Guilt Induced Frugality Comments58 Comments

In life most things simply aren’t black and white. Still, people like to attach labels to others – labels that are often absolutes with no middle ground.

In the case of personal finance, the label that people commonly toss around is the notion of being frugal or cheap.

If someone is frugal though, do they constantly maintain that mindset? Some people might be disciplined enough to keep it up, but I think most people still occasionally splurge.

The difference with frugal people is that they usually recognize the splurging and try to compensate. Essentially they trigger the phenomenon of guilty induced frugality.

Here are some situations where this phenomenon is all too common:

Vacation Frugality

So you’ve committed to some exotic vacation, traveled halfway around the world and then you realize you’re just not comfortable with how much money you’re spending.

The less frugal would just shrug their shoulders and carry on with no regard to how much they’re spending. They are on vacation and it’s time to have a good time after all. They can just worry about the cost afterwards.

Frugal people tend to have a much tougher time ignoring the costs that are rapidly piling up. Then their frugality really gets put to the test. Do they cut back to eating at less expensive restaurants for the rest of the trip? Do they modify their plans to limit additional spending? Or do they just vow to go into hardcore frugal mode when they get home?

Restaurant Guilt

Now what do you do when you go out to a restaurant only to realize that it’s going to cost more than you expected?

If you’re not too careful with your money, you wouldn’t think twice about going for the lobster, ordering an appetizer and maybe even dessert. Go big or go home, right?

Then there’s the people who suddenly aren’t feeling too hungry. They decide if they’re spending that much on a meal, it better stretch out to leftovers too. Forget about having some drinks or even a $3 soda. Nope, they’re going to stick to water. It’s likely going to be a little while before they dine out again.

Car Buyer’s Remorse

This is probably one situation that most truly frugal people wouldn’t get themselves into. With a purchase as big as a car, they’re bound to take the time to find a vehicle that easily fits into their budget. In my case, my financial situation changed shortly after getting my car and my frugal side started to take over.

So what’s a guy or girl to do after getting into that mess? The Dave Ramsey faithful would say it’s as simple as selling the car and downgrading. Who’s really willing to take that kind of hit and settle for a less desirable car? Instead it’s more tempting to make other sacrifices to be able to afford that nice car.

To balance it out we drive that car much longer than we may have originally anticipated. Potential upgrades fall to the wayside. If the car is particularly expensive, it carries over to cutting back on things like vacations, dining out, housing and more.

Summary

Personally I’ve experienced all of these situations. Initially the situation might stress you out a bit, but once you find ways to balance it out, it isn’t so bad. You need to decide if that splurge is really going to be worth it or if you can take some measures to ease the pressure on your wallet. Ideally you also realize the need to avoid the situations that make you feel guilty before you get committed.

How many of you have ended up in these situations? Is there anywhere else that lead you to guilt induced frugality?

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This entry was posted in Financial Advice, and tagged , , Comments58 Comments
By : Jeremy Biberdorf | 10 Sep 2012
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58 thoughts on “Guilt Induced Frugality

  1. TB at BlueCollarWorkman

    Can’t say my wife and I do the “guilt” thing. If we’re gonna go on a vacation or out to a fancy dinner, we save like you wouldn’t believe, and so when we’re there, there’s no worries. We usually decide ahead of time what hotel we’ll stay in, but other than that, just go and have fun. Don’t worry about whether the pop at this vendor or that costs more, just have a nice time, you’ve saved for it and you earn it! No guilt!

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      I guess that’s where lots of planning helps. If you know beforehand how much you’ll likely be spending, there is no shock that forces you to try to cut back. While you may have saved for it, that is still money that might be better put to use in your retirement account.

      Reply
  2. John S

    I’ve experienced the first two most definitely. The thing that I’ve learned, is to allow myself to splurge in those specific situtations…especially while on vacation. I do consider myself frugal by nature, but I’ve found the key is saving or budgeting to have the money to allow myself to splurge while on vacation.

    In my opinion, I’ve saved the money exactly for the vacation (or for whatever other thing for that matter) and can spend it guilt free. That being said, my challenge is to not mentally count up all the expenses just as you mentioned. Over the years, I’ve just learned what I need to have while on vacation to be able to simply “vacate” and not have to worry about all the costs.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      It is a nice feeling to not worry about expenses for a while, which is probably why people’s vacation spending can get out of hand. The key is that you can actually afford those ballooning costs. Some people can’t help but think about all the costs even when they really did save up enough and can afford it. Frugality isn’t always something that can be turned on and off.

