Editor’s Note: If you want to learn more about how to create a cash flow plan that helps you spend intentionally while you pay down debt and invest for your future, make sure to check out Medical Degree to Financially Free – the 5 week course that teaches it all to you. Click here to learn more about Medical Degree to Financially Free.
Your relationship with money can either promote wealth and wellness, or it can worsen your already smoldering burnout. Our relationship with money can be complicated! We have all been there. You make a big purchase on a home, a car, new clothes, or designer gadgets… only to experience buyers remorse soon thereafter.
Maybe we should just avoid spending money on anything that is non-essential. That would solve the buyer’s remorse problem, right?
One of the differences in The Physician Philosopher – compared to many other personal finance sites – is that I like to remind people that it’s okay to spend money. While saving is important – we also need to make the heart happy.
Unfortunately, spending money in the wrong way can often produce Buyers Remorse. Yet, it doesn’t have to cause pain!
While it’s important to achieve our big picture financial goals, it is also important to remember why you set out on this journey: to obtain financial freedom so that we can prevent/escape burnout and produce a life full of contentment. I’m here to tell you that you can avoid consumer regret through intentional spending.
What is Intentional Spending?
The answer to buyers’ remorse is to utilize intentional spending.
The idea behind intentional spending is to recognize that, while budgeting/tracking spending is vitally important to your financial success, it is also important to let loose every once in a while.
As long as we use a backward budget to make sure we are achieving our big picture financial goals, we can spend the rest however we please.
Yet, if we don’t spend our time and money with clear goals and intentions, it can still lead to buyers remorse. The reason we need to spend intentionally is that when we let loose… we aren’t particularly good at it.
There are many studies that show Americans are really bad at letting loose. Americans leave billions of days of vacation unused each year. Even when we do take vacation, we apparently aren’t very good at it. It often leaves us less happy when we return from vacation than when we left.
The reason? One Harvard study seems to think that it’s because we plan poorly when we take the vacation and the travel stress (if planned poorly) off-sets any happiness we would glean from the trip.
Interestingly, there has also been good research to suggest how far we commute to work also affects our life satisfaction! Apparently, how much and how well we travel has a profound impact on our enjoyment in life.
Because we aren’t any good at letting loose ad-lib, this means we need to be very intentional when we do let loose. Don’t forget that the vacation analogy extends even further. We’ve discussed that a poorly planned vacation with loads of travel stress actually hurts you. Similarly, spending money you don’t have and that isn’t in your budget will increase your stress!
If it causes you to go into debt, finance/leverage a purchase, or prevent you from adequately saving, it is likely not worth it! That is not intentional spending.
Intentional spending makes your head and your heart happy! If it isn’t accomplishing both, it isn’t intentional spending.
Steps to Intentional Spending
Here are four steps to help produce some intentional spending in your lives!
Step 1. Backward Budgeting
Part of avoiding buyers’ remorse through intentional spending means budgeting. Don’t worry, though… I hate zero-dollar budgeting where every dollar has a “job”. I’m not going to encourage you to do that unless it is absolutely necessary.
Why? Because I don’t do. That’s why I use cash flow planning and backward budgeting, both of which I teach in my course Medical Degree to Financially Free.
However, that doesn’t give you free rein to spend money without thinking about where it is coming from or what it will impact. Make sure that you have the money to spend and that it will not impact your ability to aggressively save or destroy debt!
Are you still going to get to your Financial Plan goals? Check this box first. This is step 1, 2, and 3 of intentional spending. Use products like mint or personal capital to see where your money is currently going.
Then, set up a backward budget to help you attack the big picture goals. This kind of budget encourages you to (1) define your big picture financial goals, (2) pay your future self first, (3) automate your financial goals, and then to (4) spend lavishly on the money that is left!
What you have left, is the money you can spend intentionally and with zero judgment, because you’ve already taken care of your financial goals first!
Step 2. Take a Minute to Think
While we can consult the research on what makes people happy, it is also important for us to spend time thinking on the subject for ourselves.
Most studies on happiness economics find that people generate more satisfaction from experiences rather than from things.
This could mean going skiing in the mountains, spending a long weekend at the beach, or going to a Big City you’ve never seen. As mentioned above, though, it should be well planned and travel stress kept to a minimum!
We can also prevent buyers’ remorse and derive financial happiness from spending money on other people, buying smaller items more frequently, and delaying big purchases.
