Articles

The fear of spending money

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

The day should have been filled with joy.  In the same weekend, our offer on the house we wanted to buy was accepted, my favorite NFL team kicked an NFL record-tying field goal as time was expiring to win the game, and my 33rd birthday was being celebrated! However, joy is not what I felt.  What I felt was anxiety stemming from the fear of spending money.

Is this normal?

Buying the Next House

For six years, my wife and I spent most evenings looking through houses on the market.  The desire to buy a house (without feeling trapped in debt) was one of our biggest drivers to get to a better financial situation.

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We started looking when we said we would after we realized our student loan debt was paid off (We paid off our $200,000 in 19 months).  Naturally, we found a house that was perfect almost immediately. Part of me was ecstatic.  But my frugal nature that’s been formed over the past two years was in a pure state of fear.

What are we about to do? This could be a huge mistake!

This led me to the realization that I have found a new cause for fear that I didn’t know I had… the fear of spending money.  And, right now, there are a multitude of reasons to have this fear with everything that is going on in our world.

The Fear of Spending Money

Looking at the math it is quite obvious that the two main drivers of early financial success are living well below your paycheck, which allows for a high annual savings rate.

My wife and I have paid off $150,000 over the first 15 months while we ballooned our investment accounts to over $115,000. We did this by living on ~20-30% of our gross income. The rest was put towards destroying debt, giving to charity, and investing in our retirement accounts.

In my first Journey to Wealth Manifesto, I said, “I will live like a resident (not buy a house) until I have paid off my student loans.

However, at the point we started looking, we still had $50,000 in refinanced student loans remaining.  Am I a hypocrite? After all, I run a website that teaches people not to inflate their lifestyles in order to get to financial independence!

A Reality Check

It’s important to write down our goals.  Otherwise, it makes it pretty tough to achieve them.  It’s hard to know where you are going if you don’t know the destination.

However, life is constantly in flux.  That doesn’t change our goals, though!  We wrote them down for a reason.

So, what were my other goals that I posted a year ago in My Journey to Wealth Manifesto? (And have I achieved them?)

  • $100,000 in assets by July 1st, 2018 (Done)
  • Positive Net Worth by July 1st, 2019 (Done… six months early)
  • Out of Student Loan Debt by July 1st, 2019 (check… five months early!)
  • Millionaire by age 40 (We are on track to reach this early, too)

When I looked at our list and all of the things we were accomplishing, I realized that we might be able to buy the house a little early if we came across the right one.  Otherwise, the plan was to keep trekking along til the loans were gone.

Thus, my goal changed a few months back to start looking for the next house when we got our student loans down to $50,000. This number was chosen because  we have $30,000 of equity in our current house.

Given the money from our home sale, I realized that even if we bought the next house, our first mortgage payment was not due until after the loans were gone.

Essentially, we would be able to buy the house at this point AND reach our financial goals at the same time.

Intentional Changes

There are a couple of reasons to share our decision to buy a house.

First, I want The Physician Philosopher blog to be transparent in tracking our progress towards our goals.  Showing others that we can balance the joys of living now with our goals of reaching financial independence is important.

We are all human. Therefore, we all err.  It is important to show others that financial mistakes – when they occur – do not necessarily mean our entire financial plan is derailed.

Second, our decision is a real life example of the balance I preach.  We bought the house we wanted for six years a little earlier than anticipated.  We still achieved our financial goals at the same time!

While we made a decision to buy the house before our loans were officially paid off, we didn’t do that in the face of failing to reach our goals.  We sat down, did the math, and realized we could buy the house and still be student loan debt free in two years.

Take Home

After learning the art of frugality, it is common to experience the fear of spending money.  But sometimes, this fear is unnecessary.  This doesn’t mean that we sacrificed our emergency fund (which we still keep at 4x our basic monthly living expenses).

It’s important to strike a balance between the future goals we set and living today.  If you can meet your financial goals and a change is within those parameters, there is nothing wrong with making a change.  In fact, I encourage you to spend lavishly as long as you are track to meet your goals.

