I’m Allergic to Spending Money!

“Are you not having a drink?” John asked me as we huddled into the crowded upstairs room of a fancy pub.

We were there for the November installment of the ‘side-hustle’ meet up, hosted by the venerable Financial Independence London group. The room was filled with over 100 bustling FIRE advocates, sipping on expensive £12 white wines and £6 pints of beer. 

“I’ll stick with tap water and ice, thank you,” I said with a pang of envy.

John, my co-attendee of this side-hustle extravaganza was already on his second £6 pint. John, by the way, is a frugality expert, he prides himself on being frugal and is the founder of the very popular Frugal and Freegan London group, he’s the only person that I know that probably has the resourcefulness to live for free if needed. And yet, he had no qualms about buying the ludicrously expensive beer, whilst I, on the other hand, felt resistance at simply the mention of it.

What is wrong with me? I thought. I’m saving over 80% of my salary and I can’t even stomach the notion of buying a single expensive drink?

I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t realise that this isn’t the first time that something like this has happened.

I’ve lost count of the times that we’ve decided to get take-out, but upon me trying to locate the best deals from the limited available options, decide that I’ll cook something up as I don’t want to spend £20 on some ‘crappy Chinese food.’

I can’t count the times that I’ve finally said ‘YES, we can get a chippy, I fancy one too!’ Only to walk the 10 minutes to the local chip shop and return home empty-handed after seeing that the price of 1 piece of cod was £6.50! (When did fish and chips get so bloody expensive?)

There are other scenarios like this too: Deciding to eat out at a restaurant when we’re out for the day, ending up instead with a large bag of crisps. Not getting food halfway through a long drive due to the increased cost at motorway service food courts (even when we’re really hungry!) The list goes on and on.

I’m that awkward person, to my wife’s sadness, who will look at every single menu or food shop seeking the best value, only to end up with nothing. I’d rather have a rumbling stomach than be ripped-off.

Is there something wrong with me?

When experiencing this allergy to spending, it’s not just a preference that I prefer to choose. It’s actually a feeling deep down in my gut, I feel physically sick. It’s like (I imagine) how an addict would feel when trying to resist the urge which is telling them to take that next hit:- I REALLY don’t want to spend.

Someone telling me ‘Come on, treat yourself’ or ‘You’ve earned it’ won’t help. The psychological feeling is almost physical, the magnetic-like resistance is too strong.

With careful analysis of this feeling, it seems to be more closely related to value and specifically the fear of not getting ‘good value.’ I feel tremendous anxiety around the notion of being ripped-off. 

I landed on this hypothesis as I don’t feel the same wretchedness when buying pints of beer for £2.30 at a local Weatherspoons, or when buying a crate of beer for less than £1 per can in the supermarket.

Recently, I’ve had to book flights to a family gathering, I leapt into the task thinking that £50 was good value for a flight to Europe. Then when seeing via Google Flights that the flights were only £17 in the previous month, I immediately felt a tremendous hatred and anxiety. 

That’s horrible value, why should I pay more than double the price just because I have to fly one month later!’

It’s negatively affecting my life

This is actually a problem. Yeah, sure, it’s doing wonders for my savings rate, but I shouldn’t have to feel physically sick and wrought with anxiety when having to purchase a bad-value product or service, especially since doing so would figuratively be a drop in the pond to my savings plan.

If I bought 3 expensive £6 pints at each London FIRE meet-up, which I attend roughly once per month, that would equal £18 per month. –I’m trying furiously to not immediately associate that price to double what it would cost me for Spotify premium, which I don’t pay due to the bad value, I instead suffer through the adverts.

That would only cost me £216 per year, that’s 0.36% out of my projected investment amount which I contributed out of my salary this tax year, should I really be feeling these levels of anxiety?

Breaking frugal habits

I ended up drinking tap water through-out the night. After discussing the subject of frugality with John, he hit me with this resolute quote: It’s difficult to break a lifetime of frugal habits.

I know that these habits (and intrinsic fears) are going to have to be broken at some point, especially as my nest egg becomes fully established. I can’t live with the paralysing fear of needing value in everything that I buy, some spending just can’t be avoided; I no longer want to suffer when I make one of these purchases.

