Are you tired of hearing all the things you should or shouldn’t be doing with your money? Do you feel guilty every time you shop for something, or if you spend money on something that other people might think is a waste? 

We’re with you. Here at Everyday Money, we really want to set a counter standard to the more common personal finance messages out there. We want to let you know you’re not messing up with your money. Instead, we want to talk about spending money without shame.

What is money shame, really?

First off, let’s start with the definition of shame. Brené Brown, who is the expert on shame research, says that shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy.” We believe there is something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy.

When it comes to money, we usually feel shame when we’ve made mistakes, when we don’t make enough money, when we feel we are not doing as much as others with our money, or when we lack the resources to make better financial decisions. There is also a lot of shame around debt; we don’t want to talk about how much debt we have, why we got into debt, or how it affects our daily lives.

There is a huge culture of shame around money, made worse by the fact that we as Americans just don’t talk about money: 44% of Americans think money is harder to talk about than death, politics, and religion. But instead of feeding into the “mainstream” focus on what you’re doing wrong with your money, we want to break the cycle of shame.

Because the truth is: it’s your money. You can spend it how you see fit. With the right-for-you financial framework, you’ll be able to make positive decisions that allow you to spend your money in ways that both honor your values and support your future goals. We believe that you can spend money without shame. It all starts with knowing what you want, rather than focusing on what other people are doing.

Stop shame by ending comparisons

How you earn, spend, and save your money is highly individual — despite what many money “gurus” and experts may tell you. What is right for one person won’t always be right for another. For example, you may want to work long hours to make six figures a year and sock away most of that money for retirement. But your friend may not want that, and may instead want to work part-time so he or she can raise their children. Some may choose to stick to a strict budget so they can hit larger financial goals faster, while others may want to use “extra money” to go out and have fun each month. These are what we call “values-based decisions” — they’re neither right or wrong, they’re simply rooted in what someone wants their life to look like.

One of the biggest influencers of money shame, we believe, is comparing yourself to others. We begin to feel unworthy when we look around and see that other people have things we don’t, that they’re doing other things with their money, or they seem to be “further along” than we are. We also start to feel shame when popular financial spokespeople (we won’t name names) tell you what you should and should not be doing with your money. You might hear messages that it’s dumb to take out a car loan, even if you need a car to get around… and don’t have the cash to pay for one up front. You might hear that buying clothing that’s more expensive is a luxury you can’t afford until you have x, y, or z. All of this makes us feel bad about ourselves.

Add that to the fact that every single financial decision we make can feel like a guilt trip — especially if money is tight or we’re trying to reverse our money situation (i.e. credit card debt, a poor investment, a job loss, etc.). So, let’s talk about how to spend money without shame… and how to reverse the internal monologue many of us hear every time we swipe that credit card or count out cash.

Spend money in line with your values

Ending the cycle of money shame starts with aligning your spending with your values. This doesn’t have to be complex, and it’s a process that builds over time. But to start, you should consider what a few of your big “values” are. These could be fairly clear values, like “education” or “family,” or they could be somewhat more complex, like “growth” or “security.” What do you for your life, and what are the things you’re not willing to compromise on?

When you decide on your individual values, you can work toward viewing your spending as an extension of them. For example, you might sign up for a weekend course because you value education. You might invest in a nicer computer because you value your career. Not everyone will agree with how you spend your money, and that’s OK. As long as you spend money based on what’s important to you (not just what you want), you’ll feel more empowered by your decisions.

You’re not going to align every purchase with your values; it’s a process. But next time you buy something that other people might not think is “worth it,” make sure it’s in alignment with your values (and that you have the money for it). Then, you can buy it without feeling guilty.

Not sure what your values are? We provide a simple values exercise in our Resources section, so go check it out.

Set goals

  Another way to spend money without feeling shame? Set goals for big ticket items (or just items that make you feel good).  This way, you have the money on hand, you’ve planned ahead, and you can buy that item or experience with confidence. Especially if you’ve struggled with debt or spending beyond your means in the past, this is a good way to rewrite history and give yourself a more positive experience with spending.


Understand wants vs. values

There’s a final note we’d like to leave you with, and that’s some insight on the difference between wants and values. Remember that “I want it” isn’t the same as “It’s important to me.” If you find yourself about to buy something that you’re not sure is in line with your values, take a beat. Ask yourself: “Do I just want it, or does it really reflect my values?” This can take time, especially when we’re so used to feel guilty about our spending.

If you’re not sure if it’s a want- or value-based purchase, you can give it a couple of days before you buy it. You can also ask yourself, “What will this allow me to do that’s in line with my values?” If you can’t come up with something, or you find yourself stretching to make the shoe fit, so to speak, maybe you can reconsider if you need to spend that money. 

Check in with yourself regularly

Having a healthy relationship with money, where you can spend money without feeling guilty, is one of the best ways to live wealthy now. It’s important to budget, to save, and to plan, but it’s also important that you don’t beat yourself up for financial decisions — past, present, or future. That increases the odds you’ll make another decision that’s not in line with your values.

Instead, take time to figure out what your values are and check in with them regularly. This will help break down some of that shame around spending, and help you stabilize your personal finances. If you want help understanding your values and how they connect with your finances, our Everyday Money Workbook is a great tool. This 116-page workbook offers a fresh way to approach your finances as a couple, as well as monthly check-ins to see how you’re feeling about where your money is going.