People who spend too much outnumber, by far, those who spend too little. But the methods that therapists and financial planners use to help “underspenders” can guide the rest of us about when it’s OK to splurge and when we should resist.
Chronic underspenders can be so terrified about running out of money that they put off health care, ignore needed home repairs or descend into hoarding, says financial planner Rick Kahler of Rapid City, South Dakota. Framing certain expenditures as an investment and creating a plan that helps them see how much money they can spend without causing financial ruin can ease their distress, he says.
Planning also helps those who are trying to handle money better by paying off debt, building savings and investing for retirement. High-quality experiences or purchases that give lasting pleasure can stave off burnout and “frugality fatigue.”
Here’s how to walk the line:
n Have a budget. You don’t want to splurge one month and wind up short on rent the next. Find out where your money is going now and what upcoming bills you need to cover. Your just-for-fun spending will come out of the income that’s not already spoken for.
n Decide how to invest in yourself. Experiences tend to give us more lasting pleasure than things, but the right purchases also can be an investment in happiness. If you’re learning to play music, for example, upgrading your instrument can contribute to your well-being every time you lay hands on it. If you feel guilty spending on pleasurable things, you may need some practice.
n Don’t wait until you’ve arrived. Paying off credit cards and building emergency savings can take years. Investing enough for retirement will take decades. And you only live once. As long as you’re on track with your goals, you should be able to afford the occasional splurge.
n What does it mean to be on track? Generally, it means that you’re saving enough to replace roughly 70 percent of your income in retirement and that you’re scheduled to pay off all your toxic debt, such as credit cards and payday loans, within the next five years, while making all required payments on any mortgages, auto loans and student loans.
If you’re not on track, your splurges should be on the smaller side until you’ve got a better handle on your money.
n Finance carefully. You can find yourself overspending when borrowing for big purchases such as cars or homes. Borrowed money feels less real than cash in your wallet, so you may be more tempted to spend on luxury add-ons. You wouldn’t pay $2,000 cash for a DVD player, for example, yet people often shell out that much for “rear-seat entertainment systems.”