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Here’s How to Spend Money Sans Guilt

Do you feel guilty when you spend money? PNC’s Kathy Kraeblen has some tips to help you splurge responsibly.

What good is having money if you can’t spend it? For most people, splurging on big ticket items such as a new wardrobe, a car, a vacation or even nice gifts for the holidays is easy…maybe a little too easy. Feelings of euphoria often accompany indulgent purchases, but sometimes feelings of guilt and regret can pop up, too. 

“For most, those negative emotions are good. They keep our impulses in check and keep us from being irresponsible with our money,” says Kathy Kraeblen, a senior wealth strategist at PNC, “but some people have trouble spending money, even when they are in a good position to do so.” 

Kraeblen answered PNC Point of View’s questions about feelings of guilt around spending money. 

How do you know if you’re financially ready to make a big purchase? 

It’s probably okay for you to splurge if you meet the following criteria: 

  • You have a budget

  • You have an emergency fund

  • You’re debt free or managing your debt responsibly

  • You’re on track with saving for retirement and other future expenses

  • You can make the new purchase without taking on debt  

If you’re on track with all of those things and you still feeling guilty, you need to think about where that’s coming from, says Kraeblen. If you’re living within your means, you shouldn’t be depriving yourself and your family. “It’s important to enjoy spending the money you’ve earned,” she says.

Couple outside in coats and scarves holding hands and shopping bags

Why do people feel like they can’t spend money even though they have it? 

Kraeblen says she’s noticed these feelings with clients who grew up always watching their parents struggle with money. “From the time they were kids, they may have learned to be worried about spending money,” she says. It’s important for those people to consider what messages they might be sending to their own children. “Financial education for children isn’t just showing them not to overspend,” Kraeblen says, “but it also is about modeling how to spend responsibly.” You need to learn how to model good, healthy behavior towards money, and it’s not healthy to feel guilty about spending. 

She advises clients to do some soul searching to discover why they’re feeling stressed about spending. In addition to childhood experiences, it could be fear of a recession or even fear of losing a job. “You can’t live your life with fear that a disaster will descend upon you.” Kraeblen says if you have a sufficient emergency savings fund and those fears still persist, it might be time to talk to someone about it, whether it’s a financial planner or a therapist.

How can one spend money without guilt? 

It’s really about balance. “As in most things, moderation is key,” Kraeblen says. 

Adding a line item in your budget for treats might do the trick. Some feel freer to spend if they know they’ve budgeted for it each month. It brings peace of mind knowing how much they can afford and where they have wiggle room. Whether you’re shopping for the holidays, buying a new car or planning a dream vacation, give yourself a reasonable budget for the splurge, knowing it’ll be okay if you go a little over. 

If you’re not used to treating yourself, you might try starting small and working your way up. This week, it might be treating yourself to something as small as a latte. Next week, perhaps it’s dinner out with your partner or a manicure. Make a list of small treats for yourself, and commit to one per week at first. You can put some free treats on the list too, like taking time for yourself or taking a nice drive out into the country. “It’s important to get yourself into the habit of treating yourself as kindly and nicely as you do other people,” says Kraeblen, “and that will likely involve spending money sometimes.”


Plan your monthly expenses with this budgeting worksheet »

Kathy Kraeblen
Kathy Kraeblen is a senior wealth strategist at PNC

“If you know you’re going to eat cake at a party tonight, maybe you have a salad for lunch. Health is all about balance, and financial health is no different.”

–Kathy Kraeblen

PNC Point of View
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