Spending When You Feel Like Saving – Or When Is Enough, Enough

Struggling to spend sounds like such a #firstworldproblem.

And, yes, it is.

But it’s a real problem faced by many folks who would rather save, then spend.

When is enough, enough? When should you up the budget instead of continuing to cut? And how do you make sure you’re doing this on purpose – not just giving into lifestyle inflation?

Let’s take a closer look.

Saving Too Much Can Be A Problem

Yes, it really can.

My brother actually mentioned this to me at my middle son’s birthday party. It was an honest question of when is enough, enough? He and I have similar habits, where we spend much less than we make and save/invest the difference. He doesn’t have kids, though, so his expenses are less than mine.

So when exactly is saving too much a problem?

I would say it’s a problem when you start feeling like it’s a problem. When you start feeling resentful of saving, rather than excited.

Or it can be a problem when you’re using too many coupons to shop and buying food that’s not so good for you.

Perhaps you haven’t gone on any vacation in years, even though you want to, because you’re focused on savings.

Or your spouse and/or kids are unhappy with your level of spending.

These are all signs that it’s time to take another look at your spending, your priorities, and your goals and dreams. You want to make sure you’re not pursuing tomorrow at the cost of too much today. It’s important to save for the future, and towards your goals, but not at the sacrifice of your life.

Pursuing FI At All Costs Should Be Pursued With Caution

You can get impatient to reach financial independence, and cut everything to the ground, spending nothing above and beyond your bare bones expenses. And some people can do that and still find a lot of fulfillment in life. That’s wonderful! I’m a HUGE fan of only spending on the things that have real meaning to you, and putting the rest towards your real goals and dreams.

The issue comes if you start cutting out the things that give meaning to your life – or to your families life.

Different things matter to different people. If you read “general” finance advice that tells you to cut out lattes, trade your car for a bike, stop eating out, never take another vacation, etc. etc. and do it, it might be fine. Or it might make you miserable.

Also, different people have different goals. Some people want to reach financial independence as soon as possible. For those people, cutting out everything accelerates their goals. But others want to retire later in life, and have more enjoyment along the way.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Sprinting to FI at the cost of everything else in your life might be too high. Just like with dieting, where you cut out everything and rebound hard with a binge, cutting spending too close to the bone can cause a spending rebound and binge. You can “fall off the wagon” and just give up on this whole idea.

When you hang out online, talking about money and financial freedom all day, it can seem like a never-ending contest. Whose savings rate is the highest, who can retire earlier than who, and how much money do we all have.

It’s certainly possible to take a longer, meandering path to FI. Remember, comparison is the thief of joy.

Beware Lifestyle Inflation

The reason this is such a tricky question is because this is a slippery slope straight into lifestyle inflation.

It’s going to be hard to save enough to reach financial independence, pay off your mortgage, save for kids college, or any other large goal. You’ll be tired sometimes and want to take a break. And you’ll slip into the “I deserve this” mentality.

You don’t want to fall into that trap of inflating your lifestyle thoughtlessly, or because you “should”, or because everyone else is.

You should be doing it because it’s something you want, and truly value. Only you can answer the question for yourself what those things are.

Just be honest with yourself, and carefully examine your choices. Then you’ll be OK.

So When Is Enough, Enough?

Only you can answer this question for yourself. Here’s a few clues I can think of that you might be reaching that point:

  • When you hear a lot of serious complaints from your family, that can’t be resolved through other means (like making the ordinary extraordinary)
  • You’re unhappy about the sacrifices you’re making
  • If you’ve sacrificed spending on the things that do matter to you
  • Not spending in an area is causing you issues
  • You’ve crossed the line from frugal to cheap
  • All your stuff is falling apart or breaking
  • You’re not maintaining your house, car, or health like you should because of the cost

And the biggest one:

  • You’re already on track to reach your goals, or ahead of your goals, but you’re still feeling like you should save more “just because”. And you or your family are unhappy about the life you’re leading to save more.

Families On The Same Page – You Both Need To Be Happy

One of the trickiest areas to deal with is when you’re happy with your lifestyle as is, but your family isn’t.

