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8 Things We’re Expected To Feel Guilty Spending Money On, But Shouldn’t

When I graduated college, society measured our general loathing for people with disposable income in lattes. Every finance blog post seemed to be called “How I Paid Off $50,000 in Student Debt By Giving Up My Daily Latte.” Those pieces made me feel like a failure, but now I can only assume that these people were imaginary, because even if the loan had no interest, it would still take over 30 years to pay off $50k with latte money.

A decade later, we’re still pretending everyone who has debt or can’t afford to buy a house must be throwing their money away on selfish indulgences, and if they could only break the habit, they’d be millionaires.

Avocado toast is just the new latte. It’s the latest $4 purchase that somehow gives people permission to judge you and your life choices. You know what else is true about avocado toast? It’s delicious. Unrelated but also true: you’re not going to save the world or buy a house with four bucks.

Not that you shouldn’t treat your money like the hard-earned treasure it is, but you also shouldn’t feel ashamed for spending a few bucks on yourself from time to time. If you have $50,000, maybe don’t spend it all on avocado toast or lattes, but don’t be so strict with yourself that you don’t enjoy anything either.

Deciding what’s important to you and making room for it in your budget will help you actually stick to your budget. Here’s a list of things I used to think I couldn’t spend money on, but now have realized are too important to me not to.

1. Avocado Toast and Lattes (Obviously)

Full disclosure, I don’t really like lattes, so I get drip coffee when I go out for coffee, and that’s arguably more shameful. But I don’t feel bad about it. I don’t know anyone who goes to a coffee shop for a latte or avocado toast simply because they’re too lazy to make those things at home. They have a meeting, or need the office space to work on a side hustle. $4 is your table rent, and *bonus* you get to eat something healthier than a donut and tastier than water. Or it’s a special treat! A $4 snack is way more affordable than a lot of other things I buy to treat myself, like the beautiful cookbooks I never use…

2. Movies, Eating Out, Going Out for Drinks

This is the one I have the hardest time with, because I love drinking beer with friends, and I live in a town filled with breweries. And going to movies, eating out, or going to a bar is so much more expensive than having friends over for the same thing. So yeah, have some go-to ways of entertaining that don’t require a ton of money, but that doesn’t mean you can never go out. Treat these dates with your SO, friends, or yourself like the fun indulgences that they are, and really enjoy them. Don’t spend money to feel guilty! Spend money to make good memories and to enjoy a cold, delicious draft microbrew. Mmm.

3. Full-Price New Clothes

I love a good deal, and I almost feel icky even thinking the phrase “full price,” but sometimes sales or secondhand scores trick me and I get things that I don’t need and which don’t make me feel good. When you can get something you love for a good price, that’s the best — but sometimes you need a pair of pants that actually fits, or shoes that don’t hurt your feet, or a dress that fits you well and makes you feel awesome (and has pockets!). And of all the things you spend money on, clothing is one of the best deals when you break it down by use. I have a ~$100 pair of jeans that I live in. They cost more than I was hoping to spend, but I’ve never thought about that any of the hundreds of times I’ve worn them.

4. Anything for Your Health or Well-Being

Take care of yourself! It’s so much more expensive (and miserable) in the long run to not. Paying for a doctor visit sucks, but missing work and friends because you’re really sick sucks even more. And sometimes spending money for your health and safety means buying adorable snow boots so you don’t get frostbite and, trust me, snow boots are WAY more fun than frostbite.

5. Vacation & Travel

I’ve realized that I feel sheepish about travel and time off work. I’m always quick to point out what a great deal I got, because I’m afraid people are judging me for being indulgent. But, honestly, when someone I work with wants time off, especially for a trip, I’m so excited for them. Time away from work makes you more productive and better to be around. Plus, I love planning and saving for vacation almost as much as I love being on vacation, so it’s very much worth it.