Step 3. Research Money Spent on Stuff
If you really want to avoid buyers’ remorse, take note of the things that have caused you that pain in the past!
First, take inventory of all of the stuff in your house and your garage. Think about how happy it made you at the time of purchase. Then, think about how happy it makes you now. You may even have some consumer regret. The reason many times of this is that we made a purchase with little thought.
When you aren’t spending money on experiences and do choose to spend money on things, take some time.
In fact, if it is a substantial cost I recommend you endorse The One Month Rule. This will allow you the time to do research. Find the best product for the best price.
For example, when my wife and I needed a new mattress, we did our research. Apparently, mattresses are most cheaply purchased in May. Who knew? So, we waited until then to purchase. After all, there are very few “mattress emergencies” that would necessitate a dire need to buy one right now!
What constitutes a “big purchase” will be different for every person, but – whatever that number is – spend some time researching big purchases. You may find during the process that you’d later regret it.
Step 4. Apply the 10% Rule
It is important to keep our spending in check, particularly when we receive large amounts of money. When we receive a bonus, raise, or windfall; this is the perfect time to apply The 10% Rule.
The 10% rule is applied when you get a raise, promotion, bonus, or other unanticipated money. After you look at your post-tax take-home pay, take 10% of any money you receive and spend it on whatever your heart desires (after thinking about steps 1-3 above).
Spend that 10% with zero judgment and no buyers’ remorse. How is this possible? Because you are crushing your financial goals with the other 90%!
See, the 90% goes straight towards your wealth accumulation rate (WAR). Use it to pay down your debt or to invest for your savings goals, including achieving financial independence, investing for your kids college, or whatever other goals you may have!
Abiding by this rule is what allowed my family and me to pay down $200,000 in student loans in 19 months, and increase our net worth $250,000 in one year.
Take-Home: Buyers’ Remorse
The purpose of the intentional spending philosophy is to remind you of one thing. As long as you are obtaining your financial goals, it is perfectly acceptable to spend money! Budgeting and personal finance can become so restrictive that it affects your marriage and maybe even your mental health.
Just like you deserve (and need) to take that well planned vacation to relieve stress, produce work satisfaction, and increase motivation at work; you need to perform some intentional spending!
What do you think? Do you spend it intentionally? Do you overspend? Does your budget stress you out? Do you need a break? Leave a comment. I want to hear your intentional spending stories!
We don’t budget but we are very intentional about spending. I like the one month rule!
Thanks, Doc G. Being intentional is really the more important part. Do you track spending or just send money to the right places (investing and debt) and know the rest is gonna be enough?
We actually don’t track spending at all. We just aren’t big spenders and invest as much as we can every month.
I guess the more of a super saver you are the less it matters tracking spending or budgeting. Keep up the strong work! (Seriously, your approach implies a lot of inherent discipline!)
For the rest of us mere mortals, budgeting may still be helpful on attain our goals 😉
Great post TPP. Mindfulness is an important concept in all aspects of life. Maintaining a good weight means mindful eating habits. I always advise patients who complain that they cannot lose weight to track their eating (weight watcher points, calories, fat grams, or a food diary) and exercise (steps) and objectively figure out the problem. The same is true for money. It is hard to know where you are going without knowing where you have been. I was already financially independent when I started expense tracking. It is now a habit. One advantage to doing it is you can easily figure out your financial independence number when the time comes. I have never budgeted. I am fairly frugal by nature. I have made a few detours but overall I feel good about my system.
I agree completely, Hatton1! It’s hard to know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been. I think even Dr. Seuss wrote something about that!
We must first “know thyself” before we can make changes to ourselves.
And isn’t it funny how good advice in so many areas of our lives applies to other areas no matter how unrelated?
We’re pathetic in that we track every single penny we spend. But this allows us to do no budget.
I love the one month rule! I also love any helpful button on shopping websites such as “wish list,” “save for later,” etc. So many times I’ve put items on these lists and when I reviewed at a later point, I had no interest in buying them.
Definitely a good way to apply the one month rule! I like that. Let it sit for a bit and see what you think later.
I budget and track spending 🙂 it’s served us well and helped us to be intentional for sure.
