#1019″ “I’m scared of spending money and everybody in my life pressures me not to.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a stable job, am financially independent, and have savings for a rainy day. Yet I have trouble when it comes spending money on myself, and I’m having increasingly emotional reactions to people who comment on how I spend money.

I feel guilty when I spend on necessities – if it’s stuff like health, or personal well-being, I can ignore the guilt. I’m fine when I buy presents for friends. However, the more these items fall into the “personal wants” category, the more agitated I get. But I want to! I want to pamper myself occasionally, or buy new jeans to replace my old ratty ones, etc. It’s my money, and I’m spending well within my means, logically that should be enough. Sometimes I go ahead and spend it… but then I start rethinking my decision and agonizing instead of just enjoying it. Other times, my mind just doesn’t stop overthinking whether I should be spending that money in the first place, and I just don’t spend it.

It doesn’t help that my parents are extremely thrifty. Their reactions to my purchases have always been along the lines of, “Oh, you got 3 shirts for $X? I could have gotten 5 for that same amount”; or, “How does this contribute to your personal development?” Some of my friends do this too. And though they are also financially secure, they might sometimes opt to buy movie tickets in person so they can save on internet booking fees, or choose to skip lunch to save the money. I have no issues with this, until I get roped into it – like if we end up missing the movie because they didn’t want to book seats early (and it’s insanely hard to reschedule due to our conflicting schedules), or if they naturally assume I’m skipping lunch with them – and when I speak up about it, they say something like, “Well I’d rather not spend that money, but we can do that if you want to”, which makes me feel like I’m making them spend that money just to assuage me. Or I’d be telling them about buying something for myself and they’d comment, “Wow, that’s expensive. Someone’s rich!”

I don’t know which came first – my problem with not-spending, or my unhappiness at such comments – but they keep bouncing off each other and it’s making me feel extremely confused and upset. They’re entitled to their opinions, yet I can’t fight how upset I get, which makes me feel unhappy about overreacting. I’ve started feeling like a horrible person for wanting the things I want, and feeling like I don’t deserve to spend on myself if I react poorly to such comments.

Am I silly for wanting them to lay off these comments? Is there any way I can stop having such extreme reactions? I’d greatly appreciate any advice you could give me. Thank you so much.

Best regards,
Scared of Spending

Dear Scared of Spending:

You’re not silly!

A thrifty and organized person like you probably already has a monthly and yearly budget, but if you don’t, it’s time to make one, and if you do, it’s time to add or beef up some categories in it, stuff like:

  • Clothing: For replacing old things and investing in new things. Also, alterations, mending, sewing on new buttons, fixing hems, dry-cleaning winter coats, etc. Make replacing your ratty jeans or getting something seasonal and snappy into planned expenses.
  • Fun: Include the cost of the occasional movie ticket AND the $1.50 convenience fee as you figure out the cost of 2 movies/month or whatever. Mentally adjust the ticket price up so that it’s the real total price of buying the ticket online in a way that is convenient for you.
  • Upkeep: Regular haircuts, personal grooming, etc.
  • Lunches: Whether you bring lunch from home most days and eat lunch out with friends sometimes, this assumption that you’ll somehow skip a meal (??!!!!??) is super not working for you. Put a set amount for lunches in the budget.
  • Giving/Charity: You probably already do this, too, but if you don’t, put a small amount toward giving money to a cause you believe in. You are fortunate right now, and this will feel really good to do. It will help you feel in control of your money.
  • Rainy Day Fund: You’re already building this. Keep going!
  • Short-Term and Long-Term Savings Goals: Retirement & emergencies, yes, but what else are you saving up for? A great trip? An educational opportunity? A house? Daydream a little bit.

Your budget doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s budget and you never have to show it or justify it to another living soul. Make a new one, and/or edit your existing one to add in some things that are important in your life. Track your actual expenses against your budget categories using whatever method works for you (paper notebook, keeping receipts, various apps). Schedule a few times a year where you tweak and adjust your budget based on changing goals and actual spending information.

Got your budget? Great. Here is your script for your friends and for yourself, now and forever:

“It’s in my budget.”

Scenario 1: 

Your friends: “We’re skipping lunch today, aren’t you? Who wants to spend all that money? or “We just assumed you’d be skipping lunch, too.”

You: “Why would you assume that? You do what you want! I’m hungry, and it’s in my budget.”

Then eat lunch if you want to eat lunch! Starving yourself to conform to friends’ ideas about thrift is not reasonable.

Scenario 2: 

Your friends, commenting (rudely) on a new purchase: “Whoa, someone’s rich!”

You: “What a weird thing to say. Anyway, it’s in my budget.”

(Or “Wow, someone’s rude!” or “Wow, it’s so weird to comment on another person’s spending like that, what’s that about?” or a gentle “Why would you say that to me?”)

Scenario 3: 

Your friends: “We’ll just get our ticket at the theater, we hate paying the $1.50 fee.”

You: “I’m going to get my ticket in advance. The fee is in my budget.”

Them: “Why would you pay such a useless fee?”

You: “I don’t love it, but I budget for it because it’s worth $1.50 to me to not have to spend the next three months planning another time we can all be together. Hopefully I’ll see you at the theater.”

It’s okay if they don’t want to pay the fee. It’s okay if you do. Express your own needs without judging theirs and hope they’ll do the same.

Scenario 4: 

You: :internally freaking out and feeling weird about a purchase:

Also you:Wait a second. I planned for this. It’s in my budget.

If it’s not in your budget, and you still want it, put it in your budget. Is it worth saving $5.00/week to have it someday? Is it worth trading off for something else you want? Only you can decide that.

Changing how you respond to these pressures may lead to an interesting conversation with some of your friends. “Don’t you think the way we talk about money is messed up? Where do you think that comes from?” Try some baby steps first and see who is responsive.

Now, let’s talk about your parents. You are a self-supporting adult and unless you are asking them to be reimbursed for some favor you did them, you never ever have to tell them what you paid for anything ever again.

Your current pattern: 

Parents: “New shirt? How much did you pay for that?”

Current You: “I got it on sale for only $10.00.”

Parents: “$10!!!! That much? I could have found it on sale for $3.00!”

Current You: Feels annoyed and ashamed even though you haven’t done anything wrong.

New pattern:

Parents: “New shirt? How much was it?”

Future You: “You like it? Thank you.” + [subject change]

See if you can get away without discussing price at all.

If they keep pushing, like, “No, seriously, how much was it?” you can say “It was on sale, but I don’t remember exactly how much.”

Yes, I am advising you to lie and say you don’t remember how much it was. You are trying to break a weird pattern of shame and blame and “kids these days!” and how much the shirt was is not actually important information to anyone, or anyone’s business but yours, ever. Don’t tell them the prices of things anymore.

You can also say “What a strange question, why do you want to know so badly?” or a very gentle “Ma, what are you really asking?” and put the awkwardness back on them. See what happens when you absolutely avoid giving them a number. One possible thing is that they will accuse you of paying too much/not being thrifty, like so:

Parents: “You probably paid too much!” (+ generalized grumbling because they sense a pattern is being broken)

AGREE WITH THEM. Don’t give them an argument. “I probably did pay too much, anyway, this soup is great is it Grandma’s recipe?” or “Maybe so! But you’ve taught me to never pay full price and to stick to my budget, so I feel good about it.” + subject change of your choosing.

Okay, let’s talk big picture for a second:

Competitive and performative thrift like this is a habit that’s often born in real deprivation and fight for survival. It’s cultural, it’s tied to class, it’s generational (meaning the attitude can be handed down in families even if the current generation is much more prosperous), it doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t go away overnight. It can be a way to turn a source of deprivation into a virtue in a culture that hates and shames and devalues poor people, like, I may be poor but look at how ingenious and wily I am to find these bargains! It can quickly get toxic when people yuck other people’s yum (the way your friends are doing, or the way every wedding planning community has the totes superior person who fed their guests only moonbeams and wove their dress themselves out of autumn leaves & recycled garbage bags) but it’s not coming out of nowhere.

It also speaks to what people value. Some people value getting the best deal above all else, where others are focused on the opportunity cost and the time involved. You value time with your friends and the ease of making plans with them more than you value that $1.50 for the movie ticket, and that’s an okay thing to value. Many times I’ve been in a grocery store with Mr. Awkward and he’s pointed out that potatoes are slightly cheaper at another grocery store and he’s 100% right about that but also we are not in that other grocery store and for the money & time it would take to go there we might as well buy these bourgeois potatoes? He’s trying to conserve money and I am trying to conserve spoons and both of these conservation attempts are rooted in us having lived very, very, very close to the bone where that extra $.30/lb or that extra hour on public transit to get to the cheapest potatoes adds up to misery and deprivation. Being poor is exhausting, mental illness is exhausting, and it’s hard to shake those stressed-out habits of mind even when circumstances get better and we can just buy the damn potatoes.

I say this to remind you to have compassion for your friends and your parents and also for yourself as you try to change the dynamic. Go slow. Be gentle, especially with yourself. You can’t control how your friends or your parents will talk or think about money, and you might keep getting rude or nosy or judgmental questions for long time while people adjust. Some people in your life might really resist your change in thinking and behavior around money, but others might find it liberating to not have the pressure of having to find the absolute cheapest (shirts/potatoes/movie tickets) hanging over them all the time. Finding a way to sustainably live in a way that’s true to your values, where you can have pleasure and financial freedom is a good and worthy project, and I wish you the best with it.

Thanks to Hannah & Matt of Hannah & Matt Know It All who chewed on this question with me on their podcast this week.

Moderation Note: Money talk brings up a lot of weird feelings, right? Probably people guessed this, but it bears saying that this is not the thread for sharing handy money-saving tips or extreme thrift brags or cheap life-hacks. This is one of those things like diets and food where a) do what works for you! b) don’t judge other people’s habits, and, d) there are entire websites that aren’t this one devoted to people sharing the intricate details of their personal programmes – if that appeals to you, go find one and have fun!




511 thoughts on “#1019″ “I’m scared of spending money and everybody in my life pressures me not to.”

  1. LW, I sympathize. I can also get into that spiral of overthinking. I also find that sometimes I fall into a pattern of justifying, or over-justifying, a purchase to myself, and feeling guilty if I can’t. I think that’s where the Captain’s line “it’s in my budget” will serve us both well.

  2. I find giving to charity really helps – if I’m debating a selfish purchase, if I can afford to give that amount of money to a charity as well as buy it, then I tell myself it’s fine. I’m sort of buying one for someone else not as privileged as well as myself.

    1. If that works for you, wonderful. I would caution the Letter Writer away from thinking that any purchase for themselves has to be offset by a gift to charity before it can happen.

    2. I have the same aversion to spending on myself (to the point where I am still wearing bras that are five years old and painfully tight because a new bra in my very unusual size sets off all my shame buttons). What works for me is to calculate the cost per day or the cost per year of the thing. For example “Okay this new bra that will fit right and won’t hurt me costs $80. Yes, self, that is a lot of money. You can freak out a minute over that number. Done? Okay, you wore your last bra for three years. That’s $0.07 per day of relief from not wearing a bra that doesn’t fit any more and has busted elastic. Can you cope with SEVEN PENNIES?”

      For things like food that doesn’t work (because lunch is just lunch, there is nothing to amortize over) but I can tell myself “I’m not spending $8 for a fancy sandwich. I’m spending $8 to make sure my blood sugar doesn’t crash and to prevent me from being a miserable sad sack later tonight.” Or whatever. I have to constantly negotiate with my jerk!brain to get what I need, and it’s kind of exhausting, but it’s better than starving myself and wearing clothes that don’t fit :-/

      1. I feel you so much on the bra thing! I wear bras until the wire pops out and hurts me, and then I feel crappy buying one. This is also partially rooted in the fact that bras in my size are less cute than those little bralette things and when I find a decent bra, it’s like striking gold.

      2. If the band is tight, you can buy cheap little bra extenders to add a few inches around. Also, you can treat yourself to some new bras, and you’ll probably just feel so good and spiffy it will be worth the price!

      3. I do this ‘per day’ thing as well!
        For me, if I need to justify something which is more in the ‘gift for me’ territory I weigh it up as “would I happily pay £x (smaller amount) per day to rent it and will it last long enough for that rental to total the purchase?”

        For example £5 bath bomb – luxurious? Yes. But would I pay £5 (or £2.50 if I halved it) for an amazing bath and pretty colours? Probably yes. Cheaper than a spa anyway!
        Or to use probably my most extravagant purchase,say a leather jacket after my fake pleather one has been worn to absolute death and needs replacing. Getting another fake plastic one is cheaper but it won’t last as long. But would I pay £1 a day for the joy of wearing a real leather jacket from a shop I’ve aspired to buy from? Yes. Will I get 300 days use out of it in order to justify the price before it wears out ? Heck yes, I wear that jacket every day for years at a time. So it’s justified. A luxury but as a gift to me I feel it justified. It’s in my mental budget so to speak.

        LW the captains advice is very sound. Best of luck!

        1. Yes! Put the “Sam Vimes Boots Theory” to work for you!

          (For those unfamiliar with Discworld, the tl;dr is that it’s easier to be thrifty if you have a bit of money to spend on things that last.)

          1. Yes yes yes! In full:

            “The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

            Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

            But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

          2. Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickled and Dimed” delves into this, too. (For example, how many families end up spending large sums to live at motels because they can’t afford to plonk down a security deposit + first month’s rent on an apartment).

      4. “What works for me is to calculate the cost per day or the cost per year of the thing. ”

        Teen Me learned to do this with babysitting money – X hours = 1 new book, walking to the job instead of taking the bus = pizza money

        It was a great habit to develop, I didn’t know others did it too 😉

        1. I first heard about this from my brother while he was reading “Your Money or Your Life.” It can also help to justify things with “this will save me X hours” weighed against how much you value an hour of your free time (usually something a bit more than what you make at your day job). “I want a maid, but I can clean all the things myself.” versus “A maid will save me x hours a month which I can spend with my S.O./alone/sleeping/etc.

    3. This is kind of you, but then you’re spending twice as much money. Most of the things I like to buy myself as treats – namely things with Wonder Woman, comic books, and anything relating to the Golden Girls – aren’t exactly things one donates to charity.

      1. cesy12 can spend twice as much money if that works for them and it’s what they want. 🙂 (And they mentioned donating the amount to a charity, not literally buying a duplicate, so the question of e.g. whether the shelter will get one of its residents exactly the same issue of SQUIRREL GIRL #14 or something that will make someone feel nice is something that can be trusted to the charity.)

      2. Hi Temperance, I think the intent is to donate the same amount of money, not necessarily the same habit. So if you’re a Habitat for Humanity fan, you can send them a $12 check at the end of the month to “make up” for your impulse purchase. They can buy nails, even if you got a great comic collection, DVD, or whatever.

  3. I really like this advice! I think another appropriate response to those “Hey there, adult progeny, how much were those cool jeans?” lines might be “Thanks! I was really happy with the price! I think they were definitely worth what I paid for them.” I think this sort of response shifts the value of the item from its monetary value to the actual value you place on them, kind of how Jennifer was talking about late in the post.

    1. I was going to suggest something like this.

      In my family, the parent generation – especially the part of that doesn’t live/has not lived in the expensive area where I live – is often expressing obvious sticker shock at this thing that they haven’t bought in ages (or never shopped for in a more expensive COL place) is SO EXPENSIVE YOU GOT RIPPED OFF WHAT when it’s actually objectively a really good deal. it just doesn’t have 1985 prices anymore.

      This isn’t the same as LWs problem, but it is also easily sidestepped by answering “how much was it” with “a good deal”, “on sale”, or “a price I was happy with”.

      1. Oh, yeah. We get the same comments from people in the generation that could actually afford to live on minimum wage, and buy a house on $10/hour jobs, and then say, “I managed to buy a house and support a family of four on only $25,000 a year, so why can’t you? Obviously, you’re just throwing all your money away.”

        Cost of living varies from place to place, as well as over time, and someone who has owned a home for a long time, and has no basis for comparison on the real estate market, at least, may be out of touch about it. Still, you’d think they’d notice groceries and electric bills.

        I really like the “Thanks, I think it was a great deal and worth the price,” because it acknowledges their concern, without giving them any ammunition for the “I could have done better,” or “When I was your age” or worse “Who do you think you are to spend that much?” speeches.

          1. Lord, I just had that argument.

            My favorite is DC house prices vs Red VA house prices. Yeah, getting a foreclosure for 40k up here ain’t happening. Sorry, family.

          2. Yup – back when you could. My dad put himself through college working summers at Phillip’s Crab Shack. That? Is not really possible anymore, even though I got scholarships and went in-state. I would have had to donate eggs or be a camgirl or something. And I worked full-time while being a full-time student and worked every holiday and weekend and summer.

          3. Unfortunately, I have a favorite comeback: “And if my health had allowed it, I might have done the same!”

          4. Oh, lord, I am tired of people assuming that what was true 20 years ago — or even 10 — is automatically true today.

            Back in 2014 I got a press release about a survey of 3,000 U.S. adults. The most disturbing takeaway, to me, was that more than half of the respondents who described themselves as “wealthy” believed that an individual could live comfortably on $25,000 to $50,000 a year.

            In some places that might be true: $50k in rural Mississippi is a lot different than $50k in New York City or San Francisco. But can you really rent or buy a place to live, pay for transportation, cover daily living expenses and save for retirement on as little as $25,000 a year? I’m betting not – or at least, not without some serious help from family.

            We tend to look backward and harrumph, “I worked my way through school — don’t know why today’s spoiled, iPhone-loving, avocado-toast-gobbling youngsters can’t do that, too!” But things have changed SO DAMN MUCH.

            I’ve gotten a lot better at holding off on judgments when younger people (I’m 59) talk to me about money and life. I listen, ask questions like “Being able to (graduate debt-free/buy a house/retire early/whatever they bring up) sounds pretty important to you. Maybe you could brainstorm some ways to make that happen? I can definitely recommend a couple of PF books and some websites. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll send you the info later on.” And then I back off, way off, and let them come find me later on. (Sometimes it even happens!)

          5. But, you have to work to GET the student loans (it’s not like you’re going to be automatically approved), and work to pay them off, sooo… what’s the logic there?

          6. Also, back in the day, schools, in general, were much cheaper, and state-run schools were actually cheaper than private schools. Nowadays, you’re better off going to some church-run school (assuming you are of that faith, or simply can stand it. I knew a few non-members at my old church-run school, and even an atheist! It had good programs, and was affordable).

          7. @Michelle C Young: I think it’s supposed to be something like “going into debt is bad and irresponsible”, as if paying for your education is like buying a ton of stuff on your credit card because you’re too impatient to save up for it. While the current student loan situation in North America is absolutely absurd, people have to be gently reminded that (within reason) debt is not EVIL, particularly if it’s an investment.

      2. I spent weeks hunting up a place for my brother to live in school (we were going to be in the same town, several states distant from parents) and I was so proud of myself that I got him into a rent-controlled co-op situation with a student subsidy in return for work. Now, I’m not in the most expensive town in the US, so the average rent for one bedroom in a roommate situation was “only” $550-$700, and his was $350 with all appliances.

        I called my mother to tell her the good news and she was shocked and asked me to undo the paperwork and go back to the drawing board because she’d rented an entire one-bedroom apartment in the same town for $75 in 1979. …It’s a bad feeling!

          1. Honestly I just let her calm down and kept going. We weren’t even paying for this apartment, so if she had to sit with bad feelings it had no direct consequences. I was still mad about it, though 🙂

  4. I’ve spent a lot of time being one of the wealthier people in my group of friends, or at least one of the ones with the most disposable income, and I feel like some of the things I’ve learned from that could apply here? None of this will help with your own internal scruples about spending money, but they might help with your friends:

    1. If a friend says they can’t afford something, believe them. You might know for a fact that they earn more than you so they ‘should’ be able to afford the things that you can, or they’re being needlessly thrifty, but that doesn’t matter. If they say they can’t afford the booking fee, they can’t afford the booking fee. .

    2. Don’t do things with friends that they can barely afford. Your letter makes me think that perhaps the cinema isn’t the best choice with this group of friends? If $1.50 is the difference between doing something and not doing it, maybe it’d be best to do something cheaper/free to hang out instead. It’s the same rationale that you shouldn’t go to a restaurant if you can afford the meal but not the tip.

    3. Be the generous friend. This one will vary a LOT by culture, but if it works for you: you’ve probably all got an idea of how much you can each afford, so acknowledge it. You want to go to the fancier restaurant, but your friends aren’t so sure? Make it easier by offering to pay for the wine for the table. Going on a roadtrip together? Offer to pay for the gas. You can use the Captain’s scripts here, or adapt them – “it’s in my budget” or “I budgeted more for transport than we needed, so I’m happy to get the gas.” Note that in both examples, it’s something that you pay for but everyone in the group gets use of, which is the easiest way to do this without stepping on anyone’s pride.

    4. Always suggest splitting the check according to what everyone ate/drank, not into equal parts. The poorest person at the table will be grateful that they didn’t have to be the one to ask.

    Best of luck to you with this LW; I too have excessively thrifty parents and it’s a very hard mindset to break out of.

    1. Good advice but as for #2, I got the feeling from the letter that it wasn’t that the friends couldn’t afford the $1.50 fee, it’s that they didn’t want to pay it on principle. (“Why pay extra money to get something I can get for cheaper at the box office?”) But I could be wrong and you could be right.

      1. That’s true – but presented alongside going without meals to save money, I kind of assumed that the line between “I don’t want to afford it” and “I can’t afford it” is blurred.

        1. I’m not sure it really matters anyway. If your conscience gnaws at you about that $1.50, then you can’t afford it on an emotional level, even if you can on a financial one.

          Given that these friends have a tough time scheduling things and that movies involve both money and a set schedule, I think everyone might be more relaxed if they found other ways to spend time together, whether that means using a streaming service at home or finding something they like that’s unrelated to film.

          1. How about a walking date, if everyone has the ability and the neighborhood is walkable?

            As for the skipping lunch thing, it could be a cover for extreme dieting. My first thought is that the LW’s friends were aspiring models.

          2. I regularly have panic attacks over as little as £1 (when unexpected or perceived as an ‘unfair charge’), but I consider that to be something to be worked at, not something to be accepted, because not everything the brain weasels state is true.

            I think, with this friend group, that is something to be worked out: are people put in real financial strain by the extra charges/lunch expectations? In which case, the group should find solutions: do something else, rotating designated walk-to-cinema person, they split the charge when ordering online, everybody knows it’s ‘bring your own sarnie’ or ‘eat before you come’ time.
            Or is it a case that people value saving $1.50 more than they value the planned outing? Are people flaking on plans that took time and effort to organise (and which people have presumably looked forward to) because they wish to save a small amount of money? That’s not frugal. That’s mean. You get one free pass of ‘oh, I thought we could pick up tickets on the day, it’s way cheaper’ but not more than that. Next time, pay up or organise your own alternative or ask to change the plans, but don’t make other people pay (in time, effort, wasted journey, disappointment) so YOU can save a little money.

          3. It sounds like the plans, as organized, are that people will meet at the theater and get their tickets there. That’s not an unusual or unreasonable arrangement, and people who plan movie meetups that way generally aren’t too set on seeing particular movies. I suspect if the LW says that the friends need to pay up or organize their own alternative, the result will be more movie tickets bought at the theater and lunches skipped together. Insisting someone else do the planning can work with one person who spoils things, but here it seems like everyone else is fine with the status quo.

            If these people are going to continue their relationships, I think solutions do need to be group ones. As the unhappy member, the LW probably will need to be the one who initiates discussions about alternatives. An alternate strategy, or one that can be pursued at the same time, might be to keep an eye out for new people to see movies and eat lunch with. It seems like the LW and friends may have drifted away from each other a bit, and everyone might be more satisfied if the LW did some kinds of socializing with other people and saw the friends for cheaper and less structured events.

      2. Yeah, especially since poverty is stigmatized. I know I might say something like that because, you know, it is kind of embarrassing to say “I can’t afford a $1.50 surcharge.” “Principals” is a good cover when you don’t really feel like disclosing your poverty, you know?

    2. I like these suggestions as well, especially about not assuming that everyone can afford lunch/booking fees/whatever else. Unless you’re an accountant, you never really know what’s going on with another person’s finances (people aren’t always honest about these things either) and it may well be that some of them are skipping meals (and whatever else) in an effort to cut costs and pay down/avoid debt of some kind. Or they may not have large debt burdens but their salaries are just barely covering or barely not covering their expenses.

      I would also cut back on talking about purchases you’ve made for yourself—speaking personally, I don’t think these aren’t interesting stories to begin with, and the feedback the LW is getting (“someone’s rich”) is clearly not what s/he’s looking for.

      1. Another thing about “being able to afford something”: sometimes it’s not that you’ll go broke if you spend it, but that lunch out at a restaurant is not where you want to spend that $15. It’s not important enough to you–there’s something MUCH more important that you want to save it for.

        1. This exactly. Sure, I’m paid $X a month, but that does’t mean I have $X to spend on *whatever.* I have goals I want to achieve and bigger things I want to save for. Is one $15 lunch gonna knock me off my goals forever? Probably not, but a bunch of them might.

          Before my more frugal days (when I first got a real job and before I figured out what retirement savings were), I used to get upset and kind of grumpy when friends wouldn’t want to do something that cost money. I would read it as “it’s not worth $X to hang out with you,” and it would hurt my feelings. I’ve slowly realized that “I don’t want to spend money” means exactly that – they don’t want to spend money. So what can we do that’s cheaper/free and will still get in friend-bonding time?

          Frugality can be seen as a competition a lot of the time, which is just dumb. My thought process is – “what is the least amount of money I can spend that will keep my quality of life and happiness where I want it?” And that means saying no to extravagant dinners sometimes with friends. But that also means saying yes to some things that others may say no to (like video games, or a manicure, or a $10 shirt instead of the $3 one).

      2. ^I don’t think these are interesting stories to begin with. Ugh. Typical typo.

        And @TootsNYC, you make a good point. People may be opting to skip stuff because they’d rather spend their money on some other treat.

      3. I don’t think it’s wrong to be excited about something new and exciting in your life. For example, the purchase of a new outfit can also mean, “I can now enjoy walks in the park, even when it’s cold.” A purchase of a toaster can mean “Now I have time to eat a decent breakfast before work.” And those are the kind of things that are nice to share with those who care about you.

        I agree that if those conversations aren’t working in the social group, it’s a good idea to reduce the frequency of the subject. I just wanted to let the LW know that they’re not wrong for wanting to share that kind of thing with friends.

        1. They’re not wrong for wanting to share it with friends, but they’re probably wrong for wanting to share it with those friends. Shopping isn’t an interest of these friends, and it may even be something they are uncomfortable with. I have friends who are SUPER into fashion and shopping (like me!) who I’ll talk about recent deals and clothes for hours with, and some friends who are bored by/uncomfortable with those same conversations (because of what they see as bad spending choices or just differences in earning/spending). If I gushed about my amazing new to me x every time I got an amazing new to me x to those people, after a couple of polite “huh, that sounds expensive… /redirect” or “you sure like to shop” comments, yeah, I would deserve a more blunt (and potentially rude) signal that they do not want to hear about my spending habits. It’s totally unclear whether LW is participating in two-way discussions about purchasing and getting these comments from friends who are just rude or whether LW is proactively bring up their purchases unprompeed in non-shopping conversations (“omg, I how are you not cold in the park.” LW: “I recently bought a long wool coat that keeps me really warm” vs. “Wool coats are magic and I dedicate all of my ice sculptures to the sheep that went bald so that I can go outside right now.”)

          Similarly, I have some friends that I do occasional recrational drugs with and friends that I go on wild sex adventures with, and some friends who find those behaviors deeply icky, frightening, or against their personal ethical system and just don’t like hearing those stories. It isn’t wrong for me to want to share all of my things with all of my friends, but once I have information that a particular friend does not want to hear about a particular thing, it is wrong for me to keep talking about it anyway.

    3. Related to #2 and #3, if you really want to see the movie with your friends, one thing you could do (if it fits your budget) is buy all the tickets needed online and just have them pay you back for the cost of the ticket, not the fee. It’s easy to frame that as “I really want to see this with you and I’m worried it might sell out! I’d love to get them in advance and cover the fee so I don’t have to stress.”

      For #4 I’ll also often do a thing with friends where if someone spent more, but for whatever reason (time/the server doesn’t ask) the bill gets split the person who spends more covers that that much more of the tip. I’m very pro doing the math for how much people owe (there’s an app Splitwise just for this if you’re not a numbers person), but that’s an alternative that also works well for not putting the burden on people who don’t have it.

      1. At least at the theater chain I worked at, it’s possible to book tickets in advance, but in person (so, if it’s available to buy online, you can also buy it at the box office). If LW’s friends are really adamant about the online booking fee, perhaps she could offer to go to the theater and buy the tickets in advance, then have her friends pay her back. Saves the fee, saves the get-together.

        1. Or, heck, even just buy the tickets online in advance and then quietly cover everyone’s booking fee when the friends pay her back. The peace of mind is probably worth it!

        2. Or the person who is so opposed to the $1.50 fee should be picking them up. She’s then doing even more work for something she was willing to do in the first place.

    4. 1.!! Yes! Don’t make assumptions about other people’s spending potentials. My ex always whined that I didn’t offer to pay for him enough (first off, what??) and that I should because he was a student and I have a high-paying job. I had to constantly tell him, yes, I *make* more money than you, but I don’t *have* more money than you because I have to spend my money on expensive quality-of-life things like student loans and my therapist (“…to deal with your bullshit” was never spoken aloud).

      1. Sometimes, when someone who I know makes good money complains that they can’t afford something, I tell myself “Maybe they have massive medical bills, and that’s not my business, so don’t ask.” It makes me feel better, because that is a perfectly plausible explanation, and reminds me, too, that it is only one of many.

        There are LOTS of reasons why someone with a large income would still be strapped for cash. Usually, it involves being ethical, and actually paying your debts to others.

        1. Yeah, we’re considered “middle-class” for the area we live in. Which is a very expensive area. If we had this same household income somewhere like Wyoming, we’d be pretty dang wealthy. But here? I’ve been driving the same car for 16 years and we rent because we can’t afford to buy anything this size here. We have some significant non-negotiable personal expenses and we have to prioritize those.

          1. I remember the day I got the letter from my credit card company, telling me they had raised my credit limit to $20,000. Just for giggles, I went online and did a bit of research and found that if I went to the right market, I could literally buy a house on my credit card!

