Updated on 01.20.08

Spending Far Less Than You Earn

Trent Hamm

Quite often, I talk about the value of frugality and spending less than you earn. For many of us, that’s a valuable mantra to repeat, because our tendency is to spend more than we should. Our challenge is to avoid spending, and we have to carefully talk ourselves out of it.

Yet there are those out there with the opposite problem – they almost can’t make themselves spend money. My best friend is like this and, interestingly, he’s getting worse as time goes on, seemingly getting tighter with his money. A reader, Stella, writes in with the same problem:

I’ve read a lot about not spending more than you earn. But I have the opposite problem, I cannot make myself spend money. I can talk myself out of any purchase. I have no problem grocery shopping but when it comes to clothes or major purchases I just can’t seem to drop the dollars. The frustrating part is that the money is available for the purchase. It drives my husband crazy. Case in point, our 18 year old refrigerator door is broken. It does not close on its own and must be pushed closed. My husband and I went looking for a replacement and found a good deal at an appliance outlet. I liked the new refrigerator, it would fit in my kitchen, it matched all the other appliances, it was plenty big for our family and would be much more energy efficient than the existing frig. My husband was ready to buy it right then but I said I needed to think about it. Why can’t I just say “OK, let’s buy it.”? Why do I have to talk myself into buying everything? I would love to know if others face this love/hate relationship with spending.

First of all, it’s important to recognize that this is a real problem. Some people will scoff at this and think, “I wish I had that kind of willpower,” and I’ll admit that I do respect such willpower. However, it can go too far when one’s aversion to spending begins to interfere with everyday life, particularly when you easily have the financial means to solve those problems.

One aspect of this condition is that it is usually connected to a reasonably large bankroll. When you have an aversion to spending, that money’s going to go into the bank, so it’s reasonable to believe that people with this condition would have significant cash in hand.

So how do you get past this problem? Here’s my advice.

Recognize that you may be overdoing it. For people in this situation, the ten second rule is ingrained – they naturally try to think of reasons to not buy the item, to the point that they talk themselves out of reasonable or even essential purchases. Instead, turn that ten second rule around – realize that you are overdoing it and think about reasons why you should buy the item.

Let yourself trust the people worth trusting in your life. Do you trust your spouse? Do you trust your best friend? These people know you – they know you don’t like to spend money without reason. If they’re encouraging you to spend, it’s likely because there’s a very good reason for it. Listen to them, trust them, and take that leap.

Set aside some money that you’re willing to spend. Instead of stocking every dime away into a giant retirement or investment account, create an account that’s solely there to make purchases. Put some money in it automatically and think of that money as already spent. Then, when you need to make a purchase like Stella’s refrigerator, you can just take this “already spent” money and replace that fridge.

Most importantly, don’t feel guilt for the choices you make. Stella’s obviously feeling some guilt. What I’ve found over and over again is that if you make choices that lead towards minimal guilt, you’re usually doing the right thing for you. When I spend too much, I feel guilty, but when I don’t spend enough, I feel guilty, too. The right amount is somewhere in between, and that’s the sweet spot we should all strive for, regardless of what side of the hill we’re on.

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  1. I’ve been like this, I’ve been getting better since the beginning of the year. I kind of liken it to anorexia – inability to take money out my wallet, just like anorexic’s inability to put food in their mouth.

    My problem is I’m either in feast or famine mode – spending no money at all or spending lots of money, with little middle point. I suspect this is the case for a lot of recovering spendaholics who are now practicing frugality as a means to pay off debts.

    The challenge is to find a middle point. Anybody can hunker down for a few years and get out of debt and be frugal, but the much more difficult challenge which few people seem to successfully reach is to find a sustainable, middle ground spending point which you can practice comfortably for decades.

  2. Michael says:

    Stella has the inverse of the spendthrift’s short-term problem. A spendthrift will spend his money for short-term and very short-term pleasures. So a spendthrift might replace a very good fridge with a new fridge because he wants the colors to match, or he wants an ice dispenser, etc. Stella, on the other hand, probably has a very energy inefficient, eighteen-year-old refrigerator that is costing her a significant amount of cash in electricity every year. Stella may also have missed out on a federal tax credit if she had bought an energy-efficient refrigerator. So by waiting, she has shot herself in the foot twice. By saving too much money, she has most likely cost herself more than if she had bought a new fridge.