      Reply
  3. Cat

    This is so me. After my splurge on a hotel room in Chicago last year, I felt like I needed to save by not getting one when we went to Ottawa. Stayed with a friend instead. Big mistake.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Yep, with some things it just isn’t worth trying to save money. When traveling, the privacy and freedom of your own hotel is usually well worth the cost.

      Reply
  4. LittleFrugalista

    Going through some major restaurant guilt right now! Throughout the last two years, I’ve been focused on paying off debt so I rarely went out to eat. Now that I have a bit more cashflow from a full time job AND no debt, it’s a bit too easy to go out and blow a ton of cash. I’m going on a mini-vacation in November and plan to save up for it and use cash so I don’t have to stress out about throwing things on a credit card or being overly frugal while there.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Sounds like you’re on the cusp of some major lifestyle inflation. That time when you get out of debt and have more cashflow is definitely the toughest time to maintain frugality. Suddenly you feel like you can afford all of those things that you have been depriving yourself of. Ideally though you are able to transition back into the frugal mode so that you can save more for retirement.

      Reply
  5. femmefrugality

    You just described me to a T. I always order water, eat half my meal, and end up returning expensive items I buy…even if we really need them or I got an amazing deal on it. I enjoy my vacations, but I do go into hardcore frugal mode right before and after.

    I think I have a disorder.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Returning items afterwards does intrigue me a bit. I guess I’m too self conscious to return stuff after I bought it, but you’d think after a few returns you’d start avoid those purchases in the first place. Perhaps you do have a disorder ;)

      Reply
    1. Jeremy

      I definitely agree that it can put a damper on vacations. Instead of really letting loose, the high cost can end up adding a lot of stress. Perhaps you just need to make sure you have more saved up beforehand so that you have the peace of mind that it is all budgeted for already.

      Reply
  6. My Money Design

    What’s funny is I’ve always associated frugal with being cheap, and never wanted to be associated with it. But now after reading your definition, it appears that I am in fact pretty frugal. I never order anything but my entree at a restaurant, I worry about building costs on vacation anywhere other than at an all-inclusive resort, and I hate buying anything big (like a car). Perhaps its just as well – the rich don’t get rich by giving their money away foolishly, right?

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      To me frugal and cheap is pretty damn close to the same thing. Frugal is just a nicer word for it. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it as long as it doesn’t prevent you from truly enjoying things. I almost never order more than an entree at a restaurant, but I think that is ok since that is always filling enough. Getting an appetizer too is just excessive.

      Reply
  7. Terry

    My wife, two boys, and I try to be as frugal as possible on vacations too. When traveling, instead of eating at a restaurant, we’ll load up the ice chest with food and snacks from the grocery store. We just eat while we travel, or stop at a park.

    I also try to make trips tax deductible by traveling to places where I can attend a meeting or participate in some other activity related to my business.

    It pays to be a cheapskate and save those receipts!

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      As long as your family is accustomed to that style of traveling, it can still be extremely enjoyable. It’s more of a problem when you try to cut back once they have already experienced the splurging style of vacation. When I was a kid I know I wouldn’t have any problem with packed meals.

      Reply
  8. Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies

    We don’t usually have a lot of guilt after many purchases, but I think a lot of that stems from the fact that unless we really NEED something, we tend to wait a very very long time to get it. If it’s within the birthday/christmas $ range, we wait until then… but we’ve also been known to wait years to get something. Mr. PoP still has dreams about a tube amp for watching movies and listening to music – he’s been wanting it since he built his speakers (in 2003!) We’ll get it someday, and when we do there will be no guilt about it because we know he’s going to continue to want it for a very long time.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Poor Mr PoP waiting so long for his tube amp. That is some serious delayed gratification. When you delay and save up like that it would take away the guilt. By the time you finally guy those items you’d really feel like you deserve it. I’ve been doing the same kind of thing with a lot of the bigger stuff that I’d like. Technically I could buy any of it right now, but instead I’m forcing myself to wait.

      Reply
  9. Kim@EyesontheDollar

    We do like to splurge especially on trips, but it’s ususally something like one restaurant meal a day and the rest is grocery store food. I agree with some of the other comments that if you save and plan and have an idea how much your are spending, I don’t feel too guilty.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Just one restaurant meal a day is a good strategy. If you don’t limit yourself with restaurants that can easily become one of the biggest expenses of your vacation. I know I’ve had a problem with that in the past.

