Why I Have Trouble Spending Money

As a personal finance blogger, I’m proud to list off the ways I save money. I use coupons at the grocery store, I eat leftovers from my side hustle. I’ve been known to go on month long spending bans. It’s a badge of honor.

There’s another part of the equation though. Frugality aside, I personally have trouble spending money. I’ve done plenty of stupid things to avoid spending at all costs. I am perilously close to miserly at times. Opening up my wallet, even for things I want, can be crazy hard for me.

Why do I have trouble spending money?

The truth of it is, I’m scared. I’m scared to spend money on anything other than the bare essentials, the absolute necessities. Even things that matter to me, like friends or causes dear to my heart, take the back seat when it comes to money.

I’ve been broke. I’ve been to rock bottom. It’s terrifying and not just because you can’t pay your bills. You begin to question yourself and your abilities. Things you thought to be true about yourself are suddenly up for debate. Am I capable? Am I smart? Wouldn’t someone have hired me by now if I was? Why haven’t I found a way to overcome this? What is wrong with me?

The sheer amount of anxiety and fear that comes with no financial security can be paralyzing. I’ve spoken before about the dark place I was in before I got serious about paying off my debt and taking control of my finances.

Paying off my debt gave me this wonderful sense of control over my life. I felt infinitely more capable. I felt stronger. Those feelings are now a part of how I identify. I know I can do amazing things. I love myself and I’m excited for my future in lots of ways. I’ve carved this life out for myself through a lot of hard work and I’m proud of it.

And yet. I still have money anxiety.

To be fair, I also still have a pretty low income. There’s just not a lot of money to go around. And while I do have a good sized emergency fund and several sources of income at the moment, I am acutely aware of how fast those things can disappear.

My safety nets are still pretty small. Disasters can come in ginormous sizes. Right now, even though I am out of debt and building my savings, I still very much so have a famine mentality when it comes to money. I want to save every drop. I want to stockpile cash. I both resent and am afraid of spending, because it means less money to build my cushion. It means I am still open to the risk of going back to rock bottom.

I don’t want that. God, I don’t want that so badly! I have worked really hard and I like where I am now and where I’m heading. In my mind, if giving up spending means more financial security, it’s a no brainer! Obviously I should forgo new sneakers and run in my two year old ones. Of course I should eat only rice and beans and vegetables for three months. Clearly I shouldn’t give Christmas or birthday presents. They all take away from my security!

It’s hard to live a full and generous life when that’s your mindset. I want to give birthday gifts (frugal ones obviously, but still gifts!) because I have some pretty incredible people worth celebrating in my life. I want to be generous with my time and energy and yes, occasionally my money. I want to be ok spending my money on things that matter to me.

So my trouble with spending money is something I’m trying to work on. I don’t mean I want to work daily lattes or a new car into my spending habits. I mean I want to reach a point where I feel comfortable spending on the things I know are truly worth it. I’m getting closer but I’m still a way off.

Frugal (or broke) friends: Any tips for feeling comfortable with loosening the purse strings when it counts?

For more on spending and how to do it in a way that won’t hurt your finances read these other articles.

Post-Debt Spending: How to Do it Right
Then and Now: Spending vs Frugality
Using ‘Found’ Money for Your Fun Spending


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36 Replies to “Why I Have Trouble Spending Money”

  1. I really appreciate your honesty in this post, Kara! You could present yourself as a super-frugal winner who has conquered debt and is moving on to savings and early retirement despite the challenges of tenuous streams of income – and we’d all believe you because your accomplishments support that image. Instead, you’ve hit upon something that I think is more common than we realize. There IS a difference between frugality based on personal power and frugality based on personal fear. As someone who has come from the over-spending side of things, I can’t offer any strategy, but I’ll be interested in seeing how you handle this dilemma. And I wish you well in developing a foundation of strength for your finances – as well as every other area of your life : )

    1. Thank you so much! What unbelievably kind thoughts and wishes. I do feel like my story is somewhat uncommon in the blogosphere so I hope that I can help others and figure things out for myself!

  2. […] to Free, wrote about a topic that is rarely touched upon in the pf world: a fear of spending. In Why I Have Trouble Spending, she reveals – bravely I think – the anxious foundation of what could easily be […]

  3. I’d say work on building your income, but also shifting your mindset. It sounds stupid at first but say, “Money comes easily to me”. “I make money easily”. “Money is everywhere” Realize all the money around you and how much you have and you’ll get more. I know it sounds so “secrety”, but I swear it helps!

