Try to Be a Little More Zen About Spending Money on Important Things

Illustration for article titled Try to Be a Little More Zen About Spending Money on Important Things

What good does freaking out over expensive but worthwhile purchases do, especially if you can afford to splurge? Nothing, according to research (from Kipslinger via the New York Times):

Spendthrifts don't feel enough pain for their own good, so they overspend, carry more debt and feel guilty later. Tightwads, however, experience too much pain, which leads to feelings of regret for not having spent enough. Rick says it's worse to be a spendthrift because of the financial costs, but neither extreme is as good as the middle group, labeled unconflicted. "Spendthrifts are bad off financially and psychologically," he says. "Tightwads have big bank accounts, but we find that they're less happy than the unconflicted group."

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So how can you become the Goldilocks of finance and worry the "just right" amount? You can start by paying with a card instead of cash, because research shows that people feel more carefree when they're not literally parting with tangible money. (We're simple animals, really.) (Also, um, there might be a thin line between "feeling carefree" and "major credit card debt.") But according to financial planner Carl Richards, it's more important to try and feel happy when we spend money on things we value that are within our budget:

Next time you reach for the debit card, or cash (if you like pain), ask yourself this:
1. Does this fit in my budget? In other words, can I afford this?
2. Is this something I value?
If the answer to both is yes, then you should be able to put a stop to most of the pain and actually enjoy the purchase. This is one way we really can spend our way to happiness.

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Alright, I'm game! Here are the two largest purchases I've made in the past month:

1. Plane ticket to visit my best friends in San Francisco = fits in my budget and I value it! Score.
2. New phone to replace the one I drunkenly left in a cab = ......

Don't Punish Yourself Every Time You Spend [New York Times]

Image via Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock.

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DISCUSSION

kateoninetails
kateoninetails

I need help on this, Jezzies. I suffer from serious anxiety about money.

I spent 5 months unemployed, desperately seeking work while watching all the cash I'd saved during college dwindle away on simple living costs. I found a full-time job in February, but the panic over spending has remained. Even with a steady job and parents who have repeatedly assured that they won't let me starve, looking at my online bank statements can still reduce me to tears.

I barely buy anything frivolous—occasional booze, I think, but that's about it. I instinctively want to hoard any cash that comes my way. I have to talk myself down in order to pay bills, because the number in my bank account falsely feels more important than the $45 cable bill. I know it's irrational, because I use cable and pay for the service, but it causes anxiety nonetheless.

One spot where this really comes out is with groceries, because I can easily micromanage that. On a good week, I spend $60 on food, make a pot of something, and eat it (and basically only it) throughout the week. Maybe I'll have one dish for lunch and one for dinner. But even after that grocery run, I chastise myself over a $2 pack of gum or cookie if I need a workday pick-me-up. I feel horrible if I have to buy laundry detergent, even if I NEED it. I am privately obsessed with this food system; any disruption, like my boyfriend coming to visit for the weekend, results in anxiety later.

I'm slowly recovering, thanks to steady work. But I have had such a hard time letting this all go. I'm a good spender; I don't even buy makeup anymore, and I used to love it. So if anyone knows what the heck I can do to help this, let me know.