Guilt Free Spending
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[Melanie, from Dear Debt is back with another great post.]

I’m on a pretty tight budget.

I work at a nonprofit organization and have $40k in student loans that I’m trying to pay off in a few years.

To make this goal happen, I am working hard at making more money, and throwing all my extra income to debt.

In addition, I try to limit my spending and only spend money on what’s important to me.

I don’t believe that because you are in debt, that you should have absolutely no fun. You should budget for it and enjoy small rewards to keep up your morale.

Recently, I’ve had my ups and downs with spending money. Being a full-time hustler can be exhausting, which lends itself to being vulnerable to convenience spending. Whenever I would go out and get a quick bite to eat somewhere, I’d try to be frugal and get something inexpensive like pizza. Even though I only spent a few dollars, I would feel incredibly guilty.

First off, as much as I love pizza, in general I know it’s not the kind of food that I need to deal with such a busy lifestyle. Secondly, I knew that if I had planned a little better I could have had a better tasting, healthier, cheaper meal.

From these experiences, I started monitoring how I felt every time I spent money. One day, my boyfriend and I decided to go on a nice dinner date. We had hardly seen each other all week, and it was a stressful one at that. We decided to go out for dinner and drinks, and spent $40. Even though the amount was more than I usually spend, I felt absolutely no guilt. I was paying for time with my boyfriend, a nice meal, ambience, and a chance to relax outside of our home.

That feeling really stuck with me. How could I spend $3 on pizza and feel so guilty and none at all when spending $40 on a dinner date with my boyfriend? The answer is simple: my values.

I realized that my guilt completely went away when I was spending money on an experience, a special occasion, or a fun time out with friends. If I was alone, and spending on convenience or junk, I felt incredibly guilty.

Feeling guilty is no fun; it’s a particular sensation that can linger for a while and feel like it’s eating you up. Guilt is that little voice in your head telling you that you shouldn’t do something.

In an effort to maximize my happiness, minimize guilt, save money, and spend money where it really counts, I’ve started to really look at where my money is going and why. With this simple step, here’s how you can also avoid the guilt trap and spend money on items aligned with your values:

Track Your Spending…But Go a Step Further

Free Spending TrackerIf you’re not already tracking your spending start now! You don’t need any elaborate tools or apps to track your spending; a small notebook will do just fine. Tracking spending clearly outlines where your money is going and how much is being spent. It eliminates that awkward feeling of “wait, where did my money go?” Also, track how much money is coming in, too. It’s important to know your income to expense ratio.

After tracking your spending for a whole month, look at all your purchases. Next to each purchase make a mark: place a star if the purchase was spent on something related to your values, and made you feel good. If the purchase made you feel bad or guilty, highlight it in red. For this exercise, if you track your spending digitally, print out a physical copy of what you spent that month.

Feel free to make extra notes next to the purchase on why that money was spent. Was it a birthday? A night out after a rough week? These notes help you look at a more complete financial picture. I’m a firm believer that managing your money has so much to do with your emotions, not just your income versus expenses.

Once you are done with this exercise, look at all the red. Does it look like a crime scene? If so, your money is going to places it shouldn’t. It doesn’t make you feel good, which isn’t very sexy or smart.

Now look at the places you have stars. What are you starting to notice about your spending patterns and what makes you feel good? Is it books? Music? Travel? Coffee? Whatever the pattern is, those are indicative of your values.

When we feel guilty about our spending, that’s our mind telling us that we aren’t spending money on what’s really important to us. Although it should be easy to spend money on our values, sometimes our daily life gets in the way and we get out of alignment. We spend money on things that are NOT important to us because it’s convenient, it feels good in the moment (like a drug), or you’re spending to keep up with some culturally constructed consumerism.

Remember, actions speak louder than words. If you say your values are one thing, but spend money on the opposite of that, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate.

Money is a tool that should make our lives easier and add to our experiences. It’s not something that needs to be painful, or guilt-ridden. Ditch the guilt, and spend money on your values. You’ll be surprised how much happier you will be and how much easier things become.

I’d like to hear your thoughts: Is your spending in alignment with your values? When do you feel out of balance?

About The Author: Melanie blogs about breaking up with debt at DearDebt.com and invites others to write breakup letters to their debt as well. She’s accumulated a total of $81k in student loan debt between two degrees. Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. Melanie enjoys travel, art, music, adventure, and of course, personal finance.  If you’re interested in writing for Vosa contact us here.

Top image credit: derera_toujours

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