I also want to be able to spend on the little things that will hardly make a dent in my savings but will bring me a little joy.

I need to start forcefully increasing my spending to inject more small, joyful things. I should do this now before my frugality becomes too ingrained to ever break out of, there will definitely be more work that needs to be done!

I don’t want to become this guy

Have you ever felt a repulsion towards spending money? How did you break out of these habits?


36 thoughts on “I’m Allergic to Spending Money!

  1. Sounds like you’ve got deep pockets and short arms SavingNinja.

    The problem is living that way sucks the joy out of living. Friends/family will stop inviting you to things because you won’t participate and complain all the time about how expensive everything is. You become that grumpy old troll living under the bridge.

    Sometimes you just pay what it costs and enjoy the moment.

    Try flipping the lens to view the items based on how much of your life you need to sell to purchase them.

    First, work out the marketable value of your time:

    Gross earnings / 228 working days / 8 working hours = the value of one working hour

    So an hour of a median income earner’s time would be worth £29,400 / 228 / 8 = £16.12

    Next, work out how many hours/minutes a purchase costs.

    A £6.50 pint? Less than half an hour
    The £50 flight? Three hours

    How much is having a fun evening out with your friends worth to you?

    Traveling to celebrate a wedding or birthday with your loved ones?

    I’d argue both are worth more than the price of admission.

    Would missing the wedding just to retain that £50 in your bank account make you happier? I doubt it. It’s a basic opportunity cost decision.

    1. That’s a really useful analogy to make Indeedably, thank you.

      It gets a little more disparaging when taking into account compounding that after-tax amount over N years. But I shouldn’t be thinking about that!

      What I’m going to have to get over most is the feeling of bad-value giving me angst, a combination of this and a mandatory spending budget might be what I need to overcome the feeling.

  2. I suffer (or benefit) from the same condition.
    It’s a real thing too! Not just made up by you. And I was going to write a post about it myself because of our changing spending patterns.
    (See Zellermayer, 1996 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280711796_The_Pain_of_Paying)
    Spending money – especially when you know that it is discretionary and you are paying over the odds gives me an intense feeling of pain and discomfort.
    Some jealous partners check their partners phones for signs of infidelity – I do the same with supermarket receipts!!!

    I do think that there is a certain irony of having a FI meet-up in a fancy drinking den (unless £6 a pint is now the going rate in London – it sounds expensive)

    I can’t tell you what to spend your money on but I’ve been at enough social events sober to know that you either get drunk or go home!
    You can live the life of a spendaphobic monk but I find it’s best to choose your luxury (for me beer, meats/hams and coffee) and cultivate an interest around them but eschew all other trappings (like cars, clothes, watches…)

    1. Ah! It’s awesome to know I’m not the only one 🙂 Thanks for the link.

      I just want the horrible feeling to go away. It’s worse when I really want something, but there is no good-value solution to be had (like food at a service station). Obviously we could/should have made sandwiches beforehand, but sometimes it’s too late. I’d love to be able to just spend over the odds and be a little happier without feeling awful about the value exchange.

  3. I have to admit that I used to be like that back at the time, but because of different reasons (I was broke :)). The first thing I would think about is connected to the price/value point you brought up. Do you like drinking beer at all? If you don’t there is no point in having one. I guess there were other options too, basically, you should have only pick something that you like. Another thing is the “don’t sweat the small things” principle. Having a drink (or three) every once in a while won’t bring you to the poorhouse unless you evolve it into a daily habit. At first, when I bought a bottle or two craft beers for myself I felt the same feeling, then I asked myself which would I prefer, enjoying a fancy beer at the end of the day or in the circle of friends or drink a six-pack of cheap beer for half the price? Be frugal where it matters the most (big-ticket items) and indulge where the impact is negligible 😉

    1. Yeah, the ‘don’t sweat the small things’ principle is definitely something I’d like to try and implement. I’ve got the big things down for sure!

      I’m hoping it will be easier to back off more as the nest egg grows.

  4. I read this and felt sorry for you if I’m honest – it sounds like a terrible predicament to be in. Having followed the FI movement for quite a while, I’ve recently become a little jaded with the whole premise, precisely for reasons that you’ve touched on here. You’re severely limiting your short/medium-term life experience in a big way, for a reward you’re hoping for later down the line. Say you are hit by a bus tomorrow – would it really have been worth it? We have a short time on this earth, and following the path you are currently on is no longer appealing to me.
    Good luck getting over this, and thanks for sharing your experience – it must have been hard to share this.

