I Never Buy Anything for Myself: Why Can’t I Spend Money?

This week was rough. Nothing, in particular, has gone right or wrong. Yet, for some reason, I can’t stop thinking about my financial choices. I can’t stop wondering why I never buy anything for myself.

Why do I pinch pennies and save wherever and whenever I can? Why can’t I spend money on myself?

I used to be proud of my frugality, but something doesn’t feel right about it anymore. It shouldn’t be so hard to part with money. I shouldn’t feel so guilty for buying things I want or enjoy.

Most people can spend money on the things that make them happy. Most people can create a savings jar full of fun money, so why can’t I? Why do I have such a difficult time buying things for myself?

Why Can’t I Spend Money on Myself?

I think my upbringing has a lot to do with it. My mom was a stay-at-home mom for twelve years. I rarely saw her spend money on herself during that time (actually, even after she took on a part-time job). She spent plenty of money on my brother and me but struggled to buy anything she needed or wanted.

When I was in college, I once invited a group of friends back to my parent’s house. A good friend of mine walked into our bathroom and gasped. “What’s this?” she asked, pointing to the mirrored wallpaper. “That’s hideous.”

I never thought about the decor in that bathroom until that very moment. My parents didn’t renovate the house while we were growing up.

The previous owners had chosen that hideous wallpaper in 1977. Twenty-two years later, it continued to stick to my parent’s bathroom walls.

Our house was full of 1970s decor. There was a dark green stove, mirrored wallpaper, wood paneling, and rust-colored shag carpeting.

My mom said she didn’t update the house because she wasn’t earning a paycheck, and my dad didn’t make a ton of money, but it was more than that. She didn’t like to spend money on things for herself. Instead, she chose to spend the money on her husband and children.

I Can’t Spend Money on Myself

i can't spend money on myself

As I grow and age, I realize that I am falling into the same patterns as my mother. I never spend money on myself. If I see something I like unexpectedly; I never treat myself either. I don’t shop often, and I rarely buy things that I want. These days I only buy new items for my husband or children.

My husband doesn’t struggle to spend money the way I do. This summer, he spent over $1000 on landscaping services. A crew of men weeded, edged, mowed, and planted new azaleas for us. When they finished, my husband happily handed them a check.

Later that same month, he paid $1500 to place decking under our house. He also spent $1400 on an ice machine and $2000 on a new set of camera lenses.

When he wants to buy something, he does. He doesn’t spend thirty minutes searching for coupon codes or comparing prices. He pulls out his wallet and types numbers into the online submission forms. Two days later, the boxes arrive from Amazon.

I don’t expect to start spending money at the drop of a hat, but I would like to feel more at ease buying items I want or need. 

I waste so much time worrying about saving money. Clipping coupons and scouting out deals is ridiculously time-consuming. 

I deny myself the joy of spending money on myself. 

I Never Spend Money on Myself

As I reflect on my actions, I am amazed by how closely they mimic my mom’s behavior. My mom always put everyone else’s desires and needs above her own.

I’ve followed in her footsteps, and I’ve been acting this way for as long as I can remember. Becoming a stay-at-home mom has only furthered this unhealthy behavior. Now that I’m not earning a paycheck, I find it even more difficult to spend money on myself.

While my friends and family members focus on the joy of spending, I focus on the comfort of saving money. It helps me overcome stress and financial anxiety. I suppose that peace of mind is worth more to me than whatever it is I’d like to buy.

But I’d still like to pull out my credit card without second-guessing every decision. I’m tired of feeling guilty for wanting something I don’t need.

I Don’t Like Spending Money on Myself

I don’t like spending money on myself. Actually, I hate spending money on myself, but I’m not sure how to get over this hurdle. I’ve been this way for so long that I can’t imagine doing things any differently.

Why is it so hard to spend money on myself? How can I learn to enjoy spending money without feeling bad or guilty about it?

I’d love to hear from my readers. Do any of you struggle to spend money on yourself? Do you find yourself thinking, “I never buy anything for myself?” Do you have advice for me?

Update: It took years for me to spend money on myself without feeling guilty, but eventually I did. Check out my update to this post: How to Spend Money on Yourself Without Feeling Guilty.

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26 thoughts on “I Never Buy Anything for Myself: Why Can’t I Spend Money?”

  1. This is the first time I’ve ever commented on a blog post (of any blogger!) after several years of readership. However, this post really resonated with me. My only debt is my mortgage, and I have a fairly healthy retirement account for someone my age (30). BUT, I just have an amazing ability to talk myself out of what I deem “unnecessary” purchases.

    Here’s how I’m trying to change. I set a saving goal for myself every month. At the end of the month, if I’m left with extra money after deducting my expenses and savings, I may use that money to treat myself. It’s still hard sometimes because I want to put that extra money into savings, but this is how I buy superfluous items without feeling like I’m throwing off my retirement.