            Mind you, it was only be a one-bedroom, but it had a nice yard. The other one had a second bedroom, but was in AWFUL repair. And neither one was in an area I wanted to live, although they were actually within my state, within commute distance from work… I actually thought about it for about five minutes (I was in an apartment, at the time). Then I thought – maintenance, and the monthly interest rate on a credit card, compared to a mortgage interest rate, and thought – NOPE! But I was still amazed at the low housing rate where I was.

            Then, for giggles, I looked up similar homes in various other locations around the country, and was flat-out gobsmacked at the difference! Now I understand why some people claim that no one can actually survive on a mere $40,000 a year. It’s all about cost of living in your area.

        2. We currently have, compared to most people, a ton of money. My husband and I also have a disabled 20 year old who MAY live away from us with support by age 35. I find myself saying ‘sorry, can’t afford it’ sometimes to my friends because a lot is being put aside for my kid’s future needs. You never really know what’s going on in other people’s lives. When someone tells me they can’t do something because money, I believe them, even if they live in a nice home /drive a nice car / etc.

          1. Same boat here. Except it’s a disabled 4 year old and we don’t know how he’s going to turn out. We just hired a nanny on-the-books with a living wage in our area to care for him after Special Ed. Her part-time salary is the same as what I made just out of school with an engineering degree working full time. And that’s OK! We want this to last long-term; it needs to be stable for the kid. But that means that even though we make “a ton of money” after paying our nanny, heath insurance (and hitting the out of pocket limits on co-pays and co-insurance), and the mortgage, etc. etc.

            …there isn’t much left. And to add insult to injury, I have unemployed family members – who like the LW’s parents – are constantly harping on me about what I spend. And that I should be giving them money/finding them a job/putting them up/demand of the day. (None of them were willing to do the work our nanny will be doing, I would have rather gone with family, but … )

            I hate when my co-workers want to eat-out. I’ve packed a lunch (usually leftovers) and I need that $10. That’s half of the therapy co-pay for today. (And there’s a co-pay nearly every day of the week between the kid and the therapy we need to deal with the kid)

    5. Big old second to #1. For awhile I was confused about how I was making the same amount as several of my colleagues (we’re transparent about it) but appeared to have way less actual money than them, and then one holiday party we got tipsy and compared student loan payments. Mine were the same as my rent; theirs weren’t. Income is only half the equation, expenses are the other.

    6. Is #4 a social thing? When I go out, it’s either split the check according to what every individual got, or someone covers for the table and gets paid back later. This is especially pertinent when I’m the only non-drinker at a table of people who like to socially drink. Drinks are expensive!

      1. It seems to vary a LOT from place to place and between groups of people. Sometimes it has to do with how restaurants handle the check, which is often geographical. And it’s one of those things that people get all Reservoir Dogs over.

      2. this (UK) datapoint does various things. sometimes I do the maths, but usually not (because I’m lazy, don’t have a good alcohol tolerance & as a maths grad I’m the default bill-wrangler). sometimes we go somewhere you pay when you order (like nandos), sometimes 1 person pays the bill (usually when there’s only 2 of us, but not just if those 2 are dating) and sometimes it’s a straight forward Divide Bill By Humans.

        the spending different amounts thing can go both ways. every year I go to a long weekend event which is self catered. this year 4 of us split a supermarket order and I would’ve been fine with paying 1/4 each financially, but did the maths because I really didn’t want a repeat of last year’s food drama.

        last year, 3.5 of us (there was a small child) split the shopping bill by paying 1/3rd each. then 1 person said it was too much money. we let her look at the receipt & add it up for herself. somehow, despite having more personal stuff than the two of us combined, she made her share just over half of that 1/3rd share. I was…very low on personal bandwidth, so took her (highly questionable) word for it and calmly decided we weren’t friends anymore.

        (last year was more expensive, in part because the person who didn’t pay had the bright idea to cook a fancy dinner one night, then went out for fast food instead. last year’s equal share came out at about twice as much as this year’s Paying For My Own, despite ordering very similar personal items. oh, and I got stung with the extra she decided not to pay too cos the order was on my card)

      3. It varies by group for me. A certain portion of my friends make around the same amount of money and eat out enough that we split the check evenly. But that would not be cool with other portions of my friends who make less and for whom eating out has a more significant impact on their budget.

  5. It can definitely be a cultural way of thinking. Both my dad and my maternal grandmother were brought up in lean times and they were very similar about this kind of thing. Grandma, especially, was particularly good at remembering exactly how much things cost at which store and would go to several grocery stores just to find the best deal – the thrill of the hunt and all that.

    Anyway, I’ve found that I can avoid this kind of shame by doing exactly as Captain wrote above and saying that I don’t remember how much I paid for something. (99.9% of the time that’s true because I don’t have Grandma’s gift for remembering prices, but I also don’t mind lying if I do remember.) I suppose that’s avoidance and not confronting the problem head-on, but my dad is very hard to confront so it’s not worth it to me to try. Maybe your results will be more positive if you do try to turn it back on them as the Captain suggested. Good luck.

    1. I’m guessing your grandma had a sampler or a decorative plate that had the same Depression-era poem on it that mine did:

      Use it up
      Wear it out
      Make it do
      Or do without.

      I get it, I really do, but it’s exhausting.

      1. Yup. World War II Posters for the win!
        Variant: Find a use, use it up…

        … which is why we NEVER EVER supposed throw stuff out, as soon as its gone you’ll find a use for it.
        Pack rat heaven, anyone?

        1. Ironically, pack ratting to the extreme can cause a large number of expenses, such as:

          1. Funeral expenses from being trapped in a pile of stuff and not being able to get out in case of fire/earthquake/hurricane, etc.
          2. Medical expenses from surviving #1 or getting sick from black mold and other crap caused by extreme filth.
          3. Professional cleaning to get rid of the mess.
          4. In some cases, attorney’s fees when someone gets tired of the mess and divorces the pack rat.
          5. Loss of security deposit in the case of a damages apartment.
          6. Veterinary expenses from sick/dead animals exposed to the unsanitary conditions.

          Not so frugal after all, when you look at the big picture. Of course, I am also a born pessimist.

          1. When a local Granny passed away… no mold, but about 5 cabinets full of take-out containers. FULL.
            A closet full of plastic bags. FULL.
            But no mold, and everything smelled of lemony cleansers.
            Also her kids had come every other week and thrown things away BUT I WILL NEED THEM, so it didn’t quite reach pack rat heaven. But still.
            There’s a reason I always remind myself that we’re not in scarcity right now, and hoarding is not the same as thrifty.

      2. I think some of this has to do with older folks living on fixed incomes. Which shrink in real terms as prices go up. Whereas we working folks (in theory, ha) get pay raises.

      3. I think this is especially common with older folks on fixed income – that gets smaller, in real terms, as prices go up. We working folk (in theory…thanks financial crisis) get raises year to year.

  6. I sympathize with the thinking of ‘the ideal price is zero, and this is more than that!’ If it helps, I actually found that setting a realistic budget that included meals out and haircuts and stuff has helped me save MORE money in the long run, because I’m able to plan and I know I can set aside x dollars a month for long-term goals. Also, LW: if you plan your budget so that rent, gas money, utilities, AND saving goals like a house and vacation fund come out first, you can see exactly how much money you have for fun stuff.

  7. Yup. It’s in your budget. You budgeted for this. The end.

    Parents– esp. parents who struggled financially themselves– will often worry (even in the face of all evidence that the kids are alright) that they did not sufficiently impart upon their adult children the skills and knowledge they need to adequately handle life, and when their children make different decisions than they would, hello anxiety, hello worry, hello judgment. “It’s in my budget.” End of discussion. It’s thrift-speak for “hey I got this, I know how to manage my pay, good job parents!” Even if they didn’t do a very good job, that you can speak the word budget at them with confidence is reassuring.

    1. Another thing about parents and grandparents is that they still think it’s 1962. As in, that $10 shirt you just bought is “too expensive” because back when they were in their shirt-buying heyday in 1962, a $10 shirt was only for the rich. I know with my parents and grandparents the concept of “inflation” just never crosses their minds. My gramma badgered me to know my salary when I started a new job. I told her $48,000/year and she acted like I won the lottery – she retired in 1971 at $12,000/year. In reality, I was living paycheck to paycheck on that salary but in her mind it was still 1971 and I was making a fortune. I’d often say, “Gramma, it’s not 1962 anymore” and that got her to stop her line of commentary about my finances.

      1. My aunt took my grandmother to buy some new shoes. Grandma refused to pay more than $12 for them because $12 is what shoes should cost.

        This was in a small town. My aunt whispered to the clerk that she would return later to pay the rest of the bill and the clerk accepted my grandmother’s $12.

      2. It’s also worth remembering that concepts of luxury and necessity shift, hence all the hot takes about how millennials don’t know how to spend money. Some people still haven’t gotten used to the fact that cell phones and high-speed Internet are relatively accessible to most people but, depending on where you live, houses and university education are not.

        1. true! a cellphone and internet can be a requirement for getting and keeping jobs these days. and where I live, renting is cheaper than buying – when you rent, you don’t pay for repairs, or strata fees, or property tax, and usually heating’s free too.

          1. You can also move away more easily, when you rent. (For a job, relationship, school, etc.)

          2. Renting is a godsend for someone like me. I actually set my hair on fire when trying to light a candle – twice. I should never be allowed near power tools or attempt to do anything more complicated than changing a light bulb.

      3. Another thing about parents and grandparents is that they still think it’s 1962.

        This is the person I’m turning into, except that my financial brain got stuck around 1994. “How is it possible that my hamburger costs $12? I mean, yeah, this place makes the best hamburger known to humankind, but c’mon.” And it’s particularly hard to get my mind to catch up with inflation when my income hasn’t. Alas.

        A great resource for parents and grandparents and me is an inflation calculator, which tells me that the $7.50 I used to spend on burgers is $12.56 now. (Sigh.)

        1. I use this calculator so much it’s one of the frequently-visited sites my browser displays on every new tab. If you haven’t gotten a raise in a while, I also recommend checking how much you’re actually making these days.

          Generally speaking, if you’re comparing prices and not adjusting for inflation, you might as well be comparing two different currencies without calculating the exchange rate. It’s utterly meaningless.

    2. Re: parents worrying.

      I’m a parent of fledgling adults. I worry.

      What assuages my worry most is when I see that they have seized control of their life and are setting and meeting goals.

      So saying, “Oh, I have a budget, and this fits right inside it,” will make me realize that you ARE in control of your life.

      That might have more power than you think!

  8. Having been raised by older parents who remembered the Great Depression all too well, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. Unlike LW, I rebelled by becoming more of a spender – mainly because my mother was the most controlling person I’ve ever met.

    So I’ve had similar conversations. My mother used to say “How much did THAT set you back?” in a very condescending tone whenever she saw me with something new. Unlike the LW, this did not make me feel guilty or ashamed (as my mother clearly intended); it made me mad as hell that she was still pushing boundaries when I was a self-supporting adult. (Don’t even get me started on the control by pursestrings before I was out of school.)

    So after several incidences of this, I finally quit biting my tongue and said flat out, “Look. I’m a self-supporting adult and how much I spend on anything is NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS.” To her credit, she never did it again.

    1. So much THIS. My mom still does it, in spite of me snapping at her. So now I lie. Everything I buy costs $2.00. Even my house!

      1. Please tell me that you say it in the demanding tone of voice of the paper boy in “Better of Dead”! That would make my day!

        1. …and now I cant help thinking of a dancing hamburger, Asian guys who sounded like Howard Cosell, and green goop crawling off a plate…

      2. I’m stealing this. From now on, whenever my father asks me how much something costs, it’s $2. When he asks me who’s paying for it, or where we got the money (before he hears the cost… it’s always before he even bothers to hear how much it actually costs) I’ll just shout “TWO DOLLARS!” and use that moment of confusion to change the subject.

    2. My mom liked to tell me “I can’t believe you waste your money on such *garbage*” (a video game, a movie, a pretty dress) all the while buying expensive “collectible” ceramic houses. She’d say “we’re all going to be dead someday, so I should enjoy what I want now!” but my purchases were all frivolous wastes of money. I never even knew how to respond to that because it was so breathtakingly hypocritical.

      1. Back when I was in uni my mom would guilt me over school fees (which she was only paying the expected family contribution of) cost SO MUCH and why couldn’t I come home and work at Local Coffee, and then in nearly the same breath told me all about her shiny new furniture that she got because she was just tired of the old couch (as opposed to needed because the old one was somehow damaged).

        That did a number on my self esteem

  9. One thing for the LW to think about is how much everything has gone up in price. When I was in grad school, some 40 years ago, $20 seemed like a reasonable price to pay for a pair of decent shoes. Because of grad student budget considerations, I might have to think twice about the purchase, but it wasn’t at all extravagant. There’s a part of me that still, somehow, expects that I should be able to find shoes of comparable quality for $20, rather than the $80-$100 that is more likely today, and I find that I have to consciously remind myself that times (and prices) have changed, and I recalibrate my expectations (as the LW’s parents clearly haven’t).

    1. Ha, I find this to be true even with a much narrower time scale. When I first started buying new books for myself, ~20 years ago, my paperbacks cost $3.99 apiece (up to $5.99 for the REALLY REALLY long ones.) Even though I swear that I am fully cognizant of time passing, some part of my brain still honestly believes that new paperbacks cost $4-5 dollars apiece.

      1. You are not the only one who measures the economy by this yardstick 😉 Doesn’t help that these days I buy most of my books secondhand, so the sticker shock is much higher when I specifically have to get a new release.

        (And that’s paperbacks! I prefer those to hardbacks, so I don’t even pay attention to prices for the latter, but I’m sure startled blinking would ensue were I to do so.)

        1. Oddly enough, I find that hardcover books have increased less, percentagewise, than paperbacks.

          What gets me is ebooks that are the same price as or more than the paperback. Uh, no.

          1. Totally off-topic, but I want to mention that I work in the digital arm of a book publisher and this attitude is pretty painful to me. The paper, print & shipping costs of the paperback are a very small portion of the price (often less than a dollar). What you’re paying for when you buy a book is time and hard work of all of the MANY people involved in the creation of that book. The ebook is just as challenging (and often more challenging due to the changing nature of the game) as the paperback. Most publishers try to price their ebooks at $1-$5 less than the p-book, but even when we do Amazon discounts the p-book such that they match.

            The only way to guarantee the ebook is cheaper than the p-book would be to lower the price of the ebook so much that we lose money on it. People advocating for that are literally advocating to put me, my colleagues, and several of our authors out of work.

          2. Somewhere I saw a meme that went along this line: “Every day you tip the barista who spent two minutes making your $4 coffee. But $5.99 is ‘too much!’ to pay for a book someone spent a year of his life writing.”

          3. Out of nesting, but in response to anon-etc: as a writer I actually agree with C Baker.

            When you buy an ebook – at least if it’s from Amazon, and mostly it is, because the vast majority of the ebook market is dominated by Amazon – you don’t own it in the sense that you own a paperback or a hardcover. You’re essentially renting it. You usually can’t open it with a program other than their proprietary one – which you have to have an active account with them to use, and which they can change the requirements for access to at any time – without using (illegal) software to strip the DRM from it. You can’t sell it on, and your ability to lend it is strictly curtailed. If I remember correctly, their user agreements reserve the right to randomly ban you from their services, too.

            This isn’t ownership in any realistic sense, and charging the amount of money for it that you charge for a physical object that the reader owns outright is not really fair, particularly when readers often don’t actually understand the difference fully until they suddenly lose access to some portion of their library.

      2. I was recently thinking about that, but I also realized another factor in addition to inflation: The quality of materials.

        In general, it seems like even cheaper paperbacks are made better than they used to be. SO many of my used mass-market paperbacks from the 1960s-1980s (maybe 1990s) have paper that’s turned that gross orange-yellow color and become brittle and cracking the spines means individual pages WILL start to come loose (and that would happen when they were brand new, so it’s not just a factor of age).

        1. It’s worked the other way with clothing in the US. A few years ago, there was a significant drop in the quality of clothing from many manufacturers. The prices stayed about the same, but the material quality at each price point dropped. So, essentially clothing got more expensive because you have to pay more to get the same quality (or you have to replace items more frequently if you stay at the same price point.)

    2. My parents’ mortgage payments were around $125. So when my dad keeps telling me he’s got “a lot of money to leave you!”, I am mentally scaling that to 1970s money.

      1. To be fair, depending on where he lives, the value of his house may have kept pace with (or outpaced) inflation.

      2. My mom once mentioned that she bought earrings that cost as much as her mortgage payment. It was a nice, budgeted splurge for her, but it took me many years to comprehend that her 1972 mortgage was in the hundreds and that her earrings didn’t cost thousands of dollars. (Thousands for earrings would have been wildly surprising for my mom to do, no judgement on anyone who does choose to spend that.)

      3. Yep. My parents sold their house and bought a bigger one when I was a toddler. My mom told me that at the time she was really nervous about that decision because their mortgage was DOUBLING…to $300 a month…in Southern California.

    3. THIS. Plus, most of the time your goal is “have a pleasant conversation” and not “have to convince someone that inflation is a thing that exists.” Remember, redirect, relax.

      1. Reading these stories is SO STRANGE to me, because in my country it’s the opposite. My parents lived through the hiperinflation of the 80s, so they are the ones nagging *me* for being angry when prices rise. (Meanwhile I still remember how much a candy bar cost when I was in middle school and no, it didn’t rise with the dollar, dammit).

    4. heck, it doesn’t even have to be that long!

      I have only now wrapped my head around the idea that I will have to pay $100 for my son’s next pair of decent sneakers, instead of the $75 I was able to pay about 6 years ago.

      1. Some of that might also be the baby/toddler/kid/adult mark-up – as in, there’s a “price range” for each section, and all items within that section are priced the same. So, sneakers are expensive, and inflation happened, but the difference between toddler sneakers and kid sneakers is a good 20$.

        This was most infuriating when I noticed that “girl” snowsuit in a kid size 4 was the EXACT SAME SIZE as the “boy” snowsuit in toddler size 3. Except the toddler size was 40$ cheaper. My daughter got a cute navy snowsuit that year…

        1. There’s also the nonstandard size mark-up! It was not fun when SecondKid needed toddler shoe size 5XW.

    5. Oh, shoes! I keep on going to Spend Less Shoes (you can guess the quality by the name) and being put out by the fact that their “good” shoes are usually $39.99. “It’s not 2005 anymore, that was 12 years ago” is something I need to keep telling myself.

      1. Oh my gosh I can so relate! I used to have a 40$ pair of shoes I told everyone was “worth every penny”. Heh. Now that I’m staring down the barrel of age 40, shoes under 100$ (on sale, natch) are where it’s at.

      2. I rely on Amazon for this now. The thing about shoes (and bras) for me is that I can’t really know if they work from just trying them on in the store. I HAVE to wear them for a full day, and then of course they can’t be returned anyway. So I keep an eye out for deals on Amazon, and then if the bra (or the shoes) don’t work, at least I’ve spent less than I would have if I’d bought them at Nordstrom.

  10. Oh LW I can so relate – even though I am well paid, I am constantly fretting about money. It is true that due to the nature of my career (research) I am constantly changing jobs every couple years, but I have savings that would allow me to live on for a few months, plus my “saving for a house” fund. Yet when I spend money on myself I always feel terribly guilty, and end up not enjoying it as much as I should! Unlike your situation, my parents are quite generous and liberal with money and I came from a very middle-class family so I don’t know where this fear came from. Many, many Jedi hugs, having a constant source of stress is never fun.

  11. If you’re friends really want to skip the online fees, would it be possible for one of them to swing by the theater earlier in the day and buy tickets then for movies that are likely to be popular?
    I know that’s not the issue, but having your plans get sidetracked like that is annoying and if you’ve already bought your ticket online, possibly more so.

  12. Oh LW, so much sympathy! My mom does the Thrift Game too (with bonus hoarding, so she won’t buy cheerios unless it’s on a good sale at which point she buys 10 boxes) and it took me a long time to re-train my way of thinking.

    One thing that helps (for some things anyway) is being aware of other costs — time, spoons, uncertainty. It’s *fiscally* cheaper to skip the convenience fee of ordering tickets online, but *mentally* cheaper to guarantee a seat (and temporally cheaper to do so via online ordering than making an extra trip in person to the theater well in advance of the show time). It’s fiscally cheaper to skip lunch but physically cheaper to eat lunch. Etc. The balance of all the costs depends on personal preference and individual situations.

    I also do a “splurge on myself” budget, with bonuses for Did A Super Hard Thing. That way I can do something nice for myself without either guilt — it’s budgeted! — or swinging into “buy all the things” mode. (Which can be a rebound effect of freeing yourself from “only buy essentials” mode)

    You will probably get push-back for changing — the “thrift is virtue” mentality can feel threatened by someone not following the rules. Captain’s scripts are good because it’s not about moral superiority, it’s about personal preference. Figuring out what’s right for you without saying that other peoples’ choices are inherently wrong.

    1. “with bonus hoarding, so she won’t buy cheerios unless it’s on a good sale at which point she buys 10 boxes)”

      Just FYI–that’s sensible shopping.

      (as long as you have room to store it)

      1. Your “as long as…” is important! If I shopped like that I would be living in a Cheerios/toilet paper fort inside my tiny place. “Buy in bulk” is one of those “obvious” money-saving tips that only holds up for people with transport and storage space.

        1. Thissss. I live in a minuscule studio apartment with a kitchenette and don’t have a car. Sensible shopping, for me, is swinging by the store near my building every couple weeks for 2-3 individual rolls of toilet paper. (The cashier thinks I’m a weirdo and once tried to get me to buy a 24-pack. I had to explain to her that my bathroom is barely big enough to stand in, I’d have to keep the box of toilet paper in my tub and remove it every time I wanted to shower.)

          1. Yep. I just moved into a tiny studio 2 months ago. I’m still trying to figure out optimal grocery & supply shopping practice.

        2. and of course, only if you actually are going to eat it, and it won’t go bad in the meanwhile, etc.

          Because buying something you truly need at half price is doubling your money.

          1. I wrote: “Because buying something you truly need at half price is doubling your money.”

            And thinking of our OP, this might be a script you can use with your own brain, or with others.

            When you get the deals you DO get, those are wise expenditures.

            I know what the Captain is talking about when she says that “just” makes her shoulders go up. I live in a small apartment; I don’t have a garage, etc. Getting to big stores is a pain. Everyone’s life is so incredibly different!
            I grew up in a small town in a rural area, among people who have to buy everything in one big trip to the store, and they all have chest freezers, sometimes two, on the back porch. My own family lived a short walk from the grocery store.
            My best friend lives in a city apartment and has to drive to it, but she has a huge grocery store. She’s one person, and her fridge is bigger than mine. I live in a city apartment, and my grocery store is literally across the street, but it’s a crappy grocery store.

            I’m trying to keep this comment be less about “buy in bulk!” and more about “consider this attitude toward money/spending” or “this is a truth, and how you apply it to your life is not actually part of this convo.”

        3. Also! If you have enough people to eat it before it goes bad. I live alone and I can only buy, like, one onion and two potato, because anymore and I end up throwing it away T__T

          1. I would shop at a reverse!costco where they stocked small quantities of stuff only

            My maximum amount of stuff I can buy is dictated by the size of my backpack. The kitty litter manufactuer whose bags I can actually carry get my business.

          2. Chopped onions freeze beautifully! Big chest freezers are the best for bulk food prep and savings! Just takes a bit of research and planning to be sure your food won’t get sad textures from freezing.
            Also my own fear of spending on food I like is assuaged by making spreadsheets and doing the math to say that as long as I use real serving sizes, not “but shrimp is yummy” servings of meat, I can make [list of easy meals] for less than $3/serving, even with shrimp added. And then I feel much more comfortable taking the trade of <$3 meals most of the week for dining out once or twice a week than I would without the math to justify my choices.

          3. Ok I specifically asked people not to share things like this. It’s the word “just” that always makes my shoulders go up around my ears. Where the fuck am I going to put a “big chest freezer” in a <600 sq foot rental, assuming I can afford one in the first place? It's great that you found budgeting tips and money saving stuff that works for you, but that's all it is: stuff that works *for you.* “Oh you can just chop onions and freeze them” = great for a penny pinching community where people share tips like this.Take it there please.

            I know you don’t mean any harm and are trying to help, but “you can just ___!” suggestions are so exhausting when people are already stretched thin.

          4. @Nanani – I would LOVE a reverse Costco! I’m actually really frustrated because I can’t find the oils/vinegars/assorted condiments I like to keep in my kitchen in small enough containers. I have ONE upper cabinet for my “pantry” in my new place, and half of one shelf is taken up with plates & glasses.

          5. @Nanani @Anon, Goodnight

            Dollar stores might be a place to look, though of course in many cases they might skimp on quality rather than quantity to justify the price tag.

          6. @Emma9 The Dollar Store is already my go-to for a lot of household supplies! ONE roll of kitchen paper at a time?! WHAT A REVOLUTIONARY CONCEPT
            My local one does have food but not usually in any smaller sizes than the nearby grocery store. They excel with the other stuff though

          7. Anon, Goodnight, I know it’s not an option everywhere, but if you live near a good food coop they often sell at least some oils and vinegars in bulk, and will let you buy as tiny a quantity as you want.

          8. @Shadow I am laughing in sympathy for both you and Captain Awkward. On the one hand, it’s so easy to get excited about a clever solution. On the other, it’s so easy to get stressed out about someone else’s clever solution. Jedi hugs to you both.

          9. Step 1) throw away couch
            Step 2) buy chest freezer
            Step 3) top with memory foam and pillows
            Step 4) stand back and watch your onion savings roll in! Don’t you love your freezer/couch?

            Oh, apartment living…

        4. AND the ability to use it before it expires.

          Few things are as depressing as finding expired bargains you never got to use. Also, buying food that just goes to waste is a false economy, no matter how good the sale.

          1. This, so much. I’ve just spent SO MUCH TIME going through the presses and getting rid of so much expired food/condiments/etc. Since Mum had her stroke I’m suddenly in charge of the house, and it used up all my spare energy that week. And that mostly wasn’t even stuff bought on sale, just stuff that wasn’t on my radar for the longest time. I do not want mouldy muesli/porridge oats/ketchup in the presses. And it cost me a lot in terms of my pain/energy levels to get rid of it (not to mention it all went to waste adn the bins are charged by weight, *sigh*)

            Because I have so many pain/energy issues (chronic pain + severe undiagnosed depression = energy at about 5% and discharging at all times) I budget a higher amount for food that is easy to make which is more costly than food you prepare yourself than my cousin and his fiancée who are living in the granny flat and they give me so much side-eye for my expensive, lazy options, but I could not make food from scratch the way they can because all my energy goes into just keeping going and not curling into a ball and weeping all day long. Their values are not the same as mine, because they haven’t got the same issues that I have. For me, money is a small price to pay for the convenience. And if it means I don’t buy a treat for myself because the financial budget is smaller to accommodate an easier life. Their budget to shop at Aldi/Lidl/Dealz suits them, it’s in their budget financial and energy) and my budget to get ready meals from M&S and Supervalu to deliver to the door is within my budget (financial and energy). Budgeting considerations are never the same for people, you just need to make sure that you can afford to budget energy and money appropriately for your needs.

          2. In my experience, few people who do not live with pain/energy issues really understand pain/energy issues, and think it’s not as bad as you say, that you’re not really exhausted, but just “lazy.” You say they live in the granny flat. They don’t see you all day long, struggling. If they lived with you, for at least a year, they might start to get it. But it takes time, and it takes a certain level of observation, even when they’re right there with you, because a lot of the time, they’ll bring that “She’s just lazy” attitude into the house, and not notice how much you actually DO, but notice how much you don’t, and “they have to pick up the slack,” and they’ll feel put-upon, and, and, and… yeah.

            I prefer to live with people who are also dealing with their own pain/energy issues, because we can cooperate to achieve more. And I thank my lucky stars that my brother and his family (who don’t live with us, but nearby), GET IT. They don’t suffer much, themselves (yet – they will. Genetics.), but they are observant and understanding, and nonjudgmental and wonderful, and I am truly blessed in my brother, his wife, and the kids they have raised up well.

            Sorry, I don’t mean to brag. Just pointing out that able-bodied people who GET IT are really quite rare. I hope that your cousin and his fiancé do learn to get it, over time, from observing you, before they learn it the hard way.

            One of the most spry women I ever met was in her 80’s. That was over 20 years ago, and I don’t know if she’s dead yet, but rather suspect she’s still going. However, she knew a LOT of infirm people, and she was sweet and kind, and loving, and nonjudgmental, and understanding of people’s needs. I loved her. She learned not-the-hard-way, and her whole circle of influence was richer for it.

            Good luck, and keep doing what you need to do, within your budget!

        5. This. If one more person expresses shock that I’ve never been to Costco, I will lose it. I do not have anywhere to store 38 rolls of toilet paper, sorry and I hate throwing away food, so I’d rather grocery shop 2x a week and not waste food.

          I have actually found that those meal delivery services (I use Blue Apron) are a good fit budget-wise, because I’m not buying an entire can or jar of something that I only need a few teaspoons of, the portions are large enough for leftovers, I’m not wasting food, and I can make the recipes on my own on weeks I skip delivery – and it works out to not really be much more than I’d be spending on groceries anyway!

          1. @Mexi, are you thinking of getting a meal delivery service? I tried Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, and there are a ton of others with different options, like vegan ones, organic ones, etc.

            I liked Blue Apron more than Hello Fresh because I thought the recipes were more interesting with more unusual ingredients. The app is great – you can preview the upcoming 4-5 weeks of recipes and pick which ones you want out of the options offered, and you can easily skip a week. We usually do 3 weeks on and 1 week off, and the app has every recipe they’ve made, so I usually just use their recipes on the weeks we’re off.

            There are two people in my house and we have the 3 meals for 2 people option, which usually gives us enough leftovers for at least one lunch the next day.

            The most stressful thing for me about cooking was trying to come up with recipes that all worked together so that I could use ingredients multiple times and didn’t end up, like, buying an entire cabbage and only using a fourth and throwing the rest away. Also, if I shopped on Sunday, I had to use everything RIGHT NOW because it would be spoiling by Thursday. Now that I don’t have to worry about that, I look forward to coming home and cooking.