  3. Tagertux says:

    Why not use this extra to invest in others. Some live my the following mantra: “Live simply, so that others might simply live”. We, in the west, are blessed and cursed with great wealth. If you can give away money to some good causes then continuing to live simply/frugally is a good thing. If you think about it in the long term the fridge might work out cheaper, but maybe the inconvenience of a difficult door is worth putting up with so you can give some money to a project in Africa. Difficult choices.

    Of course you could also…..
    Just marry someone who is the opposite. My wife and I are total financial opposites. She hates spending but I love it. I’m naturally generous and she isn’t as generous. I love learning about finance, she doesn’t. I understand investment (a little) and she doesn’t really. This of course causes a lot of tension in our marriage but working through it is reaping rewards. Together we are becoming more self-controlled, generous, complementary, wise individuals.

  4. I’m like this with clothing but I’ve been getting better. It’s all about realizing that “hey, this is something I really need to buy for the betterment of me as a person.”

    The feeling won’t ever go away, but you can still live with it.

  5. Frugal Dad says:

    This is a great article, Trent, mostly because it is contrary to what most financial experts out there tell people. We tend to beat up on people to the point they are terrified to spend anything, even if they can afford it. It’s like the guy that called Dave Rasmey once wanting to buy a lake house for a couple hundred thousand dollars. Dave got around to asking him what he’s worth and he says, “Oh, I don’t know…couple million or so.” Dave said buy the house – end of discussion. It’s great to be frugal to obtain wealth, and to stay that way requires some financial discipline. However, it’s important to live a little with the money you sacrificed to save.

  6. Could there be a problem called “Financial Anorexia?” We’ve all known or heard of scrooges and misers, people who wouldn’t spend a penny unless it was absolutely necessary, but I think it’s important to recognize money as a resource to make your life and your family’s life better. Don’t waste it, don’t use it all up today, set aside some of it for tomorrow, but don’t make your life miserable today because you fear what your life will be like in retirement.

    Frugality isn’t about not spending anything, it’s about spending your money wisely. It isn’t wise to fret about every single little purchase. Life’s too short.

  7. Sarah says:

    I am this way a little bit, myself. I am always on my husband for spending money on things we don’t need. For Christmas I told him he could take $100.00 and spend it however he wanted and I wouldn’t say anything about it (it was the keeping my mouth shut part that was my gift). He used it to buy me a new coat to replace the one I’ve had for seven years and wouldn’t replace myself because it still keeps me warm (though it’s so worn you can tell it’s been through a lot).

    My problem comes from a lifetime of doing without. I have put off paying the electric in order to pay rent, or making partial payments so that I could still eat. Though my circumstances have changed, those thought patterns don’t change so easily. Knowing that I have a certain amount in savings means that I am protected against that and the larger that number, the safer I feel.

  8. Tightwad says:

    I have this problem. It’s been great for keeping my family solvent through hard times, but I take it to extremes. My husband calls me a “financial anorexic” so I had to grin at the commenters who also used this term.

    It’s not the worst hang-up to have, and I’d definitely choose it over being one of those people who can’t control their spending. But it can be wasteful in its own way. Like putting off a small repair until it turns into a big repair. Or my drawer with hundreds of dollars in expired gift certificates that I couldn’t bring myself to spend.

  9. Matt says:

    I’m getting more like this with gadgets and truly pointless spending. I just hope it doesn’t translate to everything (though until the debt is cleared it might not be a bad idea).

  10. Lisa says:

    The larger my savings balance grows, the closer and closer to this point I find myself getting – I’ve made some poor financial decisions in the past, and compromised all my savings. Now that I have started to build that balance again, and learned a lot more about my money and frugality, I’m creeping closer to the line of no-spending. And yes, it can be a bad feeling – it causes a great deal of anxiety.

    I think maybe at least a portion of the people at this point of no spending are people who have made poor choices in the past with their savings and have worked hard to recover them, and are afraid to go down the same road and make the same mistakes again. It’s true that you do need to find a balance in life where you’re saving wisely, but at the same time your life is a limited resource just like your wealth and you do need to remember to enjoy it wisely.