6. Art Collecting

Do you want the lowest pressure buying experience ever? Buy art from artists you like. This is one of those things that seems like it would just be for the very wealthy, but artists need to make a living, too. So most working artists have affordable pieces for the rest of us. You might not be able to afford every piece of art you fall in love with, but I doubt you’ll ever regret buying something that makes you happy to have in your home. Whether you buy from artists you like online or in your community, you’re going to enrich your life and support a real person. And, if you support artists locally, you might even make friends and get invited to cool events!

7. Your Passions

You are such a worthy investment, and so are the things you care about. Of course, you can be savvy about what you spend. I love to make things and ride my bike, so I make room for those things in my life. I make videos and a podcast and I have a couple bikes that I love like some people love their pets. I’ve saved up and shopped around, and I buy used when I can. I also coordinate with friends to share and trade equipment, or to buy their old bikes!

8. Charitable Donations

Speaking of passions, you don’t have to be well off to give money to causes that are important to you. I sometimes get overwhelmed by all the crowdfunding campaigns and fundraisers there are in my community, so I try to pace myself and be purposeful in my giving by setting a pretty strict monthly budget for it. I also like to combine this one with other little indulgences that I love, like an art auction or beer! Lots of non-profits will host art auctions as fundraisers, and sometimes breweries will donate to a cause for every beer bought on a certain night.


I’m sure I missed something in this list that you shouldn’t feel guilty for spending money on. If I missed it and it stands out to you, it’s probably important to you, and that’s a good enough reason to make room for it in your life. No judgment.

Caitlin Hofmeister produces the popular YouTube series SciShow and, in her free time, writes and produces You’re Doing Just Fine, a podcast about failure and shortcomings and living through them. 

Image via Unsplash

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  • Alexis

    Yes!!! I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. As long as your bills are paid, you’re working towards savings goals, and you’re paying off/you have no debt, spend money on what you love.

  • Jeremy D.

    What a fantastic article! I feel like several of your ideas would carry real value for me, bot intrinsic and external (art, time off, and charity donations). It’s perfect because these things go beyond a “treat yosef” leve to a place where I’d be spending money on things that would make me happy for a long time to come. Thanks for your post!

  • white christmas

    Great article! Spending good money on clothes is smart. Buying tons of things on the cheap can be more expensive.

  • Lily Hudson

    I love this! And I especially love that you included art collecting and charitable giving – both those things are awesome and rewarding habits to cultivate.

  • Crista Jorgensen

    Great article Caitlin. I agree that it’s important to enjoy the road to financial freedom – which looks different for everybody. We shouldn’t be too strict on ourselves, which can cause overindulgences on a larger scale later and cost more. I agree that vacation and travel is always worth it in order to regroup and do your job better with a clear head. Taking time off can even cause us to make more money because our boss and coworkers realize how much we do when we’re not there! I’m glad you’re enjoying the ride and not feeling guilty, thanks for sharing.

  • I believe charity money is money well spent – if you can help, why not help?
    Also I agree with about buying full priced clothes. When you are looking for quality, second hand clothes may not be the best option. I believe in INVESTING money, not spending money. If you buy 2 pairs of 100-dollars jeans to replace 5-6 pairs of 20 dollars each with dubious quality, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about spending 200$ because your money is being well spent.

  • Susieq

    I am going to add having someone clean your house for you. I appreciate having a person who helps me take care of my house. This is a great investment in my well being because I can spend my time doing the things I really enjoy instead of cleaning, which I do not enjoy.

  • Summer

    Always a fan of pieces like this. I don’t care what your debt situation is or what your savings goals look like, it’s so important to just live for *today* every once in a while, even when that definition of “living” is something as simple as a $4 latte. If it comes down to paying your phone bill or ordering a new cookbook, then yes, click that cookbook over to “saved for later” and pay your damn bills, but otherwise…..don’t beat yourself up for finding a modicum of joy in the day-to-day.

    • Jeremy D.

      This. I’m saving to buy a house next spring, but I know I won’t get any enjoyment out of it (and maybe even be resentful of the whole process) if I’m miserable in the meantime. Great points!

  • Stella Kim

    Good article, but please tell me where I can get $4 avocado toast, because where I live it’s more like $9-12!