            I think it’s worth it to not be throwing away food. I just can’t do the whole “cook a big batch of whatever!” on Sunday, because I’m sick of it by Tuesday and it’s gone bad by Thursday. I really did try the whole bulk cooking thing several times, it just does not work for me. I was spending more money trying to do bulk cooking thinking it would save me money, but I don’t want to eat pasta and sausage four days in a row.

            All the meal delivery services have introductory coupons so you can usually try a week or two free. I have some free Blue Apron boxes I can “gift” from my account with no one to send them to (my friends who are interested already have the service). If you want to try it, I can email you the coupon code.

          2. I was born without a sense of direction thanks to my autism. Costco and big box stores have NO aisle labeling and I always get lost in them. I’ll take Peapod or a regular store, thanks.

          3. It took me a while to get it through to my dad that while yes, a Costco membership was a *fantastic* thing, it also…really didn’t functionally *work* for me and my partner, because of the quantities of stuff on offer. We lived on the top floor of a four-story apartment building with no elevator at the time, in a 2 bedroom apartment that we managed to get a deal on because it was being marketed to students. (It was walking distance to the university my partner was studying law at.) Not only did we not have *room* for 38 rolls of toilet paper, it was exhausting to carry heavy, bulky things up from the car to the apartment.

            Just about the only thing we regularly got from Costco, before letting our membership lapse when we moved to an area that didn’t have one, was the flats of soda – because my partner had a serious Pepsi habit, and it was one of the vices they allowed themselves to deal with the stress of law school; we went through it quickly enough that it actually was cheaper to buy the giant flats from Costco. But getting anything perishable from there was fraught, because the quantities would work if we had two extra people around to eat it…but it just didn’t work for two people.

            Dad got the point when he and mom came to visit and he saw the giant flat of cat food sitting out in the kitchen because there wasn’t anywhere else to put it – a flat of cat food that had still been there on the last visit.

            (Not mentioned to dad was that having access to that sort of bulk goods didn’t help my partner’s issues with food insecurity at all; they felt more pressured to get ‘enough’ to make sure that we wouldn’t run out of food, despite the fact that our cupboards were always (a couple times more literally) overflowing with food and we had to struggle with keeping on top of the perishable stuff. It’s a lot better now that we’re in a situation where they have an excuse to visit the grocery store five days out of the week, because they actually don’t bring home nearly as much stuff now that they’ve started getting used to the idea that they can get anything we need whenever that need arises.)

          4. We use Home Chef (another meal delivery service) and really like it. It’s a great way to try new and interesting recipes without committing to full size jars of ingredients we may never use again, and as CommanderBanana said, you get to keep the recipes, so when you find something you dig, you can remake it in the future.

            I’m definitely one of those people who has impulse bought too much groceries and then felt awful throwing them out after both of us were too tired to cook and just ordered pizza instead, and this has helped so much.

        6. Good grief, yes. We recently moved from an apartment with no convenient grocery stores to a smaller apartment with like five convenient grocery stores and I am still trying to reset my brain from “Must buy largest possible size of any item and also three backups” to “You can get the smaller one for less out of pocket and walk two blocks to get another one when this runs out.” Having a paper towel ziggurat teetering on top of the fridge for two months was a good reminder to focus on “just in time inventory.”

      2. I’m going to assume that it’s not actually, or they wouldn’t be complaining about it.

        1. It’s okay to buy things not on sale. Sometimes you need to.
        2. I don’t know about then, but we can barely make it through one box, let alone 10, and food expires.
        3. I’m gonna assume “hoarding” = not having room to store it.

        1. Cheerios don’t go bad for years, not as long as the plastic bag is airtight. For dry goods, expiration dates are more about a legal standard than a food safety one. That said, your point is a valid one.

          1. They go bad reeeeally quickly if you have pest problems, even with the cardboard and plastic theoretically keeping them fresh.

      3. Not necessarily, no. There are a whole stack of other reasons it might not be — including just that you might get deathly sick of it before it expires.

        Maybe don’t tell other people what’s “sensible” without an understanding of their circumstances, which are central to real sense.

    2. “One thing that helps (for some things anyway) is being aware of other costs — time, spoons, uncertainty.”

      This x1000. I don’t think I made real progress on changing my obsessive money-saving habits until I had so few spoons that trying to have a normal day would mean running out by lunchtime (and being in extra pain for several days). My husband can provide money, but nobody can give me more time or spoons. It *is* worth money to make a stressful/time-consuming problem go away; after several years of practice, I’m actually starting to believe that instead of just knowing it. 😉

        1. Exactly! 🙂

          and on that note, I am buying myself a goshdarn cheeseburger backpack. because cheeseburger backpack. 🙂

        2. I don’t remember where I first heard that quote (might’ve been here). But I’ve passed it on to so many people who appreciate it too!

        3. Yep. I’m on a limited budget, but before my daughter graduated and moved back home, I “splurged” on grocery delivery…

          …because I lived alone and it’s incredibly exhausting and difficult to try to grocery-shop while using a wheelchair.

          I still get a lot of household necessities delivered from Amazon Prime, because while they might be cheaper at the 4 different stores I’d have to visit to buy them, I simply don’t have the spoons to run all of those errands.

          (I price-compare and buy in bulk when it’s feasible, but it is DEFINITELY better for me to pay a “convenience fee” than to pay with my health.)

        4. ^ This might be my favorite Captain-Awkwardism ever. I have quoted (quoth?) it many, many times. It’s incredibly freeing.

          1. It’s cheaper to pay a groomer for cutting your cats’ nails than it is to pay medical expenses for cat bites. Jackson Galaxy said that 80% of cat bites get infected.

          2. My dog screams like a human child being murdered if anyone even picks up the clippers. I pay so my apartment neighbors never call the police on me.

        5. This. I’m really feeling this after doing this weird calculus this week where ordering some parts and tools from Amazon for a one-off project proved actually cheaper in terms of time and stress level than having someone else do it for me for free or doing it with borrowed tools.

        6. When my sister first started working, she started converting all the prices into hours. “That shirt costs three hours of my time. It’s beautiful, and worth it. Those jeans, on the other hand, are not worth five hours.”

          And sometimes, she spent money to save time. Spoons weren’t an issue for her, then.

          Nowadays, spoons are definitely worth money, to me.

        7. Very much so. I did something recently which seemed completely luxurious and ridiculous, but I paid for a private chef. I live with someone who has complicated food issues (medical, related to celiac) and food prep takes forever. We can’t afford a personal chef all the time, but they prepared 20 frozen meals (5 different recipes) and on difficult days when I would have otherwise picked up a pre-made meal from the store or gone out, we can now eat those meals. I mentioned to a few people and they reacted the same way that I first did, but when I explain that it’s really our only alternative to eating out, and the meals are about the same price as a cheaper restaurant meal, so in that context it all makes a lot of sense.

          Plus – doing this every 4-6 months is in our budget!

          1. neat! 🙂 I didn’t know that was a thing. where did you hire them from?

            I’ve been making my own frozen meals the last few years – I don’t know if it saves any money, but it’s a heck of a lot less spoons to cook one giant pot of food, and it’s not like I can just *buy* custom meals like chipotle spaghetti sauce with yams and squash… I am getting a bit tired of it, though. or maybe it’s just the heat.

        8. Thank you for posting this. It’s really made me think about something I’ve been considering in a different way and has been helpful/

        9. I had to use this with a friend to explain why I was paying “too much” for new, name-brand pants instead of looking for them on thrift store outings. I love shopping at thrift stores for new shirts and sweaters, but the racks of pants, they are dead to me. The majority of women’s pants in department stores are just not cut to fit my body shape. For years, every attempt to shop for pants was a shame-filled slog through the bowels of hell. Now, I’ve found three specific brands that fit and feel great, and those are the only three brands I buy. Anytime I need to replace a pair of dress pants, cords, or jeans, I buy online from one of those brands. Sometimes I catch sales, but these brands, they are not cheap.

          Is it possible that if I “just” took the time and effort, as my friend suggested, I might find some great pants at a great bargain by scouring the thrift store racks? Sure, it’s possible. But that time and effort cost me SO MUCH. Having to carry twenty or thirty pairs of pants into a dressing room and watch the “did not fit” pile accumulate is incredibly demoralizing for me. It undercuts the years of work I’ve done to get over my body insecurity and get myself to a place where I mostly feel great in my skin. Standing in a dressing cubicle at Goodwill staring at a giant pile of pants that seem to be insisting that I was wrong to feel good about myself, that my body is somehow wrong because it doesn’t conform to them, or watching the way a pair of almost-fitting pants cuts into my flesh here or bags out there—it costs me a lot, and those emotional reserves are not quickly replenished. So yeah, when I buy pants, I buy them brand-new, and they cost a fair amount of money, but they fit me perfectly right out of the package. I’d rather skimp and save for pants that fit the first time than have to spend hours of time and incalculable amounts of emotional energy in the search for something I might not even find. That emotional cost is way too expensive for me.

          1. Oh, I hear you! As a fat woman, clothes shopping is already so unpleasant, when I have to do it I’m going to go somewhere I *know* there are things that will fit me. I’ll save up, I’ll stalk sales, I’ll comparison shop, etc., but I’d rather invest in something that I know will work than pat myself on the back for scouring a thrift store in case there will be something.

  13. I’m interested in how the LW categorized these two statements together:

    1. “Well I’d rather not spend that money, but we can do that if you want to.”
    2. “Wow, that’s expensive. Someone’s rich!”

    LW frames both of these responses as similarly auditing their own financial choices, but number 1 seems like kind of a reasonable request from a friend? I’ve had to say that before, and I try to be as chill about it as possible. If it makes you feel better, LW, I’m definitely not trying to audit my friends’ choices when I say that! Just letting them know what I can and can’t afford.

    Number 2 is an awkward but ultimately rude attempt to lighten a sensitive topic. I hope I never say that kind of shit.

    Either way, I can see how both would catalyze your anxiety, LW, especially when you describe your family of origin! I love the Captain’s advice to be compassionate to your family and friends, yes, but also to yourself. Commenter Emma also nails it in her suggestions above.

    I think it’s super cool that you are aware of these dynamics, LW, because a lot of folks aren’t. Thank you for bringing your question here; I feel like it’s helped me approach my own social group more compassionately.

    1. Yeah, statement 1 depends a lot on tone. I was reading it as a guilt trip and judgement of the letter writer for wanting to spend money. Also, the statement starts with “Well I’d rather not spend that money” but then turns into a “we”. That switch then puts the letter writer in the position of feeling like she’s forcing her friends to spend money they don’t want to just because she wants to eat lunch. It’s not like her friends are saying, “Okay sure, you go grab lunch. I’m skipping lunch to save money today so we’ll catch up later!” Or “I’m not going to order anything but I’ll go with you so we can still spend our lunchbreak together.” You know?

      There is still the possibility that the friends aren’t trying to guilt-trip the letter writer and she’s just reacting that way because of her own sensitivities about spending money. I think Captain Awkward’s suggestions work regardless of whether or not the friends are trying to micro-manage other people’s finances.

      1. Yeah, #1 can be a very passive-aggressive move….and I am not proud to admit it, but I have used it in exactly that way. My partner has significantly more disposable income than I do, and is not always great at remembering that the disparity in our finances means that I cannot always afford every meal out that he would like us to have. As other commenters have covered, it can feel very shaming in the moment when you have to admit that you can’t participate in sharing a meal because you can’t afford it. And, on my bad days, when my guard is down and my finances are low, my old, passive-aggressive ways sometimes creep back and will say things like this when Partner suddenly decides to add on a restaurant meal I hadn’t planned for to existing plans. I have said almost this exact same thing–“Well, I wasn’t planning for a meal out, but if you really want to….” with the last part implying “….if you REALLY WANT TO, I will do this thing that is SO INCONVENIENT to me…” (*insert sound of deep, aggrieved sigh of the noble martyr) I have gotten much better about not falling back into passive-aggressive habits, and this doesn’t happen often, but I have done it.

        What has helped me get out of those bad habits, keep my Plans!Anxiety in check, and get my needs met is direct communication about planning, which other commenters have also suggested. It doesn’t have to feel like rigid scheduling (“At 1:00, we shall proceed to the pizza parlor! Arrive at pizza parlor no later than 1:16! At 2:07, we will ask for the bill if it has not already arrived!”)–just very clear questions and statements: “Do you want to get some lunch before we go to the museum?” “I want to treat myself to some movie theater popcorn, so I’m not interested in getting a meal before or after the show.” “Is your heart set on going to a sit-down restaurant, or could we do something quicker and cheaper?” My Partner’s friend group is filled with lovely people, but some of them are notoriously resistant to advance planning, and I sometimes have to be very direct when we’re discussing a group outing. Ex.: “If I don’t eat before we go to the drag show, I’m gonna turn into HangryCoffeespoons, and no one wants to see that. If folks want to get dinner first, I’m up for that, but if not, I need to know the day before, so I can plan for getting food on my own.”

    2. I don’t know – to me, “we can do it if you want to” puts me in a really bad position, because presumably I do want to do the same, and now I’m in the place where saying so is deliberately going against their wishes. I would much rather someone just say “I don’t want to spend the money” rather than put the decision back on me. Especially if it’s for something like eating lunch, which I’d think most people *do* want to do unless it was previously agreed they didn’t. Because I now have to pretend I don’t want to eat, or tell them I do and “make” them spend money.

      1. They don’t *have* to spend money. They can go to lunch and just have water. I’ve done it when out with friends. I’ve had friends who’ve done it when out with me.

        It’s their choice.

        “I understand you’re trying to save money, but I need to eat. Is there somewhere we can go that will be a compromise for our needs?”

      2. As a person who frequently either has no money or wants to spend it on books, and who has friends who need to eat more regularly than I am in the habit of – their need to eat tops my wish to save money. I either order a drink, or frequently order nothing (depending on funds and whether there’s anything I can eat)… and where’s the problem? Unless you’re in a restaurant that charges a cover charge regardless of whether you order anything or not, everybody gets what they want: the hungry person eats; I get their company.

        Nobody has made me spend money in a restaurant. Most of the time, I don’t even WANT to order anything more than what I do, so I’m not sitting around moping either.

        For the LW, it might help if they state their needs/expectations clearly – ‘I’ll want to grab lunch before we go to the cinema’ allows arranging to either meet for that, or to specifically meet after the LW has eaten; and equally the LW’s friends should try to state _their_ expectations (sandwich, bring food, grab a chocolate bar in the newsagent next door). I’ve learnt the hard way that my partner needs to eat or is miserable; we’re figuring it into our plans. (It’s a given for them that there will be food breaks; I’m frequently puzzled by this expectation.)

        1. Many people are very tempted by delicious restaurant food, and would far prefer to eat that than some sandwich from home. So putting them in a position where they have to stare at AND SMELL delicious tempting food for an hour and exercise all their willpower not to break down and exceed their budget is just a cruel torture!

          1. Agree with rewritingdeath: They’re adults, they can express their needs to find a compromise however they wish. It’s simply not the lose lose situation they’re making it out to be (either LW “forces” them to spend money on lunch or LW goes hungry).

          2. That doesn’t excuse trying to guilt-trip someone into skipping a meal when that person needs to eat.

    3. I find number 1 generally pretty passive-aggressive, although of course nonverbal communication can change that. If you can’t afford it or don’t want to pay it, say so, and don’t put the ball back in their court.

    4. I think the issue with #1 is that they’re not saying, “Sorry, I can’t do that because it’s not in my budget.” Instead, they’re saying, “I can’t really afford it, but just to please YOU, I’ll suck it up and eat beans for the rest of the month.”

      Or at least, that’s how it feels on the receiving end.

      I had a friend who would go out frequently with friends, but she would tell them, before hand, “Just so you know, I’m on a Taco Bell budget.” We’d generally hang out at Taco Bell or someplace similar, and no one felt put upon or guilty. It worked fine, because she wasn’t saying she’s sacrifice for us. She was saying, “This is what I can do. If you want more, I can’t join you.”

    5. I don’t like the “if you want to” on the first one. LW *just said* they want to. It feels like the “if” is there to prompt second guessing. (NB: It could be merely inelegant, rather than intentionally passive aggressive.) In the friends’ place, I would say, “Sure! I’ll just have fries/lemonade/water.” I feel like part of socializing is making sure everyone is comfortable, emotionally and physically. I’m honestly a little horrified at the idea of pressuring someone to skip a meal. Again, it’s not clear that the friends intended to do that, but if any of my friends did that to me, I would absolutely be rethinking the friendship.

  14. You: “I have a stable job, am financially independent, and have savings for a rainy day.”

    This means YOUR TIME IS VALUABLE. Srsly. Your employer values your time and gives you money to use it on his/her behalf!

    Also, YOUR EFFORT IS VALUABLE. Your employer pays you for that as well as your time.

    Nothing is free; a lot of thrifty activities in life trade money for your personal time and effort. Saving money always costs something, usually time and fatigue.

    The time you would have spent to save yourself that $1.50 fee is probably wayyyy more than the amount of your time that’s worth $1.50. Especially if the actual cost of “saving” that money is three months of aggravation and rescheduling. How much do you make in three months?

    I’m speaking from my own personal experience, in which I started as the child of middle-class parents who carried their Depression-era training with grace and balance, went through a first career of being dead broke and always, always having to save the $1.50 (or not see the movie at all), and ended up in a second career where I can pick up the whole check. I’m damned happy not to be broke. I save like crazy so I won’t end up broke again, and I would have trouble spending fun money on myself if I didn’t have a section in my budget for it. And every now and then, I remind myself that my time is worth a hell of a lot more than $1.50.

    1. Yes, all of this. I’ve been really freaking broke, and I’ve been middle class, and shades in between.

      I’ve reframed it this way on getting grocery delivery. My spouse’s job schedule has changed such that we rarely see each other except on Sundays, if he happens to have the day off. We have only one car, so we had been doing grocery shopping on Sunday. We are so limited on time together right now, and have enough money to be tight but semi-comfortable on our two incomes. I have decided it’s better to pay basically $5 for someone else to shop for and get my groceries, and bring them to my place, instead of us wasting precious together-hours when we could be out walking or having a beer or even just playing video games or watching bad movies together.

    2. Yes to this. I used to do *everything* I could do myself because I had barely enough money to house and feed myself with. It took a while to be comfortable with spending money on anything–for a while after I started being comfortable, I would still do a 2 hour uphill walk to my parents’ house when visiting rather than take a 10 dollar cab. I finally broke myself of this habit by actually quantifying how much my time is worth in comparison to the expense. I am lucky enough to have a job that values my time highly enough that a lot of the things that were unreasonably extravagant on minimum wage save me at least double digits of money when I factor in my hourly rate in terms of time saved that I can devote to something else, like being well rested and mentally healthy enough to succeed at my job and therefore continuing to earn money.

      Once I reframed the cab ride as saving me, say, $50 bucks rather than costing me $10, it felt like the smart choice rather than a spoiled, unreasonable luxury.

    3. “The time you would have spent to save yourself that $1.50 fee…” – not to mention the bus fair.

      I don’t have a stable job. guess what? it’s still cheaper to pay the fucking fee than get 3 buses to the theatre [6 hour, £2.75 round trip] or get the train [2 hour, maybe £5-10 round trip] so I can go to my beloved metamor’s choir performance (and it virtually always sells out, often weeks in advance, so I’m not going to risk booking on the night)

    4. Exactly — the value of both time and effort to me is why those extreme couponing TV shows are like mini horror movies for me. To put in the time, effort, and planning to pay almost nothing for more dish soap, candy bars, and pasta than I can effectively use and store makes my skin crawl — the $ savings are not worth it to me.

      Even so, I understand that such cost-saving measures are useful or even necessary for others. Finances are truly very personal things, more than people care to admit. I regard talk of finances like talk of politics and religion — tread carefully if you don’t know your audience.

  15. One thing that helped me was to identify my barometer. My grandparents were quite financially comfortable in their senior years and that’s where I want to be. My gram often said that she and my grandfather managed to save $1,000 a year. They retired in 1971-ish…adjusted for inflation, I’d need to save about $6,000 a year to match that. That’s $500 per month.

    So that’s my barometer. AS long as I know I’m socking away $500 a month, the rest of my money is MINE to budget as I see fit (and I love the advice to budget because that also ensures you’re meeting your financial obligations). I feel no guilt about buying new clothes or eating out or whatever because I know I’m meeting my saving goal. Now, if it’s a month where I can’t make that $500 savings….then, yes, I tighten the belt. But I’m doing it with a purpose – to get back on track with my goals – not out of guilt.

  16. Captain gives good advice, as usual…but I just want to follow up on the fact that both your family and friends seem to be pretty intrusive; that level of attention to somebody else’s spending seems really odd to me. So go with the Captain’s advice about giving less information about how and why you spend.
    Your letter reminds me of my ex, who also was overly concerned–I would say even paranoid–about spending money. He had grown up poor, so there were reasons, but honestly it got to be a bit much how he would panic over money decisions. Especially so since he had been making pretty good money, had no debt besides an almost-paid-off house, and had every reason to feel financially secure. But he couldn’t get over it. I won’t say the fact that he was a penny-pinching cheapskate was the ONLY reason we broke up, but the constant aggravation and stress about his money panic was certainly a factor.
    I have this memory of a prolonged period where he beat himself up over buying a car that we had worked out that he CLEARLY could afford–maybe when I realized how much his spending was riddled with needless panic and second-guessing.

    If your relationship to money and spending is really making you that anxious, consider working on that in therapy. I wish my ex had, not even for the sake of our relationship, but just for his own peace of mind and comfort.

    1. I’d heavily second the recommendation for some therapy. It sounds like some of this is tied to your self-worth and addressing that with a trusted professional can work wonders. You deserve to take good care of yourself because you’re the only you you’ve got!

  17. I think that your parents’ attitude is more than just something that ‘doesn’t help’. I think it is almost certainly the root cause of the problem.

    You have grown up with your parents instilling in you an attitude towards spending that seems to be something along the lines of ‘Everything should be obtained as cheaply as possible. If you do not do this, then you have failed in some kind of significant and serious way’. And you are now recognising on some level that this is wrong, and still trying to articulate *how* it is wrong and what you can replace it with.

    There is a type of therapy known as cognitive therapy, of which a large part consists of identifying these sorts of core beliefs as they’re called) about life, challenging them, and replacing them. This is a terrific skill to have, and I recommend it. (There are quite a few books out there that will go through it in detail; usually in the context of using it to treat overt mental illness, but it’s also very helpful for these sorts of not-actually-mental-illness-but-problematic unhelpful beliefs.) So you might well find this worth finding out more about. Sorry, I was going to post some more advice about this but the beeps have just gone for the final stage of dinner, so I’ll have to leave you with that thought and get back to you with more specific advice.

  18. I’m just to point out that ANYONE who is skipping meals to save money has a problem. Either they have a Not-Enough-Money-Problem, or they have an eating disorder of some sort. Seriously. And it is incredibly unhelpful to anyone around them who has an eating disorder. While you probably shouldn’t, I’d be tempted to straight out ask them which it is.

    1. I think this is overly reactionary. Three meals a day isn’t a concrete law and any deviation is a sign of a personal failing. Particularly when eating out in America we have meals with calorie counts far outside what we need for 1/3 of our day. But even beyond that, it’s beyond unhelpful to tell someone who is trying to get folks to stop being all inappropriately up in their business to turn around and be inappropriately up in other people’s business. Their reason for skipping meals is their own. LW should not have to put up with them trying to impose their decision on zer and zhe should not question theirs.

      1. I agree, this definitely feels inappropriate to me. Not that there’s never a time to touch base on sensitive issues, but doing it out of annoyance at the way someone has been talking to you (eg about money) isn’t really it.

        1. I specifically called out skipping meals to SAVE MONEY. If you eat 2, 3, 4, 5, or however meals a day for whatever reason that isn’t specifically related to saving money, that’s fine and I really don’t care (as long as you’re eating sufficient food). But if you’re doing it JUST to save money, there’s a problem there, and it should be addressed.

          And I did say you shouldn’t actually say it.

          1. I still stand behind what I said.

            (Also, I’m confused that you’re simultaneously saying it should be addressed but to not actually say anything? But in any case and for what it’s worth, I was basically directing my comments to others who may be considering your comment, not trying to talk you out of something you weren’t going to do anyway.)

          2. ‘Sup! I am a person who skips meals to save money. I do not have an eating disorder. (I’m also not particularly hurting for cash, I just hate spending it). When I work during the day, I think about the prospect of spending $10 on lunch, and I think ‘I’m not going to spend $10 on a sandwich, I can go home and eat in five hours’. I prefer to save my money and spend it on more material things, because that’s my jam. I eat a big breakfast and a big dinner, and sure, I get kinda hungry during the day, but it doesn’t really bug me. Note that this is just when I’m working or sometimes out with friends, if I’m at home, bring on the lunch. It does rather sound like LW’s friends are doing something along the same lines as me, though. Although of course they shouldn’t be being jerks about it.

          3. I skip meals at work partly to save money and partly because I only get a half hour for lunch and it takes fifteen minutes to obtain and/or prepare food; which leaves fifteen minutes to stuff the entire production down my throat and then I get to have stomach cramps and acid reflux all day at work. Nope, I’m good, I can just eat dinner at home.

          4. Dia, I’m really good at being blunt and saying the truth, but it shouldn’t actually be said. So yes, if there’s a problem, it should be addressed by the individual. It is also often the case that I shouldn’t be saying anything about it. Awkward me sometimes puts foot in mouth!

            Lunch solution for all: pack a sandwich.

    2. That’s not terribly helpful to either people with not-enough-money problems or disordered-eating problems.

      It’s also making some assumptions about what people’s daily meal plan is. Someone who isn’t up for purchasing a salad or a sandwich when meeting a friend might still be eating three meals a day, even if one of them isn’t during the midday period spent with the friend.

      1. Some people have wonky schedules. Some people have bodies that just Do Not Like to eat at certain times, and sometimes, those times are the normal, expected times. They don’t have an eating disorder; they have a complicated body that does not fit societal norms.

        I once worked with a woman who only ate one meal a day: dinner. But what a dinner! She’d eat steak and potatoes, and veggies, and pie, and just pull out all the stops, and she would feel so full, she couldn’t even face food for nearly 24 hours, anyway. Worked for her, and she enjoyed everything she ate. If she had been spacing the meals out, she’d have felt deprived at dinner, because she’d have to eat less or her non-favorite foods.

        I know a lot of people who just can’t handle breakfast. They have to be up for several hours before they can even contemplate facing food.

        Now, I do think that if you are skipping meals that you *normally would eat,* and you’re just doing it to save money, then you have a problem. The problem may be a hidden eating disorder, but it’s more likely lack of planning, because if you want to save money, and still eat, you bring a sandwich, or something else inexpensive.

        If you want an example of disordered/money/eating issues, watch “The Guild.” There’s a scene where a group of people meet up at a burger restaurant, and one of them brings his own cheese slices, and a two-liter bottle of soda, in order to save money. He also regularly dumpster dives, and transfers his findings into his own dishes. He certainly has an unusual relationship with both food and money.

        1. A while ago, we had a friend stay who dumpster dived at local supermarkets. I was stunned by the quality of the food he brought back, especially fruit and veges. If it wasn’t that it’d seriously embarrass my company if I got caught, I’d do it myself.

          1. Yeah, they might think it looks like they are underpaying you, I guess.

            Supermarkets have to throw away food that has not spoiled, but it JUST past its sell by date. Note, there’s a difference between Sell By and Use By.

            Sometimes, I wish they made supermarket dumpsters shorter, so I could reach. But I do like the “Manager Specials,” where they put the older stuff that they’ll have to toss if no one buys it that day.

    3. Speaking as someone who has been both “not-enough-money-problem” friend, and “eating-disorder-friend” (actually, for a long swathe of my life, both), as well as occasionally “skipping-lunch” friend, I find this advice odd and more likely to be harmful than helpful.

      Poverty is stigmatized in the US. Eating Disorders ditto. To call someone out as having either so bluntly is more than a little bit rude.

      I cannot choose to skip meals to save money, but I can also see a pragmatic reason to make that choice. I have gone to parties at friends where I knew I wouldn’t be eating (usually for ED reasons) but I made sure to have a snack of some kind before I left so I wouldn’t be hungry while at the event. Also, what @donw said.

    4. In all fairness, it might not actually be skipping lunch but it could be skipping lunch out.

      1. Yes, that was how I read it, too. Not so much “going hungry” as “eating, just not with this specific group of people”

      2. Yeah, that’s probably a big part of it. Most people who want to save money on lunch don’t skip the meal. They bring their own. But what are they supposed to do, if someone invites them to join them at a restaurant? Say, “Sure! I’ll just shove my hoagie down my shorts and walk very carefully into the restaurant, and hope that I can hide it under the table cloth.” No. They’ll say, “No, thanks. I’ll skip lunch today, to save money.”

        For clarity’s sake, it’s probably better say, “I brought my own.” or “I’m eating at my desk,” or something along those lines.

        Back in the day, I would bring my lunch not so much to save money, but to save time. I wanted a nap at lunchtime, and going out took too long. But I was pretty obvious about bringing my lunch with me, so it wasn’t an issue of looking like I had a “problem.”

    5. And if they do have a not-enough-money problem…why is that somehow a personal failing they need to be called out on? I’ve been in a position where I couldn’t afford to eat multiple meals at all some days, and guess what? It sucks! If I’d had the option to eat more I would have! A supposed friend berating me for being too poor to eat enough would not have improved my situation and would have made me feel a lot worse, and I’m not sure why you’d be tempted to do such a thing.

        1. Perhaps they meant more of “stage an intervention” than call out? Even so, that sort of situation is, I believe, the kind where you ought to wait to be asked for help, rather than push your help on others.

          1. I read is as a “there’s a problem that needs to be addressed (by the person who’s skipping)” and not “you as the friend need to address this problem”. As in, “1, recognise this behaviour is not normal, some weird problem is happening on their side, and you should not feel ashamed for wanting to eat lunch.

      1. But if a friends nows you have this problem, they can buy dinner for you (and arrange something like “everyone invites sometimes, you just happen to do the coffee invitations and I just happen to do the dinner invitations, so that there is some balance”). I would want to know it if a friend couldn’t affort a meal.

        1. The original comment I was responding to implies some sort of confrontation, rather than anything helpful. However:

          When I couldn’t afford to eat I couldn’t afford to buy coffee either; there’s no way to set up reciprocal spending in this situation. More importantly, this has the potential to create a situation where a friend is offering to buy me lunch every day, or every work day at least, and lots of people [myself included] would be super uncomfortable with that.