  11. Kim says:

    Thank you for posting about this! I have this problem, badly, with one exception. Food. I spend all my money on food. When I’m hungry, I can drop twenty to thirty dollars no problem.

    However- anything else, even essentials that I honestly need? I can’t get myself to spend the money. I was thinking about this last night. I got a file cabinet ($10 at a garage sale, whoo!) as a gift from my mom who knew I needed one. The only thing it needs are the inserts to make it support hanging files. I’ve needed these inserts for a year. A year! And trust me, I do need to get more organized. My lack of a proper paperwork system is causing me problems.

    So, I am at the office supply store and there is a great deal on the frames, something I need, something I’ve needed for a year. But I couldn’t let myself buy them. I became really, really stressed out at the prospect of picking them up. This applies to other aspects of my life: I need more work shirts (I only have 5, 3 of which are really not appropriate for winter) and hey! some furniture beyond my desk and bed would be great. But I just can’t bring myself to spend the money on these things.

    Now, if I could find a way to spend -less- on food and then spend -more- on the things I actually need, I would be in much better shape. I like your idea of setting aside ‘already spent’ money. I would just have to keep that for non-food purchases.

    Thanks Trent for writing about this!

  12. Don says:

    This sounds exactly like me the older I get and the bigger my net worth grows the more I want to save and spend less. Currently I’m putting away 1k a month in 401k and between 1200-1500 away in cash. I’ve probably got too much cash saved up but subconsciously I’m prepping for some life changes. Kids might be coming soon, I’m looking to buy a rental property or small business and I would like to start a new career. So at the moment I’m enjoying the opportunity to save what I can.

    I was jaded by the 2001 recession. I went through 3 layoffs in 18 months and had to sell my house and move cities for work. We will hit (or currently are) a downturn in the economy this year. Should I get laid off I expect and extended job search and a high probability I’ll have to move again.

  13. plonkee says:

    It isn’t willpower that’s causing people not to spend in this case. In fact, it reminds me a bit of OCD. A kind of compulsively not spending. And I’ve heard that one of the best ways to get over OCD is to make yourself do the things that you think will cause the sky to fall in.

  14. Melissa says:

    I do this – I think it’s due partly to a recent shift from impoverished college student to somehow affluent young professional and partly to my parents’ frugal legacy.

    I found that planning purchases helps me – I took the usual advice of ‘wait a month and ask if you still want’ and adapted it. I plan and research most of my purchases to make sure that I’m getting the most out of each dollar. Slowly, I’m becoming more able to spend money.

    And I agree that that similarities exist between this problem and something like anorexia – the need for control and the way that either can be a coping mechanism.

  15. Andrew Stevens says:

    I sympathize. I slept on a mattress on the floor for years because I didn’t like to spend money. That had more to do with not wanting to move a bed than it did with the money, but it was still excessive.

  16. Steve says:

    I am in the same exact boat, Melissa. Raised by professionals who instilled in us kids the wisdom of frugality. “Wait a month and ask if you still want it” is something that my mother would repeat and is drilled into my head.

  17. daily walrus says:

    Good answer Trent. I’m with you on this one, Frugal Dad.

  18. Jim says:

    Setting aside some money to give, and some money to spend is as important as setting aside some money to save. What else, besides these 3 things is money good for?

  19. Lynn says:

    I can relate to the ‘Financial Anorexia’ syndrome. After clearing out thousands in debt (with the exception of mortgage and car) I cannot bring myself to spend anything now. If I do, I have to justify its existence in my world to the nth degree. Fear of living in my car again scares the heck out of me and I don’t want to put my family in that situation ever again.

  20. Barb says:

    Perhaps the problem is that whatever we spend our hard earned money on these days, we know it will not be worth even a fraction of the cost, so what is the point.

