Many of us have a strong sense of guilt when it comes to certain decisions we've made with money in the past or are thinking about making in the present. What triggers the guilt, however, can be vastly different for different people.
Our group of bloggers decided to check out when their money guilt comes into play -- and the results were interesting. Check it out. And then make sure you leave a comment sharing when your money guilt rears its ugly head.
A Perfectionist's View of Money and Guilt
To me, money and guilt go hand in hand.
When I was younger, I viewed money strictly as something to be saved (for what, I have no idea), and spending meant I had somehow undermined its purpose. As a lifelong perfectionist, I adhered to this idea with such intensity that even my financially conservative father was taken aback. Along the way I convinced myself that I had somehow failed if I had to spend my hard-earned dough, and, as you can imagine, that didn’t bode well once I entered the real world and paying bills wasn’t optional.
I’m still in the process of shifting my thinking, but I have now categorized good spending and guilt spending – rent, food, electricity = good spending, anything else = guilt spending. As you can imagine, that leaves plenty of room for guilt – guilt that really does me no good.
I will never wake up one day and throw caution (or my money) to the wind. It just isn’t me. So I should probably loosen the reigns a bit and allow myself to enjoy the fruits of my labor without giving guilt the option to take center stage afterwards.
For now, it’ll just be baby steps.
Money Guilt? What's That?
In my relationship, money and guilt have never been a big issue. The money that comes in every month has always paid for the things that needed attention. Family first.
When I think of money and guilt, I think about that little bit of “mad money.” What dollar amounts are we talking about? For me, it’s the extra $25 dollars or so that accumulates in my billfold and pocket over a few weeks or month. Sometimes, it wants to burn a hole in my pocket; sometimes, I want to accumulate more.
How do I spend the money? Anything. Everything. No rhyme or reason. It may be the popcorn at the movies, the parking garage fee, a better tool, some hobby-related item, or a few extra flies for fishing.
For me, frankly, it’s not about accounting for every penny. It’s about trusting that I will do the right thing without hurting anyone or not paying for what needs to be paid for.
So, do I have guilt about money? Not really. Do I have guilt in general? Well, that’s a different question altogether.
Money Guilt with a Good Dose of Mom Guilt Thrown In
Let’s be honest here. I am horrible at budgeting and I love to buy things I TECHNICALLY don’t need. That said I manage to get all of my bills out of the way, buy groceries to feed my family, and have enough to set aside so that I can buy things as my kids need them. It’s when I have that little extra cash that I need to watch myself. I don’t mind buying clothes and things that the kids need but I will wear my shoes for probably a little longer than I should. Partly because I like them, partly because I just don’t want to buy new ones. Don’t get me wrong. I love shopping. I’ve just trained myself to understand that it’s not all about me anymore. I think I actually have less guilt buying a toy for my boys than I do buying a piece of clothing for myself. This worked for a long time when I was a vet tech and I had my scrubs and one pair of work shoes. Having an office job doesn’t exactly work the same way… or at all.
I try to be as thrifty as possible so that when I do have a little money to dip into when, say, the Criterion website is having a 50% off flash sale I can partake in some of THOSE good deals and treat myself beyond a new piece of clothing for work. I still stare at the final screen for a good 10 minutes discussing the purchase with myself. I also do that when I am buying a dress or two when that is something that I truly need. It’s a no-win situation for me. I have a rough time justifying spending on myself but sometimes you just need to gift yourself something fantastic. (And yes, just typing that makes me feel guilty.)
Travel Tacked on with Parent-Induced Money Guilt
I think everyone has some level of guilt related to money – it just manifests itself differently. For me, my guilt relates to spending money on things I don’t “need,” even when I have budgeted for these items. Most of the time, these feelings relate to vacations.
I love to travel to different places and I set aside money in my budget to do just that. It’s important to me to take time to recharge, to see the world, and to visit friends and family. Yet, each time I purchase my (exhaustively researched) tickets and accommodations I feel very guilty about spending the money since I don’t “need” to do it. I always think about what more “responsible” things I could have done with that amount of money – such as add it to my retirement savings, my emergency fund, or use it to improve the value of my home.
I am sure these feelings trace back to my upbringing because my parents do not enjoy traveling like I do, and did not place the same level of importance on it, so it was not something we did very often. Like anything in life, there is a balance when it comes to money. As long as I’m saving enough and meeting the goals of my budget then I will continue to spend money on things that I enjoy and that add value to my life. The goal is to try to enjoy it and not feel too guilty – I’m still working on that!
