What It’s Really Like To Be The Cheap Friend

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Two weeks ago, I was sitting on the living room floor talking to my dad about saving money. I quit my full-time job this year, and didn’t get full-time compensation right away, but I’ve done very well with my savings. In the years leading up to this one, my savings account has always fluctuated. After college, I worked three jobs and built up a decent savings, but spent it all on my cross-country move. After that, I tried to rebuild my savings again, but never got very far because I kept paying to move (again), repair my car, buy furniture, or fix my cavities. I lived fairly frugally, but life and transitional expenses added up.

I still live frugally. I rent at a good price. Because I work remotely, I rarely buy lunch and spend very little on gas. But I also impose a lot of restrictions on my spending and have gotten almost too good at following them.

As I continued telling my dad about my savings and what I avoided spending on this year, my dad pointed out that I’m starting to develop a different sort of spending problem. My problem isn’t that I spend excessively, it’s that I guilt myself into not spending at all. When it comes to spending on a nice experience with friends or buying something I need, I always feel guilty and spend the following four hours lamenting the purchase. To be fair, I don’t go out for nice meals or buy new clothes often. I rarely splurge on myself. But somewhere down the line, I completely abandoned the treat yo’self-mentality and moved into the, “How could you have treated yourself?! Rent is due soon!” mentality.

But it’s not that I don’t have the money. I save diligently. And in theory, one of the reasons I save is so I can buy quality things — clothes, home furnishings, etc. — when I need them. Yet when the time comes to buy a yoga mat so I can workout in my apartment, I end up putting it off. It’s not because I haven’t saved for it, it’s because I like having that money in savings more than I like spending. And even though I need the mat to workout, I feel wrong giving up the money in my account.

I am very lucky to have some money leftover once I pay my bills and buy groceries. Granted, it’s not a lot, but there is enough to save, or occasionally buy a fancy $12 cocktail, as opposed to opting for my well drink. Honestly, I like that I opt for the well cocktail, instead of a fancy martini. There is certainly nothing wrong with watching your budget and feeling good about it. It has been incredibly satisfying to watch my savings account grow, as I stay in and cook instead of ordering takeout.

But on the rare occasion that I buy a meal over my $10 limit or a new pair of jeans for the first time in two years, I end up feeling guilty about it. I am still the person who will berate myself for choosing the nice salad when I could’ve just bought a soup for $6 less. I am all for choosing the cheaper option if you buy lunch on a regular basis, but I buy lunch once every two weeks, if that. So if I happen to choose a $12 salad once a month — or once every three months  — I don’t need to feel guilty about it. But I do.

I very rarely have remorse when I look at my bank statement at the end of the month. I never take an Uber for more than $10. I rarely buy more than one drink out. And when I bought a snazzy new bag to look ~chic~ while carrying my laptop, I bought it at a consignment store for $12. I am proud of the spending habits I’ve cultivated, but I give myself a hard time if I slip up once and a while. And I think it’s becoming a problem.

Realizing this is an issue is only half the battle. The other half, of course, is striking a balance between strict budgeting and not feeling extreme guilt for necessary purchases or the occasional treat. I already struggle to keep my stress levels in check, and the more I guilt myself over the money, the more I’m adding unnecessary stress. I want to try to examine my account at the beginning of the month, consider what money will be coming in, and decide accordingly whether I can afford to splurge on myself. On the tight months, I will stick to my budget 100% (as I typically do). On the months when I’ve already taken care of my savings, I will allow myself to spend money purposefully without getting frustrated or feeling like it’s wrong for me to buy something.

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