That does not give permission to change goals simply to spend more money.  That message will never change on this site.

So, take your time. Write your manifesto and your personal investor’s statement. Then, set your mind to achieving those goals.  Finally, don’t forget to be flexible along the way.

Do you struggle with spending money now that you’ve learned about frugality?
Do you have the fear of spending money? Leave a comment below.

TPP

21 Comments

  1. Dave @ Accidental FIRE

    I need to practice writing down goals more often. Especially now that my two side hustles are gaining momentum. This will give me a thinking exercise for today

    Reply
    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Yep! It’s always good to have specific goals. I need to work on making an investor policy statement at some point, too. Dr. McFrugal had a great post (linked at the bottom of this one) on doing just that.

      TPP

      Reply
  2. Xrayvsn

    Congratulations on pretty much hitting or exceeding your written goals.

    After getting accustomed to saving for so long it does feel strange to loosen the purse strings and spend on something. For me it was buying my Tesla a couple of years ago. It felt a little sad to see about a 10% drop in net worth at that time but in the end I have no regrets (at some point you have to spend the money you have been stockpiling or you will never enjoy it and someone who never really worked for it will)

    The fact that you are Adaptable in your plans makes it even more likely to succeed. You could have been strict and wait to buy a house based on your original timeline but you may have missed out on the house you were meant to have.

    Reply
    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Thanks, xrayvsn! I try not to be too strict, and have never been the best rule follower really. I am more of a “spirit of the law” kind of guy. So, breaking away from the rules normally is a natural thing for me… but when it came to spending money after being frugal for the last couple of years, it was different for some reason.

      Thanks for the encouragement! P.S. What kind of Tesla? I’m a car guy 🙂

      Reply
  3. Xrayvsn

    I bought it new in Dec 2015. It’s the model S 90d (the only model above it was the performance version which was fun to drive and decreased 0-60 time from the 4.2 sec my car has to 3.5 I believe (now it is even lower). Taking a test drive in that car was like going down the first hill of a Rollercoaster but I couldn’t justify the extra money (as well as higher insurance cost) for essentially a parlor trick I would seldom use.

    I got the autopilot version 1 hardware which is pretty incredible and makes my daily commute great but really shines on long road trips. It works really well but you still have to pay attention but more as a casual observer which is less taxing on you.

    I actually have a doctors bag post already made on it that I need to put on the schedule going in to way more detail

    Reply
    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Well, let me know when that one goes live! That’s a very nice car!

      My car is the complete opposite of yours, I get 13 mpg 🙂 Four door sedan with a naturally aspirated V-8 & 6 speed transmission. It was my one “splurge” when I finished (and how I used The 10% Rule I teach)

      Reply
  4. B.C. Krygowski

    This is a normal fear. We also had such qualms—but despite our past money mistakes, it’s all still ended up okay in the end. Thanks for being transparent about what’s going on in your head. 🙂

    Reply
  5. M

    I struggle with this too, from big purchases like a house down to smaller ones like replacing my 5 year old phone that is so cracked beyond belief that I could barely read your post today ?

    I keep having to remind myself that money is a tool, and in order for a tool to work, you need to use it when it’s appropriate. Otherwise it’s just clutter taking up space to make us feel better about ourselves.

    Reply
    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      I think that’s the right perspective to have, M. Go get yourself a new phone. Just don’t buy a brand new one if ya don’t need it ?

      Reply
  6. Kpeds

    Finding a bit of frugality and connecting the time = money equation seems to amplify loss aversion. And to spend hundreds of thousands…oy, I’m not looking forward to parsing those conflicting emotions.

    A lot of us feel like after Finding FI that we have to steamroll towards it by cutting down on all our expenses. But this is a fast track to madness.

    We’re really do work hard and it is ok to enjoy the journey to FI. Like your say, balance is key.

    Congrats and good luck with the move!