Debt Anxiety With a Dash of Money Guilt
I’ve worked through a LOT of debt – almost $14,000 – so money is really a scary thing for me. I definitely feel the weight of guilt when I buy anything that isn’t a “need.” You know, food, water, shelter basics are good but anything else is hard.
For example, I got promoted at work which required a new wardrobe. I budgeted over two weeks to save about $300 (seriously, I was wearing work pants that I’d hand stitched back together…more than once). We hit thrift stores and discount shops all afternoon and I got at least 20 new shirts, pants, jackets, and skirts. Did we score some amazing deals? Yes. Did I still sit in the parking lot shaking after that last card swipe? Also yes.
Here’s the irony: I go out to eat ALL THE TIME. Seriously, I probably eat a meal out at least once a week – but I work full-time, go to school over full-time, and am launching a business, so my social life is usually limited. I try to see my friends once a week or so, usually all at once, and most often we go get breakfast or lunch together so I feel like it’s necessary on some level.
Did you like that? Did you see how I totally just rationalized that? That’s probably what got me into so much trouble with money in the first place.
"Shoulds" and DIY-Induced Money Guilt
I feel guilty paying for goods or services I know I could prepare or perform (or maybe more accurately, “attempt”) myself -- things like sending clothes to the dry cleaner, eating out for lunch, paying for house cleaning, etc.
I’m currently in the middle of a home remodeling project. For areas where I know I’m out of my league, I have no trouble “outsourcing” to professionals. For tasks I believe I can handle myself, I do feel guilt. In this case, I am wrestling with paying for painting. This particular job is a relatively straightforward, easy task (no offense to any painting pros out there). I just can’t bring myself to pay for it.
Like most guilt, I assume this one also stems from childhood. These are all services my parents would consider “luxuries.” As a child, my family was quite resourceful. Handy, and frugal, my mother was an expert seamstress made clothes, drapes, linens, and gifts. She cut our hair, prepared the taxes. My stepfather, a skilled handyman, could fix anything, including cars and appliances. He handled our remodeling projects. He even built, from parts, my first bike. Any jobs our immediate family couldn’t handle, we called on friends and family. I have trouble recalling if I’ve ever seen a “service” person in our house.
Being a finance guy, I try to rationalize the “outsourcing” decision as financial transaction. Rational, guilt free, economics.
What is my time worth? That’s a measureable number -- what do I earn on an hourly basis? How many hours of my time would this work require? What is the cost to outsource the job? What’s cheaper?
Economically speaking, if the math works, it’s simple comparative advantage, right?! Those with skill, scale, and/or access to inexpensive labor can make it cheaper and more efficient -- my own personal labor arbitrage. I should definitely outsource, it’s way more efficient!
“Well,” says the devil’s advocate in my inner monologue, “It’s not exactly what your paid time is worth, it’s what your free time is worth.” The time not spent earning a paycheck; the time you normally spend doing the things you enjoy most – besides work of course. In the real world, since most of us cannot simply work more hours to get paid more, your opportunity cost of free time equals your cost savings for jobs not outsourced. That is, whatever the savings you would have earned by performing the task yourself. Thus, I just valued my free time not as what I earn per hour, but the savings for foregoing a particular paid service, per hour. Whatever that particular cost may be. If it took you 2 hours to launder, press, and hang your dress shirts (plus any explicit costs), your 2 hours of free time is now worth (say) $10/hour (the $20 you saved by not sending your shirts to the cleaners, divided by 2 hours).
Time is a fixed variable, we all have the same hours in the day. The more you work, the more scarce your free time becomes. As a valuable resource grows scarcer, the more valuable it becomes. If you paid me $10 / hour to launder, press, and hang your shirts, would I do it? No thanks. I value my free time more than $10/hour!
Case closed. Guilt be gone. You know, I really need to outsource more!
At least that’s what I tell myself. I can easily picture the less than subtle, disapproving looks in my head, followed by the inevitable conversation: “How much did you pay for that?” The tone is unmistakable, the message clear. “What a luxury…I could never pay someone for that. You know, just because you can afford it, doesn’t mean you should…you’re just being lazy.”
Stupid guilt. Where’d I put by paint brush?
What sparks your money guilt?