    1. I’ve never even thought of that. I believe in affirmations too, and it never occurred to me to try one for money purposes. I will now!

  4. I think you just need to pick one item/category that either really matters to you or where you’d get the most bang for your buck: vacation, clothes (within reason), a hobby. That way, you’ll work on spending money, but you’ll be spending with a very specific purpose — and having thought carefully about it. Sometimes, the latter is the major hang-up.

    Otherwise, maybe you could choose to focus on spending that would help increase your income. Maybe that’s a couple more work outfits to make a good impression (don’t know where you work, so that’s a shot in the dark) or even investing in this blog to help create a side income.

    Again, if you have a definitive goal for the money spent, it makes it (a little) easier to let go of the money.

    1. I like the idea of spending to increase my income! There are a few courses I’ve wanted to take or some things I could use to upgrade the old blog here and I have been putting them off. This is a good way of thinking about it!

  5. […] who has been struggling so much recently with being overworked and trying to do everything at once. I hardly spend any money and what’s more, I hardly make any […]

  6. I know you’re a super deliberate spender, and you’ve made some strategic spending choices over time, like buying work clothes on Black Friday. Can you make a deliberate choice to spend on some of these things that matter, or even create a “joy fund” or something similar, that you contribute to monthly, and then use for gifts and travel? If it seems like something you’re actively deciding to do, maybe it will feel more empowering, and less fear-provoking. Love this post and your honesty in it! Lots of us have money anxiety, even after building up a big enough cushion to withstand most things, but it’s hard to admit it! Kudos to you for putting it out there. 🙂

    1. I do have an established ‘travel fund’ right now that I’ll be dipping into a few times this year, and I’m trying to build a dinner out once a month into my food budget so my boyfriend and I can have date night. (It’s definitely for him, but it’s important to me that my frugality not stifle him at every turn!) That said, I still have this underlying feeling of anxiety about it. I ask myself ‘how much better would my savings be if I put this money away?’ or ‘I’ll never reach early retirement unless I am a savings Nazi!’ But I don’t want to be a Nazi! So here’s hoping that bringing more mindful spending into my life will ease the anxiety a bit.

  7. […] now. Things that I knew I should do but couldn’t bring myself to spend money on. We all know that’s something I struggle with. And here I was with the perfect opportunity to spend, guilt free! It was like the heavens opened […]

  8. […] of three days, all in the name of earning credit card rewards. It was actually really fun and kind of freeing in a way. Having spent the last year and a half in extreme frugal mode, where even spending on food […]

  9. […] I’ve written about before, letting money pass me by is really hard for me. I struggle with it. Even when I was sobbing in my car, I was crunching […]

  10. Kara, sometimes when we go through rock bottom situations, it creates a major panic that we never want to go through that again. That fear pushes us to an extreme.

    maybe you can come with your life priorities /goals that is not money related. and plan and spend money towards that goal or life priority. say, family, friendships, volunteering, traveling, self discovery, self development, education, great health, (gym, yoga, vitamins & supplements ) etc might be life priorities.. you might pick one of those that mean much to you or find one that means much and spend your money towards that.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts! I’m trying to align my spending with my values these days. So things like travel and health are at the top of the list. I’m planning a camping trip in the fall and allowing myself to buy gear for that. It’s still hard because I am in that panicky mindset you spoke to. But I’m getting better!

  11. […] being overworked and trying to do everything at once, this was like a spending gift from the gods. I hardly spend any money and what’s more, I hardly make any […]

  12. […] I think the dollars were pretty well spent. So overall, no regrets! It’s all part of getting more comfortable with spending in the areas that […]

  13. Im glad im not the only one with this issue. I believe i may even be worse. I will buy my son anythibg, i will spend money on trips on occasion but other than that i eill bring myself to tears tormenting myself over wether or not to buy something. I know part of my issue but its hard to overcome. I am the obe responsible for making sire everything is paid for in the house. I drove around a 25 year old falli g apart truck fir years. I finally bit tge bullet and bought a used vehicle. The next month i got sick and was bed ridden for two weeks and now cant do a quarter of what i could. Every time I buy myself something, something bad happens. Now its pure torture when i see things i want. I have the money and i have some set aside im just absolutely terrified to spend the money. What do i do. I watch other people just find something they want and get it but fir me if its more that $5 I cants stand it. I have been looking at thise fireplace tv stands for years. I would love to have one. Ive seen every one they make i think but end up never buying one because i cant spend it. Does anyone have any ideas for me

    1. Hey Trish! I think you need to start talking yourself through your spending. Remind yourself you have savings, and that buying something you need is not wasteful!

