When you set a financial goal for yourself, do you celebrate success when you achieve it? Or do you sometimes find that you have a hard time spending the money you’ve saved and instead move the goalpost to a new, higher goal?
I successfully saved $3,000 towards a trip I’ve been wanting to take, but gosh, I really like seeing that money in the bank so instead I’ll wait to take that trip until I’ve saved$6,000…
To those who are natural spenders this might sound crazy, but there are lots of people out there who don’t actually enjoy spending money on things. They even PREFER saving over spending.
Have you ever bought something you really wanted and immediately felt buyer’s remorse?
You know, when the rush of having spent a lot of money on something that ‘sparks joy’ in the moment fades to pangs of regret almost right away. Here’s a hint: it doesn’t feel good.
I remember one summer when I was in High School, I had worked really hard to save up to buy a new drum set. When I finally got it home, I sat and looked at it thinking “was this really worth a whole summer of work?” After several anxious days I almost
took it back.
But my mom intervened and reminded me that I’d been working really hard all summer long not just to buy a new drum set, but to buy this specific drum set. She knew it was important to me.
And feeling bad about it was silly. I’d had the page in the catalog dog-eared for months and must have looked at it 1,000 times.
I realized that she was right (always listen to your mom), and her words were exactly what I needed to hear to give myself permission to enjoy the fruit of my labors that summer.
That lesson taught me that it’s okay to want nice things – and it’s even a healthy financial habit to save up for them over time.
This happened over 20 years ago and I still own the same set of drums today.
But I still remember that initial feeling of buyer’s remorse quite well.
So where does that feeling come from? It could be that you have a money script that’s preventing you from wanting to spend what you’ve saved.
A money script is an unconscious core belief about money that is typically developed in childhood and drives financial behavior throughout your life.
So maybe your childhood or other past experiences created a scarcity mentality around money and you don’t want to spend it out of a subconscious fear of running out.
Or, possibly your insatiable desire for more is causing you to continue saving beyond what is necessary to accomplish
a goal. If $3,000 is good, $6,000 MUST be better, right?
Do you like watching the number in your bank account go up each month? For those who are natural savers, this can provide the same degree of pleasure that shopping gives a spender.
Brain science has shown that both can release the same amount of dopamine in the pleasure center of your brain, depending on how we’re wired to handle money.
Regardless of what your natural tendencies towards money may be though, there are some tricks you can incorporate into your life to make it easier to use your money to accomplish the specific goals you’ve set.
Make sure your priorities are in order.
Having a framework around your spending can help make sure the important things are happening in your life.
Things like protecting your income and family or saving for far-off milestones like retirement or college for the kids. But this also is important for shorter-term goals like a large purchase or nice vacation as well.
When the big things are in your life are being handled effectively – your world is perfectly protected, you’re saving enough in the right places, and minimizing debt and taxes, the rest can be spent on whatever you want.
This approach is sometimes called the “anti-budget” and can make it much easier to spend today, knowing that there is enough being put aside for tomorrow.
Set aside an “opportunity fund”
What psychologists call “mental accounting” can help us to earmark money for certain priorities, like an emergency fund, college, or retirement. This can make us less prone to bad spending behavior in the heat of the moment.
We’re less likely to spend on the latest gadget or a nice vacation when doing so means we’ll need to use our child’s “college fund” or our “retirement account,” for example.
Some account types even impose certain rules and penalties or taxes on you, the owner, if the money isn’t used for the purposes for which they are designed. Your 401(k) at work is an example of this.
If you withdraw money before age 59 ½ (or age 55 at retirement from the company) you will owe income taxes on withdrawals AND potentially a 10% penalty unless a short list of exceptions is met.
Having an opportunity fund set aside specifically to use for a specific goal or opportunity that comes along can make it easier to grant ourselves permission to spend when the goal is met or opportunity presents itself.
Don’t move the goal post.
It’s important to remember that spending the money set aside or a goal is what is expected and that it’s 100% okay to do so. Like the ‘rainy day’ fund we’ve all heard of. Sometimes it’s raining, and you need to use the money. That’s what it’s for.
Money is just a tool, after all, that’s best used to improve our world and that of those around us.
So, pick a goal that you’re working towards – whether it’s a large purchase, an new experience, or even something more practical like building your opportunity fund or paying down debt – and give yourself permission to enjoy what you’ve worked so hard for. DON’T MOVE THE GOALPOST.
You’ll be thankful in about 20 years.
Material discussed is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as tax, legal, or investment advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual solutions can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon only when coordinated with individual professional advice. This material contains the current opinions of the author but not necessarily those of Guardian or its subsidiaries and such opinions are subject to change without notice.