    The restaurant meal will not be particularly good, the service will be barely adequate, it will be noisy and uncomfortable. Ditto for airline travel. The movie will be stupid and offensive and the people around you will not shut up. The book will be vulgar, boring, ridiculous, and poorly edited. The computer software will require fixes and patches before you even learn how to use it. The fabric of your new clothes will be thin, weak, skimpy, and feel bad to touch, buttons will fall off and zippers rip. Anything electronic was either defective when it left the factory, will not do everything it is supposed to do properly, or will break down within a year, and tech service is overseas where they only work when you are asleep and stop speaking English as soon as they determine you want the item replaced. The person installing your new appliance will be incompetent (start a fire, cause a flood, or damage something) and it will last only a third as long as the one you are replacing-if you’re lucky. Your new car will have serious problems while still under warranty making you wonder what kind of condition it will be in by the time it’s paid for. And nothing can be repaired anymore. Nothing. Even if it could be repaired for a reasonable cost (like less than the cost of a new one), there is no one who will do it.

    A woman with an 18-year old refrigerator remembers when consumers had expectations for service, value, quality, and longevity. We are not willing, like the younger generation has been conditioned, to blithely buy and throw away, buy and throw away. My advice: keep slamming that refrigerator door shut for as long as possible. The alternative is not a good thing.

  21. Mrs. Micah says:

    I sometimes feel like this even about necessities. Like I just wish I didn’t have to spend money for food. I try to get past that and say that I’m just going to make good decisions about what I have to buy.

  22. A have a few tricks for spending money (and not spending money). Always buy the best. This avoids the desire to upgrade. It’s okay to buy things that directly improves one as a person e.g. text books, weights, vitamin pills, … as long as expenses and savings can be rationally reasoned in the grand scheme, they are okay.

  23. docah says:

    I totally agree with this post. I live in a similar mindset and struggle with the same thing daily.

    The solution for me was just as described above. I mentally mark money to spend in advance. I even set aside money (mostly from side work) to donate. Otherwise every dollar i make would go into savings or retirement.

  24. I think it may also be important to realize that this person may have a problem with change. My husband has a similar problem. I recently bought new glasses because we had gotten some new silverware for Christmas and I thought I would go ahead and replace our etched glasses. My husband won’t use either. He searches in the bottom of the drawer for some of the old pieces or uses an old glass. For him, the problem is the change of having something different from what he is used to. I would bet that may be this woman’s problem also.

  25. I would like for my wife to hang out with Stella for a while. Certainly one of their problems would be solved, and knowing my wife it would be Stella’s. :)

    Best Wishes,

  26. Sara says:

    I can really relate to this, as I shiver under 3 layers of clothing because I don’t want to turn on the heat and run up my gas bill, and sit on an uncomfortable chair because I can’t make myself drop $150 on a comfortable desk chair. I really want to get a dog, but I have so many fears about the costs of owning a pet that I talk myself out of it time and again.

    For me, saving money is almost an addiction. I keep a strict budget and record every cent I spend (down to a nickel in a parking meter), and I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment in seeing my expenses come out under budget month after month, and watching my bank account and retirement savings grow. Another part of it is the delayed gratification — I keep telling myself that if I can just keep saving more money and increasing my earnings, I will get to a point where I’ll have enough of a cushion that I can buy the things I want. But I know that I go overboard sometimes and miss out on things because of it.

  27. Gayle says:

    My partner is like this as well. I’m fairly frugal myself and have a difficult time with major purchases–but his situation is something different. Once I’ve decided something is necessary or worth it, it’s time to take action. But he’ll agonize over every detail/scenario that could possibly happen if he spends money on an item and ultimately paralizes himself into inaction.

    We needed to replace the appliances in our home about a year after we purchased it. He wanted to wait until there was no other possible option and I had to rationalize the purchase. In the year we’d lived there, we had called out for repairs 5 times and each appliance was a minimum of 12 years old. He was still hesitant. I took another 6 months of conversations, but eventually we did do the shopping, which is a whole other issue–he has to research things relentlessly.

    For example, it took us 2 years to replace a barely functioning vacuum cleaner. Even with his severe allergies, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Every time he would agree to making the purchase, the research would start. I’m all for getting the best bang for your buck so research is no problem. So then we’d narrow it down to the “best” for us. But then he’d balk and it would begin all over, convinvce him we need a vacuum cleaner, do the research (because newer models and more reviews might be available), decide, balk, rinse and repeat.

    It’s been, and continues to be, a major source of frustration for each of us.