Kids are an easier topic, in many ways. As the parent, you get to raise them in the way you deem fit. Kids can earn money to buy the things they want, and frankly they’re going to want a lot more things than is good to give them. If it were up to them, they’d be swimming in toys and electronics, eating nothing but cookies for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Significant others, partners, and spouses are the ones you need to compromise with.

If your significant other has different priorities, it’s time to sit down and talk about your goals and dreams together. You both need to be working together towards your future, not separately. Financial independence can’t be just one persons dream, because that leads to fights and resentment.

So talk about your dreams. Make sure you’re spending in alignment with them. If your dreams require you spend a bit more today, and you can still meet what you want long term, you’re good. Don’t feel like you need to win some kind of savings contest.

How do you know enough is enough? Have you ever gone too far down the FI rabbit hole? Let me know in the comments.

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chiefmomofficer

IT professional, MBA, working mother of three, avid reader, geek and personal finance nerd

4 thoughts on “Spending When You Feel Like Saving – Or When Is Enough, Enough

  • July 27, 2018 at 11:32 pm
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    Sometimes I look at white vs yellow vs red onions and there is like a $0.20 difference, and I have started saying to myself that if I really want red onion in this dish, I can totally afford the difference.
    I had the same hand me down table & chairs for years, because it worked as a thing to sit on and a flat surface to eat off of. I’ve wanted an ikea table that a few of my friends have. I finally decided to get the table and new chairs, even with cushions! The old one was at an awkward height, and this fits me, because I tried it out. Looking at how much it cost, vs how much I keep in savings, I 100% could have afford this. I was too focused on saving and put up with years of sitting discomfort because of it.
    My mom has started saying ‘if not now, when?’ in some situations. We have a trip planned, and I got a promotion for a one off thing that fits in our schedule. It’s potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity for $30! Neither of us knows if we’ll be in that place, for that type of event again. For some people, the $30 might seem like a lot of money, and in the grand scheme of the trip I hadn’t budgeted for this. I will gladly skip a night eating out at home for this event. The reason I’m saving, and the reason I’m / we are taking this trip is to build memories now.

    It is a learning experience trying to find the balance of enough, when saving money is your default habit. Just like we need people in our life to hold us accountable for other goals, we sometimes need them to help us spend / live a little. 🙂

    Reply
  • July 28, 2018 at 1:46 am
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    This is a great post, and the topic really resonated with me!

    About one year ago, I told myself that I would go full-crazy on saving as much money as I could. I really dislike my corporate job, and the plan is to save up as much as possible before quitting in a couple of years to pursue my dreams. I laboured over every dollar, every cent of my budget. I cut out all my lattes, sometimes I would walk instead of taking the bus/subway, I stopped spending money on shopping, etc. And I felt happy that I was making so much progress.

    What got me to stop and reflect on my actions, was this particular event – I had wanted so badly to take an online course, but it would set me back about $1,000. One whole grand! I don’t make a lot of money, and I agonised over it for a pretty long time. For a while, I convinced myself that I could take it another time when I was more flushed. Then I realised – in the grand scheme of things, one grand isn’t even that much money. I was willing to give up my dreams, I was unwilling to invest in myself, just because I wanted to save a thousand bucks? That’s when I realised that I had crossed the line. I was going from frugal, to just plain cheap. Ultimately, I took the plunge and I never regretted it.

    We can cut out a lot of things in our lives – eating out too much, Starbucks and of course, unnecessary shopping. But there are a few things that we should never cut from our lives. We should never scrimp on basic human needs, health, and our dreams. And of course, we should never put money over our families.

    Once again, great post, and it really inspires me.

    Reply
  • July 28, 2018 at 1:28 pm
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    Definitely been there done that myself. When we started I was.very much in the save save and save more mode. Eventually I realized that it’s important to spend some money and enjoy the present moment too. What good is it if you have tons of money but you don’t utilize it. I mean it’s not like we can bring all the money with us when we die right?

    Reply
  • July 30, 2018 at 10:04 am
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    I have this weird inner voice that lets me know when I’m being ridiculous in feeling guilty about spending on something. It rears its head when needed, and lets me know sometimes to chill out and just get whatever the thing is and loosen the reigns a bit. I just listen to the voice

    Reply

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