and considered putting money aside for some new technology. I decided a long time ago that I would replace my laptop and my phone when I was out of debt. My laptop is an HP Chromebook that has served me well since high school, but has some quirks, such as a broken touch pad (so I need to carry a mouse around with it) and an inability to download software (which translates to an inability to connect it to my printer). Still, it only inconveniences me a little bit, and works perfectly well for 95% of what I need to use it for. Similarly, my phone (my boyfriend’s old iPhone 6), does everything I need it to, but runs out of battery very quickly. Practically, it’s not a problem– until it is, and then it’s extremely inconvenient at best and unsafe at worst.

Both of these items do not need replacing, and if I were still in debt, I wouldn’t even consider replacing them until they died completely. But this has been one of the benefits I’ve looked forward to about being more financially free: being able to afford replacing old and inconvenient things in my life proactively and therefore not having to scramble to replace them at the last second and in the worst-case, highest-risk scenario.

I’m also not just spending on these things upfront; I’m saving month-to-month. More importantly, I’m not taking on debt to pay for them with a credit card, like many choose to do.

So where does this guilt come from?

Masking a Deprivation Mindset as “Not Being Wasteful”

When I lived at home growing up, I shared the household food with 5 siblings and 2 parents. This often required eating quickly at the table, getting to the household snacks first, and sometimes stowing food in hidden places. It caused a deprivation mindset around food, which led me to eat past the point of satiety and created a deep guilt over ever wasting any food. 

The same principle applies to money and things: it’s what causes low and middle class households to have hundreds of thousands of unnecessary items cluttering their rooms, and what creates extreme frugality or, conversely, spending more than you earn. 

I err on the former side. “Waste not, want not,” my mother would repeat to me. But despite not being wasteful, I was always wanting for much more than I had. Not usually extravagant things, but things like socks that matched and didn’t have holes in them, clothes that weren’t hand-me-downs, and of course, technology suited to my needs.

And now, on the other side of the poverty line, I find myself stunted by this mindset. This is real, even when I know that passing on a well-used laptop and a twice-well-used phone in order to purchase new ones isn’t actually wasteful when you have the money set aside specifically for them.

At the same time, I have been able to guiltlessly buy new items and replace old ones in the past; since becoming employed full time, I’ve purchased a new bra, new shoes, camp gear, artwork, and much more. The difference with these purchases is that they are much more pricey and thus feel like an extravagance rather than an adult change to make. While smaller purchases have fit into an already-created “miscellaneous” budget line, I now have to make room for somewhere around $1,500 worth of purchases. My mind automatically goes to the fact that I could pay my rent for 3 months with this, or gotten out of debt a lot faster, or covered a full month of my expenses.

It can feel like a lot to swallow when I start to play this game of comparisons. The truth that I need to accept is that putting money towards these things is not taking away from these other things. I will still pay for the next 3 months of rent. I am already debt free. My monthly expenses will be covered. 

Furthermore, I am not a bad or wasteful person for wanting to make these purchases. I am also not bad with money because I am going to buy these things. I will still achieve all of my financial goals, but I will do so with a better quality day-to-day life. This is what financial freedom is actually about.

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