      Reply
  10. Lance@MoneyLife&More

    I have run into the restaurant one. Normally it just means we eat out less that month than originally anticipated. I try to have a decent vacation budget and have it planned out so we can enjoy the vacation without stressing about money. I still look for good values though and wont buy anything that screams rip off.

    Reply
  11. bogofdebt

    Right now, all of our splurges are mostly planned for so I don’t really feel guilt. Of course, sometimes I feel upset about money I’ve spent (for instance the $80 on fans. I didn’t want to spend that much on any fans but with no AC and it hitting above 95 degrees, I kind of had to) when I haven’t planned it. But gone are the days of budget breaking splurges.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Good to hear that you’ve got the splurges under control. I wouldn’t feel too bad about the fans since they were clearly a necessity. A decent fan usually lasts forever anyway. So over their lifetime you’ll probably get great value out of them.

      Reply
  12. Veronica @ Pelican on Money

    I can say I’ve had the reverse of car buyer’s guilt. I felt so guilty about having to buy a new car, knowing I would be paying in cash and all of that cash would be gone! In fact, it took some hard convincing of the self to do before bringing myself up to the purchase. However, after buying the new(er) car I am extremely satisfied with final decision to make the purchase. Sometimes just making the tough choice is a smarter decision, in which benefits aren’t always evident right away. In my case – no more stress thinking the car is going to break down in the middle of the highway (how much was this stress costing me? I may never know).

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Reducing stress is priceless. It wreaks havoc on our bodies and minds. So if that purchase relieved stress, it was probably well worth it. By buying a newer car, you will likely spend a lot less on maintenance each month too. All in all, it should make you a lot happier.

      Reply
  13. Jacob @ iheartbudgets

    I love my budget (obviously), and one of the biggest reasons I love it is because it eliminates guilt. We plan for restaurants, vacations, etc….and set aside all the money before the event comes up. This way we feel empowered to spend the money, not guilty for spending it. My spending cash is for spending, not saving. I spend it because it’s planned for.

    Now, the only time we feel guit is when we blow the budget. But we then balance it out afterwards to minimize the damage. I can say that I used to feel this way a lot before I got on a budget.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Sounds like a pretty awesome reason to have a budget. Personally I’m not quite serious enough about my finances to want to risk limiting myself or risk the temptation to use the full spending part of my budget each month. That’s the excuse I give myself anyway. Mostly I’m just too lazy to keep track of it all.

      Reply
  14. Canadianbudgetbinder

    We tend to plan alot so that doesn’t happen but it has for me personally. I like to think that I am frugal when I need to be and I spend money, good money on quality products when I should be. I’m not that type that will cheap out on renovation materials for example and get the cheaper version. If I do a project I do it right the first time as I don’t want to spend money doing it again. Then there is the restaurant where I can be frugal. I always tend to do the math in my head and say ” I could cook this at home for x amount of dollars”. I think planning is the most important to eleviate some of what I have experienced and what you mention in your post. If all else fails, leave it and come back another day,get just what you need or suck it up and deal with it later. Mr.CBB

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      At restaurants I just choose to ignore how much it would cost to cook at home. I do consider whether I could cook a comparable dish at home though. That’s why I almost never order pasta or chicken when dining out. Something like that is just too easy to prepare myself. Some things like renovations are definitely worth spending extra on.

      Reply
  15. Shannon-ReadyForZero

    I definitely feel frugality guilt a lot. The worst case was in moving across the country. My fiance and I had every cost planned out and were very proud of ourselves for sticking to it – but once we got here we didn’t consider the costs that would mount as we got settled in. It’s definitely hurt but now we’re finding ways to make up for lost time in our budget.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      A cross country move would be rather expensive, especially if you have a lot of stuff to move. It would be easy to forget about extra expenses such as a new driver’s license, insurance, utility deposits, etc.

      Reply
    1. Jeremy

      I guess you do a good job managing your money on vacations if that is the case. I wouldn’t be able to do just cash on vacations simply because I wouldn’t be comfortable carrying that much cash.

      Reply
  16. MoneySmartGuides

    I don’t have vacation guilt. It’s one of the areas that I choose to spend money on because I enjoy getting away and relaxing. Plus, I value the experience ans memories associated with them as well.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      I think when someone decides something is a major priority the guilt isn’t present. In my 20s I was foolish enough to make restaurants a priority and didn’t feel guilty about it at the time. Now I sure wish I had spent my money more wisely.