  28. SG says:

    I’m catching myself doing this more and more often lately. It really is a kind of financial anorexia. I’ll be in the grocery store and put something back because I’ll tell myself, ‘I shouldn’t buy this, because I’m just going to eat it, and then it’ll be gone.’ Which I realise is rather the point of groceries, but this line of thinking is starting to seep over into other areas of purchasing as well.

    Setting aside money to spend is a good idea. My problem is that I’m seriously socking away my income for a future event (enough money to support myself through a PhD) and I’m worried that I’d be able to talk myself out of even a little fun-spending account by saying, ‘You can put the spending money into your PhD account and have it for later when you’ll REALLY want/need it, instead of buying that book/CD/DVD/pretzel you only want right now’. Any suggestions on how to get over this line of thinking?

  29. jake says:

    I would bet dollars to donuts stella and her husband do not do a budget. The fear of spending money is a control issue. She most likely feels out of control with her money so the only way to maintain control is to not spend any. Having a budget that includes both short and long term savings, giving and monthly expenses would lessen her anxiety since she could be telling all of her money what do, rather than part of her money what not to do.

  30. Debbie M says:

    First, I’d say you can use the same tools as other people use. You can have a list of questions, and though other people use their answers to these to talk themselves out of bad decisions, you can decide that if all the answers are right, then it’s time to buy.

    You can use a budget (or envelope system or cash-only system), and though other people use theirs to realize they don’t have the money for something, you can use it to realize you do have the money for something. If you can’t think of other things in that category that you want more or that you might suddenly need if something breaks, then it’s time to spend.

    If nothing you can think of works, think about seeing some sort of counselor for better ideas. Or they may notice some other issue that relates to this and which acknowledging will be a help. And counseling isn’t a science–try at least three before giving up.

  31. deRuiter says:

    Dear Kim, You’re obviously a good saver. Set aside a modest sum and make a list of what you need in the way of clothing and household goods. THEN TAKE THAT CASH AND GO TO YARD SALES AND ESTATE SALES IN NICE, EXPENSIVE NEIGHBORHOODS WHRE PEOPLE DO NOT WEAR OUT THEIR POSSESSIONS, BUT INSTEAD DISCARD THROUGH BOREDOM, AND BUY WHAT YOU NEED! Promise yourself to buy everything on the list at yard sales, and PUT THE LEFT MONEY IN THE BANK. You’ll get lovely things which are new to you, and spend little. NOW GIRL, GO OUT TODAY TO STAPLES OR OFFICE DEPOT AND BUY THOSE FRAMES, AND SOME NICE NEW FOLDERS TO HANG ON THEM. Getting organized will make you feel better! You feel guilty for not spending for what you need, this can be fixed economically! DON’T FORGET TO GET THE OFFICE SUPPLY STORE REWARDS CARD BEFORE YOU BUY THE FRAMES, might as well get credit towards other things with the frequent flyer card.

  32. Lana says:

    Stella needs to remember that the purpose of having and saving money is to create a better life for herself and her family. Would having a new refrigerator make their lives better at this point? It sounds like yes. What happens if one day the door doesn’t get closed properly and all the food goes bad overnight? Someone could get sick. Get the new fridge.

    Maybe she should just delegate this to her husband. Let him take care of picking out the fridge, purchasing it, and having it delivered. That way, it still happens, but she’s let her husband’s strength make up for her weak spot. What else is a marriage if not a team?

  33. Dagny says:

    I have been known to get into this nonspending mode. My husband is a spender, which makes for an interesting relationship :-)
    There may be a psychological element to this nonspending. Perhaps Stella feels unsafe in some way and she needs to hoard up funds as kind of a protection mechanism or insurance policy? I have been in that state. What helped was thinking through what I was feeling unsafe about. It can be things like anticipating a major home/car repair, health crisis, family crisis, or just bad economic times.
    Interesting how money is so entwined with other major areas of life, isn’t it?

  34. KellyKelly says:


    If you are concerned about the financial impact of owning a dog, considering fostering a shelter dog (or two) for your local shelter.

    I have done this off and on for years. I also help find the doggies a new home.

    Does it break my heart to let them go? Not really … because I keep in touch with the adoptive family and I can visit whenever I want.

    You should see the wonderful cards I get at Christmas!