I’m super intentional about purchases but I never budgeted during my practice lifetime. Since I retired I am budgeting. You often hear how people are going to “cut back” in retirement if times get tough. I decided to see exactly what “cut back” feels like so when I retired, I cut back to 70% of my previous life style. I have 2 kids in college (which I pretty well pre-planed) and sent my family to Europe twice (both pre-planed) and haven’t noticed the “cut back” hardly at all. What it means is I spend zero time thinking about a side gig since 30% less spending IS a side gig. I use Mint to track things
That is a whole ‘nother way to look at spending a lower percentage of that next egg. What percentage draw down are you using? Sounds like 3% or less possibly?
Well said on being intentional with larger purchases – whether its a 72 hour rule or a one month rule, just do your homework and make sure you’re exchanging money for something of value.
BTW – I love our Weber Spirit 210 Grill. Highly recommend researching how to keep the grates working, Weber even replaced ours for early rust three years in even though we were “cold cleaning” the grill.
Ill check into that! Haven’t researched a bunch into cleaning it properly. It’s now on my weekend “to do” list! Thanks!
I love the month rule, we pretty much use it, but never formalised it before. Last year we didn’t really want much, so we didn’t spend much (except on travel which is in our budget!)
This year has already brought 2 big purchases, but not only had we discussed them for months (maybe even a year), we got them in sales, and the things they replaced have both gone to a good home – result!
Nice! I think that tracking spending and budgeting are really helpful, particularly early on.
I am all about waiting til the right time of the year to buy something! Gives you time to apply the one month rule. Glad it worked out for you, too!
My wife and I are most definitely intentional spenders. And conscious consumers too :).
Budgets don’t stress us out. To us, it’s more like a fun challenge. Like buying nothing for a year!
If you’re in the market for a new mattress, I highly recommend the Naturepedic classic EOS. It’s the one we recently purchased. We love it. Easily the best mattress we have slept in (and we have stayed in some really fancy hotels). It’s also all-organic and non toxic to boot! I would encourage you to look into it, and if you have any questions feel free to ask. 🙂
Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll definitely look into that. Never heard of it before. Sounds like a good mattress!
I like the concepts of intentional spending and the backwards budget. If I look at my own financial plan, I utilized the backwards budget unconsciously, but it’s nice to see it formally defined and illustrated as you’ve done here. Thanks for the post!
Thanks! It’s the only way to go, honestly. Interestingly, it leads to different paths for different people. That’s what’s great about it.
Intentionality is key to success in any financial plan. It’s a great conversation on an important topic. I do think you’re right that too many financial advisors and bloggers advocate for never spending anything. While that “all-in” approach may work for a short-term goal like becoming debt-free, it’s hard to make that a permanent lifestyle choice. Intentional spending makes a lot of sense in the budget. “YOLO/FOMO” shouldn’t be the battle cry of the destitute, but it’s reasonable to spend some money as you go along in life. Balance and intentionality are key. Great discussion!
Intentional spending is the key to squeezing the maximum happiness out of your dollars (as Johnathan clements would say).
We have shifted our focus to experiences over stuff and found a large change in well-being.
The 1 month rule is great and we pretty much use that rule for large ticket items as well.
I adore the reverse budget… push yourself to achieve, then have fun with the rest. I have a dedicated post on how I do it at Tiredsuperheroine.com!
Jimmy I like how you incorporate psychosocial research into your posts… EBM= evidence based money management…
Thanks! I think it is super important, though I am not so sure if casual readers feel the same as you and me 🙂
Such an important concept! Reading this helped clarify and validate a lot of things for me. Just 5-6 months ago, I was spending up to my income without really giving any thought to if what I was buying made me happy. Luckily I discovered blogs like this and these concepts *right* before becoming an attending with the huge salary increase. Now my wife and I track every dollar (we’re crazy like that) and have a 41%+ savings rate. It feels completely freeing rather than restrictive as we also just buy things that actually make us happy. Love it!
We never budgeted, never needed to. I think few naturally frugal people get much out of that. We try not to over plan vacation trips either. That’s a sure way to take the fun out of it for us. When we take off on a road trip we have no idea if we’ll be gone one week or three weeks. No idea if we will drive 1,000 miles or 4,000. We try not to have more than one or at most two nights lodging booked ahead. I mean if you set your schedule in stone there is no chance to discover things or to stay around an area that catches your imagination. Of course you have to be financially and time independent to do that, but once you get to that point, the less planning the better, just go.