    Reply
    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      It’s definitely been a challenge. I think its the right move for us, honestly (no pun intended). We will still reach our goals, but man its challenging to spend this kind of money when we’ve been going 90 mph towards FI. I’ll have to settle for 70mph, but that’s fine,too.

      Reply
  7. Millionaire Doc

    Sometimes plans change and that’s ok. Opportunities present themselves and you should be flexible to take advantage of them. You are doing great at such an early stage in your career.

    Reply
    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Thanks for the encouragement, MD. Doing the best we can with what we’ve got!

      Reply
  8. harrietta

    There is also a tax benefit to owning a house…

    Reply
  9. Dr. McFrugal

    “Fear is a reaction; courage is a decision.”
    — Sir Winston Churchill

    I like this quote from the great leader of Britain because it’s very true.

    Fear is a normal human emotion and reaction. It’s a defense mechanism that helps protect us from potential harm. And I think the fear of spending money is a healthy one as long as it doesn’t overtake you and control your life.

    In your case, I believe the act of buying your house really entails your courage to spend money. You’ve ran the numbers. It makes financial sense. It’s the dream house that your family has always wanted. And you had the courage to make a wise decision.

    Like you mentioned, balance is key… and to quote one of your other posts…”You Don’t Have To Wait To Live The Good Life”.

    The fear of loss is powerful. While your grandfather was in war-torn France, the fear of losing his life was real and constant. I can’t imagine the kind of fear he went through. He had tremendous courage.

    While not at all on the same level… the fear of losing money is real too. But along with this loss, there will be a gain. You will gaining a dream house that will bring happiness and fulfillment for your family– something money can’t buy. It’s an intentional decision of courage. Congratulations on buying a new house!

    Btw, thanks for linking to my article. I really appreciate it!

    Reply
    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Thanks for the encouragement, DMF. I, too, think it’s the right decision in the end. Just takes some big picture perspective to see that.

      And no problem on the link! Thanks for writing a great post!

      TPP

      Reply
  10. Crispy Doc

    Interesting reaction, TPP. Mine was a bit different: I was super stressed up until we found and bought our place, because LA is absurdly HCOL and I didn’t have a sense of the upper limits of damage I’d be on the hook for until that moment.

    This was when the kids were young, my wife was not working and I felt it all on my shoulders.

    Once the debt was defined, I was able to sleep much better knowing the precise amount we’d have to pay off.

    Hopefully you’ll take some solace in the finite aspect of knowing the number you’ll need to overcome.

    A house is a consumption item, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy it if you choose the path of home ownership.

    And as Wealthy Doc noted, you are far ahead of most crusty veterans when we were your age.

    Enjoy your saving and debt reduction victories, and may you have many years of good memories in your new home.

    CD

    Reply
    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Thanks, CD! Truth be told, I did have some of that same feeling, too. We had a price range in mind and landed squarely in the middle to low middle end of that range, which was great.

      Fortunately, we live in a very low COL location. So that’s a huge advantage for us. I am pretty sure geoarbitraging from here would be next to impossible.

      Reply
  11. Jeff

    I feel defeated although I know I’m better off than many. My retirement account is still almost 20% lower than before the 2008 crash and I lost my longtime job the same year. I’ll never be a millionaire as I am 60 years old. I have moved (away from parents and brother) with my wife to another country (wife’s home country) just so I can be comfortable with the much lower cost of living and almost free healthcare I earn through working (cheaply) here. We own our small house outright here but still have our old house (with mortgage) in the US which is being rented. My wife and I have taken some nice (budget) international trips the past few years and loved them. I don’t think I can afford to retire in the USA and it’s a shame, I worked hard for much of my life earning a decent salary and saving pretty frugally. Then 2008 hit and devastated me/us. I feel every penny I spend is a penny I will never get back. It’s awful.

    Reply
    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      That’s a really tough spot to be in, Jeff. I am sorry to hear that you had that experience. Did you sell when the market went down? It has gone on an unprecedented bull market run since that time 10 years ago. Hard to believe you’d still be down 20% since then.

      Reply

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