Have you ever felt a pang of guilt after spending on something random like a pair of earrings from an online store? Do you feel a sense of regret after making certain purchases? Do you find it interesting how something so pleasurable can also be a source of guilt? 

Let’s think of an example; we’ll call her Lade. She earns roughly 300,000 every month, a great amount in a country whose minimum wage is 30,000 Naira.

Lade craves financial freedom and security, especially as she looks to retire at 40 and spend the rest of her life travelling and collecting arts. However, Lade always finds herself impulsively spending on frivolous things and always ordering from her favourite online stores. After making some of these purchases, she is left feeling a sense of guilt and regret.

Last month, Lade booked a ticket to the Maldives for a short vacation, chanting “You only live once”. Well, she’s back in Nigeria and while she works from home this morning, she thinks, “Oh, I could have used this money on something better”, she is experiencing money guilt.

What is Money Guilt?

This is a form of financial guilt that is triggered by cognitive dissonance, a psychological condition where one’s actions do not align with their beliefs and values. 

It is that sad and regretful feeling one experiences when they make unnecessary purchases that often do not align with their goals or needs. Many experience this feeling of guilt when they make certain purchases like the occasional splurge on fancy dresses or ordering meals from their favourite restaurant.

Spending one’s money, especially on things they’ve always looked forward to, is meant to be an enjoyable act. However, for many, it often evokes sad emotions or feelings of guilt.

What Could Be The Cause?

Could it be the sense of knowing we could have made better buys? Or is it home training and the sense of lack many had growing up? 

Chubby, a 28 year-old Nigerian Rapper living in Lagos, when asked what triggers his money guilt, says,  “For me, it usually happens when I spend on things that are not a part of my lifestyle. Things that are not important to me, but just make me happy. So when that happens, I’m left asking if I could have done better with the money, especially when that exciting feeling of making the purchase is gone”

Many people, like Chubby, struggle with money guilt after they have spent on things they do not need, regardless of how temporarily happy it makes them feel. They are washed with a sense of self-realisation and guilt that they could have made better purchases or put that money away towards their savings or investments.

Here are some of the commonest reasons your heart feels restive and your excitement short-lived after swiping that card.

  • Priorities: For many people who have priorities and set out financial goals, spending on things that do not match with their priorities or bring these goals nearer to home causes them to feel this way. They realise their mistake and begin to wish they hadn’t done it.

For instance, a person who has plans of enrolling in schools or applying for a visa and saving towards either of these goals will find themselves feeling guilty after spending on frivolous things that do not help achieve their goals.

  • Uncertainty about the future: In a world where nothing is guaranteed and not having anything to fall back on, many are left feeling a sense of guilt when they spend on things that do not matter. They fear that it could be going towards their emergency savings or investments, in case the need for it arises. 

People, in many instances, have had moments where they are broke and need money, and wish they hadn’t spent on a certain thing in the past.

  • Mindset: It could also stem from the type of childhood one had. For some people, growing up in a household where they were no strangers to poverty and becoming financially comfortable as adults, they find themselves experiencing money guilt after spending on the things they want that do not directly include their families, such as black tax. So it is no surprise for one from a low-income household to experience this form of guilt after blowing money on something.
  • Lack of Planning: This also is one of the core reasons people feel a type of way after spending. Some experience this feeling because they do not have a set out budget of what to do with their money.

But more commonly, this feeling is formed due to a scarcity mindset. So it is important to learn your money guilt triggers and how to manage these guilts so as to eliminate the blocks leading to your financial freedom. 

Ways You Can Manage Your Money Guilts.

One may find money guilt a positive thing as it helps to keep one’s rate of spending in check and prevent them from splurging, especially if they are impulse spenders. However, many, regardless of how wealthy or frugal they are, find themselves struggling with an unhealthy level of money guilt. They either take a long time to spend on their budget or things they’ve always wanted; avoid instances where they have to spend like going out or travelling and only buy things as a reward when they accomplish something. 

This can be daunting and a huge block to leading the life you wish, hence, it is essential to understand your money guilts and what their triggers may be.

According to Chubby, “I pretty much had to come to terms with the fact that life is for the living. Money always comes and goes. And it’s supposed to help you live the life you actually want. It gives you that experience you always crave and access to things that mean so much to you. So for me, once I’m done investing (as it is one of the key things for me), I try not to think so much about where the rest goes. So as long as that part is covered, if I feel like doing anything, I just do it; it doesn’t matter how much it costs.

To manage your financial guilts and build a healthy habit with your money, you may want to follow these actionable steps:

Identify situations that trigger your guilt

One of the first and most important steps in managing your money guilt is determining what triggers it. Do you have a budget you often fail to stick to? Do you feel a sense of responsibility towards your family and their needs? Do you have a savings or investment target? Did you grow in a household where money was an issue? Being able to answer these questions helps to give you a clear reason for why you feel guilty and makes it easier to work on.

Learn to budget

After identifying your triggers, the next step is budgeting. This is a great way to manage money guilt as it helps you direct your money towards the things you need. You can do this by getting a clear picture of your finances; how much you earn and how much you expect to spend. 

The next step is to create a list of your essential bills and the other things you may want to spend on which includes an allowance that gives you the freedom to spend as you want. So having a financial plan and ensuring that you stick to it helps to allay the guilt often associated with spending on random things.

Invest and save

Diverting funds towards one’s savings or investments is another great way to deal with the issue of money guilt. Because you know you have carried out one of the most important financial strategies, you are left feeling free of almost any responsibility, hence allowing you to spend without guilt. You can start by investing here.

Change in Mindset

Learn that it’s okay to spend occasionally on the things you want, even if they are not part of your priority. It’s important to forgive yourself of the past and always remember that although you may not have had a good financial background, with the right attitude towards money and while working so hard to earn, it’s okay to go on that brunch date or splurge on that random thing you’ve always had an eye for.

Again, creating healthy money habits like budgeting, saving, investing, and tracking how much you spend, helps alleviate these feelings of money guilt and keeps you in check.