Mastering the Art of Guilt-Free Shopping

by Craig Ford

Spending money is easy. Spending money without guilt is hard.

If our budgets were boats we would all have a few leaky holes. The leaky holes represent budget categories where we tend to spend excessively and unintentionally. The intent of a budget is not simply to tell you not to spend, but to help you spend your money properly. In fact, a common budgeting downfall is restricting yourself too much in categories where you enjoy spending money.

To make budgeting easier and more enjoyable, I suggest identifying the areas where you enjoy spending, so you can accommodate them by making other budget cutbacks.

What do you like spending money on?


Books are just one guilt-free shopping item. What are some of yours?

While I am not a flagrant spender there are certain items I enjoy spending my money on. My three top spending categories for pleasure are:

  1. Vacation and travel.
  2. Dining out dates with my wife.
  3. Books.

When my wife and I set our budget we always make room for these items, typically by cutting back on other categories. For example, my wife has mastered the art of frugal cooking. Saving on groceries allows us to eat out occasionally. Also, we minimize our eating out so that it is more special when we go out together.

Another way I try to make room in my budget is by trying to find the best prices on books. This way I get a lot more bang for my buck. I research a lot of money-saving ideas when we plan a vacation (here are some ways to save on your next vacation). Just because something is in a splurge category doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and get more with less.

Remember, if you say ‘yes’ to one category, then be sure to say ‘no’ to another.

Have you ever returned from a shopping trip with a car load full of stuff, an empty wallet, and troubled memory (forgetting what you spent money on)? This is a sure sign that you are spending money on things you don’t really need or care to buy. This is reactionary and impulse spending.

How ‘System’s Theory’ Helps us Understand Budgeting

A budget is a system. And in a system, each individual part is interconnected; the function of one part always impacting the others. When it comes to spending we must recognize that problems belong within the system, not the individual part.

Consider your spending relationship between a clothing budget and an entertainment budget. If spending in the clothing category goes up, then spending in the entertainment category must go down. If you want to rob Peter to pay Paul that is fine, but it is not an option to rob both Peter and Paul. If one part increases, the other must decrease.

Three Rules of Guilt-Free Shopping

  1. You must always have a clear sense of what you most enjoy buying.
  2. You should make room in your budget so you can say ‘yes’ to items you enjoy buying.
  3. Because your budget is an interconnected system you must say ‘no’ to some budget items.

If you properly balance ‘yes’ and ‘no’ you can enjoy guilt-free shopping.

What do you like spending your money on?  How do you make space for that item in your budget?

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk

Published or updated May 2, 2013.
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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 SingleGuyMoney

Electronics and electronic gadgets are my weakness. I set aside money in my budget each month to cover any splurges that may happen.


2 Craig

I like this approach. Everyone has their vice. I love reading, and have no problem buying books, some electronics when spending or traveling. Other items I don’t spend on cause its a waste to me. You need to have some guilt free spending, you can reward yourself.


3 Credit Card Chaser

Buying books is definitely my biggest vice followed closely by electronics and distantly by Dr Pepper 🙂


4 Mike @ Gather Little by Little

I usually make sure that I won’t regret my purchase by asking myself a simple question:
“why do I need it today?”
If the answer is clear, then I really need to buy it 😉


5 Abigail

Well, I would love to have a bigger budget for clothing. And travel. And my husband loves video games/consoles. But right now, it’s not in the budget at all. I made room in the Christmas budget for a PSP, but that was through rewards programs. That’s usually how I afford things like clothes, and how my husband finds money to buy new video games.


6 LeanLifeCoach

My weakness is definitely tools and exotic woods. I love turning. Last year my wife jokingly told me that I couldn’t make any more bowls or vases until I got rid of some in the house. So I did. As a result I now only spend money on the garage that I can make by selling my work. This has been a great budgeting system!


7 Craig

Tools and wood, eh? I guess we each have our own vice. I do some building when necessary so I’m glad to hear that some folks love doing that kind of stuff. I guess if you’re going to build you might as well make some extra money.
@Credit Card Chaser
I’m with you on the first one. Electronics – sometimes. Dr. Pepper – now you’re making me jealous. I cannot get Dr. Pepper where I live in PNG. I once found it at a specialty shop in Australia. Wow, I’m thirsty.
You should check out used clothing options. You really can save a lot that way. This summer I got to buy a whole bag of clothes for $6. Quality name brand stuff too.
Great question. Still there are times that we buy just because we want. As long as there is space in the budget I think that is fine.
I agree – you need to have guilt free spending. When appropriate and in line with your budget it is good to have some money just to blow on fun stuff.
There seems to be a pattern with the electronics. Perhaps I should consider selling electronics ..


8 Financial Samurai

Hey Craig! How’s PNG going?

I like that, saying yes to one, then no to another.

A method I use is to simply buy the darn thing, bask in it, and return it. It works wonders for satiating all cravings!




9 KC @ genxfinance

We have the same pleasures. We love to travel and take a vacation as well, dinner dates at least once a week, and books (there’s always room for books). But we do budget as well. If we wan to travel, we book for a flight months before and save each month for it. Works every time so that it doesn’t hurt much later.


10 JJ

Wish I’d thought of that! Buy something, bask in it for a bit, then return it. I’ve been stuck with something I can’t use just because I never though of that. Great idea, Samurai!


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