    1. Thank you Kevin. Don’t feel sorry for me, it’s self-inflicted 🙂 I’m in a better position than most, I just need to allow myself and my family a little more small joys.

  5. Hey SN

    This is very much a mind over matter thing – spending money shouldn’t give you angst, certainly not when you have the means to do so.

    I decided when I started to pursue FIRE that I wasn’t going to scrimp on socialising, ie eating/drinking out because it’s not something I do all the time. At home, it’s all about not wasting food, getting the best supermarket deals, cooking my own etc. But when I’m out, I don’t necessarily go for the cheapest – I go for what I want to eat (which is usually near the middle). You’ve got your everyday living costs down to a tee, so it won’t affect your savings rate if you spend a little once in a while.

    I equate eating good food/drinking great beers as ‘experiences’, so it’s spending on experiences and not material stuff.

    But there is hope that you can be ‘cured of this infliction’ – you’re not completely allergic to spending money, as you derive great happiness from your recent purchase of what I believed to be incredibly expensive headphones – me, I’m still using the free ones which came with my iPod, though they are on their last legs, haha! I feel a bit of your pain as I’m not looking forward to spending money to replace them!

    Still, why not spend the occasional money on nice food and drink which can also give you happiness – take Mrs SN to a local restaurant for something you can’t cook yourself and enjoy the food and the fact that someone cooked and served it to you.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement Weenie 🙂

      Technology is actually my weak(?) point, I do normally spend more when it comes to tech. Although I’d go back to the value thing again, those headphones were on a huge black friday sale and I’d justified the ‘need’ for them with a lot of points – although I still felt really shitty buying them!

      Now that I think about it, a lot of these feelings of angst come from consumables like eating out or supermarket food, I guess it’s just because the value difference can be HUGE and the value gain is not as blaringly obvious, no reviews etc like there is with tech. You can still have reviews for a restaurant, but I’d still be afraid of everything being rubbish when you eat there and losing money with nothing gained.

      I definitely need to take Mrs SN out more 🙂

  6. Best thing to do is budget for it. Set a small budget on a different card like revolute or monzo as fun money. Tell yourself this money has to be spent each month whether you spend it on take away or extortionate london pints is up to you but make sure its spent each month.

    Monzo and revolute also allow for round up savings, so when it comes to booking holidays you can passively save up for them as you’re out enjoying spending your fun money.

    Most people without a budget go from having a brilliant start of the month to scrapping by until the next payday, seems like your budgeting is so good you could end up doing the opposite, lol
    But the main thing (for the third time) is make sure the fun money is spent.


    1. I do actually give my self a ‘luxury spending pot’ the only trouble is, I never use it! I still see it as money wasted. To force myself to spend is going to be a huge hurdle for me to overcome 🙁

      1. What do you do with the left overs in it?
        You could try lowering it and then trying to make sure its spent, or letting Mrs SavingNinja handle the card with the luxury fun money
        Either way I hope you can over come this 🙂

  7. Hey Saving Ninja. I know exactly what you mean. I get the same way too. My husband has gotten used to it and now understands the parameters of my aversion to spending.

    I have gotten around some of the issues you’ve mentioned above in a couple of ways. I’ll give specific examples.

    1. I budget for it.
    A couple of years ago we managed to have a £20 a month food bill per person. I include all food and drinks under the same budget. Not surprisingly, we never went out, and our food choices were minimal. It got really depressing eating the same thing every day and turning down opportunities with friends.

    2. Spending money on some things is an investment.
    I also wanted to socialise with people and I want to have a comfortable middle ground between being generous and fair and saving money. And I noticed that I value variety in my meals and that I do like going out to eat on occasion (my husband could live off cereal and pasta indefinitely with no variety at all). So spending money on outings with social groups I value is an investment, I put my time in to being with these people and my time is worth money too. I want them to feel valued, so I will buy rounds just like they do (we all respect each other and get like for like cost drinks by habit). I also noticed I’m happier to have food I enjoy and like and have variety. It better nourishes me knowing I’ll have some salmon (which I think is sooo expensive) one week and veggies (I love fancy mushrooms, but usually its just the value one’s I get) that are not the cheapest. These are investments in my ability to perform at my best and in me being happy.