      Reply
  17. Rebecca

    I definitely feel frugal guilt from time to time as well. I used to stress about the money I was spending on vacation and ended up ruing the entire trip. I have found that when I stick to a budget and make specific savings goals (like a vacation or new car), I feel way less guilty about my spending. I know that everything is going where it should be and the money that I’m spending is allotted especially for that purpose.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      I guess I need to get better at planning and possibly take up the dreaded B word. I’d like to be able to feel less guilty about getting specific things I want. It seems I always need to find ways to justify big purchases these days.

      Reply
  18. Jessica @ Budget For Health

    I do this with buying clothes. I get in line with 5 articles but by the time I get to the check out I’ve only got 3 because I didn’t think I liked that shirt enough to spend $15 on it…or I just didn’t want to spend an extra $15

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      I guess your wallet is hoping there is always a line up at the register to give you that time to second guess your purchases. It is good to take some time to think over purchases a bit.

      Reply
  19. Mo' Money Mo' Houses

    Umm yes totally about vacation guilt. When me and my BF went to a mexican all-inclusive I felt since we spent a bunch of money on the flight, hotel, and all-inclusive part, I didn’t want to go on too many expensive excursions or go into town for dinner. Then again when it came to upgrading to the much fancier part of the hotel I loosened my purse strings and it was the best decision ever.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      I would think that would be a fairly common problem with getting all-inclusive. You feel that since it’s all covered already, it’s like you’re saying no to free food and entertainment by leaving the resort.

      Reply
  20. Savvy Scot

    Nice comparisons Jeremy. I am very much of the opinion that if I have spent a fortune traveling to an exotic location, then I am sure as hell going to make the most of it. I like to put (most of) the frugal mindset aside for a holiday and enjoy myself completely.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Yep I know about your love for vacations and the high priority you place on it. Since I’m sure those vacations make you very happy, I think it is probably worthwhile to splurge a bit there in your case.

      Reply
  21. Jordann

    My biggest problem is that once I’m in the situation, all frugality goes out the window. I always overspend on trips, restaurants, and shopping. My solution is just to avoid those situations all together, because clearly I can’t handle the situation. I usually make up for it by being unusually frugal after the fact.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      I used to be that way with restaurants. Once I was there I’d freely order drinks, an appetizer and sometimes dessert. I’d also have no worries about ordering the most expensive entree on the menu. Eventually I smartened up though.

      Reply
    1. Jeremy

      lol that may be the case with a lot of people who feel this kind of guilt. I think there would still be people who really could afford it but are just too cheap. I know I’ve had a couple bosses with that mentality.

      Reply
  22. Crystal

    Our good friends are the spend it who cares type and we are always watching the bottom line. We actually went on vacation with them to mexico one and we just agreed to do our own things. We planned trips and excursions we had budgeted for and they splurged on whatever they wanted. It drives them crazy to no end that we don’t throw caution to the wind, but it’s just not in me.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      That would be frustrating to go on vacation with people like that. Then it’s pretty hard to ignore all the expensive stuff they are enjoying. The thing you have to remember is that those people may be sacrificing some retirement savings by blowing money like that.

      Reply
  23. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter

    I have been practicing the one month rule. I wait to buy something for one month. If I still really want it then I go for it but if I am no longer interested I don’t buy it. This really helps me differentiate between the real wants and the implusives.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      I guess I’m going by a similar rule but with no set time frame. Instead I just wait as long as I can before making the purchase. This delayed gratification does seem to limit the guilt I feel.

      Reply
  24. Aloysa @ My Broken Coin

    I am not frugal at all but I experienced all of the above with the exception of a car. Never felt guilty. My first car was $1500 and had about 150K miles on it. Paid cash. When it fell apart (almost literally) I upgraded to a little bit better car. I think cars is the only item that I take as necessity and not look at it as a want. It is definitely a need for me. Vacations? That’s a very different conversation. :)

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      I don’t think I’d be able to handle the extra stress about worrying about my car to break down. So I have always made a point of buying cars is great condition. I just should’ve gone with used instead of new the last time around.

      Reply
  25. Daisy @ Add Vodka

    I have recently experienced some mega vacation guilt – in NYC I had a hard time not stressing over how much I was spending. I wasn’t even spending that much! Not compared to what I thought I would drop on a trip like that. But it’s an expensive city.

    Reply

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