          And another thing that would be incredibly uncomfortable is to be asked, when I say I’m not having lunch, if it’s because I’m poor. There’s no good way to do this. If we’re close enough friends that I would feel comfortable telling you about my financial situation, you already know. And that’s not just a me thing.

    6. Yikes. I skip meals all the time and I am not battling an eating disorder. But it works for me. If someone asked me if I had a money or eating-disorder problem, I’d be ticked. That feels incredibly intrusive.

  19. I think the Captain’s advice is sound. The only thing I would add is from my own experience – sometimes I was very tight for money and sometimes I was comfortable, so considering where I was, my answer would change:

    “Budget’s tight right now – can we do the cheapy happy hour before the movie instead of dinner?”
    “Dinner’s in the budget this time round if it’s good for you!”

    For me, the ‘Budget’ was this Other Thing that I didn’t have any control over. Like the time I got off work, or that I had to go home and feed the cat before I went out.

    So that said, if you can make Budget less personal, I think that would be half the battle.

  20. Rude people like these get my snarky side 10/10 times.
    Them: You most be rich!
    Me: You know it! I make it rain!!! (insert throwing money gesture)

    That initial stash of money available for me to make it rain? Totally within the budget.

    Letter writer, make it rain on your own terms and let people talk. They will talk regardless of what you do so might as well let them make assumptions and just continue with your spending habits as you see fit (like the adult you are, god dammit).

    1. I agree. To me, “Must be nice!” and “You must be rich!” are fighting words in the Verbal Sparring Way of the Passive-Aggressive. I actually get an adrenaline surge when I hear them.

      They get the responses they deserve:

      “Must be nice!” / “OMG, it’s soooooo nice.”

      “You must be rich!” / “I’ve just learned to be grateful for what I have.”

      1. “I’ve just learned to be grateful for what I have” has me evil-cackling here, as a fellow speaker of passive-aggressive. Dang. I’ve got the chills.

  21. If it were me trying to make this switch, I’d try being as nonchalant as possible, at least initially, and focussing on the need that you’re trying to fulfill. So when your friends assume that you want to skip lunch with them, your response could be, “Actually, I’m pretty hungry, so I’m going to get something to eat. I’ll find you guys afterwards.” No apologies, trying to force the rest of the group to do what you want, just calmly stating facts. Similarly, when they plan to buy movie tickets right before the show, there’s no reason for you to mention when and how you’re going to buy your ticket—just rock up to the cinema with your ticket reference number and if you’re questioned about it, don’t feel like you have to justify it beyond, “Because I wanted to.” You might find that there are one or two other people in your friendship group who would also prefer to eat lunch and book tickets in advance, but are falling in line with a strong personality. You might end up with more company in these things than you expect.

  22. OP, you don’t specify passive aggressive comments, but I find these go hand-in-hand with the types of money-value-statements you’re describing, so I thought I’d chime in. As in,

    Me: bought new jeans.
    Someone else: Oh, must be nice to be able to afford to buy frivolous things like that. *woe-is-me-sigh*
    Me: Yes, it is! *genuine, cheerful* How’s the bean dip?

    Me: goes on vacation
    Someone else: How nice that you can spend your money however you want. Some people need to budget.
    Me: Yes, it was nice! I had a great vacation. *genuine, cheerful* How’s the bean dip?

    Me: buys shirts
    Someone else: You paid TEN WHOLE DOLLARS for those shirts? I would have paid twenty cents and gotten a million more shirts.
    Me: I sure did! *genuine, cheerful*. I love them!

    Sometimes fighting that kind of stuff with wholehearted happiness at what you have can really deflate the opposition. It’s not so much that people want to criticize you – it’s that they want to validate themselves. So when you force them to make a choice – either explicitly criticize you or share in your small pleasures – most normal people will share in your pleasures.

    1. Learn to channel the Loreal woman, and flip you hair, saying “And I’m worth it!”

      Also, I’d just like to point out that if someone ever says to me, “Some of us have to budget,” I’m likely to respond with, “Budget? How do you think I managed to save up for this?” Because, yeah. Budget does not mean “never spend money.” It means “CONTROL your money, so you can afford what you need and want.

      It’s a pet-peeve of mine.

      1. I buy expensive clothes, and not because I like clothes that much. I actually hate clothes shopping. So if I buy things I really like and wear them often, because they’re comfortable and look good on me, that’s worth way more to me than three or four trips to a fast fashion place to spend an equivalent amount of money on stuff I don’t like as much. I recently bought a new pair of shoes, for rather more than I’d usually spend, and I keep reminding myself that these are nice shoes that I can wear to work *and* to dressy occasions and they’ll last for years because they’re made by a decent manufacturer, plus I haven’t bought new shoes in a couple of years and they were on sale and… (And I had a rough year and worked hard and I *earned* those Fluevogs goddammit.)

        1. Also, if the clothes are made well, they will last, too. You won’t rip out the seams much, because the seams are solid. Quality is worth more money, because it LASTS.

          And yes, we are worth it. We can’t always afford it in the moment, but we ARE worth it.

  23. For the lunch scenario, it sounds like making assumptions about lunch with this group of friends is no longer safe. If it’s a planned outing over a mealtime, bring up the topic of the meal beforehand if you can.

    “So we’re meeting in the mall at 10, and catching the movie at 2. What are we doing for lunch?”

    If their answer is shaped like “We were planning to skip it” try a “If that’s what works for you! I need lunch, so I think I’ll bring a sandwich or something/I think I’ll duck out for a quick burrito. Let’s meet back up at the TARDIS-shaped sunglass kiosk near the food court at 12:30?”

    It is annoying and isolating to be doing something else than the rest of the crew, but I think somewhat less so when that’s the plan rather than something that gets sprung on you in the moment.

    Meal-skipping ostensibly in the name of frugality can sometimes be a sign of a strained relationship with food, so generalizations like “It’s not healthy [for anybody] to skip meals!” can backfire pretty badly.

    (My experience is that packing lunch can be a pain in the rear, but I am happy with the advances of technology in foldable lunchbag-sized coolers. Between those and asking my friends who get meal services if they have spare ice packs, I am pretty well set up for keeping my yogurt cup and sandwich safely chilled until meal time.)

    1. Right, and, like, it’s just better to know ahead of time, *whatever* the answer is. For me, skipping lunch entirely is not happening because low-blood-sugar will make me super cranky-pants. adn then the fun outing will no longer be fun, probably for anybody! But that doesn’t mean I need to go out to lunch, at any level – I could bring a foodbar or whatever is in my diet to get me through.

      1. This is why I always try to ask what the plan is for food if we’re meeting up at/around a standard mealtime, and -really nail it down-. “Oh, we’re eating” isn’t really good enough. Are we thinking snack or meal? Fast food, local pub, or four-course prix fixe? How hungry should I be when I turn up and how much money should I expect to spend? I’m never offended by the answer, but tell me so I don’t show up with a full stomach when you were planning a gastro tour – or worse, so ravenous that I’m tempted to kill and eat you when I find out there will be no proper meal.

      2. Yeah. When I really need food, and articulate that I need food, I needed food two and a half hours ago and I am five minutes away from passing out cold. That kind of “oh we’re skipping lunch to save money” thing is fine for you, but you need to warn me so I can eat, or we are going to have some exciting moments with orange juice partway through our hangout.

        1. My body starts projectile vomiting, if I don’t get food in a timely manner.

          Once people make that discovery about me, they don’t deny me food. People who may be willing to fuss with the orange juice and fainting couch will still balk at being harfed on.

      3. Same. I can work around the absence of food during an outing, but I need to know ahead of time if that’s the plan so I can eat beforehand and/or bring snacks. Otherwise I go in thinking “I’ll have lunch at the food court” (and maybe even get excited about the idea of eating out) and will be both bummed and physically uncomfortable if it turns out there’s no food on the agenda.

    2. What really grinds my gears in this sort of group outing situation is when the movers and shakers of the group pull a “Well, we’re not hungry, so why should anyone else be? Let’s go do this sporty activity that burns calories we’re not letting anyone in the group consume!”

      Sure, nowadays, I’ll stand right up to that, and say, “With you or without you, I’m eating. If I don’t, I’ll be sick.” And judge whether or not I want to even hang out with them, anymore, based on their reactions.

      But back in college, with a particular group of young women in my dorm… UGH! I HATED those outings! Especially when I had specifically budgeted money to pay for lunch at the mall’s food court, rather than eating something cheap at home! Especially when eating out, even at a cheap snack bar, was rare enough to be a special treat!

  24. I’m wondering if some of the friend issues might be improved by some clearer advance scheduling? I find that helps me with all sorts of situations where I feel like I’m being roped into things, because it gives me the opportunity to think a bit, which in turn makes it easier to bow out than to go along with the crowd. I think this particularly might help with the lunch situation. Something like, “I’m free Tuesday. Were you thinking of eating at Sandwich Shoppe, or were you planning on taking a walk in the park instead of grabbing lunch?” could be a helpful question, followed with, “I’ll probably be hungry that day, so I’ll be grabbing lunch instead,” could be useful.

    The nice upside of this is that it also gives your friends some advance notice of what’s expected when it comes to hanging out with you at lunchtime. Part of what makes, “Well I’d rather not spend that money, but we can do that if you want to,” awkward is the concern that the friend might not really be okay with that compromise. If your friends know ahead of time that seeing you at lunchtime means spending some money on lunch, they can plan accordingly. If you say no a bit more, I think it might be easier to accept it when they say yes.

    And then there’s the, “Wow, that’s expensive. Someone’s rich!” comment. That’s super rude. Is that just one person, or maybe two people? I hope it’s not all your friends. Anyway, I think you should translate that as an impolite, awkward way of saying, “I don’t want to hear about your new jeans.” What happens after that kind of depends on the specifics. Is that person otherwise a good friend? Maybe the solution is that they get crossed off your list of people you talk about new jeans with. Or do you kind of get the sense that the friend who doesn’t care to hear about your new jeans also doesn’t care much about you? That might be someone who isn’t really a friend and maybe shouldn’t be considered one.

    1. True! Although I’ve found that, with many intrusive commenters, I don’t have to SAY anything about [new item], they’ll point it out and state that it’s new.

      (Kind of a question-but-not-really — “Oh, I see you got a new dress?” It removes the opportunity to avoid having attention called to the new item, unless you want to lie and say it isn’t new.)

      I do pretty well deflecting these comments, but I do wind up feeling (sometimes explicitly and unmistakably) judged for the Sin Of Spending Money On Myself While Disabled.

  25. My only tiny quibble with your advice, Captain, is telling people with a frugality obsession that you don’t remember what you paid for something. That’s just an opening for a diatribe on the value of knowing what things cost. Which is also crappy of them, but if the goal is to preclude discussion then this won’t do it.

    1. Yeah, I tried that with my mother and she just kept making snide comnents until I finally had enough and told her it was none of her business.

      On that note – maybe I’m too blunt, but I just can’t see why it’s necessary to tiptoe around people who are making rude comments like “Somebody’s rich!” I’d feel no compunction about telling these so-called friends that it’s really none of their business.

      1. Instead of being blunt to people who say “Somebody’s rich!”, I just acknowledge the reality and say “I’m lucky to have a well paying job.” Which is true.

        1. I would go into Hippie Greeting Card mode and say “Yes, I am rich because I have such wonderful friends/family like you!” and then start counting my non-material blessings.

          1. As someone who has been poor I very much prefer AnonBees version. Yours would make me even more uncomfortable and annoyed. But maybe that would be the point?

          2. Affi I am sure you would never act so rudely. These suggestions are for rude, nosy people who deserve to be uncomfortable and annoyed. Speaking as someone who has also been poor and is still low income.

      2. Sometimes sharp and blunt is the only effective punctuation.

        Parents are separate subspecies – they brag about how much they give up for their offspring and then are penny pinching snarks.

        EX: when I was in grad school, I worked on my mothers farm. I was in a farm accident that damn near severed the tip of my right index finger (it dangled by the finger print). When I had the stiches out, she chewed me out for getting back to the farm later than usual. When she came up for air, I told her I had been having the stiches pulled.

        Her response, verbatim: “How much did THAT cost?”.

        Answer: Nothing. I had it done at the Student Health Center.

        If it had been 50 cents, she’d have gone on about it for the next 20 minutes.

      3. “…I just can’t see why it’s necessary to tiptoe around people who are making rude comments…”

        It’s not necessary, per se, but everyone has a different comfort level with confrontation. That’s why Cap usually includes several scripts that serve the same purpose but vary in levels of bluntness.

        Sometimes people just don’t feel up to getting up in someone’s face in order to establish a boundary. Sometimes people need to work their way up to the level of bluntness that comes naturally to you. Sometimes, there are social costs to being extra blunt that people may decide they don’t want to pay (like verbally throwing down at work or with a tantrum-throwing relative who will make a scene at your favorite cousin’s wedding.) Sometimes, the situation is abusive, and it is literally *unsafe* for the boundary setter to do it in a really blunt way.

        Nowhere does the Captain say you have to tiptoe around anyone who is being rude.

    2. True, but if you don’t feel like having the discussion about why it’s none of their business or getting accused of hiding the truth because you’re ashamed or something along those lines, sometimes it’s easier to just let them say their piece and not engage.

    3. Yes, I have used the, “I don’t remember the cost” response too, and unfortunately it led to, “Well you SHOULD remember these things!”. OK mom.

      My family lived in poverty during my childhood. I think my parents see bargains and frugality as some sort of power-play. When I started earning my own income they would frequently lecture me about how I didn’t haggle at every opportunity: Mechanic Stuff or Flea Market things – fine, but getting a haircut? Or clothes shopping? Absurd really.

      My parents would have something to say if the purchase was anything but ZERO dollars.

      One time, I called my parents during an overseas vacation. I said how convenient Portable Wifi was for my trip, they asked me how much it cost and I replied with, “oh, only X dollars per day!” (single digits!) yet they still exclaimed “wow, so expensive!”. The thing is, my parents never even HEARD of Portable Wifi before I mentioned it to them. Not sure what they expected???

      Hopefully this isn’t too much of a hitch-hike, but I wanted to request more response scripts for “How much did it cost?”, if possible. I speak another language with my family so I would appreciate more vocabulary to work with (language barrier stuff). So far, I have responded with… “I got it on sale.” OR “Is that question important?” OR “Oh? do you want to buy it too?” + subject change.

      LW, thank you for submitting this question, because this is something I struggle with too and Captain’s advice will be very helpful for me (as usual).

      1. Variations for “on sale”:
        “a good price [especially for this area]” : It impresses me how much stuff varies from area to area – in NC, sweet potatoes are cheap. In NY, they are not. Because local production = cheap.
        “less than I budgeted for”
        “not as much as it cost on-line [or off-line, if you bought it on-line]”

        One advantage to these is that they underline that you *thought* about this purchase, and probably researched it too. My family likes to go into the research – my mom was amused when I told her about lugging a tub of pots / pans / plates / cups into the hardware store to test fit them into dishwashers.

        Other variations:
        “Why do you want to know? (nicely, not aggressively) Are you worried I’m not saving enough / managing my money well?”
        “I don’t want to talk about money, there’s so much more important things to catch up on!”
        “money, pshaw! I’m putting away plenty” + subject change

        1. You testing dishwashers reminds me of when I went car shopping for the first time and brought a tape measure, so I could climb around the storage areas of vehicles to make sure they could haul some large musical equipment. Woe to the salesman who didn’t believe me when I said I needed a specific amount of storage and showed me smaller cars than I asked for!

          1. Sounds like the time I brought my 150 lb dogs car shopping to see if they’d both fit.

        2. I have been known to take a variety of hangers into apartments with me to see what kind works best. Also checking for electrical outlets, hot water, and other things that come standard that have not been so standard in places I grew up.

          (True story: my family once rented a house without an oven.)

          1. Hey, I almost bought a condo without kitchen drawers. It’s something I would never think to check for, then suddenly it hit me: something’s strange about this kitchen.

          2. My current apartment has one kitchen drawer. Guess what we will be checking for next time…

            Also no good place for a garbage can. Super weird.

      2. I meant to nest my comment below under you–I have scripts for “how much did it cost” that boil down to people who push for information they are not entitled to and then react badly when they get that information have forfeited the right to truthful answers. They are entitled only to the answer they would be satisfied with, so give it to them even if it is a lie. Use only on people who refuse to respect your boundaries.

      3. I love “Oh, did you want to buy it too?”

        Perhaps, “I bought it with some other stuff I needed to so I don’t remember the individual cost.”

        Suzette Elgin Hayden suggests the “Boring Response” technique, where you make the conversation very long and unrewarding e.g. no high emotional drama in your response. Very pleasant, very drawn out, no payoff.
        e.g. “Oh, I decided that I needed some portable wifi for the trip – you know how much I like to post my pictures to Facebook. Did you see Friend’s pictures on Facebook? So beautiful! I just loved that view of the water! Reminded me so much of that trip we took when I was young! I just loved that trip. So I decided to get a portable wifi. I did some research on [Forum], it’s such a great resource, they have all kinds of information on [XYZ…]
        (I hope that makes sense… basically, you might extend “I went to the shops” with a complete description of what you wore, the route you took to get there, the weather, what shops you saw on the way in, your opinion on which shops you like best… and you just sort of pleasantly never get to the price itself.

        1. A variation on the “Oh, did you want to buy it too?” that works for a lot of situations is, “Why do you ask?”

        2. Oh, I like that boring technique. You can even use it as a complete subject change. “Well, just as I was stepping into the women’s department, who should I meet? Guess! You’ll never guess! Well, I’ll tell you, and did SHE have an interesting day! She told me all about it. See, it started when the alarm failed to go off, and then…”

          1. Yes, you never want to get to the point and a complete subject change is perfect for that. You just have to be careful that you don’t look like you’re changing the subject.

          2. I have actually used this technique, but never knew it had a name. I just knew that when I get on my pain pills, I dither, and when I’m sober, I can dither, anyways, and what with a history of drunk dithering, and acting classes in my youth, I can dither till the cows come home, when I really want to, and be completely believable. That means, they may be frustrated, but they won’t be angry and feel put-upon, because they don’t know I’m not just having one of my loopy and/or obsessive episodes.

            I once saw a play where a wise woman said people should develop eccentricities while they are young, so that when they get old, people won’t mistake it for senility. Set up your quirks early, and you can get away with them, forever.

            I’ll have to educate my niece and nephews about the Baroque Boring technique. They already have an advantage, because if you can get them onto their pet subjects, at all, then the subject is permanently changed, anyway. All they need is a “Oh! That reminds me!” opportunity, and they can zoom right in and stay in their happy conversation place, while completely avoiding the issue at hand, and no real acting ability is required, because they really are that obsessed with the subject.

        3. The Boring Response technique sounds fantastic. This wasn’t the script I was expecting, but I think it’s exactly what I’m looking for.

          I had thought the best approach was for me to be as brief or vague as possible, giving a lengthier response wasn’t in my radar.

          Although I speak my mother-tongue with my family, it is not my dominant language. My vocabulary is limited and I fear my response being misconceived (I feel as if everything I say in my mother-tongue sounds rude, but now I wonder if it’s because I’ve been pretty much trained to hear only rude comments in this language because of family… hmmm). The Boring Response would also be good language practice!

          Thanks for providing the HowStuffWorks link @apricity!

          Wanted to thank everyone else for their suggestions too! Having all this “ammo” will reduce my anxiety about talking with family… :/ somehow all our conversations lead to money, money, money and it’s frankly exhausting.

          1. I hope it works for you! Worth a go, at least. You could probably use your limited vocab as a tool, too, since you can spend some time in your response musing about which word you wanted to use? Or just pausing to think about which word to use?

            There are some other verbal self defence options in that article too and I recommend reading them.

        1. Thank you so much for that link! It was super helpful for some things I’ve been dealing with at work.

      4. How about, “Well, you know as part of keeping on top of my budget, I keep a written log of all my expenses, cross-referenced to the budget, and file the receipts for tax purposes. After I do all that, I don’t bother to remember these things off the top of my head. Do you want me to go home and look it up right now? No, it’s not on the cloud/my phone. I’d have to actually go home to look it up. Just how important is it that you know the exact cost of this particular item? Did you want to get one, yourself? Awwww, too bad. The sale is already over.”

        Or your own version of “I wrote it down, so I don’t have to remember.”

      5. Also, in re: “Well, you SHOULD remember,” I would very much like to know why.

        What difference does it make if you remember the cost of every single item you bought, ever? Is that somehow going to change the future?

        I’m all for tracking your expenses, comparing against your planned budget, and making adjustments as necessary to stay within your budget. But remembering the details of every purchase? What possible purpose could that serve?

        I have a limited amount of head space. I don’t have the RAM for that kind of pile-up of inconsequential data.

        All you really need to remember is “I could afford it at the time.”

        1. Yeah, my response to “well you should remember” is usually “no, I wouldn’t have bought it if it wasn’t a good deal. Keeping track of it after the fact serves no purpose and I don’t see why I’d waste the brain space on trying to remember the exact amount.”

          1. Oh that’s clever. I like that it tells them that you trust your own judgment (and maybe they should too).

        2. “I’d have to find the receipt, I don’t recall offhand” followed by (in my case legit) inability to locate the receipt.

          1. I always put my receipts in a safe place. Unfortunately, it’s never the same safe place. Also, I have no legitimate use for these receipts, because if it’s on the credit card, it comes in the statement, anyway, so I find receipts, completely randomly, years later.

      6. “How much did it cost?”

        “$$$, and it’s worth every penny!”

        “$$$, but I figure, you get what you pay for!”

        “I don’t know, and I don’t care!” (okay, that one’s blunt as hell, but whatever)

        “I’m so glad you asked that! I’ve been really working on minimizing the amount of slave labor* involved in the production chain of my purchases. Of course, that means there’s a small mark-up, which is why it’s important that when I buy something new, I buy quality! Did you know…” (and then you talk resolutely for 15 minutes on the subject of modern slavery. They will never ask you again.)

        Same as above, but instead of “slave labor” substitute “environmental degradation*”
        “Honestly, I try not to be lured into a false economy. There is such a thing as being penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

        “Why do you ask?”

        “What a strange question!”

        But honestly, I think the examples you already have are just fine. Sometimes it’s better not to vary your responses too much. Giving one or two consistently boring replies to impertinent questions sends the message very well.

        * It is not possible to completely remove slavery or environmental degradation from the supply chain of your purchases unless you live off the land. And even then…! We all have to make our moral choices according to our mental energy and our finances. That is your private business.

        1. ” (and then you talk resolutely for 15 minutes on the subject of modern slavery. They will never ask you again.)”

          I just choked laughing when I was about to comment “I’ve seen my sister do this, can verify, WORKS” and then I realized MY SISTER POSTED THIS, because of course she did. ❤

        2. Your point suggesting maybe not vary responses too much is good. I didn’t think of that. I suppose I feel comforted having more “verbal ammunition”. I bet giving the same response over and over will get boring to them. Time to master 1-2 lines 🙂

      7. My Uncle has a lot of shame around spending, (idk why) so whenever he buys something objectively costly he “got a great deal”. Or “there was a groupon”, or “Xperson gave me a voucher for Yreason.” Whether or not it’s true doesn’t matter, he feels ok talking about it that way.

        1. Oh no, I definitely do that. Yes I have a nice car, you see the apartments near the light rail went up too much and when our 2003 Corolla dies I wanted to make sure our second car wouldn’t need repair at the same time…
          Yes, I had a lovely vacation, only spent two nights in a motel, had a great time camping and staying with friends and family… five nights were free because we hiked into the free camping spots!

          I wonder if I should stop doing that. I guess I just feel like it’s so obvious I’m poor that my car should be worse and I should have gone on a “staycation” instead of a vacation.

          1. But the thing about cars is they are there to get you from A to B, and if you know a particular car won’t get you all the way to B when you need it to (if it’s within your budget/savings/etc.) you should get a good, reliable car. My neighbours used to be the people who would trade in and get a new car every. Two. Years. Dad got a Mercedes Benz in 1999 that still has no problems. Dad passed away but the car is in my uncle’s hands and has been altered so that my Mum who is now paralyzed on the left side and using a wheelchair can use it. It is the gift that keeps on giving. And when we got it first there were a lot of Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me A Mercedes Benz jokes made by people who got new Ford Mondeos or Mazdas every two years. But the Merc has lasted, which is why Dad budgeted to get the Merc as a company car he could buy out on retirement. And I remember all the agonising over should I get a Volvo or a Merc, if so which one, which will last the longest with the fewest problems… And this in an age before the internet to research reviews.

            There is nothing to be ashamed of in making room for something good that will last and be reliable and do what you need. So you go on with your good car because you’ll have it for years.

            And holidays are very much subjective things. When I was a kid we went to Switzerland for two weeks every year for ten years. It was amazing. I will never forget those times, those places, the fresh air, the landscapes, the food (oh, the food… *drools*) but again, we never went anywhere else, Dad worked all kinds of hours to make sure we had enough spending money, and once we realised that the travel agent added a hefty fee to the price tag we dealt with the airline(s) and hotel directly (we still get Christmas cards from the manager). There are ways to be thrifty with holidays abroad that aren’t always possible with staycations. In 2014 I went to Italy for €700 for 7 nights half board, 4* hotel, direct flights, all transfers looked after, tour rep, etc, etc (excluding spending money). In 2015 I staycationed here in Ireland and it just haemorrhaged money. I budgeted more than 2x the Italy amount for it (inc. spending money) and I was still hitting my ceiling 2 days before the end. No flights, shared petrol, 3* hotel, etc, etc.
            Staycations *can* be thrifty, but don’t have to be. Holidays abroad *can* be extravagant but don’t have to be. It all depends on how you do it.

            Don’t let other people’s assumptions about what poor *should* look like make you change your way of living. If you can budget for it, go for it. If you want to deflect, then “I got a great deal” is a wonderful catch-all that can mean anything from I paid €1 for flights to I saved like an expert so I could afford it.

    4. I usually solve this with:
      -not bringing up shopping/purchase with people who do this, so they have no reason to know whether item is recently purchased
      -lying about how old something is. The expensive shoes I purchased last week that a frugality evangelist compliments me on (thanks!) and then inappropriately asks for a price check on? “Gosh, I’ve had these for years so I really don’t remember.”

      I’ve never had someone argue with me about the importance of remembering the specific price something was years after purchase, but the great thing about the frugality evangelist crowd is that they have probably given you enough information about their Extremely Virtuous and Frugality Spending Habits that you have a ballpark figure for what they think is a reasonable price for the item. People who do pester you for information despite your boundaries have lost the right to get honest answers on that subject. So… I feel free to lie to the frugality police about the price of an item. How much was that dress? Oh, I don’t remember exactly but it was about twenty bucks. This is true for the five dollar dresses I own and the five hundred dollars dresses I own. When asked by someone who is going to be obnoxious about an honest answer/boundary, they all cost around twenty dollars, unless they are really fancy in which case they cost fifty dollars.

    5. That’s when a super-blunt “actually, that was a polite way to say it’s none of your business and change the subject. How about that weather.” comes in super handy.

      Like. There’s a time to be polite? But when someone latches onto every polite avoidance tactic, well…

      1. Oooh. I like this. When I get a blunt conversational mood, having a few statements like this to draw on really feels good (I’m a person who has really struggled to express opinions, at all).

  26. This guilt and weird relationship to money is my legacy. Mom would fret and fret until my brother or I would convince her to buy herself something because she never bought anything for herself. Her own mother was self-sacrificing and thrifty to the extreme and sacrificed everything for her kids… The reality was that Mom bought stuff for herself frequently, but needed her kids to absolve her of the sin of spending on herself.

    My Dad’s parents also struggled with money and all of the kids had to get jobs at early ages to contribute to the family until they had family’s of their own to support. So, my Dad’s relationship to money is weirdly rebellious to that. I would be shamed and teased for wanting a name brand thingy and he would get me the generic, non-unionized knock-off and my Dad would buy the name brand thingy for himself.

    And when I started paying my own bills, there was this weird monitoring of my spending, what I paid for rent, what I spent on food, clothes… I ended up doing a variation of what the Captain suggests. I stopped giving them the numbers. I budgeted for it. I can afford it. I might be cutting out something else, but this is worth it. I feel great about this.

    Mom ended up doing a complete 180 on her attitude when she saw that one can make purchases without performing the Song of Defending Yourself.

    1. “Mom ended up doing a complete 180 on her attitude when she saw that one can make purchases without performing the Song of Defending Yourself.”

      lol 🙂 that’s a great way of putting it; there are a lot of things I have a habit of pre-emptively justifying that really confuse my husband.

      1. It’s like dieting. Once I stopped doing the Dance of “I saved up Weight Watchers points for this doughnut!” and other similar maneuvers, and just ate the darned doughnut, I felt so much better.

    2. Oh god the rent discussion. I’ve spent the last decade living in high COL cities, and my parents are idiots who cannot learn a lesson, so occasionally I still get the whiny “you pay HOW MUCH why don’t you just buy” thing. I’d buy a house in a heartbeat if I had 900K-1.2M, which is what a single family dwelling in my city costs. My rent is about a thousand dollars less per month than a mortgage would be, before insurance and property tax. Which is why I haven’t bought, shockingly enough.

      1. Tell them you’re just too busy to go house-shopping right now, but if they would do you a favor, and search out a house online, within your budget, then you’d be happy to look at all of their suggestions, and pick a house from the list. Provided the house inspector YOU choose, says that it’s in really good shape, and not going to fall down around your ears in three months, and that it’s in a safe neighborhood, with good schools, at least as good as your current area, and with excellent local parks, a variety of grocery stores, and a short commute to your work.

        If they’re willing to do that (thinking it will be a breeze), either they’ll find something perfect that you can afford (if you don’t mind the ghosts), or they’ll see that you were right, all along, and get off your back.

        1. Lol well, they are Bad at Internetting and I live a few states away, so that would be a non-starter immediately, but good grief, I can’t encourage them to get any further up in my business. I’ve been holding them off with a rented ten foot pole since I left home 25 years ago.