    Everyone wins!

  35. Limewater says:

    I do not think that Stella has a problem except as far as her spending habits affect her relationships with her husband and other family.

    Pretty much everyone reading this blog is very, very wealthy. We’ve just been conditioned by living in a society of other wealthy people that we need to spend our money a certain way.

    There are billions of people in the world who would be thrilled just to have reliable electricity, let alone a refrigerator whose door will not close itself.

  36. Marta says:

    This is heartbreaking to read about!

    I think Dagny hit it on the head – the main connection between all of these posts is fear. Fear of losing control, fear of losing that security blanket of extra cash in the bank, fear of guilt and fear of regret.

    Writing down these feelings after going to the store might help as well as talking about these decisions with loved ones.

  37. argie says:

    I had this problem recently when I spent 30 minutes in an airport bookstore agonizing over buying a paperback to read on the plane for my trip home. I’ve trained myself to use the library exclusively and had even brought library books on my trip, but I had more time to read than I expected and I finished them early…spending $9 on a book was surprisingly hard! It was a great purchase, though, well worth it. I lent it to someone else when I finished it to get a little more value out of it, too.

    That said, I still have to fight my spending on clothes and restaurants, I’ve only developed this anorexia in the area of books.

  38. KellyKelly says:


    I understand your point, but should we also deny ourselves proper nutrition because so much of the world population is malnourished?

    If a major appliance is broken and you decide ahead of time to replace it (ie, methodically making a decision, not an emotional impulse), and you get all the way to the store and still can’t buy it even though you have the money …

    Well I don’t see what relevance other peoples’ poverty has in the transaction. There are plenty of people who have a lot MORE wealth than I do and plenty who have much, much LESS.

    I don’t know if I can articulate what I mean here. The point is, we are talking about an appliance, a refrigerator, which is about as boring and essential as good nutrition. If other people on the planet don’t have it, should I deny myself out of solidarity? I’m not going to send that money I saved over to them.

    I struggle with this anorexia too, so this topic really hits a nerve with me. As I sit on my ripped office chair in the room with no curtains and peeling paint.

  39. Cheryl says:

    @ Limewater

    I am most certainly NOT wealthy. I do not live in poverty, but wealth is not an adjective I would use to describe me! :-D

    I read Trent’s blog so that I may learn as much as possible to promote myself to the subjective term of “wealth.” I’m young and just starting off, but utilize many of the suggestions that Trent offers. THANK YOU, TRENT!!!

  40. Limewater says:


    Is there a reason that you are not sending the money that you save to help those in need?

    I realize that sounds judgmental and accusatory, though that is not my intent.

    However, I do believe that we should all be damn grateful to live in such wealthy nations. And we should remember that every time we spend money on things we do not need we are saying “not yours” to starving children who cannot feed themselves.


    Do you have electricity, access to refrigeration, an adequate diet, and hot running water? Even the poor in the US are wealthy compared to a majority of the world population.

  41. KellyKelly says:


    No offense taken. I do my charitable giving

  42. KellyKelly says:

    Meant to add this to my reply … you said we should send the money to the poor rather than buying things “we don’t need.”

    Again, we are discussing a refrigerator. I suppose I could strip my existence down to the core … sell my house and car, most of my possessions, give the proceeds to charity, give away what — 25 percent? 50 percent of my income?

    At what point is every single purchase above the most base necessities “squandaring” or stealing from the starving children, as you say?

    Really, we are not talking about buying your third SUV. We are talking about replacing a broken appliance. I am interested to know if you have a calculation of some kind for this.

  43. Limewater says:

    “At what point is every single purchase above the most base necessities “squandaring” or stealing from the starving children, as you say?”

    One could make a billion dollars a year and spend every bit of it on onesself without stealing from starving children. To believe that someone spending money is the equivalent to that person actually stealing from starving children one would have to believe that said starving children actually have a right to that person’s money.

    However, every cent one spends on any purchase whatsoever is a cent one chooses not to use to help starving children, regardless of what percentage it is of one’s income. No calculation is required, nor will it be required until everyone is fed.

    Every time I feed myself, I am prioritizing feeding myself over feeding someone else. Every time I rent a movie, I am prioritizing my own entertainment over someone else’s life.