    I’m also mindful that life is short. Although I’m healthy, I could very well die in a car accident before I get to retire. Since we can’t take our money with us, I’d really like to enjoy some of its benefits while I’m able to.

    • Thanks Teeners for leaving a comment. I’m so happy you decided to leave your first comment on my blog! I also have an amazing ability to talk myself out of making purchases. I like the idea of setting aside a certain amount of ‘play’ money each month that I can spend. Otherwise, like you, I think I’ll talk myself out of spending it.

      BTW – I had a major medical issue back in 2005, so I know that life can end at any time. For some reason this didn’t change my philosophy when it comes to money. It changed many other aspects of my thinking, but not financial ones related to saving. I don’t know why.

  2. I think our parents have a lot of influence on our attitude towards money and our saving/spending habits. My parents are very frugal and spend very little money on “fun” stuff (i.e., vacation, new clothes, restaurants) for themselves. Like my parents, I find myself being quite frugal and spend a lot of time online finding deals/using coupons where my husband thinks it’s too much of a hassle. He has an easier time pulling the trigger on big purchases where I usually need time to mull things over and do research. Once my husband signed up for a cable TV deal and got a free $200 gift card and promptly used it to buy himself an expensive Tumi suitcase. I made him feel guilty about not using the gift card towards something for the “family”. I just thought it was a bit selfish and know that if I were in his shoes, I would have definitely used it towards something that both of us could use. But at least he used it on something useful. Unlike my parents, I do spend money on restaurants and vacation/travel because I really enjoy those things. I guess my advice to you would be that it’s okay to be frugal and save money but you should pamper yourself from time to time and not feel guilty about it. Life is too short–enjoy it!

    • Thanks for the comment Beatrice. My parents were the same way growing up. They do spend money eating out now, but when I was a child they rarely did that.

      I would’ve felt the same way about my husband as you did about yours. Thanks for sharing that story. I’m not sure why it’s so much easier for my husband to spend money on things he wants or for that matter why I get so upset when he does it. I wish it didn’t bother me so much.

      I agree that life is short. I think I do need to start setting aside a little fun money to spend on myself. Deprivation is never a good idea!

  3. Even when money is there, I struggle to want to spend it. I plan out ways of saving sooner than ways of spending. Mostly I think this is a good thing. Not that I never spend on myself, but I find it much easier to buy for others, for the home, or groceries. When I bought my bike, I felt compelled to write a blog post about it. When I bought a laptop last year, it was for work related reasons. Even then I shopped around, researched and in the case of the laptop bought a store model that had been discounted in a Christmas sale. I’m always wanting earn, clip coupons, or shop used and garage sales even when the savings are pretty small… not sure where that comes from… my mom has similar tendencies so that’s a certainly a factor.

    • Thanks for sharing Ruby Leigh. Do you also second guess your final purchases and wonder if you could’ve found a better deal by waiting, buying elsewhere, etc? Sometimes I find that thinking so much about spending makes it extra difficult to spend, because at the end of the day I wonder if I could’ve saved even more!

  4. I saw your blog on pfblogs feed on Yahoo and thought I’d take a look.. great post.

    I can relate in a manner. My parents had no problem spending money. In fact, when I was growing up, I was completely unaware of how money worked. I started working at 13 on a paper route, and rather than saving money for later (which would have been a good parental lesson) I spent a crap-ton of my money on comics.. So, the relate ‘in a manner’ is kinda reverse. How to limit my self on spending money on myself, rather than NOT limiting it.

    During our recent get out of debt effort, my wife & I kept a ‘fun money’ fund for ourselves. More of an allowance. While taking our $68k in credit card debt to $0, we put a little aside for ourselves. Start there. Create a ‘fun account’ and budget/plan some money into it.

    Then, try to look at yourself objectively, like observing a stranger. Ask yourself what this stranger needs… new clothes, shoes, Kindles, whatever. (If that’s too difficult, ask a friend.. who you won’t get mad at for telling it straight). Have them do that exercise for you. That can create your list of things to treat yourself with. Work within the ‘fun money’ account you set up and see how that plays out.

    Good luck.. and enjoy it!

    • Thanks for the comment Joe. I follow similar advice when cleaning out my closets. I bring a friend or family member over and ask them what I should keep, buy more of or get rid of. I never thought about it in this example, but it sounds like an interesting and fun idea.