          There’s a well-placed house in our neighbourhood going for 250K below neighbourhood average, and it’s cute from the outside but we looked in its history and it’s been on the market for >110 days, and was last sold six months ago for 250K less than it’s up for now so it’s been flipped and is probably going to end up needing a major reno to fix the flip. I’m betting they fucked the plumbing and there’s a major electrical issue, fiancé thinks roof and foundation. We’ve thought about scheduling a showing just to satisfy our curiosity.

          1. THAT is why you get your own house inspector to check things out. When I was in the market for a house, the real estate agent sent an inspector (it was some sort of official requirement), and he said all the repairs that were necessary were about $1000 worth to the porch. He did not even mention the holes in the floors, or the soggy walls. In fact, he didn’t even GO INSIDE!

            I got my own inspector (actually, my handyman, who is fully capable of building a house to code, as long as there is no brick work. He doesn’t do brick, but he could sub-contract that out, anyway), and he pointed out that it would be better to tear it down, re-pour the foundation (because it was on beams, not concrete), and build new. And it would be cheaper to re-build from scratch than to fix the walls.

            I thought that old saw about a coat of paint covering many “sins,” was metaphorical, but it really proved true in this house. It looked quite lovely, with its fresh paint throughout. But holes in the floor?! Holes in the walls big enough to stick your fist through to outside? The wiring may have been up to code, but the walls were literally soggy from the last rain, and when you touched them, they squished like a sponge. I had been shown the house during dry weather.

            So, yeah, get a good contractor that you know and trust, and have that person check the house for you. Don’t trust the one hired by the person who just wants to sell the house.

            On the other hand, a flip doesn’t mean the work is shoddy. My Dad flipped a house once. He did all the work himself, with his usual (at the time – before he got too old) gusto and determination to make it invincible. The house might burn down, but it wouldn’t fall down, not on his watch. And it looked lovely, too. And it cost waaaaaaayyyyyyy more than he ever got out of it, because you can’t charge for all that, when you’re flipping a house in a low-rent neighborhood. I’m talking hardwood floors at linoleum pricing, here, was all the market would bear.

            He never flipped a house again, because he couldn’t afford it, in time, energy, or supplies.

            At least he took great satisfaction in the work.

            Dad was old-school. If you couldn’t buy quality in the first place, then when you fix it, you fix it so well, it becomes quality. Except for cars. He was no auto mechanic, and wound up using a hammer and chisel, and glue, before Mom convinced him to pay a proper mechanic.

    3. “…but needed her kids to absolve her of the sin of spending on herself.”!

      My mother had serious money problems for about half of my childhood (not poverty-level, but close enough to affect both of our relationships with money.) When I was growing up, my mom rarely bought things for herself. I think she went about a decade without buying herself new clothes.

      Things got better about the time I left for college, and they were significantly better by the time I graduated. A year or two after that, my mom was remodeling her kitchen and wanted these custom handles for the cabinet doors and drawers. She *agonized* over the decision to get them for weeks, and ultimately called me to ask if I was ok with her buying them.

      We went through several rounds of “Mom, it’s your money. If you want the handles, buy them–it’s not my business!” followed by her hemming and hawing. I finally went through a list of questions, “Do you want them? Will having them in your kitchen make you happy? Do you have the money for them? Will you be giving up anything you can’t live without if you spend that money? Then buy them.”

      1. My mother has loathed her kitchen for most of the 50 years she’s lived in that house. She finally decided to redo the kitchen. She paid about $25K I think but by the time it came to pick out floor tile, just couldn’t bring herself to spend very much. She also was in decision fatigue and just wanted it over.

        But she hates her floor. I figure in about 2-4 years she’ll replace it. She loves my recently replaced kitchen floor so I expect she’ll try to find a similar linoleum.

  27. The Captain’s right, you can’t help how people think, but you can help what you tell them.
    If you don’t want people sniping at you, limit their ammunition.

  28. My mom also asks how much things cost, partially out of curiosity, and partially to make sure I didn’t pay “too much.” I started giving outlandish numbers, either really high (Ten thousand dollars!!!) or really low (Thirty cents! Negative $25!). The price can even fluctuate widely over the course of a conversation. I could ask her how much she thinks it cost, and undercut that.

    The first few times she wanted to know why I wouldn’t tell her, and I was honest. She promised not to make comments, and she honored that in exchange for the real price (I can relate to being strangely fascinated by things that are none of my business). Somehow we broke the pattern. If I think she’s going to be judgmental, I’ll probably still give really crazy numbers, but once I think my point is across, I’ll probably settle on the real figure.

    This has worked for me, but is unlikely to work well for everyone. I do this in a very joking way, and the joking manner is consistent with our relationship. I agree with the Captain to try to be compassionate and gentle.

    1. There is a comedian called Kevin Bridges who talks about a similar approach; when people are trying to get you to guess how much something cost, you just give them an outlandish number to stop the conversation (so, ‘Guess how much these concert tickets cost?’ ‘Five thousand dollars’ etc etc)

      I do both of them with my partner’s aunt, who will bring every conversation around to a.) how good she is at getting a bargain and b.) how we are all suckers for paying full price.

    2. I love your hyperbole-as-redirect strategy. More blatantly ‘actually not your business’ than saying you don’t remember or oh-this-old-thinging, but still comfortably conversational.

  29. Parents are the worst, huh? It’s one of the reasons I like to read and watch Kathy Griffin. She describes how her mom is convinced, without a doubt, that her multimillionaire, canny-investor daughter will have to live out of her car for the rest of her life. I don’t know if you like KG’s style of humor, but it may be therapeutic to watch some of her old specials where she describes her mom. “Seven dollars for a chicken sandwich?? When I was a kid you could buy EIGHTEEN chicken sandwiches for seven dollars!!”

    It’s awful because you know that when you shrug and say, “it’s in my budget,” you’re still going to have face The Look of Disappointment. And Oh. God. how The Look of Disappointment sucks. It’s difficult to cultivate the inner resources to cope with that, but you can, in time. It’s helped me, honestly, to watch Kathy cope with that and try to adopt a bit of her, “whatever, Mom, I get it and I love you,” without feeling guilty.

  30. Oh LW, I feel you. The Captain is right on by saying that being on a budget will help. I grew up in a family that was all about getting the best deal and not about quality. I was always nervous about being on a budget because I thought it would restrict me. When I realized that I needed to do a budget, I used to get so overwhelmed with worry that I would be restricted I would SOB at my kitchen table!

    LW, I’m sure you already have a budget and this seems silly or like common sense, but for the small chance you DON’T have a budget and you’re afraid to anxious to make one, I really want to say it is amazing now that I have one. Being on a budget freed me from having a feelings tornado in my brain every time I spent money because I already made the decision to spend it and where.

  31. A few years ago the local Girl Scout council in my town decided that they were going to implement a fee for families to watch their annual talent show. The fee was $25 per family. The talent show was a bunch of troops lip syncing and doing bad choreography to pop songs with an occasional original skit complete with awkward acting and inside jokes nobody but the troop got. The leader meeting at which this fee was announced got heated. I live in a fairly well to do town. I am not one of the well to do people so I came down hard on the side of “this is not a good idea”. Normally I am not a confrontational person but this meeting was an exception especially when a few of the leaders / moms said something along the lines of “well, we pay for all sorts of stuff for our kids (sports, music lessons, after school programs) and we don’t balk at that, so we shouldn’t balk at this.” I reminded the leaders / moms that not all families, mine included, paid for their kids to do extra stuff simply because there was no extra money for that stuff and that the only person who gets to decide where their money goes is the person earning it. I reminded them that while they might think their little darlings lip syncing badly to a pop song was worthy of what my family budgeted for their weekly pizza night, I didn’t think that it was and would be recommending to my troop and their families that they shouldn’t attend an event created to shake down families for more money. They changed the wording on the event from “fee” to “recommended donation” but I’ve never looked at any of those women the same way since.

    Long story short: nobody but you gets to decide how your money is spent. If you wanted to spend it on cotton candy and unicorn poop and you know you’re not going to go broke doing it then have at it.

  32. Ooh, is it time for Phillip Larkin?

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

  33. One thing about a budget–I can tell you this from a work standpoint, but it’s about a personal standpoint as well.

    With a budget at work, my boss EXPECTS me to SPEND it. It’s not JUST an upper limit.

    It’s also a commandment to spend that money.
    We want to have enough staff to meet workload, and so I am expected to spend that money to be sure we have it.

    This is, I think, even MORE important w/ a personal budget.

    You -need- new clothes. It’s important. And so you -intend- to spend that much money on clothes. (You don’t need to go out and get them on some sort of schedule, but if you are underspending about halfway through the year, maybe it’s time to plan a little frivolous time at the mall or wherever.)

    (I once had a store credit card to a place that was in the very office building I worked in. I had an upper limit–$180–and I would go browse when sales were on. If I hadn’t paid it all off, I couldn’t buy anything. But once I’d zeroed it out, I could spend up to $180 again. It meant I always had nice-looking clothes for work. That was the only time that my wardrobe was a source of confidence and calm.)

    You -need- fun, and spending money for things like “being sure I can get in to a movie” is a reasonable way to purchase peace of mind.

    And you -need- food. Eating regular meals is how you keep the machine running well.

    You could start saying those sorts of things, if you can think of them.
    “I’d hate to get there and find out we can’t get in, all for $1.50 for each of us. If you can’t swing that to be sure we don’t get shut out, then either we need to get there really early, or we should do something else.”

    or “We’re purchasing a guarantee for $1.50. It’s worth that to me.”
    or “I need to keep my biological machine running, so I’m going to grab something to eat, even if it means we split up.”
    or “Having a decent wardrobe is a way of purchasing confidence at work. I find it’s worth it.”

    But, “It’s in my budget” is a nice catch-all.

    1. Fun fact: budgets can actually backfire for people who are less thrifty, because that’s exactly how they sometimes function: it’s not “I must spend no more than x amount,” it’s, “I can (and therefore should) spend x amount.”

      1. I don’t see how that’s really backfiring, though, provided that a) the spending is still within budget and b) the overall budget is balanced such that planned spending + saving does not exceed income. I say feel free to max out your budget. If it’s set up in a balanced way that accounts for any necessary saving, spend away! It’s very freeing to know that it’s really okay to spend the money because you really did set aside that amount specifically for this kind of purchase.

      2. I agree–that’s not backfiring. Of course, that’s if they truly have a *budget*, and not just “an idea of how much money is left in the bank.” (i.e., not how much you “can” spend, but how much you “should” spend–along with an idea about how you need to space that out)

        When you set your budget right, it should be accurate. And spending the “required” amount is intended to get you exactly what you need. Enough clothes of the proper style for your job; enough leisure so that you are relaxed; enough repairs on your home so it stays in good shape; enough food of the proper quality so you stay healthy.

    2. Even if you’re not spending everything in your budget (I’ve always used leftover budget to buy other things…), I can recommend a frivolity budget: a small amount of money (say $10/week if you can afford that) that you have to spend on something frivolous. On _exactly_ the thing that you look at and go ‘I really shouldn’t-‘.

      I found that this helped me to get to a better relationship with money: not only do I deserve decent things, I deserve to occasionally trade money for delight.

      1. Something that’s worked really well for me has been setting up a budget for hobbies and ‘frivolous’ things, but also having a savings account solely dedicated to holiday/vacation spending. Then, anything that doesn’t get spent out of the hobbies budget gets transferred over to the holiday fund, so that sometimes the choice is ‘well I could buy this yarn (but omg my stash is already overflowing), or I could save that money for a trip to a Greek island later this year’. Which gives me the choice between Delight Now or Delight Deferred – either way I get something nice.

      2. There’s a lovely analogy that I’ve used on workaholics around me that was in Mrs. Beeton’s book, of all places… If you are scything a field, you have to stop periodically and resharpen the blade. True, you’ll get nowhere if you’re standing there sharpening for hours, but neither will you if you’re trying to work with a dull blade. Fun and rest and hobbies and recreation are our whetstones.

      3. It also serves as a safety valve. if you “have to” buy something just for fun every two months, then you’ll do that “I’m feeling deprived; what can I spend money on?” thing frequently enough that it never gets out of hand.

        Sort of like what firefighters call “a controlled burn.”

    3. I remember the first time I encountered this at work. It was December, and I was in charge of ordering office supplies. Now, I kept the supply cabinet well-stocked and organized, but I didn’t want to keep too much on hand. Having a dozen ball points is fine. Having a gross is unnecessary, and takes up too much space.

      Well, my boss called me in, with a slightly panicked look on his face, and told me, “We haven’t met budget for the year! We have to spend $X amount by the end of next week!”

      Naturally, I was confused. Wouldn’t the company be pleased that we were saving that money?

      But then he explained – if we don’t spend all the money that the higher-ups had allotted to our department, they would think we didn’t need it, and would lower next year’s budget, accordingly, but we were in the middle of interviewing to hire multiple candidates next year, and would definitely need the full budget amount at that time!

      So, I went on a Christmas shopping spree for office supplies. It was fun placing the order, but unpacking it… Ugh. I wish I could have placed an order for more shelf space.

      Now, a personal budget is not going to be this way. You don’t allow yourself less money in 2018, just because you saved money in 2017, and “you don’t need it.” But businesses will do that. you, on the other hand, on a personal basis, can take whatever you didn’t spend, and put it in the “I EARNED this special treat!” fund, because by saving it, you did earn it.

  34. Defining the budgets means that you also get to define what happens to a budget that you do not spend out (if you want).

    For the charitable budget, I recommend spending the entire unspent balance of it, on a single charity, at the end of the year. Diversifying investments is something you do to hedge against failure – since you’re expecting no deliverable return on the charity, you don’t need to. Then during the year, whenever you are solicited for a contribution, you can do a comparison, “do I find this charitable opportunity more compelling than giving it to ?” and then the answer can be a clean yes or no – you are not depriving yourself of anything when you make that choice, and you don’t need to feel stingy or guilty.

    It’s harder to implement a “must spend” amount in budgets for other things, but if that’s the hack you need to spend enough, coming up with an underspend penalty that’s a good fit for your goals is very powerful – for the clothing example, you could plausibly have “must spend X amount on clothing or stock up with 25 pairs each of full price underwear and socks.”

  35. “Competitive and performative thrift like this is a habit that’s often born in real deprivation and fight for survival. It’s cultural, it’s tied to class, it’s generational (meaning the attitude can be handed down in families even if the current generation is much more prosperous), it doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t go away overnight. ”

    I call myself a second-generation Depression baby. My father was so affected by his experience as a child during the Great Depression that the issue of money was painful and anxiety-ridden all my childhood. It took me years to unwrap the mess, and I still don’t have an entirely healthy relationship with money.

    I think I didn’t really start coming to grips with the emotional baggage carried by money until I read Russell Baker’s book “Growing Up,” which gave me insight into my father and what he went through, and I realized that his “stinginess” was deeply rooted in fear.

    It’s only within the last 10 years that I’ve been able to rid myself of the specter of pushing a shopping cart on the street.

    LW, hang in there. You deserve all the good things and the naysayers need to STFU. As the Captain said, it can be a long journey, but you can do it.

    1. That was my parents, especially my mother. When I bought my first condo years ago, it was modestly priced and not all that big (800 sq. ft), but she walked around looking disapproving and saying “Do you really need all this space just for yourself?” I too grew up thinking that it was self indulgent to spend money on myself purely because I wanted something. Her version of thrift didn’t make any sense or really save any money, I suppose that’s what finally broke me of the extreme thrift habit.

  36. I wanted to comment on this:

    You: :internally freaking out and feeling weird about a purchase:

    Also you: “Wait a second. I planned for this. It’s in my budget.”

    As a boss of a department who hires freelancers for crunch times, i used to really struggle with spending the money, etc.

    I invented a slightly elaborate Excel workbook that had a page for each month, and let me plug in the people and hours I *planned* to hire for the months still to come, and that added up and multiplied hours, etc., and then the cover sheet tracked that against projections and year-end, etc.

    I spent a good bit of time inventing the thing, and tweaking it.
    But what I had was a major, major tool for being able to say, “Look, I’m fitting right in with the plan,” or “yikes, that’s a little high–can I change my spending plan for next month? Oh look, yes, I see that I can get by with one fewer person next month, and look–that means I’ll be right back on track.”

    Having something that concrete, that nuts-and-bolts, that literal, provided me with ENORMOUS calm and confidence.

    So, don’t just talk at yourself. Do some math. Having the proof right in front of you will affect how you feel. Science can too boost emotions!

    Also: I have a stash of cash. I don’t ever spend it. But having it there means that I can say, “It’s OK to buy that semi-splurgy thing. Because if it damages my cash flow, I can just take it out of the stash.” I never do–but I find that the stash serves as “permission slip” to spend money.

    I’m never in real trouble, because I don’t overspend–but when i find myself hesitating over something that intellectually I know is silly to hesitate over, I tell myself, “If I run into cash flow trouble, I can just take it out of the stash.”

    Maybe you can invent something like that for yourself.

  37. I am also the kind of person who was hit over the head to Save, Save, Save my whole life so that I feel guilty about spending on myself. I found the book I Will Teach You to Be Rich really helpful in changing my perspective (though I still struggle to spend on myself). The author redefines “rich” from hoarding money for the sake of having money (above and beyond an emergency fund, retirement savings, etc.) to thinking about what you value and want to have in your life. He says, yeah, you can save a lot of money if you skip buying a latte at Starbucks every day, but if enjoying a latte every morning is part of a rich life for you, then why would you do that? Just to appease the Gods of Frugality? If you have a specific goal in mind (like, “I am saving for this item or this vacation that costs X amount”) and saving up your coffee money is going to help you hit that goal, then great, but if it’s just because you feel guilty spending money you could be saving, you’re missing out on creating for yourself the kind of life you want.

    1. THIS.

      My mother was of the “save money for the sake of saving money” mindset. We were mever supposed to enjoy any if it, apparently. I don’t subscribe to that philosophy at all.(Plenty in my 401(K) and still will get a pension – thank you, SPEEA – so I don’t need to worry too much anyway.)

    2. Yes! My husband would complain about our morning coffee stop (“oh, we could have this at home for so much less!”) because he was convinced that we were overspending. I then pointed out that I actually factor our $2.10 daily purchase into our food budget. Once he realized that I had budgeted this into our spending he stopped complaining. He’s actually told me that it’s his favorite part of our morning routine and now that pumpkin spice is back? He’s in heaven. 🙂

    3. Oh, I like this a lot.

      I’m a little like LW, minus the friends/family that comment on budgets–I grew up in a family that was pretty close to the line at times, and I just have this mental block that makes it really hard for me to “waste” money unless I have a clearly defined reason to spend it. (I MUST have shoes for work, for example, so I can allow myself to buy new black flats when my old pair wear out. I MUST have lunch and I didn’t bring one today, so I can go to the sandwich shop and buy something.) I have this terrible fear that I’m going to accidentally spend all of my money and be destitute, or something. And this is really hard for me to overcome, even though I have a stable job now and have more savings than I ever thought would be possible for me. (which is so exciting! My savings account has MONEY in it, you guys!! Enough that I could be OK if I got laid off again!!!)

      What’s really helped me is basically the same thing you’re mentioning (and I wanna check out that book)… thinking about the enjoyment I’m going to get out of eating at this restaurant or splurging on this phone case. I don’t have a strict budget, but I know I’ve got enough left after bills and savings to pay for it. I know that my savings are solid and I’ve prepared for the future–so there’s nothing wrong with enjoying right now! Every time the monster of “but you’re not being thrifty” rears up, I clobber it back down with “but I don’t NEED to be thrifty, I’ve already taken care of that”.

      It’s a work in progress. But I’m getting better about it. I’m not a dragon; I don’t want to hoard money just to sit on it.

  38. With my personal Scrooges, I find these arguments sometimes work;

    A reality check – “Prices have gone up. This is what things cost now”, as mentioned in several comments above – but stated very firmly.

    Quality – “Yeah, I tried buying [cheap item], but it [broke/fell apart/didn’t work], and I kept having to replace it/them, so now I invest in items that last longer so I don’t have to replace them so often” (a la Terry Pratchett’s “Boots” theory of wealth and inequality, )

    Free Time – “I value my time at [££/hour], and [going to another store/queueing up/making it myself] would take [time] and cost me [£amount], so it would actually cost me more than I’d save” (because my Scrooges ALWAYS ignore the free time cost, when honestly, free time is probably the thing I value most of all.)

    Also, it realy helps if you’re prepared to shut a conversation down really pointedly and assertively. (For me, this included being mentally and physically prepared to pick my things up and walk out when one Scrooge wouldn’t stop scrooging at me. That worked for them, but another Scrooge pushed back with passive-aggressive sulking and guilt-tripping, so be prepared for having to ignore a Scrooge who’s suddenly doing their best impression of Nobody Loves Me Teen meets Nun Who Is Disappointed In You meets Saint Being Martyred Upside Down.)

    For the ever-circling anxiety, would journalling help you? I find writing Morning Pages helps me get the anxiety out of the way for the day – it takes me about 30 to 45 mins to write three pages of stream-of-consciousnes free-floating anxiety and nonsense – and then I’ve written my three pages, and I’m done. (Julia Cameron advised not looking at the pages again or keeping them. Though I do keep the pages, and I take some items and add them to my to-do list)

    Also, I have written love letters to my decisions before. “These are the reasons why this was a good idea” or “this is why I love it, despite or because of it being impractical and extravagant, and just looking at it/remebering it makes me happy” and especially “Becuase ‘It makes me happy’ is reason enough” When the anxieety kicks in, I can read one of the love letters, and it helps me a bit.

    1. Vimes’ Economic Theory of Boots is the only thing that has made me spend sensibly, added to my mother’s rule of “Buy good sh*t but in the sale”, e.g. my last literal pair of boots: yes they were £75, but they will last waaaay longer than the £40 pair *and* they were £75 down from £120.

      1. There’s also the ROI–return on investment.

        I have several items that I bought about which I say, “it was the best $40 I ever spent.”

        Because I wore them over and over.

        Or sometimes, “It was the best $450 I ever spent,” because I got to spend time with my cousin before he died. In this case, the return on investment was a one-time thing, but BOY was it valuable.

        So if our OP can reinforce some of her previous spending decisions by seeing exactly what she got for them, what the “return on investment” was–that might help her with the anxiety.

      2. Exactly! When I was in high school, I had a breakout on my chin that just would not heal. My mom couldn’t afford a dermatologist, so a friend of hers recommended that she buy me the basic face soap from Clinique from one of the department stores at the mall. She did it, and it worked. But OMFG, my mother could not stop complaining about the cost of that bar of soap. It was almost 30 years ago, and I still remember that that bar of soap cost $8 because she brought it up every 4-6 months for TEN YEARS (no hyperbole.) Never mind that the soap cost less than a fraction of the cost of an office visit to a dermatologist. Nevermind that she had no problem spending $2-3 for other kinds of soap for a bar that was 1/3 the size of the one she complained about and didn’t last a fraction of the time that it lasted. (No joke–I had that Clinique soap for over 5 years. it was only 2/3 gone when I lost it in one of my post-college moves.) She couldn’t get over “how expensive” the soap was, but based on how much use I got out of it, it was cheap!

        1. not just how many times you used it, but what fundmental benefit you got out of it.

          You can’t really put a price on the relief of having that breakout clear up, and not return!

      3. My father taught me an old Chinese saying: Cheap is not cheap. Expensive is not expensive.

        Basically, if you buy cheap stuff, you’ll buy it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over… but you’ll only buy the expensive thing once.

          1. Yay! My father’s wisdom lives on, not just in his own family.

            His other motto was “What have we learned from this?” Food burnt to a crisp? Well, I learned to set a timer. A learning experience is not wasted, and we can be grateful for them, even if we don’t want to eat the charred veggies.

      4. The Vimes Theory of Boots has done wonders for my marriage. My husband is naturally thrifty. (Does his mother say “how much did THAT cost?” Oh, yes.) But, once he got the idea of spending for quality, we stopped dribbling money out of our budget on replacing things over and over.

          1. Yeah, my parents said this…which was great for some things (quality winter boots and coats! Good appliances! Etc) but not so much for others (that took you need for ONE project? It doesn’t need to be high-end if you can’t even re-sell it after, it’s just gonna be expensive garage clutter). The trick is determining what is worth spending for quality.

      5. My parents taught something similar before I ever heard of Pratchett’s theory (perhaps even before he wrote it). I still have items of clothing from when I was a teen because of this, and I’m 32. My hiking boots were on sale, $100 off at $50, and they’re in amazing shape despite that I have worn them everywhere. There’s a coat I have that Mom won’t let me forget (because it wasn’t in her size and it’s gorgeous — so the fact that it still fits is in the “You lucky….” type that’s become a family joke), which was originally $140 on sale for $40. I have a pair of goth-y boots that she bought me when I was 21 in 2005 that… still fit… and still have amazing tread.

        My partner’s eldest grew up mostly in poverty, and we were at a place where we could afford it and she needed good boots for ankle support. She found ones on Amazon that were $20. I looked at them and they were okay quality, because Amazon had them on sale, but I insisted that we get the $100 pair on sale instead. Footwear and coats are probably the two major items my family does NOT skimp on, because those in particular can have health consequences.

        I never managed to teach my ex-partner that, though. They’re still buying a new pair of $10 Walmart shoes every few months, and their feet are in legit terrible shape. Despite making 6 figures and definitely being able to afford it. :-\

        1. One time in my life, I found a pair of $10 shoes with the perfect arches for my feet. (And average durability.) I wish I went back and bought 20.

          Other than that, I would literally rather eat beans and brown rice for two weeks than hurt my back over some crappy shoes.

    2. We just had a fun go-around with this in my family.

      Long story short – I had an unexpected housing fiasco that also required new furniture. My dad was willing to spring for some of it (two loft beds with desk and storage underneath for the two kids, courtesy of IKEA) and did a lot of grumbling about how “at THAT cost” it should’ve been faster to put together.

      Now. Before housing fiasco, I had been planning on buying a loft for at least FirstKid anyway, so I had researched a number of options and knew that the one at IKEA was BY FAR the cheapest comparable thing. And Spouse (who heard most of the grumbling) was aware and ended up saying, “Yes, and instead, you could’ve bought it from Pottery Barn and had them deliver and set it up for you – for four times the cost of this, IF you got it on sale, and five times if not.”

      That was the last we heard of IKEA being too expensive for its difficulty. Funny that.

  39. Interesting as often it’s the other way where people don’t compute the difference between actual wage living expenses and what the person can afford. Eg person advises friends only ordering small cheap dish and don’t want to participate in splitting cost of all equally as can’t afford much as living expenses take up most of wage. End of meal person reiterates and get a
    drumming for “being stingy”. Persons but I made this clear at the beginning, I ordered a cheap meal as I only have x left over after living and travel costs. Friends do not compute but conure to pressure for person so subsidise everyone else.

    1. this is the flips side of what the LW wrote about. I sympathies with both problems. Competitive thrifting can get toxic, but pressuring people to all spend in the same way irrespective of budget is a shitty way to be a friend. Get comfortable with phrases like, “I ordered what I could afford. I can’t afford x, y, z.” Learning to assert ones self with “it’s not in my budget” is just as important a life skill as saying “it’s in my budget.” If you are already really damned clear that you can’t afford to do exactly as they do/split bills where people didn’t order at similar price points and they still give you a hard time, they are shitty friends.

  40. This was my life. “It’s in my budget” SAVED ME.

    Here’s a phone call I had with my mom a few years ago, shortly after both of us had finally become financially stable for basically the first time in either of our lives, and before I really knew how to deal with it:

    Mom: “Your birthday was a month ago and you still haven’t told me what you want. What do you want for your birthday?”
    Me: “Oh I dunnooooo………the only things I want are so cheap I can buy them for myself, or so expensive they seem ridiculous.”
    Mom: “Stop thinking about how much it costs and tell me a thing that you want.”
    Me: “Maybe woolen long johns from LL Bean? But they’re, like, $xx. That’s so much for long johns.”
    Mom: “But everything from LL Bean is excellent quality and worth it and this is a present. We’ll get you woolen long johns.”
    Me: “I guess so. It seems frivolous though. I have dollar store long johns and they’re fine.”

    I’ve worn those long johns to many a winter protest and lemme tell you, they can’t be beat.

    1. Yes! Go Mom! My dad made Christmas and birthdays easier when I got old enough to know about money by saying, “I budget a hundred dollars for your birthday and a hundred for Christmas. When you become an adult this will go down unless I’m able or want to splurge, but when you’re asking for things for Christmas I’m going to spend about a hundred dollars.” So I knew if what I was asking for was too expensive or not expensive enough. I also like to give options when they ask what I want, “I’ve had my eye on (expensive thing) for a while but I’m also really into (not as expensive thing) too and would love some of that stuff. ” So if they choose the expensive thing, not my fault because they had options.

      1. Yeah! I love being given options when I ask what someone wants (and LOVE registries. Seriously, bless them).

        But my mom, for how great she was at training me to ask for gifts, is still in the habit of “Anything you make, I’ll love.” First of all, I know this to be false after finding several of my mediocre but painstakingly crafted paintings from high school/college in their attic; and second of all, now that I have a career I do have money and no longer have time. The time = money thing is super real.

        Fortunately, as a family we’re migrating towards just donating to the ACLU for every birthday and holiday.

      2. My family does something similar – at Christmas we all pull names out of a hat and have a $50 limit. We also all have pinterest pages so we can get inspiration for gift ideas the person will actually like. We can all enjoy Christmas knowing that we didn’t overspend, nobody is stressing about money, and we’re likely all giving something that will excite the other person. It is the best.

        1. Just about everyone I know – except those in super-tiny families – have a “hat and limit” policy for holiday gifts for adults. Everyone is happy with that policy – it saves on time, money, effort and angst. 10/10 would recommend!

          1. What was especially fun was we started it the year that my brother got married, so it was a cool way to welcome my sister-in-law to the family (I got her name). I got to put thought into what she’d like and want and would enjoy (and apparently was so close to the mark that I got her the same thing she got my brother for his birthday – 5 days before Christmas). I also got to introduce her to my “If you have to choose between the two, I would rather you have something you enjoy than something I picked out” philosophy of no-pressure gift returns. Thank goodness for Amazon and gift receipts.

  41. Oh goodness I feel this so hard. For the first time in my adult life I’m financially stable. I’m also getting married in 6 weeks. When we first started planning a year ago it was REALLY hard for me to break the thought pattern of “only buy the cheapest thing possible on clearance no matter what.” It’s still a little uncomfortable for me to pay for wedding-related things, even though we have have considerable savings designated for this purpose and will likely come in under budget. I eventually had to have a hard talk with myself and remind myself that I am a person with value who deserves nice things from time to time. I just hope I remember that after the wedding.

