Why Do We Feel Guilty Spending Money?

By Emma Diehl · August 05, 2022 · 8 minute read

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Why Do We Feel Guilty Spending Money?

At face value, money appears to be simply about dollars and cents passing from one hand to another.

But in reality, our purse strings have deep ties to our emotions. We get elated, sad, and angry over money matters. And it’s certainly not uncommon to feel guilty about spending money, even when it’s a necessary purchase.

Some purchases trigger more guilt than others, and some people are more prone to experiencing this unpleasant sensation than others. Understanding why this happens can help you avoid negative feelings about money, which is one of the top stressors in many people’s lives.

Keep reading to learn:

•   Why do I feel guilty when I spend money?

•   Is it a bad thing to spend money?

•   How can I stop feeling guilty after spending money?

Is Spending Money a Bad Thing?

Spending money in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a necessary reality of life. It would be hard to imagine navigating daily life without spending cash to, say, buy food or commute to work.

But there are a lot of opinions out there about how people should spend their cash, which can lead to conflicting emotions. Treating oneself can stir up feelings around self-worth, and spending money on a big-ticket item can trigger anxiety about future finances. (You’ll learn more about these scenarios in a moment.)

Despite money’s necessary role in life, feeling guilty about spending it is fairly common. Most Americans — 60% in fact — report feeling anxiety around their personal finances. That stress can snowball, getting tied up with guilt and creating free-floating money worries.

Spending cash is an inescapable reality, but the guilt associated with it doesn’t have to be.

Recommended: How to Cut Back on Spending

Reasons Why We Feel Guilty About Spending Money

Often, guilt and anxiety around spending money come from the motivation for the transaction, not the purchase itself. Learning to stop feeling guilty after spending money may require people to notice when they feel guilt or shame after a purchase and change their mindset or spending behavior accordingly.

Everyone has different emotional triggers around their spending, but there are some common scenarios when someone might feel guilty, such as these:

Buying Items to Keep Up With Friends

FOMO, or the “fear of missing out,” may be a silly acronym, but it’s a powerful motivator for spending.

People may spend more so they don’t miss valuable time with friends or feel they are fitting into their group of pals. That could mean paying too much for a vacation or buying high-end fashions or a cool new watch they see friends wearing. These expenses can be small, subtle purchases, too, like meeting a friend at a pricier restaurant than you’d usually visit, or it could reflect a significant financial decision, like buying a new instead of used car to “keep up with the Joneses.”

FOMO spending may make someone feel guilty about spending money because it’s tied to the deep desire to fit it. It is often more about self-image and self-esteem than a particular item.

Recommended: How to Save Money on Hotels

Buying Items That Do Not Align With Our Financial Values

Similar to FOMO spending, cultural messaging about “the right way” to spend can lead to a sense of guilt or buyer’s remorse.

It may be the influence of social media encouraging someone to buy a certain brand or societal pressure (the American dream) to own property. Whatever the purchase is, guilt could crop up because it’s not something the individual truly wants — and deep down, they know that.

Saving Goals Impacted by Impulse Spending

An impulse or unexpected purchase could lead to feeling guilty after spending money.

It could be something as simple as forgetting lunch at home and having to buy something expensive near the office. Or maybe it’s buying something you totally didn’t plan to but saw it was on sale. It may be a small purchase, but it eats into your budget and savings goals because it’s unexpected.

Many of these purchases arise from a lack of planning, leading to guilt. You feel as if you messed up, and now you are literally paying for it. Buying a new set of luggage, for instance, is not a good reason to use emergency funds or money in your savings account, so you may be upset with yourself.

Having a Money Mindset Tied to Emotions and Past Experiences

Guilt about spending money may have little to do with the individual and be more connected to their family or upbringing.

People who grew up with parents or guardians in debt may experience feelings of scarcity around money. If you grew up always hearing there wasn’t enough money and getting calls from collection agencies, you may hold a sense of guilt with every purchase.

Or, if someone’s experienced debt in the past, any transaction may trigger anxiety as they remember their old patterns of overspending.

Recommended: Managing Finances When Dealing With Depression

Tips to Help You Stop Feeling Bad About Spending Money

Instead of agonizing over every purchase or waking up worried about bills, it may be time to stop feeling guilty when you spend money. Here are some strategies to help combat those negative feelings while improving your financial wellness.