  44. jenni says:

    Reading the book, All Your Worth really helped me. I realized that we had our “must haves” and savings at a reasonable rate, so I didn’t need to stress so much about the other 30%. It has freed me, in a way, and my husband is much happier for it!

  45. Sandy says:

    For me, this type of attitude about money has come and gone in my life. For example, when my husband and I were saving for a downpayment on a house, we were frugal to the max. Once we were in the home, we were a little freer with our money. A few years later, he wanted to go to grad school full time in another state (which ultimately was a great thing to do, as the program was top rated in the country). Well, talk about tightening my belt! Every dollar I spent basically meant that we would be paying $3 as it was all school loans…that helped me keep everything in perspective and really limit my spending. I also looked for “freebie’ stuff…I fell into a coop that for a few hours of sorting veggies each week, we would get a huge basket (plus any overs) of fruit and veg every week. That helped out a HUGE deal! And I found the .25 bin at the Goodwill that my daughter wore many items from.
    Well, it all worked out, and after grad school, and he got a good job, we went back to being fairly spendthrift. Within the past year, I’ve become very conscious about spening, with a dughter 4 years out from college, and while we’ve been pretty good savers,I think that it’s time to tighten that belt again and beef up college savings while simultaneously power paying down of our mortgage. (Don’t worry, we contribute the max to retirement plans).
    Trent, thanks for all your great articles, and everyone who responds…thank you all too. All of your ideas give me something to think about and new perspectives that I may not have considered.

  46. Bill says:

    Perhaps we fear making other people’s mistakes.

    I know reviewing my mom’s finances after she got sick was an eye-opener as to how much money she spent in renovating/redecorating perfectly serviceable homes (a very expensive hobby, measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars)

    Her choices to spend so much in earlier years greatly impacted her later life.

    Ultimately, we had to sell her last, relatively modest home and nearly all her personal belongings at firesale prices to pay medical expenses.

    As for the refrigerator or any other major appliance, buy it used locally (e.g. craigslist)

    Any post-2001 fridge will be very efficient, and I’m sure there are plenty available from folks who don’t want to move them.

  47. Shevy says:

    “Every time I feed myself, I am prioritizing feeding myself over feeding someone else. Every time I rent a movie, I am prioritizing my own entertainment over someone else’s life.”

    Are you saying you are personally responsible for each and every other life on this planet? Are you less valuable intrinsically than any other human being? Do you actually deprive yourself of every single thing that is not directly necessary to maintain your life and send all of the money you save to feed starving children? What about computer/Internet usage?

    As an employee of one non-profit and board member of two others, I certainly value charitable giving but I’m concerned about the apparent lack of balance in your comments.

  48. Limewater says:


    To answer your questions in order:

    1) No, I would not consider myself personally responsible for every other life on the planet. However, responsibility does not change the fact that millions of people in the world are starving, and every dollar I spend on other things is a dollar I am not spending to help starving people.

    2) I am certain that there are others out there with more intrinsic value than me, as well as some with less. However, I do not see how this question is relevant to anything I have posted.

    3) No, I do not deprive myself of every single thing and use the money to feed starving children. I thought I had made that clear in one of my previous posts. As I said, I do spend money on things for personal enjoyment. Every dollar I spend on that is a dollar that is not being used to meet someone else’s basic human needs.

    4) I spend a lot of money on computers and internet access. In doing so, I am choosing to value my own happiness, enjoyment, and personal development over the lives of starving people in other countries.

    Regarding your final statement about a lack of balance. Why is “balance” so important to so many people?

  49. Sean says:

    “Financial anorexia.” I think that’s a pretty good description. I have this same problem, and it’s really annoying sometimes.

    I just finished saving up enough to buy a new computer (took me a while, too), but even though that money is just sitting in my bank account waiting for me to spend it on a computer, I still can’t make myself go out and make the purchase. It’s already been earmarked in YNAB, it’s not like I’m going to spend it on something else.

    Oh, and I need new socks.


  50. KellyKelly says:


    1) why is balance important to me? I guess it is for sustainability. If I work too much I get burned out and can’t function very well. If I work too little I get depressed and can’t function very well. I think the same goes for eating X or Y nutrient, spending/saving money, etc. There seems to be a certain amount of “resources” or stimulation I must “consume” in order to keep “producing,” whether that is energy put to paid work or healthy relationships or a healthy mind/body.