    This whole financial stability thing is new for me. It’s a struggle not to fall into old patterns the second there’s any kind of hiccup. Because of Hurricane Harvey gas prices in my area went up 30 cents/gallon overnight. Immediately I started thinking that I have to stop driving anywhere that’s not critically important for living. I wanted my fiance to stop driving too. It’s hard to remember that we can absorb this cost.

    OP, my wish for you is to be kind to yourself, whatever that means for you. Remember that you, too, are a person with value who deserves nice things, whether that’s a movie ticket bought online or a giant pile of books or new jeans or a fantastic meal.

  42. Can’t do much more then say I feel you LW.
    A good period of having very little to spend means I’m familiar with the jerkbrain insisting I don’t really need those new clothes, much less anything I want just because it’s nice to have. Luckily my financial situation has improved greatly, but getting that little voice to shut up and stop making me feel guilty is taking some work.
    Thank goodness my dad is the opposite of your parents. He’s literally told me to stop justifying everything I buy to him as my jerkbrain insisted I do. As long as I’m paying my bills and paying off my student loans, he isn’t going to ask for prices on my purchases.

    What helps for me if having a spending and a bills account along with my savings account.
    I know what I need for gasoline/insurance/taxes and other bills each month, and that amount plus a little extra is put into the bills account every month. That way at least I never have to worry that I’m spending money I might need for bills. It helps keep that nagging voice away.

    Good luck to you and jedi hugs if they are wanted.

  43. Maybe one way to handle the conversation with the parents is shifting the topic. When they ask how much something cost, follow
    “I got a good deal” with something like “You did a really good job of teaching me to bargain hunt and use my money wisely, so don’t worry about it! I’m living within my means and keeping out of debt, just like you do. How about that SUBJECT CHANGE, huh?” If they’re that frugal, they probably worry that “kids these days” spend more than they should, so reassuring them that you’re not like that might help. Or not, but worth a try?

    1. I have a different take on the subject change. Encourage them to reminisce.

      Not: What did shoes cost when you were my age? (Or use that only as a lead in.)
      Better: Tell me about your shoes when you were my age.
      Then if that throws them, be more specific: One pair for school, one for church, and barefoot in the summer for play? What did they look like? Saddle shoes? Never sandals? Were they warm enough? Did you buy them at a shoe store? What were the salesmen like? A funny looking measurement gadget that you stood on?

      Then just listen without pointing out the obvious differences on what shoes are like today.

      It works for everything. Did you share a room with your sister? Did you fight, or did you like it?

      It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard the stories before. Afterall, you’ve heard the bit about how the shoes cost too much before too. Just get things going about how much better or worse things used to be and listen impartially, though bored.

  44. My In-laws do the “we had a big breakfast, we don’t need lunch” thing but I tell them “I need 3 meals a day. I can make it quick, but I have to eat.”

    Or with the movies, if you have the STUBS loyalty program you don’t have to pay for the convenience fee.

  45. I say this as someone who had a severe eating disorder and has also struggled with perverse, self-punishing frugality: The way you talk about money sounds kind of similar to someone who grew up in a household with unhealthy ideas around eating, and who now has a bunch of friends who are compulsive dieters and bad-body-talkers, who is struggling with eating-disordered habits and trying to break free of them.

    So I want to offer some suggestions based on things that have helped me establish healthy eating habits and beating myself up for enjoying food:

    It sounds like you have trouble making purchases – that you experience a lot of anxiety and second-guessing – so why not make those purchases automatic whenever possible? Instead of buying a single ticket for a single night out, you may want to consider season tickets or a subscription. That way, you only have to take the leap one time. Then, once your membership-based treat is paid for, you will feel thrifty for making as much use of it as possible. Yoga studios, arts and crafts studios, spin classes, theater and symphony tickets: the list is long.

    If you experience special anxiety about food, what about a food-based subscription like a big gift certificate for yourself at a lunch place you constantly visit, a Groupon type thing that will prompt you with special deals, Hello Fresh, or one of those fresh produce farm subscription thingies? That way, you will be more likely to have something ready to go and less likely to have to “opt in” to eating.

    It sounds like your friends are exacerbating your feelings of anxiety around spending money, so you may want to widen your social circle. Look online for meetups and social activities that involve spending on treats: wine tastings, pub nights, movie nights, hikes, etc. People in attendance at events like this will be much less likely to harass you for buying tickets to said thing.

    Speaking of acquaintances, do you have friends who are not weird around spending money? If so, consider designating these people as Safe Friends to Talk About Money Stuff With, and keep them in your back pocket to give you “permission” for stuff like the new windbreaker you need.

    It might be a good idea to try to circumvent your personal anxiety around these decisions as much as possible by making them ahead of time. For lunch, for example, it might help too sit down and write out a tentative plan for a week or a month. It can be something as simple as “Wednesday: Soup Place.” That way, you can just refer back to the plan and you won’t constantly feel like you are deciding to eat or not eat.

  46. Oh, dear LW, much strength to you!

    I know first hand how hard it can be to get used to varying monetary situations: growing up relatively poor (which later turned out to be mostly due to the habits of a mother who had herself grown up in the middle of World War II and got used to being very frugal – inheriting her left me with lots of mixed feelings), then marrying a man whose skills were in high demand on the tech field, then divorcing as a student and going back to poverty again… It is never easy.

    You did not tell about it in your letter but for some reason I got a picture of a person who is used to monitoring their monetary situation and budgeting. Captain’s advice is, as usual, spot on – and I love the phrase: “It is in my budget”. It is a rare gem of a phrase and a great way to put a stop to anything one could find uncomfortable as it already includes the notion that you have actually thought about the purchase beforehand. Do not worry if you really have not – and I would advice you to also include your budget a bit of money for spontaneous delights, like a cup of coffee or tea with a friend you happend to meet out of the blue. To me the thought of skipping lunch altogether does sound very uncomfortable; I hope your inner account manager (the one in your thoughs) does not punish you for the purchase of food. It does sound tiresame and annoying that you have to defend your decision to eat to your friends.

    I have a strange quirk: I love accounting. My spouse has been joking to me that some day I will go to the nearest shop to buy big amounts of candy and buy each one separately just to get lots of receipts to later register to the program we use. Apparently there are many different free technical solutions available, if you are into that I advice to find out information about them beforehand because so far every program we have tried has had some clumsy solutions. If you are more into another forms of accounting that is great, too.

    I wonder whether you could explore your own feelings a bit. Does the guilt/shame appear especially after certain purchases – or in the company of certain friends? Is it worse when you are tired or hungry?

    I hope you do know – and it sounds like you do – that you are doing everything right and that there is no reason for any guilt or shame! If you are like me and desperately want a plush Deep One to keep company to your three plush Cthulhus, go ahead and get them. Things like geeky plushes, cups of chai latte (or coffee or tea…) and occasional pieces of cake (or cup cakes or whatever you enjoy) are meant for enjoyment, it just takes time to get adjusted to the thought that that is complitely all right. I wonder if you have ever caught yourself with feeling guilty for feeling guilty of buying something. Yes, I do that, too, sometimes.

    Take care of yourself! It will get better.

  47. ::jedi hugs:: LW, this sounds really upsetting and annoying and your friends and family are out of line for making these comments constantly. I hope you can work with them to change the dynamic.

    Captain Awkward is so right that adding fun things and non essentials into your budget really helps in feeling less guilty about spending on them. I am such a big fan of budgeting now, it reduces my stress so much. I got some money for my birthday, and while I did put some towards practical things like groceries and shoes, I also put a lot of it towards Nintendo games that I otherwise couldn’t have afforded, and I don’t feel guilty about it because it’s in my budget. 🙂

    And the different values thing is definitely a factor. I’m a lot like Mr Awkward, if I have the spoons for it I am much more willing to go that extra mile to save some money. It’s caused some awkward moments with friends sometimes. A couple of my close friends live near to me so whenever we’re out, the assumption is that we’ll travel home together. My default is to take the train, I mean I’ve paid $[exorbitant sum] for my train pass so I might as well use it. Quite often my friends will be all “oh let’s just split a cab!” which annoys me a little because I’m like why would I spend extra money on transport when I don’t have to? They value convenience and getting home sooner, I value not spending extra money because it will have to be taken away from a different category or goal. I know the ideal solution would just be they go in a taxi and I take the train, but because we live so close there’s kind of this pressure for the whole group to do the same thing, so either they’ll take the train with me even though they want to get home sooner, or I’ll give in and get a taxi but be annoyed that I have to take money from something else. Idk, maybe I should just budget money for the occasional taxi too.

  48. Re splurging. My parents didn’t believe in 2 piece swimsuits for small girls (“sexualising them”) by the time I was buying my own I was both larger-than-socially-mandated and conditioned into only one pieces being “appropriate”. I was 40(ish) before I bought my first 2-piece . The first time in it on the beach was TERRIFYING. & then the nervousness in coming out of the water afterwards before I could safely wrap myself in my towel!

    Breaking conditioning isn’t easy- but is totally fun. It’s fine to just do a little bit at a time. (After a while it gets less terrifying & reduces – a least for me- to a bit of a feeling of expandsion & widening of horizons that in itself is pleasantly enjoyable so that I am happy for a trace of the childhood conditioning to remain – just so I get this feeling when rebelling against it)

    1. Sorry – what I meant to say there was – if depending an extra $1.5 on a convenience you find totally worth it brings up these feelings of guilt/maybe-it’s-not -okay etc could you try reparametising them as “this is a what being mildly decadent feels like -isn’t it great?” And making that reframing of the tension part of the whole experience & something to be positively enjoyed? That’s what’s worked for me re the bikini thing.

  49. Just want to say I have experienced the performative thriftiness and it can get really weird. I’m not sure if it’s a reaction to poverty being stigmatized but it used to be extremely rampant among my group of friends, where it was almost the opposite – “bragging” about how little money you had, and also making underhanded comments to those you thought had more, and also people who *did* have more making excuses for it/denying it. I think this had something to do with the fact that most but not all of us were some variant of broke/poor when we all started hanging out and many still are. I admit to having been thrown a few times by someone constantly talking about how broke/poor they are, then finding out they had well-off parents who subsidized them. I know it’s all relative and having less than you were used to is still a very real change in circumstance, but I think some of it was talking about it to fit in/for approval.

    1. ” I admit to having been thrown a few times by someone constantly talking about how broke/poor they are, then finding out they had well-off parents who subsidized them.”

      Hmm, that might have been me at one point. I must have overheard my mum worrying about money at some point, because the recurring dreams of bringing back bags of treasure so we’d have lots of money had started by the time I was 6. Dad didn’t worry, but mum framed that as him being unreasonable, and sadly I believed her (she was very good at telling me scary stories of all the horrible things that would happen if she didn’t make sure we were doing things “right”).

      I’m not sure when I realised that there hadn’t ever been *real* money trouble; probably towards the end of university, once I’d heard enough different perspectives to get a sense of the bigger picture.

  50. I got a lot of this growing up. Both parents were raised in extreme poverty during the depression, so I get where they were coming from, but some of their thrift made no sense. Like buying the cheapest possible piece of furniture and then expecting it to last as if it were a well made item. Yet, they wouldn’t buy second hand, ever, even though they could have had much better quality for less.
    I suspect that LW has outgrown some of his/her friends. At one time they would have shared the values that he/she grew up with, but now there’s a chafing at the bit and an awareness that extreme thrift is no longer a fulfilling way to live.

    1. That’s actually how I grew up, too! Or my parents would accept any beat-up piece of crap furniture from a person that they barely knew, but a thrift store in a nice neighborhood was somehow gross and trashy.

  51. Fundamentally, whatever is driving the questions about how much you spend, such questions are a boundary violation and it’s none of their business. Try to remember that. I might have a different answer if you had children you were neglecting, or if you weren’t able to manage your money, but if neither of those things is true, it’s really no one’s business but your own. You are allowed to not answer them. “What a very odd question… How about those Yankees!”

  52. I really empathize with LW here. When I was little, my parents would fight constantly about money and put me in the middle of it. Basically, my mom wanted to spend money but we didn’t have much of it, so she’d spend money on *me*. Then my parents would fight about whether I really needed [new shoes, fancy pens for school, etc]. So yeah, I have a ton of guilt about spending money, especially on myself.

    I think the Captain has excellent advice here. One thing I’d emphasize that really helped me personally was the concept of “paying yourself first”. Basically, the moment I get a paycheck, a part of it is automatically deposited in savings (for retirement, emergencies, house fund, or whatever). Then I know that whatever money is leftover is mine without guilt, and all my needs are taken care of, and I’m not at risk of returning to the stressful conditions I grew up in.

  53. About things like ticket fees or convenience fees or delivery fees, I love “It’s worth that amount of money to me to not have to think about or worry about it.”

    1. Along those lines, I’ve learnt to be generous with parking meters. I used to pay only the minimum and every now and again be hit with a parking ticket; I still resent paying over the odds (three hours when I probably only need two), but every time I do this, I take a moment to appreciate that I am no longer worrying about parking tickets, and my life is So Much Better. (Plus, it probably works out the same in the long run.)

      What I’m saying is that you *can* train yourself to appreciate convenience/delivery fees. They are, very often, adult decisions. I recently attended a conference and left my car in a parking garage for two whole days. It cost nearly £20, but I did not spend money in parking fines, I did not have to get up at o’dark.30 to move the car from one place to another, I did not have to worry about getting ticketed, towed, or having my car damaged because I parked it in a dodgy place, and I did not spend £££ in petrol cruising around a strange and not overly car-friendly town looking for yet another parking space.
      So, so, worth it. It’s an act of self-love to trade time and worry for small sums of money. Practice this art.

    2. Plus, at least at my theater, that $1.50 fee means that we can choose our seats. It’s worth the $5 or so for the group of us to guarantee that we can sit together, in good seats, and not have to get there an hour before the movie to do so.

  54. When I was a kid, a Mars bar was 4pence. It’s typically now 60p. I do have to explain to relatives that just because X was cheap back in the day, it ain’t now.

  55. Oh wow, I feel this letter so hard! My mom is super thrifty because she had to be when we were growing up, but I got really lucky with college scholarships, etc., and have had considerably more disposable income than my parents ever since I left the house 9 years ago. When I was planning my wedding, the biggest fight I had with my mom was when I wanted a candy table for my guests and my mom was like “that’s too expensive, why not wrap three mints in a square of tulle.” And I responded that I liked the idea of giving my guests choices so they could choose things they like, and she told me I was “treating my wedding like I had money to burn.” I was so hurt! We had a modest wedding budget and stayed well within it, but it still wasn’t thrifty enough for her. What I’ve learned since then in relating to my mom is to respect why she is the way she is. Poverty has a really significant emotional toll, and thriftiness was a way she learned to cope with it. I’ve also learned not to tell my mom how much I paid for stuff if I can avoid it, because it’s not a productive conversation. If I splurge on something, and she notices and asks how much it was, I respond with “You don’t want to know, but don’t worry, we’re still doing okay. [subject change]”

    1. There’s nothing I love more than a candy table at a wedding. Your mom’s comment was really mean.

      1. She didn’t mean it to be mean, I’m sure, she was imagining the financial stress it was cause her in my position. But it really hurt, I definitely cried when I put down the phone.

        1. Currently planning, have told parents NOTHING about wedding except city and vague timing. (We have sixteen months still, so more details would be premature and also I’m pretty sure there’s going to be some ridiculous parental crap regardless and I’d prefer to avoid it as long as I can, since it’s not going to make any difference to our plans.)

  56. In conversations with a few friends, I also find that spending habits are very context-sensitive. Example: If we’re on vacation, I’m totally willing to spend $xxx on dinner out, but at home in the grocery store I’m like “these other beans are only $.79 per can even though they are the off-brand and all the cans are dented maybe we should try them?” A friend who hates driving long distances says she always makes a point to stop and get a treat every couple of hours. For her, “a treat” is probably a national-brand soda that she could have just bought cheaper at the grocery store at home, packed into a cooler, and enjoyed whenever she wanted without stopping the car…but that’s not the point. For her, the point is that it breaks up the drive and gives her something to anticipate. It’s worth it to her, so she does it.

    Maybe part of the LW’s challenge with friends is that not everyone has the same context for the money they are spending? (And/or that context doesn’t mean the same thing to each person?) So, if LW is thinking “we are going to spend a fun day together and this is a rare event” and LW’s friend[s] are thinking “we’re just catching a movie, no big deal” then they are less willing to devote additional cash to the occasion?

  57. LW, I had a pattern a bit like the one you describe with your parents with one of my parents on a few limited, weird categories of spending. Breaking the cycle totally is the best solution, but when I was tired and didn’t want to assert boundaries aggressively, I also found it really helpful to turn parental gasping about how x should cost y and not whatever I paid back on them as an offer of actual, useful, concrete information. “Oh, you know where to get x for y [under my requirements, i.e. in my area/size/whatever]? Please give me the name of the place, I would love to pay less.” I found it helpful to do this ONLY on items where they were just out of touch with reality that had an easy proof that they were wrong that I knew about in advance. After a few instances of being blatantly incorrect about the price of things, they no longer wanted to keep being obviously wrong.

    For wxample:

    1. *for example, parent was aghast at price I was preparing to pay for new laptop when mine broke. I asked them where they had seen a cheaper one, knowing that I had price shopped aggressively, and pulled up the vendor they named to show a price a hundred bucks more than my purchase price for a comparable machine. I haven’t had a single comment about my spending on electronics since.

  58. I really needed to read this, so thank you Captain and LW! My mother is in her mid seventies, and she and her two similarly-aged sisters love to shop for bargains, and lately this seems to be the highlight of their lives – it is ALL they talk about. The bargains include semi-dysfunctional Keurig cups in flavors that didn’t sell – for xmas last year I received a literal tower of Keurig coffee and tea boxes, it was taller than me. I super appreciate gift beverages always! BUT. HOW. MANY. KEURIG. CUPS. DO. YOU. NEED. AUNTIES? I can’t count how many cubby holes around the house are now filled with Keurig cups (among other bargains, because much hoarding). Snapple made some Diet Peach tea that wasn’t too good? (Made from the best stuff on earth, including aspartame?) So they bought like a pallet of it? NO ONE PERSON NEEDS A PALLET OF DIET PEACH ANYTHING IF NO ONE IS EVER GOING TO DRINK IT BECAUSE NO.

    (Ahem. If it’s in their budget, and it makes them happy, it makes them happy. I just need to get out of the shadow of the Tower of Tea.)

    My mother is very judge-y about my spending habits, which she never used to be. Fortunately, I deal with judge-y situations with sarcasm, so when she asks, inevitably, about a particular purchase (cherries, chocolate, pants I bought on clearance at TJMaxx because I couldn’t fit into my old work pants, etc., etc., all WITHIN MY BUDGET): “What did that cost, a million dollars?” I nod and say: “Yes, exactly one million.” Or, depending on my snark level that day: “2.7 million, it was a rough day, I thought I deserved a treat.”

  59. Sort of echoing a lot of people here in the ‘omg, lw are you me’ sentiment, but … yeah.

    My mom is the one who never, ever, ever buys anything new and watches every single penny. On the one hand, I understand it and am somewhat grateful for it, because it meant that our family was never *broke*, and that when we really needed it, the money was there.

    However, now that I live alone and work a million hours (and more, hours where I’m working when the thrift shops are open), I simply don’t have the time to spend hours combing through every thrift store in the area for hours to save $2 on something I can pick up at Walmart when i get off at 2 am and be in and out in five minutes. And more, I don’t really want to spend that time or effort, especially the mental effort of trying to decide between ALL the things vs the more limited selection at a regular store. Plus the mental energy of having to deal with people around me rather than shopping at strange hours when there’s basically no one else in the store.

    I feel guilt about it a LOT, and I feel like I’m constantly fending off judgment about how and where and why I spend my money, but I try and keep reminding myself that I’m paying that extra to have valuable time and valuable energy, and that I got those things maybe not because I *needed* them, but because they in some way made my life better (happier, easier, more enjoyable, whatever).

    This is all complicated by the fact that I still don’t have a lot of money, so that’s stressful, and I have a history from when I was a teenager of spending really poorly because of mania and resentment over never being allowed to have anything that was actually new and unused. My mom’s attempts to fix that problem where … pretty horrific and still have a major impact on me, and I’m hyper, hyper sensitive to anyone commenting on how I spend my money in any way.

    1. If you like good consignment shops for clothes, but getting there is an issue… The RealReal internet consignment is amazing. Read:Henry Beguelin boots, with no wear for less than a $100.00, delivered to my door with a drawstring dust bag.

    2. ” I don’t really want to spend that time or effort, especially the mental effort of trying to decide between ALL the things vs the more limited selection at a regular store.”

      YES. Sometimes I just don’t have the mental energy to deal with 40 different kinds of toothpaste!!

  60. Good luck, OP, money can be such an emotionally laden subject. It’s very easy for any free floating anxiety to pick on money as a focus. We’re all rooting for you.

  61. The framing I use with my in-laws when they badger me/us about things (not money, but, e.g., which restaurants/activities/driving routes we choose) is “Don’t worry, I have it under control.” In your case, this might look something like this:

    Parent: “How much did you pay for that shirt?”
    You: “Don’t worry, it was in my budget.”
    Parent: “But how much was it?”
    You: “Oh, really, don’t worry about it, it was in my budget.”
    Parent: “But how much was it?”
    You: “It was in my budget, and that’s what matters.”

    I mean, how much can they argue with “It was in my budget?”

    FYI, this took conversations with my in-laws from this:

    ILs: “Where are you going for dinner?”
    Us: “Tony’s Pizza.”
    ILs: “Oh, you don’t want to go *there*, why don’t you go to our favorite restaurant?”
    Us: “Because we want pizza. We want Tony’s pizza.”
    ILs: “But it isn’t very good, our choice is so much better – you should go there!”
    etc. etc. until we left for Tony’s.

    to this:
    ILs: “Where are you going for dinner?”
    Us: “Don’t worry, we have a plan!”
    ILs: “But where are you going?”
    Us: “So kind of you to worry, but we have it covered!”
    and then they just kind of… stop asking because they don’t get any traction in the conversation.

  62. I grew up poor (trailer park poor) with a great-grandmother who was a teenager during the Depression, and who had her kids afterward. My great-grandmother liked nice things. Not overly extravagant, but she bought the clothes she liked (Lane Bryant from the catalog only, not the store!), had nice things in her house, etc.

    My grandparents and parents did the thing where they were frugal to the point of ridiculousness. My mother never wanted to work, so my family really struggled (and no, having an SAHM didn’t benefit us in any way, she is mentally ill and was an awful parent and lazy to boot, so we basically lived on a shitty budget without the benefits of a real at-home parent). My mother would buy clothes off of the Walmart clearance rack that didn’t fit us because they cost $2, yet she wouldn’t go to the Goodwill where we could get nicer things for the same price. She would buy us clothes several sizes too big so we would “grow into them”.

    As a result, I buy myself nice things but I’m also cheap AF. Booth regularly encourages me to do things like use Instacart and get a housekeeper, and it’s made our lives better. (He’s not one of those dudes who doesn’t pitch in, BTW, he just wanted our life to be simpler and more time spent together enjoying ourselves.)

    My advice is to chat with your friends. If they really don’t want to or can’t pay the $1.50 to reserve tickets online, you can’t go to new release movies with them, assuming that you have a reserved seating theater. I have friends who I have season tickets to a sports team with, and friends that I can do things like an Escape Room with, and other friends who I meet for a beer and that’s OK.

  63. I can so identify with this! I’m not entirely sure where it came from, because my family was pretty blasé about spending money 85% of the time, but I guess the other 15% of times really rubbed off on me. What exactly that 15% is is a bit of a blind spot for me (maybe times where they insisted on reusing old stuff or critiquing my money-spending?), so I’m trying to figure it out and repair it in therapy and with the help of my partner.

    Also, that was an awesome podcast episode, and I can’t wait for part 2! As someone who loves advice columns, you may have just turned me on to a new favourite podcast, so thanks, Cap! ❤

  64. Not sure if this will be helpful for you, but one thing that’s worked for me is to reframe costs in terms of what I make per hour. So for example if you make $50k/year working 50 weeks/year and 40 hours/week, that’s $25/hour. So (for this example) I would only worry about the cost if:

    1. It’s fun for me, in some way
    2. It’s cost effective, in the sense that spending my time thinking about this is worth more than I make per hour.

    For example, going to an extra store to get the cheaper shirts would save me $20, but cost me an hour of time driving there, shopping, and driving back. Since I don’t save more than I make per hour I should just only do that if it would be FUN cause it’s not worth the money.

    Doing this results in doing something like what the Captain said, budgeting for everything. Then you wind up only ruminating on how to save money for the BIG things (cars, housing). Spending an hour trying to save $1.50 had better damn well be fun cause it’s certainly not cost effective.

    Hope this helps. TL;DR – Figure out your hourly wage then only worry if it’s worth your time, or fun.

  65. The captain is spot on here; competitive frugality is absolutely a weird cultural artifact of living in straitened circumstances. One script that worked in my family is “adult expenses are on a different scale.” My younger sister was trying to insist that the $17 I had just spent on a pair of nice canvas deck shoes from the Lands End outlet store constituted a lot of money. It turned into a great conversation with my sister and mom (a formidably thrifty person) about how those few dollars I might save by getting an even cheaper, store brand pair wouldn’t go very far toward adult expenses such as rent and textbooks. My mom compared it to her putting in great effort to save a few cents on each meal, that ultimately doesn’t affect her finances that much because food isn’t really the thing draining her budget.

  66. Ugh. I feel you, LW. I grew up super broke, single mom, living in poverty, etc. I now am in a field that makes me a middle class income. And I have a husband who has a middle class income as well. (With these salaries, we’d be upper middle class anywhere but the Bay Area)

    And I still have anxiety when purchasing something I ‘want’ but don’t need. Sometimes, it manifests physically and I get a headache. I have literally broken down crying in the grocery store.

    I am by no means anywhere near to healthy in my relationship with money, but I am getting there. What helps me is to occasionally just look at my bank account. Just go online, look at all the money I have saved up for a rainy day or twelve. Seeing that literal number really helps me put my purchases in perspective – That $25 shirt will not break me. I’m learning to trust that I’m frugal enough never to go overboard, and that I will get enjoyment out of that $25, so I can go ahead and buy the shirt.

    It may not help you, but that visual reminder helps me a lot.

    It is a process. I still occasionally fill my online shopping cart with adorable clothes and then leave them there after I see the price and get anxious. But I’m getting better – I don’t flinch at going to the movies any more, whereas never mind the online purchase fee, the 10-12$ for a movie made me stressed.

    It definitely requires self-reflection and a lot of social navigating. But if I can do it, you can do it! Good luck LW!

    1. Fistbump of solidarity – I sometimes panic over extra costs, but I am getting better at it. (And even if you’re poor, panicking does not help…)

  67. Just a silly little script we pass around in my immediate family: “They said I was so pretty, they gave it to me for free!” It’s the go-to response when the cost is asked (usually for how much you spent on the other person, but it can apply to things you bought yourself.) Bonus points if the story gets more outlandish the more they ask.

    Grandma: What did you spend?
    Me: They said I was so pretty they gave it to me for free!
    Grandma: No, really, how much!
    Me; I told you, and then the sales clerk proposed! I told him to get in line with my other gentlemen callers…

    It has the advantage of being a clear “we’re not discussing this” without being a lie or making things heavy.

  68. LW, I can so relate to this! My parents (and grandparents) never had a lot of money, so everyone in my family is really thrifty and brought me up to be the same way. Their sacrifices to give me a better education and opportunities than they had paid off, because I now have a secure job with a good salary, and thanks to the thrifty values they instilled in me I also bought a home at a young age and am making good progress on the mortgage, and I don’t have any other loans or debts. (I should mention I’m also married, which is a real financial advantage, especially as my husband makes better money than I do.) We aren’t millionaires by any means; in many ways we live quite frugally, but we do think it’s worth spending a fair bit to save time/spoons.

    I used to feel so guilty about this, like paying for something I could do without is some kind of moral failing or makes me a sucker. But that’s nonsense! I find I can silence that internal monologue by thinking of my spending as choices to live my best life, as opposed to consequences of insufficient discipline. I don’t buy lunch at work because I’m too lazy to pack something the night before, I buy it because I choose to have a more relaxing evening routine and a fun break in my workday. This adds a lot more value to my life than the $8 I’d save. Now instead of focusing on all the money I’ve “wasted”, I can see what a pleasant life I’ve created for myself through these choices.

    And when someone else tries to act superior about spending vs thrift – not just showing a bit of discomfort/bitterness that they can’t afford something I can, but genuinely being a dick and making out that I’m WRONG to spend my money the way I do – I just get superior right back. I would never actually judge someone for how much money they make or how they choose to spend it (unless they’re donating to a puppy-kicking organisation), but if someone says “you’re a bad person because you spent this money instead of virtuously denying yourself like I do” my response is pretty much going to be “ah yes but I’m rich and fancy”. (If you don’t want to be as awful as me, a less snobby way to reverse-shame someone is “Eating lunch? Someone’s rich!” – “Nah, I’m just REALLY good at budgeting”. This is the response I use when someone tries to busy-shame me. How do I find the time for [activity a virtuous person should be too busy for]? Oh, I just have excellent time management skills.)

  69. One of my parents is extremely picky about money, and seems to have a compulsion to keep digging into my finances, tell me what I should be doing, etc. Fortunately they also want to be considerate and spend time with me, they’re just not that good at doing it when it comes to money, and talking about managing money seems to be their favorite “I am still your parent and have relevant expertise” topic.

    Approaches that have worked, which are similar to some of the Captain’s suggestions:

    1. Hard boundaries, and pulling back still further if there are problems. Is one fairly inocuous financial answer followed up by three more questions, prying ever further? I won’t talk about the basics any more. Criticize my purchases for being expensive? Next time I don’t show them. It seems pretty drastic, but it’s worked, and I now get compliments about my clothes instead of criticisms about prices that kill my enjoyment.

    2. “I don’t remember.” Really, I don’t remember how much my monthly power bill is when asked out-of-the-blue, because I have a mentally demanding job, and I remember how much the regular bills cost for only as long as it takes to pay them. The budget worked out (or was tweaked), The End. Having the budget is very good at enabling my expenses to not prey on my mind when they don’t need to, and efforts to dig into the budget are rejected (see 1).