Taking Care of Financial Responsibilities

When people prioritize financial responsibilities, they may feel less guilty spending the surplus, or leftover money, in their budget.

That means enacting a “paying yourself first” mindset, which can be one of the most important personal finance basics. When a paycheck deposits, immediately put money away towards future goals, like retirement or savings. Setting up automatic transfers makes it easy.

Taking care of financial responsibilities first can give someone the freedom to use the remaining cash relatively guilt-free.

30-Day Savings Rule

To avoid guilt over impulse spending, try implementing a 30-day rule on purchases. If you want to purchase something, whether it’s a new laptop or a new coat, wait 30 days. After 30 days, you can buy it. But in many cases, you may find you don’t even want it anymore.

Slowing down the purchase process can help separate needs from wants, as well as quit spending money impulsively.

If impulse purchasing is a major source of guilt, consider a 30-day freeze on shopping, buying only necessities for a month. This can be a good tip to stop overspending. It can help you reset your spending behaviors.

Improving Your Money Mindset

Understanding needs versus wants can be a helpful way to understand and improve money mindset.

For some, the idea of a want is “bad,” translating to guilt when a purchase isn’t absolutely necessary. But, wants can make life more comfortable and bring pleasure — two very good things. So the key is differentiating between needs and wants, and understanding where wants fit into a budget. Perhaps not every want can or should be satisfied, but recognizing they are part of life and budgeting for them is important.

You might try the 50/30/20 budget rule, which says to put 50% of your after-tax earnings towards needs, 30% to wants, and 20% toward savings.

Creating a Personalized Budget

Sometimes guilt stems from the unknown. If someone doesn’t know how much cash they have in their bank account, they may feel guilty purchasing something.

This is where a personalized budget comes into play and can help you manage your money better. Everyone’s budget will be a little different, but feeling knowledgeable about and in control of one’s money can help alleviate guilt.

For example, if someone looks forward to having brunch out every Saturday, they may create a line item in their budget for it. That way, they don’t feel guilty spending the money as it’s earmarked for that purpose. They eliminate the possibility of anxiety spiraling over that cost.

Only Spending Money That You Have

It sounds like common sense, but only spending money that’s available can help prevent guilt around money. It’s an unhappy fact that many Americans carry credit-card debt: The typical balance is currently over $5,000, and the average rate on existing credit-card accounts is more than 15%.

There are of course times when paying with a credit card and carrying a balance are necessary, such as when your hot-water heater breaks or you get hit with a major dental bill. But in general, it’s wise to pay with a debit card or cash so you don’t wind up getting stuck with high-interest debt. By only spending the money you have, you can avoid guilt, worry, and a lower credit score to boot.

Guilt isn’t constructive and won’t change your financial situation. However, working on financial discipline can improve the overall outlook on spending and make sure your purchases are ones you can truly afford.

The Takeaway

People feel guilt about spending money for many different reasons, even when they can afford their purchases. Getting rid of that guilt is possible through:

•   Understanding why spending makes someone feel guilty.

•   Learning financial responsibility to prevent guilt altogether.

One place guilt shouldn’t crop up? In a bank account. Avoid it by knowing that you have an account that pays you a terrific interest rate while charging you no fees. That’s what you’ll enjoy online banking with SoFi. You’ll earn a hyper competitive APY with direct deposit while paying no monthly or maintenance fees, plus you’ll have access to the Allpoint network of more than 55,000+ fee-free ATMs.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

How do I get over my guilt of overspending?

First, figure out what kind of spending makes you feel guilty and why. Perhaps it’s based on childhood or past experiences. Then, consider creating a budget and planning purchases to avoid buyer’s remorse or impulse spending.

What is the psychology behind overspending?

People may overspend because they’re afraid of missing out on experiences, they want a self-esteem boost, or they want to fit in with their peers.

How do you forgive yourself for not saving money?

Understanding the emotional triggers behind overspending and not saving can help build a sense of self-compassion. Many people overspend or fail to prioritize saving. Dwelling on it won’t change the past. For these reasons, forgiving yourself and moving on is best.


Photo credit: iStock/Deagreez

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