    Currently, our budget for all food (including going out for meals and alcohol) is £200 a month for 2 people. It is a big difference from what it was. Tenfold in fact, but we check the budget and spend accordingly. Some months we go under, and just let it roll over to another month. So, Christmas meals at work can be covered by the budget, or the drinks with friends can be covered etc. Admittedly, this doesn’t allow free for all. And I can still take a moment to think if spending the money is adding value, but at the end of the day it is allocated for food.

    On that note, why don’t you try to set a budget of £10 to spend a month on a takeaway/or a meal out/a pint at the FI meeting?

    Because of Christmas meal bookings etc, our coffers are running low. I recently orchestrated that we could meet friends in IKEA. We normally meet for an afternoon tea somewhere (we all live in different cities), so often this involves parking, and then the tea itself which is often a total rip off. parking at IKEA is free, yay! and the food there is pretty cheap, but we won’t look stingy.

    1. Lauren, thank you for the detailed comment, I’ll definitely be taking some of your points on board 🙂

      I think setting a mandatory budget for eating out/take away is a must for me (otherwise we’ll never do it) I actually have been working on a mobile application that sets up these mandatory pots (which roll over if you don’t spend) to help with this exact problem.

      Seeing the money spent when socialising as an investment is also an awesome idea, thank you.

  8. You could compromise and get a £2.50 half pint like me!

    Lots of good advice from commenters above. I hope you take some of it on so when I see you at the next meet-up you’ll be drinking something a bit more exciting than water

  9. I grew up in a family like this and I have to say that it wasn’t a lot of fun. No heating and 40w lightbulbs that had to be turned off if you left a room for even a moment. My parents saved a lot of money and retired early into a beautiful house. They have a huge nest egg which they are now spending on personalised number plates, professionally redecorating four bathrooms, new kitchen, new Mercedes, new campervan but I don’t see it bringing them a lot of joy. They still insist on filling the washing up bowl with hot water in the utility and carrying it through to the kitchen to wash up as apparently the hot water pipes are too long!
    I try hard to get the balance between saving for the future but not letting it impact on my or my family’s present.

  10. I had the same issue, which I credit to deep-seated programming from growing up in a family that prized savings and also didn’t have that much money to waste. That said, I also think my inability to spend was about not seeing the bigger picture (eating out can also be over networking and therefore business building or it can be a time savings which is just as important as money savings) and also about not being able to take care of myself. Money issues are often not about money issues but other things like self-worth, upbringing, limiting beliefs. I am a healthy spender now, having weaned myself off slowly by treating myself to small things but on a regular basis and then making big investments in key priorities like travel and personal development. I still watch my money, but also my fun. Good luck on your balanced journey!

    1. Thank you Caroline, that’s definitely what I need to become…A healthy spender. I’m more of an all or nothing kind of person, I need to work on my balancing!

  11. I sometimes suffer from the same affliction and I term it “when frugalism goes too far”. Sometimes it’s not worth sacrificing enjoyment in the pursuit of increasing the cash pile. I’m frugal but my partner takes it to extremes – which can cause issues. However, I have been known to schedule after work drinks for venues where I know I can get free drinks via their apps. Load of pub chains have free drink sign up offers which I enjoy gaming. I’m actually out tomorrow and I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to get several pints free via apps. I think I actually enjoy the thrill of drinking for free more than the actual night out – crikey … I think I need help.

  12. I can totally feel you SN. Every time I spend money on something I believe isn’t value-based priced my moods turns the wrong way. This is a common behaviour in the Catalan culture, we give a lot of attention to money.

    What I hate the most of this is how it affects negatively to those who surround me, fact that attracts literally shit around and also bloody compounds if not careful!

    So, as others have said and I could learnt recently, having a separate fun money account is helpful to avoid regrets on spending. Putting aside a 10% of your net monthly earnings to spend freely on whatever you feel like it and not bothering about anything else may be the way I go from now on.