  5. Interesting – I consider myself pretty frugal, and was a SAHM for 5 yrs (now part time), but I never really experienced this. I think part of the difference is that I gave myself “permission” to spend on an small allowance system, and that little bit I had to spend I gladly and joyfully did. However, this was the only $ I spent on myself – even for clothes and such that others might easily take out of monthly income. After about a year, the allowance morphed into, “whatever I can make on the side, I can spend on myself”, which included babysitting, online surveys/product tests, consignment sales, and most recently 25% of my husband’s yearly bonus after tax (he receives a similar 25% share). Even now this is all I take for myself, my real paycheck goes straight to the kids college fund and our “car fund”.
    BTW, the husband (who earns almost 90% of our income) also does the weekly allowance thing for his personal spending, although his allotment is WAY bigger than mine ever was! We find it a great way to not ever disagree about our personal spending habits, while the majority of our $ is kept for the needs of the family and savings.
    While it sounds like you guys are doing great, you may eventually need to gently reign in your husband’s style of spending if you continue down the SAHM path for a while. I have to admit, I added up the things he spent on this summer and my reaction was “that’s a quite decent preowned small SUV right there!”

    • Jen –

      You hit the nail on the head with that SUV comment. We’ve talked about buying a new-to-us car many times, but there is always some reason or another to delay the purchase. Looking back on all that my husband purchased this spring and summer I realize just how much money we could have placed in our ‘car fund’.

      I’m taking your advice and using profits from any little side gigs (like this blog), surveys, etc. as my ‘fun money’. It’s a great suggestion!

  6. I found that being in a one-earner household totally changes the dynamics. The stay-at-home person typically spends on the house and family, while the earner usually feels they deserve some splurges. The Stay-at-Home makes a career of doing what is best for the household, while the other doesn’t spend as much time in the home and may be influenced by co-workers or by what other “professionals” have.

    • Interesting thought. I think the working parent maintains more individuality by working outside of the home and thus sees more reason to spend money on his or herself. I tend to think more from a family perspective, because I am most often around my family.

  7. I’m curious if your husband discussed these purchases with you before he pulled the trigger. Any time my husband and I spend more than a certain amount, we have to discuss it. There isn’t much wiggle room in our budget so if we need to make a purchase we have to figure out how we’re going to pay for it.
    For a long time, most of my income was going to support my husband, and I would get bitter when he would spend money and yet I couldn’t even afford to go out to dinner with my friends. Nowadays, I use my side hustle income to pay for things I want–like our trip to Costa Rica (happening soon!) , my trip to San Francisco with my friends, and even clothes! I’m not taking any money away from the household budget, because that’s what my whole paycechk goes toward. But side hustle? that’s all mine.

    • I’m totally into the side hustle idea. It makes perfect sense to use what little money I make from blogging, survey taking, etc. to pay for things I want. My husband did talk to me about these things, but in all due honesty once he’s made up his mind about spending it’s more informing then discussing. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I’m so annoyed by it!

  8. I was a stay at home mom by chocie for 4 yrs before i started working. I fell into the same pattern as you and it was very depressing to not spend money on myself (as if i was not worth it).. it took me a long time to realize this pattern and make a conscious decision to get out of it.

    It is very important to allocate a certain fun money / allowance for yourself to spend only one fun things.. if it doesnt get used in that month, add it to next month’s fun allowance.

    I remember reading that you don’t get time of your own. maybe you might want to sue some of your fun money for a babysitter for an hour or 2 to watch your child while you get a massage or go shopping or work on a hobby.

  9. I have been brought up around a lot of money. I have seen it spent and seen arguments occur due to money. I have spent money easily, had major anxiety over it and I am currently at a stage where I am finding that I am too attached too saving due to the fear of not having money.

    Due to personal circumstances I have found myself in a situation where I did not have my own money (unemployment, I had £0.00 to my name) without someone providing me with a little bit of income.

    At first I spent their money easily as it felt like “pocket money” but then I tried to save it as it felt wrong to spend it on myself. First of all, the amount was very very difficult to save, evidently it was going to be spent, even if it was just on food therefore this lead to me believing that I did not have the ability to save which caused server anxiety.

    Fast-forward and I found employment, however, I have found that I would buy myself stuff but always the “cheaper option” and even though that sounds sensible on the surface I suppose that it made me feel like I looked awful becasue the items looked shabby and cheap which basically took a toll on my self-esteem and confidence.

    Now I have a job where I have been able to save a bit *my target us £100 a month”) however, I have sacrificed my own appearance for this (in other words I am damaging my self esteem just to save pieces of paper!!) and now I am tempted to delve into it or spend all of it on my appearance to feel better but I know if I do that I will freak out with the fear that my job could be taken away from me ( = no money) or I will be disappointed in my lack of willpower.

    I am trying not to let fear rule my life but I don’t want to live in a manner which causes me to rely on others (lets say if I lost my job and had to rely on others to support me) nor do I want to die due to anxiety of pieces of paper.

    I hope this wasn’t too long, but I needed to speak out as I am unsure where to get advice or feedback on this.

    Ultimately, I want to enjoy what I earn. I don’t pay bills nor have children so surely I should be able to allow myself to spend it on myself and my relationship?!?


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