    2) OK, you make your point and I agree. If I spend $25 on a movie, I have not spent it on a starving child overseas.

    Is that the end of your commentary? Are you going to offer some insight of how you spend money on yourself without feeling “guilty” about it (if that is the right word).

    Or are you just making a statement about the unfairness of it all?

    Or is it that you think Americans are basically clueless and ungrateful?

    I think that’s a great reason to travel outside one’s comfort zone and one’s own city/state/country, by the way.

  51. Limewater says:


    My original point was simply that I do not believe that Stella, the person in the article, should be bothered that she has a difficult time spending money on herself, nor should we look at that as a mental illness. We are all wealthy, but that does not mean that we need to spend excess money on ourselves. Frugality like Stella demonstrates is how people will poor education who make little more than minimum wage during their careers and live in trailers are able to surprise everyone donate millions of dollars to help others in their old age.

    If you are expecting insight on how to spend money on oneself without feeling “guilty” then you have missed the point. The facts are the same, regardless of how you feel about them, and buying stuff isn’t going to change anything.

  52. Kim2 says:

    I was so happy to read your post, Stella, and others like you (not that you are struggling, but that others have my problem). For a couple of years now, I’ve had enough money set aside for a late-model, new-to-me car. My car is about 10 years old and is rather battle scarred (but the engine has had every maintenance). I still can’t bring myself to purchase a car. Of course, a fridge is much more practical, but I know, the idea is just the cringe in making the purchase!

    Oh and @Sara, I agonized over getting a dog for several years. Finally, my mom called and said her friend’s sister had a litter, and they had one for me. I was a bit freaked out at the time, but it all worked out. My dog is 4 now, and I can’t remember life without her. Small dogs eat less, and she likes toys that come from the Goodwill as well as PetSmart :)

  53. daydreamr says:

    It seems like there is an underlying reason for why Stella talks herself out of buying things she might need. I can certainly relate after going through periods where I struggled to pay the bare minimum. Going w/o power for a while or starving (because you don’t have $ to pay the utilities or buy food) can be traumatizing. There are times when I can’t justify or talk myself out of buying things I need or even treating myself to luxuries because I’m afraid that, if I spend $10, I might end up needing it later…

    My advice to Stella is to think about the times when she talks herself out of certain purcases, such as the refrigerator. Write down your feelings, things you notice such as increased heart rate, shortness of breath, etc. Keep a journal and write these things down.

    Start by making a small purchase, something that you could use and might need. Is your winter coat tattered and torn? Do you need a new pair of shoes? Keep the purchase to under $50 or so. Go to the store, walk in and, buy the item. How do you feel? what are your thoughts? Write these down in your journal. Do this every so often, trying to build up to larger purchases, such as the new frige.

    Identify the reasons for why you are so reluctant to spend $$. Look at your current financial situation. Do you have $ left over after all the bills are paid? are you saving for retirement? Do you have an emergency fund? Think about your financial situation in a logical way. How would buying a new frige impact things? How much would the more energy efficient frige save over time? Also, maybe you could get a “discounted” model, ask if they have a scratch and dent section. Would this make you feel more comfortable with the purchase?

    If this is causing you significant distress and impacting your personal relationsips (husband, etc.) you might want to consider making an appointment with a therapist. I know that people often stigmatize therapists but, they can often give you great insight into things, help you uncover underlying reasons etc. It’s something to think about. Good luck!

  54. Kay says:

    I have this problem. I am in recovery for an addiction and to me this is similar to addiction -someone said like OCD. I can have thousands in the bank and am to frightenend to buy a postage stamp. I now know it stems from when I gambled away my holiday money when I was a child and felt that I had betrayed my father’s trust in me. My soul never forgot the pain of that. I have to surrender my fear, trust my higher power/God/the universe and believe that it will be okay, one day at a time. None of this means that I have to spend, or buy more than I need to or want to; just that the fear and physical pain I feel are actually unecessary and come from a time when I did not write the script. I can take responsibility for my choices now. I have the recovery and the skills.

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