    1. This is so true Tony, not finding a good value food in a motorway service station and opting to buy nothing instead of spend £10 may be a good financial decision, but it is worth me and my partner being in a bad mood/unhappy for the rest of the 3h journey? Probably not.

      10% may be a little too ambitious for me right now, I’ll start with something like £10 😀

  13. I often suffer from a similar affliction but have learned over the years to feel gratitude when I do spend that I can do so without resorting to debt or really impacting my day to day life.

    Even renovating my house I don’t particularly enjoy. We’ve probably spent about 40k in the last two months between a new kitchen getting the outside painted converting the garage and renovating the front room and repainting. None of it i guess was ’emergency renovation’ but it did need updating. I rationalise it that I want our house to be comfortable for our new arrival (baby due yesterday!) plus seeing the joy it brings my partner and hopefully makes it feel more like our rather than my house as she moved in with me a few years ago

  14. Hey SN.

    So, just to say I totally share the ‘value’ sentiment of spending money. If I don’t think it’s worth it, I don’t have it/do it/eat it/whatever it. If I think it is worth it – I do it and don’t feel bad about spending the money, knowing I have considered it fairly. Some things you are just paying for hype, convenience, branding etc. Easy to ignore. But, as many others have pointed out, the real value of something isn’t just the thing in question – you need to judge the value of the whole deal. The biggest example I can give is my decision to work-time for the last ten years of my own recently completed journey to FIRE. If I add up all the lost wages/bonus’/shares etc – cost me between 1 – 2 years extra time on the FIRE path. Was the balanced life-style, health, mental sanity and extra free time worth it – absolutely, 100%.

    Value judgement is a personal thing – only you ( and Mrs SN ) can decide what’s worth the extra time and what isn’t. There’s also usually a middle ground on all these. E.g. motorway food – sure, an absolute ripoff. Buying or making decent food to take with you = full stomachs & happy travellers.

    Now that we’re FIRE-d, we travel a lot. I have an annual budget for it and I choose how to spend it based on value. If I want to travel for longer, we go cheaper – but never the cheapest because that’s just misery to me. You still need to enjoy each experience you decide to part with your hard-earned cash for else you’ve wasted all the money you spent on the cheapest option – people often forget that.

    Who wants to FIRE without friends or a happy partner on the journey, after all. My favourite quote is very much my mantra – “it’s not the destination, it’s the glory of the ride”. Make sure you and Mrs SN enjoy yours!!

    1. Hi Michelle, thank you for this beautiful insight.

      I definitely agree that everything should be considered fairly and then you should be able to feel better about the spend – I only wish I could do the latter part without ill-feeling 🙂

      Although, I do think there is some kind of ambiguous feeling that you get when you want to PURCHASE STRAIGHT AWAY, a spontaneous fancy beer or meal out in a randomly selected restaurant, that you (or I) need to satisfy every now and again, as long as the price isn’t too large of course. If you limit yourself of these then you can end up feeling like your life is quite boring. This can be satisfied in free adventurous ways as well, but if the cost is small, we shouldn’t limit ourselves of these small exciting bursts.

  15. I had a similar issue a long time ago even though I wasn’t so frugal as you are! I was constantly anxious about spending even though it hasn’t really stopped me from those small expenses – it was actually worse because I was exposing myself to the pain of spending. I can’t say it was serious – like a blister on my daily routine. Actually I haven’t searched for any particular solution to my problem, but I was just lucky to read/listen to a couple of opinions about sanity and how to take care of your mental health. I realised that I’m paying a price I didn’t know I would ever need to pay and it will take its toll over the years! I think it was one of the reasons I left FIRE before I actually got involved in it. Saying that I just wanted to say that I’m not against FIRE and I do think everyone should be frugal to some extent – I’m more than happy with my 30-35% saving rate!

    1. 30-35% savings, you’re definitely still part of FIRE 😉

      I love the analogy of paying a hidden price that isn’t monetary; it’s something that I definitely need to keep in mind. A new metric could be given to everything which takes into account happiness, well-being, and cost – giving the TRUE cost of the item/service and it’s worth. It would be so much easier to see if an extra 20% for better accommodation (for example) on holiday is worth it! Everything needs to be taken in moderation…Even saving!

