“That’s a waste of money.”
How many times have you heard that? How many times have you said it?
When you’re trying to get out of debt and build a financially stable life, it’s hard to justify spending money. In fact, there’s a good chance you feel like you have to pretty much avoid buying anything in order build up your financial resources.
Even after you reach a degree of relative financial stability, it’s hard to overcome the guilt you might feel when you spend money on something unnecessary or “fun.”
But do you really have to stop spending to be financially stable? The problem isn’t that you spend money, but figuring out what to spend money on.
Is your money script holding you back?
Brad Klontz, Psy.D., led a group of researchers in creating the Klontz Money Behavior Inventory. These researchers reviewed and cited various studies pinpointing different money behaviors that have negative impacts.
Some of the research indicates that it’s possible to hoard money to the point that it’s detrimental to your psychological health. Meanwhile, self-denial and a fear of spending money on anything can keep you from enjoying your life and even strain on your relationships.
While there’s nothing wrong with being frugal and practicing what Klontz and his fellows call “money vigilance,” the fact of the matter is that it’s possible to take things too far.
Moving into “miser” territory, and letting it get to the point that you refuse to spend any money you don’t have to, can be just as damaging as overspending in some ways.
Rather than focusing on stopping all spending, the key is spending money wisely. There’s nothing wrong with spending on things you enjoy and that enrich your life. You can even still reach your financial goals when you cut spending the right way.
Mindset shift: money as a tool
My “aha” moment happened when I realized that money could be a tool for me to use. I didn’t need to keep all of it hidden away. Amassing a huge net worth wouldn’t make me happy.
After all, what’s all that money for?
I shifted my mindset away from the view that money is something to get so I have it. Instead, I see money as a tool that helps me prepare for the future while enjoying life today.
While I want to save for the future, I also know that the amount I’m setting aside each month is probably more than enough to do the job. I don’t see a need to “over-save” at the expense of actually living my life today.
Once you see money as a tool that can help you achieve a lifestyle you enjoy, it becomes easier to let go of some of that money in the form of spending.
As long as you have a plan to stay out of debt and spend within your means, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying life and using your money on worthwhile expenses.
But what is a worthwhile expense anyways?
How to decide what to spend money on
Healthy spending habits start in a place where what you value matches the way you spend your money. Take a few minutes to figure out what matters most in your life. What gives your life meaning and purpose?
My priorities and values center around raising my son, fighting for community causes, and being able to travel. I also like preparing for the future and building my financial stability.
If you want to learn how to spend money wisely, start by understanding yourself. There’s nothing wrong with having priorities that are different from someone else’s. You just need to know what matters to you and what will help you achieve your own goals.
Once you know what matters to you, whether it’s becoming debt free so you can go on a dream vacation, or putting your kids through college, you can start building your spending plan around that priority.
If an expense doesn’t match your values, priorities, or goals, consider cutting it in favor of the spending that will get you where you want to be.
Carl Richards, the author of The Behavior Gap, suggested in an interview with me that every time you go shopping, it makes sense to pause, look at each item you put in your cart, and say, “that’s interesting.”
The idea is to call attention to the things you buy. Take a look at the item and think about why you’re adding it to the cart. Do you plan to use it in your meal prep this week? Will it make a good gift for someone? Did you just grab it because you thought it might be nice to have around?
After you’ve thought about why you added the item to your cart, it’s a good time to consider whether or not the reason you’re buying it is worth the cost.
Is it moving you forward toward your goals? Will it actually be used? Does it bring real meaning or satisfaction to your life? Is it in line with your values? If you can’t answer yes to these questions, put the item back.
Spend on the things that actually bring meaning to your life. Don’t feel bad about having that latte if it’s something you really look forward to each day.
And it’s ok to save up for a great vacation and enjoy yourself while you’re on it. It’s also ok to save for retirement while you pay down debt and occasionally eat out.
Buying something frivolous doesn’t mean you don’t know how to spend money wisely. It’s only a poor purchase if you go into debt, or if it’s not something you really care about.
Decide what to spend money on ahead of time and bring your spending in line with your values. You’ll find that you can enjoy your financial resources and still build a stable foundation for the future.
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