      1. Buying something i need is not too terrible. Sometimes i put things off but i worry about needs. I know i cant count on my husband to ever have any money set aside so when it come to sonething i just want i cant buy it. You know those fireplace tv stands. Ive WANTED one for year. I think ive drooled over every one they have ever made but since i dont need it i can justify even buying a $300.00 one. I think ive conceeded to the fact that i may need professional help for this. I believe my job has a counseling program. It might help as i make myself truly miserable watching others including my husband buy whatever he wants and leaves me to be responsible…. And yes we have had a talk about it…. A few times. I dont know what else to do.

        1. Sounds like counseling for both you and your husband will help. He needs to hold up his end of the bargain. Your partner should hold you up, not hold you back.

          1. Yes we have our fair share of issues that go way beyond money. I kmow i need to work on making me happy and work on being able to get myself a treat from time to time. I was so proud, a few weeks ago i went to walmart and bought a $20.00 purse. I have never bought a purse from anywhere other than good will or salvation army. I can spend & 5 all day. Its the bigger ticket items, say $20.00 or more that i start having the issues.

  14. […] money. I know how to do it, I enjoy doing it, and I’m good at it. What I struggle with is spending money. I still find it difficult to spend my money, even in areas that matter to me. Budgeting would feed […]

  15. Hi Kara, I recently came across your blog. You do a great job with it and I’m learning a lot from you. I wanted to ask if you were willing to address some of the privileges you had growing up. You’ve written in other posts on the blog that you grew up in a single parent household, but it looks like you also went to a top private high school and a top private university, where you played a sport (lacrosse) that’s generally reserved for the upper-middle class / upper-class. Also, it looks like your parents are also very well-educated and have similar top-notch educations. Understandably, not everyone who goes to those kinds of schools is well-off, by any means, but it would be great to hear you address how you bridge the background you came from with the person you are today. (For context: I studied sociology in college, and I’m interested in this kind of thing.)

    1. I’ve addressed my privileges in a lot of posts- I encourage you to look at them.

  16. I’m going through this EXACT same thing and it is driving me mad. I have been to rock bottom too, but worked my butt off at part time jobs to get a good £5,000 in savings. I refuse to spend any of it even though there are things I really want. In fact, I just keep adding to it. I’ve made plans to add and try and get up to 8k by the end of the year by living off less than £5 per week. It’s ridiculous but I’m SO afraid of that number going down. I hate paying for food or day trips in my eyes, those are only temporary luxuries and once they’ve passed I just feel miserable and guilty for spending money on them. I’m wary with buying things for myself or anybody else. I don’t want to be ‘selfish’ or ‘mean’ but I also don’t want to be stress ridden and hating myself afterwards. I lie awake worrying about it and t’s like the reward isn’t worth the anxiety. I think “What if I don’t have a job soon or what if something happens to my bank account and I’m without money for ages?” It’s like money comes first in my mind and I absolutely hate that but I can’t help it. If you find a way to overcome it please help. I tried buying a few snacks with my £5 shopping about a month ago, bringing the total to around £8 and it didn’t help, it just made me angry and upset and I didn’t want to eat them.

  17. ThursdayNext says: Reply

    Oh boy, I had that husband thing. It wasn’t that he spent a lot, it was that he had no problem spending on something for himself. And while he didn’t outright discourage me from spending money, he’d wail about how tight everything was whenever I did. So it should be easy and thought-free for him, but heavy, and considered and necessary for me. It was a bad dance, and only one of the issues we had. When you wear rosy-colored glasses, red flags look…just like flags.
    I know it’s been a year, but I hope you’ve gotten some counseling in the meantime.

    Kara, hope you’ve gotten past this hump as well. I found this post very helpful and affirming.

  18. I am nearly 70, my after tax income is over $500,000. I have no debt whatsoever. I recently bought a new truck and it freaked me out so bad I sold it within two weeks. I am paralyzed by a purchase like that but at the same time it does not bother me at all to gift my daughter and grandkids many thousands. I have an 8 figure net worth and can’t seem to bring myself to buy myself toys. Guess I’ll just be making my heirs rich. Wish I knew how to change. I have been a serious saver my whole life and that is how I got where I am — but what for? Now I just worry about the money and don’t enjoy it.

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