  16. I can empathise with you to some extent because I am also allergic to spending money on things I don’t value in much the same way as you are. However, I only empathise with you to a certain extent because unlike you (and many of the other commenters), I don’t actually hate myself for being this way.

    In this modern consumerist focused world, we find ourselves surrounded by people who spend for convenience, spend to make the feeling of emptiness go away, spend out of habit, spend out of boredom, spend to fit in, or simply spend to keep up with the Jones’s – even I would include myself in this category (some of the time). If your personality is such that you enjoy getting value for money and makes you content, then I don’t think that you should be made to feel (by society) that you are a frugal misfit/miser. If anything, all it shows is that your friends/wife are more consumerist focused than you are (which probably isn’t hard judging by your article).

    Now, I am in pretty much the same position as you. My wife/friends are more consumerist focused than I am (which also isn’t very hard!). However, there’s one thing I’ll never do – and that’s not being true to myself, just to gain acceptance from people whose values I don’t share. That’s not to say that I don’t hang out socially with my friends or constantly argue with my wife about how much less I am incliu
    ned to spend. It just means that I accept them for who they are, and they accept me for who I am. A good comparison would be if your parents had different political/religious beliefs, or if your best friend was gay while you were straight. In these examples, I doubt you would feel the need to change who you are, and how you behave and think, simply to be accepted as ‘normal’ by your family and friends.

    I only recently discovered your blog and have read most of your other articles, and would have to say I see eye to eye with you on almost everything. You seem like the sort of person who has original ideas and doesn’t need to conform in order to be liked.

    Please don’t see this post as a criticism. However, maybe it will be an eye opener for you to show that no matter how independent and non-conformist we think we are, we humans are social animals and feel the need to conform at some level. For some people at the extreme end of the spectrum, they will change the essence of who they are in order to to conform.

    For you, you may be looking to change your spending behaviour to conform to your more spendy friends/wife, and even rationalise that as a good thing (a virtue perhaps?!). And even for me, I am also find myself under peer pressure to conform with colleagues at work events in order to fit in. However, what I could never do is tell myself that I am the one who has a weakness simply because I don’t conform to other people’s ideas of what normal ‘consumerist’ behaviour is like. Being more ‘consumerist’, or ‘normal’ isn’t a virtue, nor something to aspire to. I hope you’ll be true to yourself.

    1. Thank you for this reply Matlab, it was really encouraging for me 🙂

      I think, in an unconscious fashion, some of it is peer-pressure related. Although I try for ‘peer-pressure’ to not affect me, and in lots of cases succeed, I am still surrounded by high-earning individuals in one of the most expensive cities in the world, something is bound to get into my head and start affecting my emotions.

      What I’d like, though, is to not feel wretched when I have to spend. I know that there are different definitions of having to spend, but if – for whatever reason – my rational brain is thinking that spending a little bit of money in a certain circumstance will make me a little ‘happier’ (like the service station and rumbling bellies example,) I’d like to be able to do so without that shitty feeling.

      I don’t want to be a slave to my money just like I don’t want to be a slave to peer pressure. It’s all a balancing act, and my scales are heavily skewed at the moment so it’s invoking irrational behavior. For example, I made me and my wife wait in a car park for over 10 minutes so we would only have to pay for 2 hours parking (as it was free after a certain time). We saved 40p… Looking back, it was probably not worth standing in the freezing cold for that long for 40p, but I was too scared to spend it as I didn’t want to feel pissed off for giving the parking meter another 40p when we only needed to wait for 10 minutes…A lot of battling emotions! It was definitely my Monkey Brain not wanting to spend the 40p though, and I always strive for my Higher Mind to be in control.

  17. I don’t often have this issue as I think about how much it’s costing the seller to provide me their service. E.g. in a central London pub, the cost of your beer is covering product, rent, council tax & business rates, staff, etc, after accounting for that then I understand their pricing. If I have a trades person quote me and I wonder is that expensive, I ask myself the following; if I was doing their job would I be bothered to come and do the work for that price (I.e. would it pay my mortgage), how much do the raw materials cost, and what is their experience worth (that no doubt has a cost associated with it) – if it’s not something I can easily do myself (& I can do a lot) then there’s probably a good reason for what i’m being quoted. Most people are just trying to make a living, what looks like a rip-off to one person is just enough to support another persons expenses.

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