    3. “My time is worth more than that.” This worked particularly well on my parent, who is very proud of my career. It functions both as a justification (yes this tax software cost $X, but my consulting rate is $4X per hour so it’s actually cheaper than my own labour) and as a way to divert parental concern that I wasn’t taught thriftiness well enough into parental pride that I’m thriving and they’ve given me a far better start than they got.

    4. Find something else that this person can give me advice about. Sometimes this is a different aspect of finances, just not the day-to-day ones that I find prying and judgemental. Sometime’s it’s gardening. When someone’s burning to share their expertise, it can be useful to divert that to something that’s safe for you to have them give you advice on.

  70. I feel this so hard – I struggle to spend money on myself, because of the circumstances I was raised in.
    The last time my mother and I had a real argument, it was because I happily showed her a bag of real designer-name clothing that a friend generously gave me, expecting that she as a bargain hunter would be as thrilled as I was at such a windfall.
    Instead I got a long impassioned rant about how EXPENSIVE didn’t necessarily mean QUALITY and HER ‘label’ was Kmart and she really thought less of my friend for wasting her money like this.
    I think that Mum prides herself on teaching her kids thrift, and I am thrifty to a fault, and I think she felt genuinely hurt that I thought designer clothes were awesome considering that most of my clothes came from charity shops growing up.
    Anyway, we got past it. Although I was going to gift her an Armani scarf from that bag and I didn’t end up giving it to her in case it sparked the argument again!

  71. I definitely second the advice to make a budget. I started budgeting because I wasn’t living within my means, but an unexpected side effect was that I stopped feeling guilty about everything I bought. I’d even budgeted to a general “Treat Yo Self” category on top of regular expenses and necessities and it’s actually really nice to just buy something frivolous and feel like it’s not a problem. Because it isn’t a problem! I have a budget, I live within my means, but I also get to occasionally buy a cute ornament or whatever – and because it’s within budget I don’t sweat it. 🙂

    I would make categories for all the things you feel like you shouldn’t spend on, such as clothes, or movies or eating out or whatever – just work out what you think it’s reasonable to spend on those things each month and then don’t feel bad for spending it.

    And I’m sorry for the judgemental parents and friends. My mother says stuff like that whenever I buy a new phone. I don’t talk to her about money any more. :-/

    1. Professional budget coaches insist you create a “leisure” and “indulgence” category. I know, bcs my folks filed for bankruptcy when I was a kid, and my mom and dad were suddenly, “we all have to go out for dinner as a family to spend our leisure money.”

  72. There’s a saying in computer software development, “you can have it fast, you can have it cheap, you can have good. Pick any two.”

    For me, spending money on something that will last generally ends up being worth it simply in investment terms. My ll bean flannel lined jeans are over 5 years old, and still going strong.

    I hope all the scripts and tips others have given bring you confidence in your interactions with your friends and family, but also with yourself.

  73. I am very thrifty by nurture & necessity, now a habit. I also hate shopping because apathy, sensory overload, too much tacky, too peopley, not enough spoons.

    As a result, I shop so rarely (beyond groceries) that I don’t have a realistic sense of what things cost. Everything seems shockingly overpriced, and I don’t feel confident of getting a good value. Most of the time, I wind up muttering my way out of the store with grandiose plans to sew/build/hack/forage something out of upcycled T-shirts, aluminum foil, and yard clippings.

    Which does not happen. So eventually I wind up forced to find something to solve an urgent issue, that is twice as expensive and half as good as the “overpriced” thing I rejected six months ago.

    But I’m not sure how to calibrate my expectations without forcing myself to go shop. Which, as I may have mentioned, I loathe doing. It’s not something I actively worry about, but it’s certainly an area of dissatisfaction.

    1. I haven’t shopped for years due to disability etc and because of that (plus an international move didn’t help?) I think stuff costs or should cost way less than it does.

      If I were going to try to calibrate my expectations snd were able to visit stores, maybe I would try (and I’m just making things up iff the top of my head, here, I hope something’s helpful) :

      – looking for one of those apps, I think they had them depending on where you live where you could like comparison shop (maybe it was just for groceries though??) but looking through that could help me figure out stuff in a non-stressful environment
      – if I had a friend with a (very!) similar money outlook to mine re level of frugality, I might ask them if they were conformable sharing pricing with me of some of the items I was most interested in?
      – maybe when I’d shop like for non-groceries, I’d do it at different stores each time and take pictures of some prices for me to look at and compare later?
      – probably I’d also (or tbh, first because it seems less stressful to me) look at stats on inflation (and in my case country differences?) and just see if stats existed for my general area about the cost of items I was interested in, and try to do specific research before I had to buy a certain item.

      Apologies if this was rambling – best of luck, EllenS!

      1. Amazon and Ebay are both places that stock a very wide range of goods, and while one might feel slightly silly typing ‘socks’ into Amazon, it WILL give you an idea of what’s available and what kind of prices vendors charge. In a next step, I will google who is selling the type of thing I want in the price range I’m after; and only then will I walk into the store and actually try it on.

        I also schedule ’15 mins of looking at clothes’ on days when I have spoons and cap at an hour max: I can cope with walking through the clothes department, looking at things and walking away if I don’t see anything that catches my eye much better if I’m spreading it out and shop _before_ it becomes urgent.

        1. This! Some people browse IRL stores then buy on amazon, but the reverse practice of browsing amazon then figuring out which IRL stores have it is also a thing.
          If you’re in my situation, where the postal workers are lazy af and leave package slips without checking if you’re home, it comes down to going to the store for it vs going to the post office for it, so convenience isn’t much of a factor… but price and selection and the ability to try it on are!

          1. Urgh, places that sneak up without actually delivering…I swear I once woke up, checked the status of my package on my phone (“not delivered”), had a pee, and emerged from the bathroom to find a note stuck to my door and “attempted delivery” as the status update. Attempted my ass, they didn’t even knock!

          2. @whingedrinking: At least now we know what all those kids who knock on doors and run away grow up to be!

    2. When it comes to choice-fatigue and sensory overload in clothes-shopping, (assuming you are female-presenting, within ‘industry-standard’ size, and have conventional fashion tastes/needs) I highly recommend consignment stores and high-end second-hand stores. They’re smaller, so there’s less you have to go through. I have a few ones that I get most my work clothes from. It’s great because (good price aside) I just drop by every month or so and there’s about a few dozen items within my size of each thing, so I can just go: “business shirts – no, no, no, maybe, no, no. Slacks – don’t need more. Skirts – no, maybe, no, no, no.” Then try those ‘maybes’ on and see what I like – and with the lower price I agonize less about saying yes if I don’t 100% think it’s perfect.

      I go nuts if I’m trying to decide which nice cardigan is the best option out of the 500 available at Ye Olde Ann Banana Nordstrom Loft Talbot’s Crew – so this works out well for me.

      1. Same! And I love that a lot of thrift stores organize by color because it’s easier. I only wear 3-4 colors, so I just go to the section with my color, flick through looking for my size, and if they don’t have something I’ll wear I just leave. Finding a Goodwill that’s next to an expensive neighborhood usually means good quality clothes for cheap.

    3. I once was on a frugality diet while I paid off my credit cards. So I didn’t go in ANY stores for about 3 years.

      Then, I had to go to a big housewares store for work, and I got “defiant” and decided to wander around just looking (still couldn’t buy).
      That was when I realized how much research goes into shopping. I discovered products that would be useful that I hadn’t known existed; I got an idea of a price range for curtains; etc..

      The great thing about today is that there are online ways to research without ever leaving home.
      So, invest a little time at the websites of retailers that you like, or who you think have about the quality you want.
      You just have to do it a little in advance.

      And last of all: Think in ranges. It is NOT necessary for every pair of pants to be the cheapest possible price. It’s OK to spend somewhere in the range. Or to say, “These don’t fit well enough for me to pay at the top of the range.” Or, “well, I don’t love them, but they’re at the bottom of the range, so I’ll get them bcs then I’ve got ‘good enough’ and I’ve done it inexpensively.”

      Once you realize that a decent pair of pants can be around $65 to $85 at J.Crew, $69 to $80 at Lands End, and $35 to $70 at Macy’s, then you have your range.
      While you’re researching at whatever sites you want to use, ONLY look at full-price items, and ONLY look at styles you personally think you’d wear (so, when I was researching this one, I didn’t look at leggings, didn’t look at track pants, and didn’t look at flowy, flowery pants; I like the more tailored and in more conservative fabrics, and that did affect prices).

      You aren’t looking for anything definitive–you’re looking for, “what’s the basic range, most of the time?” And then your actual buying decision is, “how does this compare, and do I love it enough, or NEED it enough, to pay the higher part of the range?”

  74. I see spending money on treats for myself as budgeting for my mental health. I used to avoid spending on ANYTHING that wasn’t strictly necessary, and it was miserable. I felt like I could never, ever have anything I wanted.

    I eventually realized that I was much happier and more functional if I let myself have something I wanted every once in a while. At the time I realized that, I was pretty poor, so my treats were cheap, but they were there and they improved my life immensely. Now I’m lucky enough that I can afford to spend a bit more on myself. I’m grateful for that and am happy to budget the money to improve my quality of life.

  75. My ears went up around my ears at this, especially when you said it made you feel guilty. I was just picturing myself in this situation, and I’m very much afraid I would have put on my sad face, and answered, “You’re right. I’m not good enough and don’t deserve a $10 T-shirt or to each lunch or to see this movie I’ve scheduled my whole week around. Thanks for reminding me of that. I’m just going to go to my room and cry now.”

    And I would be SERIOUS! Not sarcastic. Not putting on an act to guilt-trip them. If I were in your shoes, that is how I would feel, for real.

    Please, LW, don’t feel that way. You deserve the $10 t-shirts. You deserve lunch. You deserve some entertainment sometimes. You deserve to buy things, even if they aren’t at rock-bottom prices.

    AND, you deserve to buy a few luxuries, now and again. As the Captain says, put them in your budget. Maybe set aside $X per pay period specifically for “luxury items.” As in, you have a luxury budget, and you’re not saving for anything specific, but when you see it, you’ll know it, and you’ll have the money ready, in case you discover it while it’s on sale, or limited offer, or what-have-you.

    And tell these jerks that your money is YOUR money, just as you would tell The Food Police and Diet Patrol (FPDP) that your body is YOUR body, and they need not comment on it, because it makes you feel like they think you are stupid and worthless, and if they WANT you to feel stupid and worthless, then you want to avoid them, forever, and if they DON’T want to make you feel stupid and worthless, they need to join the Subject Change Olympics!

    1. THIS ^^ My mom used to make critical remarks about how other people spent their money (i.e., her older sister and her sister’s husband are huge horse people, own four horses, live on a farm, and spend a lot of money on horses because horses are ding danged expensive, but they also don’t have kids, live in a tiny old farmhouse, grow their own hay, and basically have arranged their life so that they can live the way they want to live) and my go-to script was this “They’re not asking you for money, are they? You’re not supporting them, are you? Then it’s fine.”

      That worked pretty well to shut her up, since my older brother DOES live at home and is supported by my parents and DOES make financial decisions that impact them (see: having to pay off his credit cards because he’s bought a ton of expensive computer or musical equipment and doesn’t have a job).

      Basically, the way I look at it, other people’s management of their money is none of my business until and unless it starts impacting me. And I HAVE had people in my life whose financial decisions DID impact me. Anyone else? Can do what they want with their money.

      1. I was thinking along similar lines.
        “How much did that cost you?”
        “Don’t worry, I didn’t cost *you* anything.”

        I think some people get caught in a trap of over personalizing other people’s purchases, so their imagination traps them in an anxiety spiral of “what if *I* bought that? Oh my, *I* can’t afford that. That will ruin me. I will be destitute!”

        For parents, reminding them that they aren’t paying for it might help. Breaking the mindset that “I’m the parent. I’m the one who pays.” Can be hard.

        With friends, I think it’s good to reassure them that they don’t have to keep up with the Joneses. A little reassurance that they are okay the way they are/their style is wonderful, unique, and personal may help there.

        1. My mom’s also made comments to me about how she’s just so gobsmacked that I spend money to go do things with my friends like take trips or go out to brunch, because she *never* did that – which is true, because AFAIK she’s never actually had any friends.

          My mantra for her is “just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”

          1. Stealing this mantra for use with my own mother. She doesn’t normally go in for financial discussions/judgements, but she takes it SO PERSONALLY when people do things that aren’t what she would have done, or make choices in their own lives that differ from her own.

  76. I just thought of a response to “someone’s rich!”

    “I sure am! I have someone who loves me and thinks I’m worth it, and who could ask for more?” No need to say out loud that the someone is yourself.

  77. I’m in a position where my finances allow some flexible spending, but I have voices in my head that preach great parsimony.

    One thing that has helped me relax about taking some chances with money: I have a line in my budget labeled “Mistakes”. I’m not obligated to spend it all, but it establishes an expectation that I should be doing some experiments and not all of them will pan out.

    So, for example, when I was thinking about dyeing my hair vivid colors and fretting about whether it would be a waste of money, I was able to say to myself, “If it turns out to be a waste, there’s money in the Mistakes budget to cover it.”

    I’m not always perfect at using this self-granted permission, but it has helped me.

    1. Oh wow. I’ve never heard of that and I am SO glad I now have -thank you!! I can see framing it in this way really working for me the next time husband and I re-do a budget.

    2. I think the default line in YNAB is “Things I forgot to budget for,” which I have thought was a nice way of saying “I screwed up, or had a curve ball or whatever, but look… IT’S IN THE DANG BUDGET!” I like your idea of experimenting though, which I don’t think the YNAB line gets at in the same way. (and just a note to a bunch of CA commenters a while back who shared their YNAB enthusiasm… I am a total convert!)

  78. Rather than reacting when friends go ‘But it’s not thrifty!’ at you, it might be better to nip it in the bud. CA has frequently espoused instituting ‘no body-talk’ / ‘no appearance-trashing’ rules among friend circles; could this also be done with money talk in yours?

    ‘Hey, guys, can we talk? I’ve been getting really stressed over money stuff recently, and the way I’ve decided to cope with that is to make a budget, stick to it, and then not obsess about my finances as I go about my day-to-day life. Can you help me with this by not asking what I paid for things and why, sharing thrifty tips/strategies unless I specifically ask, etc?’

    Things like lunch and movies are kind of an exception because when you do an activity as a group, your choices affect theirs and vice-versa. Ideas:

    With lunch, their options are:

    – They hang out, be pleasant company, and sip water while you eat. (I’ve done this for non-fasting reasons! It’s not inherently bad or shameful.)

    – Everybody packs a modest brown-bag lunch and y’all eat in the park.

    – Lunchtime is not together time.

    For movies, it might be better to pick your battles.

    – Movie outing 1: ‘I know the fee is a pain, but I’m looking forward to seeing *specific movie* with you guys at *specific time*, can we make that work?’

    – Movie outing 2: ‘Let’s meet at the theater at X time! If they still have tickets, we can go see X Movie, but if not we’ll just catch whatever’s playing.’

  79. “buying the bourgeois potatoes” is now going into my dictionary as the entry for “buying the thing rather than using the spoons and that’s okay”

  80. Ooh, I have a great story about this! Wife and I were visiting an (intrusive, critical, abusive and all-around terrible) elderly relative of hers, and had rented a car to do so. In a typical move, while driving him around in the car we rented just to see him, he asked how much the rental cost, with the obvious intent of giving us a hard time over it. I was so exhausted of fending off various jabs from him that I just pretended I didn’t hear. I had some plausible deniability as I could have been distracted by driving, but wfe (bless her!) kept up the pretense and also pretended she didn’t hear. Terrible relative made a cranky grumble of some kind in the back seat and never brought it up again. It was amazing.

  81. LW: I’m someone who is living on the dole in Australia, and I’m often where you are – finding it hard to justify spending any money at all, because no matter what I spend it on, I’m bound to get some random rando complaining I spent their “taxpayer dollars” on something frivolous and useless (like, for example, rent, food, power bills etc). (Just so happens this intersects in a wonderful way with years of careful programming from my family that Meg Does Not Deserve Nice Things, and basically gets right down to the bone with regards to where the definition of “Nice Things” starts). So I feel for you on this.

    What’s worked for me is basically embracing their discontent. Once you establish pleasing someone is impossible, dealing with their displeasure becomes a lot easier, because you realise you can be content to let them be discontent, and carry on with your life regardless. They’re not going to be pleased no matter what you do – so you can stop worrying about pleasing them, and get on with pleasing yourself.

    (It’s a variation on not trying to reason with the unreasonable).

    That said, if your brain is being a jerk!brain about it as well, any amount of money you spend on psychology costs will be worth it, trust me on this.

    1. And what a brutal climate it is to be on the dole in these parts. The way you’re dealing with it is just spot on. ❤️

    2. Would it help if I told you that Meg Absolutely Deserves Nice Things? Because I’m pretty sure Meg Does, In Fact, Deserve Nice Things.

    3. Depending on how confrontational you want to be, and how well-off they look, you might want to ask how much the government had to spend on their private health insurance. And their child’s private school education. And their negatively-geared investment property. And their baby bonus. And the capital gains tax exemption on their house. All of those things are things that the Australian government has chosen to spend money on, and none of them are means-tested.

      I haven’t been on the dole for a long time, and when I was it was a much more forgiving system, so all I can say is that you do deserve nice things and that being able to survive on that money requires budgeting skills that random assholes and politicians do not have. I desperately hope that the political climate changes, or that Australians do, so that one day bashing people in your position will no longer be okay.

      1. ETA: The old union song ‘Bread and Roses’ is written exactly for this reason. We can’t live on bread. We need roses too.

  82. Not a script suggestion, but a way to help you deal with the family and specific friends who are causing you “thriftxiety”: seek out and spend more time with other friends (and other family members?) who don’t share this attitude to money. Hang out with people who’ve grown up wealthy and never worried about money. Hang out with people who are super-wealthy now. Hang out with people whose jobs require them to dress very well, so they see nice clothes as a necessity. Hang out with people who run businesses and understand the importance of investing in what you need to achieve certain outcomes. Just spending time with different people, with different spending patterns, will stop you internalising the idea that super-thrift is “normal” and that you need to justify your own spending as a deviation from the norm. I don’t know if we’re allowed to share links on here, but Get Bullish has some great articles on helpful/unhelpful ways of thinking about money (written by someone who grew up poor and is now rich enough to own property in NYC). There’s a blog post with a reading list that might be a good place to start?

    1. I found this helped too – I didn’t seek her out because of her attitude about money but I have a friend who makes a similar amount of money to me, and who also likes to treat herself and buy the quality of life she wants and so I discuss money with her (because we both like talking about budgets and making colorful asthetically pleasing Excel spreadsheets) and it helps me to not feel bad about buying things. I don’t have those talks with friends that I know have a lot less money or are super thrifty because I know it will make me feel bad.

  83. Things I have learned the hard way: you are allowed to buy things for yourself. You are allowed to buy things you love if you can afford them. You are allowed to buy things that give you pleasure, that improve your quality of life, that will give you long-term benefits for an initial outlay, that give you peace of mind. You are allowed to buy the things you want, as well as the things you need. You are an adult who earns their own money; you do not owe it to anyone to live frugally, to make do with less, to shrink your life and your experience and your happiness in the service of an ideal you don’t subscribe to. You only owe it to yourself to live within your means, and to use the money that you earn to have a life worth living.

    You have people in your life who–perhaps for reasons they think are good–want to keep you small and frightened, like they are. Maybe they think that living this way will keep you safe. They probably believe that living this way keeps *them* safe. But in the absence of real financial hardship, living like this only creates and amplifies anxiety–and tells you over and over again that you don’t deserve pleasure or happiness or reward, that all you can hope for in this world is the barest minimum you can scrounge, maybe, sometimes, if you are lucky.

    This is not what we have jobs for, not what we give our time and labour and energy for. We give away a huge chunk of our lives because we hope that, in exchange, we will have peace from the fear of not having enough, that we will have some of the things that enrich us. We give away part of ourselves in exchange for having lives worth living.

    You are allowed to have a life that is, to you, worth living. You are allowed to pay for pleasure, for convenience, for luxury. And it is wrong for the people in your life to try to take that from you. There is no virtue in making do with less; there is no virtue in carving out the parts of you that might want more things you have. And there is no shame in wanting what you want–and none in having what you want, within the limits of what you can afford.

    You are allowed to be human, and to have a life that gives you satisfaction. And you are not obliged to let anyone else shame you out of that. ❤️

  84. One thing I found useful when I was in a similar place in life is to do a time = money calculation. How much time do I have to work to earn the money to buy this thing?

    The time = money calculation is often used as a thriftiness advice, with the assumption that once you realize how long you have to work you won’t want to buy the thing. But, since I’m fortunate enough to have a good job, I found it was the opposite.

    Once I started doing the math, I realized it takes me less time to earn the money to buy take-out than it would take me to prepare the same meal at home. The money saved by going to the other grocery store where the potatoes are on sale is only a fraction of the time it takes just to get to the other grocery store. Those boots with the price tag? Two days’ salary, and they’ll last me 10 years of regular wear.

      1. And, groceries don’t cost less if you have to buy a larger quantity than you’ll eat, and then you throw it away!

  85. My mom can absolutely afford nice things for herself but grew up in a very thrifty household and has dealt with similar self-guilt as you write in your letter.

    A script she’s told me she uses for herself is “Would I be happy spending $X on [thing] for [daughter]?” And if she would buy it for me (an adult who buys her own clothes now), she feels OK getting it for herself (example, a nice jacket – would Mom be happy buying a $100 jacket for me? If yes, then she can be happy spending that $100 on herself). Maybe you can adapt this for yourself. If $X is in your budget and you’d feel happy spending that on [beloved family member] or would consider it a good buy for [best friend], then you can be happy spending that on yourself.

    1. I’m a big fan of these sorts of “crutches.” See if you can find one like that for yourself!

      1. I’m a serious procrastinator, and one of my tricks is, “If someone I like walked into the room right now and said, ‘Hey, could you do this thing for me?’, would I do it?” If the answer is yes, I just remind myself: I’m in here, and I like me, and I’m asking me to do this.

        1. I need to write his down and stick it somewhere I would see it every day, thanks for sharing!

  86. Regarding the family part of this, my grandfather used to do something similar with presents: “How much did you pay for this? That’s a waste of money, I could’ve gotten it cheaper!”

    It might have been a result of money anxiety he had at a younger age, but it was really annoying at Christmas. If I recall correctly, my parents ended up having a talk with him, so that they could express out loud that he didn’t need to care what his presents cost, since he wasn’t paying for them, and the only appropriate thing to say was “thank you”. Anything else would just make the gift giver feel bad at a happy time. I don’t think he really meant to make anybody feel bad, so that talk actually got him to knock it off permanently.

    For family (depending on the family, of course– I’m assuming good-faith, unintentional money-bugging family here), it might be faster to just bring it up explicitly. You’re an adult, your parents have to trust that they raised you to be able to manage your own finances, and their constantly bringing up prices is stressing you out. The only appropriate thing to say in appreciation of a new shirt is something along the lines of, “New shirt? It looks nice,” and anything else just serves to make you feel bad.

    1. Ugggghhhh I feel this so hard. I wish someone like your parents would talk to my parents because they are Le Awful for receiving gifts. They used to grimace! They think they come from a kind place when they ask “How much did it cost? Really? Don’t get me anything next time.” I followed such a few times – cooked for them instead. And what did they do? Pouted and stomped and made passive-aggressive comments about how “no one loves me!”.

      Either response was hard to deal with. Nowadays I just send an e-card, which is what my dad had (eventually) suggested. He complained about that too, “did it cost money to make an account???”.

      Sometimes I want to scream: WHY does it seem like you’re trying to control how I spend MY money. Because that’s what it feels like.

      1. Ugh, this! I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I legit just have enough Stuff. I really don’t need any more things in my house, if there’s something I need I can afford to buy it, and while I like lovely surprises just like the next person, I’d rather get something perishable, like flowers or fancy candy, or an experience like a spa gift card, than a thing that I have to find space for. So when I say that I’d rather not get gifts for gift-giving occasions, I really mean it.

        It is super duper shitty to claim you don’t stuff and then pout when people honor your wishes!

        1. I want to thank you for this comment. I take things very literally sometimes (see my past horror of long hair care routines*) and if you said you didn’t want gifts I would think you didn’t want gifts. Now you would probably (and past people have been) be happy with the card but learning that perishable items might not be in that category blows my mind. I’ve previously understood the “I don’t need more THINGS!” argh! complaint but not equated it to giving things other than a card and maybe food. LOL

          *many long hair care routines say “Only brush wet hair with a wide-toothed comb” which meant for a while I literally never brushed it at all UNLESS it was wet and with a wide-toothed comb…

  87. Oh boy do I feel ya on the frugal-parents front! My Mom is like that about everything. I’ve internalized it so much that sometimes I I have to tell myself “I don’t need a reason to take a shower!”

    I’ve also been trying to learn not to bother trying to justify to her. If I get a new t-shirt at Target and she reminds me I could have gotten a t-shirt for $3 at the Salvation Army, I try to remember to say, “Huh. How about that.” and then just move on.

    I say Huh-how-about-that quite a lot, but I think I’m finally needing to less often.

  88. I read a book a few months ago by Jancee Dunn, “How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids” (full disclosure, I have neither kids nor a husband!) because I was going to recommend it to a friend and figured I should just read it.

    There was a chapter in the book about the issues she and her husband were having over money and budgeting after their daughter was born, and it had some really helpful insights. Basically, she and her husband had grown up with very different attitudes about money/treatment of money in their families, and they had different emotional attachments to money, having money, and spending money.

    So the fights about money were about money on one level, but about this emotional disconnect and attaching different meanings to money on another level, and that was what they actually had to work on before they could figure out the actual money part of the equation. I think that’s probably true of a lot of couples and families (my partner has some severe anxiety around money and things like making payments, which means that he used to just…not make payments on stuff even when he had the money, resulting in him wrecking his credit score).

    1. Ugh I was so guilty of the not making payments thing like your husband. I was scared to have the money not in my checking account. It took making a budget and getting in 10k worth of collective non-auto-loan debt to wake me up and say, “I need to just pay as much as possible to my debt even if it means the money isn’t in my savings because then I can be done with debt payments eventually and save without worrying.” So so hard. This is such a good article and commenting space for me right now.

      1. We’re not married, but we live together, and he had been putting off and putting off a doctor’s bill even though I knew he could pay it, and it went to collections, and finally I paid it (he paid me back) and we had a Serious Talk about why he just hadn’t paid the damn bill? He also had a car repo’d years before I knew him for the same reasons (had the money, never made the payments) and made a bunch of other stupid financial decisions, like taking out those high-interest payday loans.

        He’s got a lot of anxiety around paying bills and finances in general, and we had a discussion about it where I was like, having anxiety about stuff is totally okay and valid, and feeling this way is totally okay and valid, but regardless, these bills have to be paid, and if that means you turn the money over to me and I handle it, that’s what is going to happen, because just not paying the bill is not an option, so literally any course of action is okay as long as the end result is that the bill gets paid.

        The thing is, often fights about money are not really about money – it’s about this underlying emotional relationship with money and the meaning we’re investing it with. I’ve dated several people who used money as a form of control in a very specific way. I had two boyfriends who were also terrible with money, but in their case they would do stuff like spend all their money on booze right after payday, and then have to ask me for money for rent or to pick up the tab when we went out, or do things like agree to go on a trip they actually couldn’t pay for.

        In their case they were doing some serious magical thinking about money – like, money will just materialize when I need it, I’ll somehow be able to pick up another freelance job over the holidays when there are none, everything will just “work out,” ignoring the fact that “work out” meant being late on rent to their friends and having to ask me for money, etc., and it was also a way to control me, because if I didn’t give them money I was a horrible shallow gold-digger who only cared about money, and if I did then I wasn’t supposed to ask for it back or I was being a nag, or oh you can’t break up with me, I won’t repay you the money you loaned me.

        Anyway, that’s kind of a long way of saying that often issues about money are really issues about other, bigger stuff that needs to be figured out.

        1. Sorry I said husband before! I’m in a community where pretty much everyone is married and it just rolled off my lips!! Sorry!!! Thanks for the reply.

          1. Haha, no worries – we actually haven’t even been together that long, but we are living together, so this type of stuff comes up more frequently than it has in other relationships.

            I really did enjoy Jancee’s book, although I found it kind of irritating that some of it seemed to go back to the whole “men evolved to do X and Y, so you’ve just got to find a way to deal with it!” which I personally think is fucking baloney, evolution didn’t magically endow me with special Mess Cleaning Vision or something, but I did like how pragmatic she was about approaching the problem, and also how a lot of things we fight about are really about underlying issues, and until THOSE are addressed, you keep having the same fight over and over.

  89. Best wishes to the LW because this stuff is real and hard and very much a slow chipping away at everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.

  90. Everything has probably already been said in the comments, but Captain made 2 points that pinged for me:

    Performative thrift – I have seen than but never named it. YYYYEEEESSSSS.

    Baby steps. I grew up in a household where thrift was practiced. Single income, several kids, and we all had what we needed and some of what we wanted.
    Little sis grew up, became an accountant, and started saving for a house. AND sometimes bought fruit in the Expensive Store! And we were all BUT ITS EXPENSIVE. And she said, it’s just some fruit. And now she is a married CPA: double income, some kids, thrifty, and *oh gasp* sometimes splurges on the expensive stuff. Because she can. And the family has gotten used to it.

    Really, people get used to stuff. They can even get used to their relatives spending a bit more than they are used to.

  91. I’ve found that people that are always trying to “out thrifty” me are often prone to making judgemental comments in general. And lots of judginess drives me up the wall. An ex roommate was always advising me to go to a different grocery store, she said it was cheaper. But I preferred being able to walk to the grocery store instead of driving across town, dealing with a shitload of traffic, and wasting more of my limited free time in the process. Like Captain says different people value different things. I prefer not to assume someone is right or wrong, unless they share finances with me and their choice of potatoes/movie tickets/blue jeans means I can’t afford my rent.

    1. I’m guessing your ex-roommate forgot about the money you would spend on gas to drive across town, which may offset, if not exceed, any savings on food.

  92. “How does this contribute to your personal development?”

