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Spending Guilt: “It’s my money. Why do I feel bad when I spend it?”

This article is about the feelings of guilt that can be associated with spending.

Do you work hard to make money, to take care of your needs and then some, but have nagging feelings of guilt or feel a certain way whenever you spend that money? Then you should read this!

If it is any form of consolation, you should know that this experience is not unique to you. A quick Google search on ‘spending guilt’ would give you an insight into how prevalent this feeling is. However, the fact that it is common does not mean it is healthy.

Money is a tool and you should see it as such.

The first step in identifying the origin of your spending guilt is examining why you have negative feelings about money, a tool available to you. 

Feelings of guilt are, however, not always unwarranted. An example of warranted spending guilt is when you constantly aren’t able to achieve your saving goals and/or are in debt. 

Note: Debt in itself is not bad. It is only an issue when it is poorly handled – what answers do you have to the questions about how and why you are in debt and whether or not you have a repayment plan.

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Money & Emotions

Money plays a crucial role in the quality of our lives – whether or not we are willing to admit it. So, it is no surprise that the presence or lack of money has an impact on human emotions. 

Research has shown that a person’s feelings about money (positive or negative), more often than not, stem from childhood experiences. For instance, if you grew up in a family that wasn’t well-to-do, where you were often on a strict budget, your guilt about spending could result from a scarcity mindset. What is at play here is called cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance in this context is when positive feelings about being financially comfortable conflict with negative ones about spending this money on what you suspect might not be a necessity.

How to navigate your spending guilt: what to do when this feeling rears its head

Warranted or unwarranted, dealing with spending guilt will prove impossible if you have not identified its origins. Identifying the cause is the first and most crucial step. Once this is done, it is easier to make concrete plans to overcome it. You could be in that position for varying reasons, from faulty prioritisation to a lack of proper planning.

1. Track your spending:

This is a necessary step toward figuring out if you have indeed been overspending or spending on nonnecessities. It will also help you pinpoint your spending triggers (you will notice your spending patterns).

For instance, if you have been spending lots of money on snacks and take-out, even with enough food at home, it could be a result of boredom, stress, peckishness, or the feeling that you have more than enough money to spend. Any of these could be your spending trigger, and a healthy way to ensure these are not the reasons to spend too much is to find better ways to deal with them.

Tips on how to deal with these triggers:

● Boredom – Indulge in activities you enjoy, such as reading, seeing a movie, speaking to friends and family, e.t.c.

● Stress – Remove yourself from what is causing your stress, and find ways to relax and destress. Ways you can destress include resting, taking naps, going on short walks, e.t.c

● Peckishness – Factor snacks into your monthly budget so that you don’t find yourself spending the money allocated to other things.

● The feeling that you have more than enough money to spend – Take the excess money and put it into your savings, emergency fund, fixed deposit, or invest it.

NB– there is nothing wrong with having excess money, it is to your advantage to put most of it into things that work for you in the long run.

There are more spending triggers than the ones listed above, but these are more common.

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2. Prioritize and Plan:

It is advantageous to arrange your needs and wants in order of priority. Write down your needs (non-negotiables) and wants (bear in mind that these wants should be listed out on a scale of preference). 

The 50/30/20 plan is a great budgeting template; 50% for your needs, 30% for your wants, and you save/invest 20%. It is okay to swap the percentage allocation of your savings and wants, it depends on what your income is.

Important info: Ensure your debts are factored into the 50% because they are non-negotiable. How do you do this? Review your debts, create actionable repayment plans, and stick to them.
3. Mindset shift:

It is important to get comfortable with the idea that spending money on something you enjoy is not a bad thing. As long as your monthly budget, savings, and investments are not affected, and what you are spending on is not something detrimental to you, then, by all means, enjoy! 

Ensure you factor in enjoyment funds into your monthly budget. This falls under your 30%. You should be able to enjoy the money you earn.

4. Finally, let go of the need to see perfection as regards your finances. If you are a perfectionist, there are high chances not smashing your goals will continually lead to feelings of guilt. A few slip-ups now and then might get you in your feelings, but do not dwell on them. Rather, assess the progress you have made, accept that you are doing your best, and be grateful for your achievements.

In a nutshell, spending guilt is a common occurrence; but it gets easier to deal with once you can identify the cause. Also, do not forget to get comfortable with enjoying the money you worked hard for; it is yours! 

We hope you enjoyed reading this. If you have any thoughts or feedback, feel free to let us know in the comments, we love to read them and interact with you.

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