Picture this — you just bought a brand-new minivan. It’s gorgeous, it has heated seats, it’s super safe, and it can easily fit your kids and all their stuff. This is the minivan you’ve always wanted, and you got a great deal on it. But as you’re driving it all off the lot, all you feel is guilt.

My husband Charlie and I recently did just that. As we drove off the lot, instead of admiring all the bells and whistles, I was struck with a sudden, numbing sense of guilt.

Sound familiar? Even if you’ve never bought (or wanted) a minivan, you can probably relate to the story. Most of us tend to feel guilty after making a big purchase or something that’s not “essential.”

But is that guilt justified? And if not, how can you overcome it? Let’s take a look. 

Why do you feel guilty after spending money?

While spending guilt will vary from person to person, most of us have grown up with a “money story” that’s based on traditional concepts like saving, self-sacrifice, and frugality. 

While spending guilt will vary from person to person, most of us have grown up with a “money story” that’s based on traditional concepts like saving, self-sacrifice, and frugality. 

Some of us learned frugality because our families didn’t have a lot of money. Others heard it at a worship service every week — many religions teach against wealth and extravagant spending. And some of us just grew up in families who weren’t comfortable talking about money at all, so we internalized the idea that money is shameful. 

Looking at the minivan example specifically, you might think it was wrong to take out a car loan or buy a new vehicle. After all, the “good money management” narrative for decades has been to never buy new — only purchase used cars that you can pay cash for. And it’s tough to step away from a message you’ve heard your whole life.

It can be helpful to identify your money story and figure out why you have spending guilt. But figuring out the cause is just the first step toward overcoming those uncomfortable feelings.

Change the narrative

When you’re feeling money guilt, one of the best things to do is take an honest look at what you think about money. In reality, money is just a tool. It’s an amoral thing that can be used well or poorly, and what it means to use money “well” is highly situational. There’s no inherent virtue in saving — sometimes spending money is the right call.

Your money should serve you and support the life you want to live — not the other way around. You don’t exist to earn or save or invest or give away money. Rather, money exists to be used. Sometimes, the best way to use your money is to save it or give it away. But sometimes, the best use of money is to purchase something.

Now, I’m not advocating for reckless spending. But the truth is that spending money within your means to buy something that fits your values and goals is a completely valid and wise choice. And “within your means” doesn’t necessarily imply “without debt.” For example, taking out a car loan can be the right choice — especially in the current market where used cars are outrageously expensive and hard to find.

Allow yourself to enjoy it

The last step to overcoming spending guilt is giving yourself permission to enjoy your purchase. Think back to the minivan example. You’re driving out of the lot and feeling super guilty for buying a brand-new car. 

But instead of sinking into that feeling, you take a mental break and rethink the situation. You have safe, comfortable transportation for your family. You get to enjoy the newest perks, like heated seats and tons of storage compartments. You don’t have to worry about an unexpected repair bill. You can simply enjoy the feeling of having something comfortable and useful.

Continuing to feel guilty isn’t going to change your financial situation. When you choose to enjoy things instead, it makes your purchase even more meaningful.

You don’t need to feel guilty for spending money

It’s hard to overcome money guilt, but doing the work to reframe your perspective is worth it. When you can view money as a tool to be used, it’s easier to feel confident when you decide to spend it. And then, you can allow yourself to enjoy the purchases you make.

Budgeting can be an excellent tool for combating money guilt. When you have a comprehensive budget, it’s easier to know exactly what you can afford. So when you do make a purchase that’s within your budget (even if that means getting a loan for something like a house or car), you can always remind yourself that you’re being responsible and deserve to enjoy your purchase.

Not sure how to start tracking your money? Try BudgetingBlocks™, our game-inspired system that makes it fun and easy to create a budget. Use the blocks to visualize your assets, and see what happens when you allocate them differently. It’s a simple way to experiment and determine which financial decisions are best for you. Find out more about BudgetingBlocks™ here!