    I hate this so much. I feel like American culture has become obsessed with constant personal/professional development. Every choice we make has to MEAN SOMETHING and contribute to becoming our! best! selves! Like, can we all just chill and just enjoy things* for the sake of enjoyment occasionally? IT’S EXHAUSTING to analyze every choice and purchase we make for their moral contributions to our never-ending development.

    * “things” can be purchases, time, food, etc.

    1. Hah, yes – I was talking to a friend who was relaying a conversation with another friend about how she was going to “live with intent” from now on. While having a personal goal or purpose or whatever is great, it’s not like the rest of us are just flailing around living like amoeba. (Also shades of Blake Lively’s now-shuttered “lifestyle website” about “living a curated life.” Being able to only let beautiful things in your life and keep the ugly things out is pretty much the ultimate privilege.)

    2. Oh, my goodness, yes. I catch myself doing this far too often. Specifically, “Hiring someone to clean one time and get my apartment back to regular-person messy rather than spoon-deficient-person messy will help me be more productive,” and, “Spending money (a whopping $12!) on this cross stitch kit is worthwhile because crafting is a good sobriety passtime.” I need to go with, “It’s in my budget,” for both of those things, because it’s fine to want something for a fun hobby and to not want to do all the work of a massive housecleaning.

  93. I just spent a *lot* of money on tickets to a fan convention, so this is timely. Yes, I cringed a bit hitting the “order” button on the website, but you know what, getting to hang out with fellow fans for the weekend and squee together over fandom stuff, getting pictures and autographs with people whose work I admire, it’s definitely a splurge, but it’s worth it to me. I’ve been putting aside money for this each time I get paid, plus I’ve earned some extra money in different ways to put towards the trip (I switched to a new bank because they were offering a cash bonus to open a new account, I do online surveys for a little extra $$) and I find it part of the fun to think up ways to cut costs so I can afford the top of the line tickets I bought. I’m looking for roommates to split the cost of a hotel – someone else might prioritize having their own room over sharing and that’s totally fine! These are my choices. I have the time to do online surveys, I don’t have the time for a second job.

    My husband has an iPad cause he loves Apple products, I have a Kindle Fire cause I just wanted something to read books on and watch Netflix and didn’t want to spend the extra $$$ on an iPad. His choice and my choice, and both are the right choices for us.

    1. Oh man – I love to travel. Love it. But when I’m in a saving mode it can be hard to make myself click “Buy” – but honestly, if I’ve been saving up for it and I know it’ll bring me joy? I force myself to do it, panic for a minute, and the next day wake up to my new financial reality where I don’t have the money I used to have but I *do* have tickets to something very exciting that I can joyfully anticipate for months.

      All that to say – enjoy the heck out of your convention!

  94. I come from a well off family of strivers, my descent into poverty was a surprise (and it’s not at all my fault.) My best money mantra came from my mother, who says that money is a tool you use to live life. It’s not a reflection of your worth, it’s not something you always have a lot of. Seeing it as a tool helps me detach from all the stigma and panic. Different people use tools according to what gets the job done, that’s ok.

    I’m really limited by what little I have in terms of money so I see it as an act of self love to use what I have to take as good care of myself as I can afford to. It’s documented that what people judge as ‘poor life choices’ made by poor people tend to be a product of stress, exhaustion, that scarcity mentality of being broke. Inequalities in our society exist because people are afraid of poverty. Don’t let fear rule you. It feels uncomfortable to spend on my own needs but I see that as wiser than losing hope and spiralling into self blame.

    1. In this, having a budget helped me, too: my default is to try and spend ‘as little as possible’ which means that every purchase is a failure, and things outside my control (supermarket stopped selling 17p flour, next cheapest is three times as much!) or ‘favourite pound store closed’ felt like real blows.

      And of course you need to pay bills and put a little money aside for the next hurdle (something will break) but if you need £10K to get out of trouble, saving – or spending – £5/week is neither here nor there. Spending the money on your mental health has a greater chance of boosting your energy and helping you network and making one more job application… and thus a much better chance of getting you out of that hole. Denying oneself _everything_ isn’t healthy, and it doesn’t work.

      1. Yup, this reminds me of the whole “millennials need to stop buying avocado toast so they can buy a house!”

        I live in one of the most expensive housing markets in the U.S. A modest house from the 40s with one bathroom in my neighborhood could easily be 700K. Me skipping the avocado toast is not going to get me any closer to buying a house in this market, ever. Acting as though spiraling housing costs, spiraling inflation, wage stagnation, spiraling college tuition, crippling student debt, and the increasing reliance of companies on contractors so they don’t have to pay benefits just don’t exist and that it’s our fault for spending all our money on fancy toasts is fucking stupid.

        1. Elizabeth Warren and Helaine Olen have had a whole lot to say on the “latte factor” – salon.com has an interview with Elizabeth Warren saying “Americans are not going broke over lattes!” I highly recommend what they have to say on this subject.

  95. One of my favorite books is a Victorian housekeeping book, and she says, among other really TRUE and helpful things, “Comforts are always cheap.”

    By which she means, spending the money so that your bra is one that fits, so that you have good tools for the work you do, so that your life isn’t being worn down little by little by tiny frustrations that you could, and really should, just “fasten the loose screw already” on. I’m pretty poor, but that is good advice, and it’s amazing how much having, say, a real chef’s knife makes a difference to meal prep for me, and yes, having real snow boots is not optional. I don’t know what your comforts are, but they are worth spending on, so you function better in all of your life.

  96. Might I also suggest to your friends, if you think they’d be receptive, “Sometimes when you all make comments like x and y, it makes me feel worried and guilty for spending money that is within my budget and that I can afford to spend. I know we all keep a close watch on our wallets, can you all help me to stop feeling bad about spending money?”
    I understand your feelings. I also have a hard time spending money on myself for new clothes, getting hair cuts, things that I know I want and I have the money for but can’t bring myself to order on Amazon or go to the store, ect. But when I finally break down and buy the stuff I feel a lot better about it usually (sometimes there’s guilt and I have to remind myself that I’ve wanted this for a while, I’ve been talking about wanting it for a while, and I have the money for it and it’s okay). For me, these feelings are tied into my anxiety and it helps that my husband and my friends know I have a hard time with it so they help me when I’m going shopping to say that it’s okay to buy this stuff. I used to have a lot of the same guilty feelings especially since I have historically made significantly more money than my friends (I’m an workaholic and come from a semi priveledged upbringing) so I would feel bad buying things that made it obvious I had more money but I had to use internal coaching like the Captain recommended to reassure myself that it was okay, I could afford it, I deserved it, and I would be happier once I spent the money. Hope I’ve helped. Good luck.

  97. Making a really well-thought-out budget is really great advice. Before I had my budget skills down as well as I do now, I oscillated between spending money with my eyes closed or feeling like I couldn’t buy anything. Neither is good or fun.

    I found that when I really nailed down a good budget, I not only had better control of my finances (which it sounds like you already do) but spending money on fun things felt so much easier because I knew exactly where it was coming out of my budget, and knew it wouldn’t cut into my other financial goals. So freeing! I’ve both built up a good nest egg this way as well as spent more money on things that were important to me (and less on dumb crap that wasn’t important to me).

    I also stopped telling my family how much I make and also how much I spent on things. I found that no matter what the answer was to these questions, it was never the right one. I either made so much I was rich, or I didn’t make enough and was a loser and a failure. I either spent too extravagantly on something or was too cheap. The good news was that as soon as they had none of this information, they couldn’t comment and criticize it!

    Your friends have their own priorities and financial strategies. Their financial choices aren’t comments on your own financial choices–they are just their choices! If you feel like they are hating on you for wanting to eat lunch or for wanting to buy your movie ticket online in a passive-aggressive or mean-spirited way, it is definitely OK to say something to them. For example, “I get that you don’t want to spend money on eating lunch, but when you roll your eyes and say ‘well I’M not spending MONEY on something like LUNCH’ it sounds to me like you’re judging me for buying myself some lunch, and I’d appreciate it if you stopped. Lunch is in my budget, I’m hungry, and I’m not interested in being made to feel bad about it.”

    If they aren’t being mean about it, though, it’s fine to just say something like, “OK, well I prefer to use the online ticket service. See you at the theater!” or “OK, well I’m going to go pick up a burrito. Meet you back at the car?”

  98. LW it’s entirely possible someone else has said this, there are lots of comments now but I like to look at my time as having a value too. I know what my hourly rate is and to steal the captain’s fine example if it’s an extra hour to save a fraction of my hourly rate on the cost of potatoes I’m going to damn well buy the potatoes I want in the shop I’m already in.

  99. OMG the potatoes comment. My mom will drive to 4 different shops to get groceries because ‘strawberries are cheaper in this shop, but potatoes are cheaper in another, and toilet paper is cheaper in another shop all together’. I once pointed out that although it might feel like shes saving money in the short term, adding up the amount of fuel it takes to drive around to several different shops it probably costs more long term. It also takes way more time and leaves my sister, my dad and i exhasperated

  100. Captain’s advice, as always, is empathetic and thoughtful. She skipped C, so I’ll stick one in there uninvited – you don’t know how hard somebody works.

    Whenever anybody makes shitty comments about what I get up to wrt money and free time, or has “helpful suggestions” (looking at my brother and his girlfriend), my answer is always, “I work 45 hours a week. I need my days off,” or “I just worked an eleven day week. Let me have a burrito,” or “I had to clean up human feces in the family planning aisle this morning. I am Going To Have Wine Tonight.” I work my ass off at work. I always have mysterious bruises from climbing and lifting and struggling and bumping into protruding objects. I get verbally abused for asking cigarette-purchasers for their ID. My job is exhausting and unrewarding and I work hard and am good at it, and sometimes a bitch just wants to blow thirty bucks on a new necklace that is shaped like the chemical compound for seratonin.

    So, it’s my money, and I goddamn earned it, and I will choose to buy one-liter bottles of Evian water one at a time because I like Evian water and prefer the size and shape of the one-liter bottle. Is it ridiculous? Yep. Is Evian worth the amount it costs? Probably not. But that’s my business, and I will not care if you mention it to me. (“I think the generic water tastes the same as Evian.” “Cool. Keep up the good work, champ.”) Just last night I had to stay two hours past the end of my shift and call the cops on a woman because she was screaming at my coworker and threatening to have her husband come in and beat us all up. Let me have a sixpack of peach tea Snapple even though it’s not on sale. Let me buy both a beer and a Coke at the Chili’s, because I want a beer, and I also want a Coke. I am willing to pay the extra several dollars in order to feel good for one (1) hour. I am a ridiculous person who likes ridiculous things, and I know what my financial situation is like. Let me buy things, and then also complain about student debt, because, in the illustrious words of Gwen Stefani, It’s my life. Don’t you forget.

    And you know what else? I’m going to school full time and struggle on the daily with severe recurrent depressive disorder. A phrase I like to live my life by: you don’t know what other people have to go home to. You don’t know what other people have to contend with.

    LW, when people give you shit about what you’re buying and when you’re buying it, please give yourself permission to blow them off. I know that’s easier said than done, but you’re not beholden to anyone but yourself. If your mom is going to start getting the vapors every time she pees in your bathroom and discovers that you use Quilted Northern instead of the generic, that sounds like a Mom Problem, not a LW Problem. Whenever you are contemplating spending money on a sixth wall clock because you love clocks, goddamn it, think of it as a present you’re giving yourself because you’ve been good. You sound like a levelheaded, goodhearted person, and when I have the funds, I like to give levelheaded, goodhearted persons presents. You’re a good kid and you deserve good things. Let me be the loud and grouchy voice in your head that yells “Fuck the haters!” whenever you are trying to buy something.

    Also, sorry that I’m a potty mouth. My therapist once encouraged me to get in touch with my anger in order to access the concept that I don’t deserve to be treated poorly or condescended to. Maybe you could try cussing a whole lot in the bathroom mirror.

    You guys are all great. I love everybody in this bar. I hope everybody here finds ten bucks, eight British pounds, thirteen Australian dollars, or thirty-five Turkish lira on the ground today.

    Adios, Tannerinos.

    1. Stands and applauds! Preach it!

      (OT- Kimmy, has anyone told you lately that you’re an excellent writer? I bet you’re a great storyteller.)

    2. I’ve gotten real mileage out of this one. “I just worked a 70 hour week of manual labor, I’m not fucking moving any more than absolutely necessary right now” turns out to work pretty well as a justification for buying from the slightly more expensive store a few blocks away instead of biking several miles to the cheap one. “I just worked a 14 hour shift, I’m eating right now instead of cooking” also generally works pretty well.

    3. *Raises glass, toasts all of this*
      Also–necklace that looks like the chemical compound for seratonin? Is it real? Do you in fact own one? Because that is AMAZING, and a perfect thing with which to Treat Yo’ Self.

  101. I have a similar issue with money, honestly. I could spend on my friends, my partner, or my sister until I have $2 left in the bank, but I fight with myself about buying new jeans for work (only one pair I have really fits well) or buying enough food to have dinner reliably. For me it’s kind of rooted in a family of thrift + a feeling of not deserving the nice things. I think my turning point is when my sister and my partner both gave me the “are you really going to deny yourself that small of a pleasure” talk when I saw a dress I wanted but it cost an entire $12.

    I try to view the “treating myself” territory items as a mental health thing now. I value not freaking out at the idea of spending money on myself and not shaming myself for denying myself something so I kinda view the above and beyond (Captain’s 30 cents/pound on potatoes example) as a tax that allows me to relax and not freak out. Basically I could either spend the money and have a nice thing even after the shame subsides or I could not spend the money and spend weeks shaming myself for not buying something I really wanted.

    I’ve also… spent less money in the long run looking at it like that? Because before a $10 dress meant I might as well spend $200 all at once on things I don’t want as much but I’m spending money today so let’s go wild.

  102. Oh man, I really feel this letter. Hubby and I are in a really weird in between place, where we’re financially stable, have savings, etc, and yet there’s so many other places for the dollars to go (we’re putting me through grad school right now) and we have budgeted so tightly that single dollars do make a difference.

    And yet. I can’t describe how frustrating it is to be either the friend who doesn’t have enough money to do something, because then I feel horrible and guilty for putting boundaries that protect my own finances, or–worse, IMO–the friend who’s seen as “rich.” When I got married and moved to where my husband lived, there were at least half a dozen new acquaintances of mine who made sure to tell my husband how nice it was that he’d married a rich girl (??), because of literally a single thing–my car. It’s no Porsche, but it’s not a junker, and it was so humiliating to have person after person reduce me to money like that, when they had *no idea* of the long and difficult story behind the purchase of the car (not to mention our general income, which first year of marriage was verrrry slim), which frankly was none of their business anyway. And then it just reinforces all my own brain weasels, which are very similar to yours, LW, on freaking out over spending money.

    So all that to say, I totally feel your pain. All you can really do is keep setting boundaries with friends and family (the “cost” of something is far more than its monetary price, as others have pointed out too) and keep reminding yourself that some things really are worth spending money on, because their value is more than worth it. I hope you can conquer the brain weasels!!

  103. About your friends… there’s a component of this that isn’t about money. It’s about making plans. FIGURE OUT THE PLAN TOGETHER BEFORE ANYONE AGREES TO THE PLAN AND BEFORE THE PLAN ACTUALLY HAPPENS.

    You all need to start being WAY more clear when you make plans. If the activity happens around a mealtime, figure out the meal plan together IN ADVANCE. It doesn’t matter if you go out to eat, bring lunch, skip lunch, bring snacks, stop at a grocery store, or decide to meet after lunch. It doesn’t matter if you buy a sandwich to go while they eat Power Bars. What matters is that you all know in advance what will happen and you all agree to it.

    PLANNING INCLUDES PLAN B. If you’re meeting at the movies and the movie might sell out, discuss in advance how this will work. Like if you buy in advance and they don’t, does that mean you have to see the movie alone? Or waste your ticket? Or sell your ticket to someone so you can do something else with your friend? Nobody wants to do any of those things! It’s okay to say you don’t want to go together to a movie that might sell out if they aren’t willing to either buy their ticket in advance or get to the box office a couple of hours early.

    If they aren’t willing to make sure you both get tickets, that’s okay, too. Just make plans to do something else. They are so many options! Like: a) Bring a 3rd person who will buy a ticket in advance, so at least you have someone to see the movie with. b) Go to a movie that’s less likely to sell out. c) Go to that movie at a time that’s less popular. d) Watch a movie at home or do a completely different activity.

    In the movie example, nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong. It’s perfectly okay for someone to say, “I want to try to go to this movie if we can get in, but I don’t want to pay an advance ticket fee or stand in line for two hours. If we get in, great. If not, let’s take a walk and get a drink at that bar down the street from the theater.” It’s also perfectly okay to say, “I really want to see that movie so I think I should make firm plans for that particular film. But we could do that for Movie B. Or we could just get a drink together next week.”

    Right now you all are making sketchy vague plans and you end up not getting to do what you wanted because you all had different plans in your head that none of you communicated to each other. And no more sudden plan changes in the middle of the activity! If you planned to go to a cafe for lunch, it’s not cool for your friends to suddenly decide to skip that. If that happens, it’s okay for you to say, “Hey, when I make plans I like to stick to them.” Or “I thought we made plans! I thought this was in your budget! Why did you make this plan with me if this isn’t in your budget?” If they say it’s fine to have lunch if you want to, you can say sympathetically, “You could’ve told me if it weren’t in your budget. I always, always respect people’s budgets, so we could’ve made a different plan. For today, let’s stick with our original lunch plan unless you really can’t afford it. But in the future, just let me know in advance.”

    During the transition period while you’re training your friends to think of you as a planner who likes to plan and sticks with her plan, make sure you have secret backup plans in your own head. Like even if there’s a lunch plan, bring some snacks with you. NOT enough to share. Or if there’s a chance the movie plan will fall through, maybe buy two tickets and sell the extra to your friend including the fee or to someone else who can’t get in or just doesn’t want to stand in line. Or — better yet — suggest to your friend that since you can’t get in, you should go grocery shopping together.

    Basically, use that time to do your errands with your friend in tow. If your friend is all, “Let’s see this other movie or get a drink,” you can say, “I don’t want to waste money doing stuff I don’t really want to do. Since we can’t see the movie we came for, let’s use the time wisely. We can talk while I return these library books.” Don’t make it easy or fun for them to screw up plans with you. And don’t end up doing a bunch of junk you don’t want to do just because they refuse to plan.

  104. I find that Budgevangelizing, like any sort of Evangelizing, says more about the speaker’s internal struggles than it does about the merit of the argument actually issuing forth. E.g., I’ve caught myself saying: “well friend who’s complaining to me about manhattan and expensive, you could live affordably if you did like me and did xxxxxxxxxxx” /trans/ I SO WISH I COULD AFFORD HAPPY HOUR MARTINIS AND SHAKE SHAKE EVERY DAY I AM DOING LIFE WRONG SO GIMME THIS EASTER EGG OF SECOND PLACE VINDICATION PLEASSSSSSEEEE.

    So, LW, sally forth!

  105. That friend sounds like they’re moralising thrift, and then turning it into a weapon. If they really wanted to save money, they wouldn’t make a show of skipping lunch, they’d pack leftovers.

    1. Oh yeah def. Like food or exercise or ecology or whatever, thriftiness becomes such a huge pain whenever a person tacks morality onto it. It quickly becomes more about being “good” than about saving money or the planet or whatever. If you entertain those folks they’ll just posture at you until the next total eclipse, and nothing you say you do will ever be enough in their eyes…

  106. And one thing I find helpful is to be honest that I don’t want to spend the money on whatever. People are often embarrassed about not having the money and I thinkle just being honest about it helps shed the stigma.

    And of course being sensitive to others issues and limitations around money is imperative. Also don’t expect anyone to fund any part of your lifestyle. And be particularly vigilant about not letting others guilt or manipulate you or others into funding their lifestyle.

  107. I had a hard time spending after a period of extreme brokeassedness. Wound up writing a post about it for a personal finance website. A couple of money experts offered advice. Here’s an excerpt:

    Plenty of the folks body-slammed by the current recession are also fearful, according to Dr. Ted Klontz, co-author of “Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health.” Even after their finances improve, he says, it’s likely that some “are going to have a lot of difficulty (taking) care of themselves and their families in reasonable ways.”

    Spending after a financial crisis is like dating after a divorce, Klontz says. “It’s a natural process to restrict it, because you don’t want to go through the pain again. What that would tell me is that you’re still stuck in the pain associated with that time.”

    … Before you judge me too harshly, know this: If you’ve never done without, you have no idea how hard it can be to believe — to really BELIEVE — that the wolf is nowhere near your door.

    Instead, you remain in frugal lockdown. You pay the bills, allow for a bare minimum of necessities, and hoard the rest in case something bad happens.

    … What helped me, and what might help you, was creating a “spending intention statement.” Financial adviser Spencer Sherman suggests making a list of all the basics (including an emergency fund and a retirement fund), plus categories for long-term savings and charity. Pay those bills/honor those commitments each month. Congratulations — you’re solvent!

    “If you’re saving money and you’re giving some money away, that’s telling you you’ve got enough — the rest of the money, you can spend,” says Sherman, author of ‘The Cure for Money Madness: Break Your Bad Money Habits, Live Without Financial Stress — and Make More Money!’

    I hope that this information helps you learn how to treat yourself after covering all the bases. As for the “How much did that cost? Wow, someone’s rich!” sort of comments, I heartily agree with the Captain’s workarounds. Your folks probably will grumble and grouse about your new habit of NOT playing their game. You will be much happier.

    1. And be gentle with yourself about it, if possible.

      After being in a similar situation for a while after my husband and I lost our jobs the same month and took a long time to find anything, there was a while when I was physically stressed about paying any bill, even when I knew the money was in my account and it wasn’t remotely frivolous, like the electric bill. Weirdly, other sorts of spending didn’t do that as much: something about looking at the bank balance and writing a check for electricity was worse than paying cash at the grocery store. So I wrote a check and put it in the envelope while feeling stressed, and then didn’t do anything at all difficult or strenuous for a few hours. That passed with time, but I still get bits of it more than a decade later, even with finances that allow for going out for random ice cream sundaes.

  108. “If you’ve never done without, you have no idea how hard it can be to believe — to really BELIEVE — that the wolf is nowhere near your door.”

    huh. somehow that makes me think of CPTSD. That deep fear that comes from having experienced the raw unsafe-ness of the world. It takes a lot of hard work to heal that. Definitely worth it, though. 🙂

  109. I don’t think anyone has mentioned this yet, but if your parents are able to view how much you are spending because you have a linked bank account, get yourself a new bank account. I had very similar issues with my mother, because I got my first checking account as a minor and she would check my bank account any time she checked hers the whole time I was in college. I would get calls all the time from my mother, asking me why I had spent a certain amount of money (more often than not on groceries!) but it really messed up my relationship with money.

    So if that’s where you are, move all your money and get a new account ASAP. Otherwise, the Captain has solid advice!

  110. I’m not sure if this was mentioned up thread but there was a recent study reported that showed that spending a little money to save yourself time increased life satisfaction. This was true across all income levels. (https://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/yes-you-can-buy-happiness-if-you-spend-it-save-n786246)

    So spending 1.50 to save yourself time in line is a worthy price to pay. I pay about 30 bucks to get my groceries delivered on the reg, and honestly, it saves me time, frustration, and makes my weekend so much better. It is my favorite thing.

    The one thing I might suggest adding to the captain’s budget above is a “luxury/fun” fund. (Or is this a rainy day fund? i always think of that as more for emergencies.) Anyway can you set aside X amount every few months to do something fun for you? You could even do those things at a discount! (Groupon, Travelzoo have great spa and hotel and restaurant deals, I love hotwire and hotel tonight for cheap rates at luxury hotels.) Novel life experiences make good memories and also increase happiness. Invest in good memories and happiness for yourself! You’re being responsible and working hard, and you should reward yourself for that hard work!

    1. Love this! I’ve certainly found it true in my own life but nice to know it’s now Scientifically Proven.

  111. I love budgets! I’d like to add some to the Captain’s suggestions. If you can, physically separate out that money. These days it’s pretty easy to set up accounts online, I have a bunch of labelled accounts linked to my main one. At the beginning of the month I transfer the amount my budget says into each of them. Mine are clothes, travel, holiday, Christmas, garden, bike. I probably forgot some. You can tailor them to whatever you spend money on. I also have all my bills (literally anything with a regular payment, including charity, phone, subscriptions etc) in a separate account which I just fill up once a month and forget about, and food comes out of a joint account which me and my partner both transfer to monthly. And the generic savings for bigger things, disasters, rainy days etc. This means most of my stuff is covered and I can quit worrying about it. Forgot about a bill? Never mind, it’s all covered and in my bills account because it’s in my monthly budget. Want to go see a friend in a different city? Well let’s check that travel account – yup, go ahead and book the train tickets! Bike needs new tyres? Bike account has it covered! Christmas presents too much to afford in a month? Well, good job I was putting money in that account the whole year. Having a shitty day and want to buy myself a box of chocolates to cheer me up? Well, all the essentials are sorted so if I have money left in my main account I can go ahead.

    Now, maybe I go over the top, I do love spreadsheets and budgeting, and maybe this level of divvying up money isn’t for everyone. (My partner doesn’t like thinking about it to this degree and would rather just give me money for bills and muddle along himself). But I think a system like this could help you, and I always recommend to everyone to at least have their regular bills in a separate account.

    And remember, everyone has different priorities and things that are important to them. Plenty of people might be horrified at what I spend on bicycles, but they are a main hobby and mode of transport for me. I’d probably be horrified at what they spend on running a car. One of my friends spends a lot on fancy food, as good food is one of his biggest pleasures. One of my old flatmates used to scrimp on food and then go to the cinema regularly, that was what was important to her. We are all different, and one person’s extravagance may be another person’s necessity for a happy life.

  112. Ramit Sethi (https://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/) writes about living a “rich life” as the concept of spending consciously on things and experiences you value and ruthlessly cutting out spending on things you don’t really care about. I think the prioritization helps you avoid feeling guilty for indulging in the things you do care about. Those tradeoff decisions about time, money, and energy will be different for everybody! Some people may love driving a nice car, or enjoy spending time getting their appearance just right, or enjoy savoring an upscale coffee or meal, or enjoy splurging on a special excursion when they’re traveling, while others appreciate the utility of those things but otherwise aren’t “car people” or “that into fashion”. We should be free to spend according to our values and to ignore judgment. Spending on convenience is an indulgence, sure, but the time and energy spent bargain-hunting is also an indulgence.

  113. Ramit Sethi (https://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/) writes about living a “rich life” as the concept of spending consciously on things and experiences you value and ruthlessly cutting out spending on things you don’t really care about. I think the prioritization helps you avoid feeling guilty for indulging in the things you do care about. Those tradeoff decisions about time, money, and energy will be different for everybody! Some people may love driving a nice car, or enjoy spending time getting their appearance just right, or enjoy savoring an upscale coffee or meal, or enjoy splurging on a special excursion when they’re traveling, while others appreciate the utility of those things but otherwise aren’t “car people” or “that into fashion”. We should be free to spend according to our values and to ignore judgment. Spending on convenience is an indulgence, sure, but the time and energy spent bargain-hunting is also an indulgence.

  114. LW I had a dad like that. He had his reasons for being a money hoarder, but tl;dr – he ended up having a stroke before age 65 and I found over 250k in retirement and savings that he never got to enjoy one cent of. Now it all goes to a nursing home instead. Print this out and show it to yourself and your family/friends when they’re griping about a couple bucks. Yes, plan for the future but enjoy your money now while you’re still young. Especially if it saves you precious time like those online booking fees.

  115. LW, clothes *are* part of your needs. Why are you wearing clothes that you view as “ratty”? Why don’t you deserve clothes that make you good about yourself when you wear them? That protect you from wind, rain, and sun? That fit? Those things are what clothes are meant for.

    Did you know a human can survive on only potatoes, cheese, and water? For years? Do you want to spend the rest of your life seeing apples and sushi and rice right in front of you and you stubbornly eat potatoes and cheese?

    Life is for living. If you are meeting all of your survival needs–food, shelter, grooming, and your secondary needs–prophylactic healthcare, retirement–then the rest of the money is meant to be spent. What are you saving it for?

    Budget money to spend. Read books by financial advisors and planners for what’s reasonable to save and invest, and then spend the rest of it. Money is literally made *to be spent!*

    Go forth, and get yourself pants and snacks!

  116. What I try to do, personally, is think about what I value in my life and try to make my spending more or less match it. Having some savings makes me feel comfortable about the future and less stressed out about the future, so that gets a big chunk. But there are also lots of other things I care about – I also care a lot about making memories, small pleasures, being healthy, learning things, supporting charities I really respect, going on trips, my hobbies and passions.

    It’s a problem if I spend a lot of money on something I barely notice whether I have or not… or spend money based on what someone else thinks I should want… that’s when I’m ‘wasting’ money. But if I actually enjoy the thing, or it adds something positive to my life, then it wasn’t wasted, it was well used.

  117. What I try to do, personally, is think about what I value in my life and try to make my spending more or less match it. Having some savings makes me feel comfortable about the future and less stressed out about the future, so that gets a big chunk. But there are also lots of other things I care about – I also care a lot about making memories, small pleasures, being healthy, learning things, supporting charities I really respect, going on trips, my hobbies and passions.

    It’s a problem if I spend a lot of money on something I barely notice whether I have or not… or spend money based on what someone else thinks I should want… that’s when I’m ‘wasting’ money. But if I actually enjoy the thing, or it adds something positive to my life, then it wasn’t wasted, it was well used.

  118. You might want to check out the book Emotional Currency by Kate Levinson which offers exercises to unpack your emotional history with (and family messages about) money. I found it very helpful. She also does workshops, in case you’re near one.


  119. Some great advice from the captain, and in the thread. I liked the commenter above who said it sounds like people in your life are moralizing thrift, and then using it as a weapon. I think you should consider changing your circle of friends/acquaintances, or at least changing the topics of conversation so it’s not so focused on spending, what’d you spend, etc. There are LOTS of people who don’t weaponize thrift, maybe you’d feel better around some of them?

    And I am flabbergasted that there are multiple people in your life that moralize about eating lunch! OK maybe going *out* to lunch frequently is outside the budget, many people bring food from home, but it sounds as though these people are advocating not eating altogether?! Most people budget for 3 meals a day, for crying out loud, acting like lunch is some frivolous luxury is bizarre!

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