How Do You Combat Spending Anxiety?

Posted by Jill on June 29, 2011

So many of you wrote helpful comments when I talked about needing to buy a new car… but I still haven’t done it! My very generous grandparents have a pretty new car that mostly sits in their driveway. When they heard I was moving home and would be temporarily carless, they offered to let me borrow the car for as long as I needed. In fact, every time I offer to bring it back they insist they really haven’t missed it and that I shouldn’t rush to buy a car. This has been extremely helpful in allowing me time to really research cars and find the best deal on my dream vehicle (which BTW I have decided is a Hyundai Tucson). On the other hand, the ease of using this borrowed car has only strengthened the temporary paralysis I seem to have when it comes to actually buying a car of my own.

Spending Paralysis

I think I’ve mentioned before that I was a math major in college and work as a management consultant for a living…it’s in my nature to be analytical and logical in pretty much everything I do. Add in my interest in personal finance and it’s clear that I would never make a money decision lightly. Buying a car will be the biggest purchase I have ever made – by far! Since it’s such a big purchase, I want to be sure I get what I really want – but getting what I really want probably means spending more money than I’d like. I’ve worked myself into a circle that I’m having a hard time getting out of: do I settle on the type of vehicle and/or the features I want? Or do I stick to my budget guns and potentially end up regretting the purchase down the road?

At the heart of all my indecision is the fact that I have really become somewhat of a tightwad in the last few years. I honestly thought that I would be able to get a decent used car for under $10,000  (no way!) and a new one for somewhere in the ballpark of $15,000 (only if I want to drive something teeny tiny – not so good in Texas). Even those numbers kind of made my stomach hurt, so looking in the $20,000 and up range has been really hard on me. For all my circular logic and questions and indecision, what I know is this: I just don’t want to spend a large sum of money on a car. But I also know this: I really don’t have a choice – I can’t drive a borrowed car forever!

Focusing on the Facts

I don’t want to spend money on a car because I don’t want to give up any of my cash reserves OR take on a large car loan. I feel like I’m in a pretty good financial position for a 25-year-old…and this is going to derail that position by a cool $20k+. But these are the facts:

  • Nobody is giving me a car anytime soon – buying one is not optional
  • Buying a car is something I knew would come with taking this job transfer and moving to Texas
  • Knowing that I would eventually need to make a large purchase such as this one is precisely the reason I have tried to make good financial decisions over the past few years
  • Buying a vehicle will not get any cheaper if I wait a few days, weeks or even months
  • Settling for something I don’t really want might save me a few thousand dollars – but will still cost me a large sum of money

My guess is that most people at their core are either savers or spenders – if you’re a saver at heart, or a spender who became a saver, it is just not in your nature to spend a large sum of money at one time. But I’ve realized that there is not really a reason to not buy the car I want – and continuing to avoid it might mean I’ve crossed the line between frugal and cheap. Money is not infinite – I’ve worked hard for mine and want to make sure that it works hard for me. But at the same time…you can’t take it with you. And I need a vehicle to get to and from work. And it might as well be something that I like, is safe, gets decent mileage, and has good resale value – all qualifications that my current dream car meets.

In the middle of writing this post, I took the borrowed car back to my grandmother. I’m currently on a one-week trip back to DC to wrap up a few things – and when I get back I PROMISE I am going to buy a car. Wish me luck!

How do you combat spending anxiety? Give me some tips in the comments!

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Comments to How Do You Combat Spending Anxiety?

  1. I seldom spend money I shouldn’t. In the spring I like to buy a lot of flowers but I know I won’t have time to care for them so…I just buy a few. My real problem is eating out. I love it. My daughter and I share a meal often and it is plenty to eat. We always share one water and one drink or two waters. I find that I can fill up quickly so really limit my order. Also, try to eat lunch out since it can be much less expensive than evening meal. If it works out I can control the $ best if I get a carry out meal. It is always plenty. Hope this helps someone with the same troubles I have. I am way past caring what others think and I’ve never had a restraunt care that we split a meal. We normally enjoy a meal for 1/2 the price of those sitting around us. 🙂 If you have a lot of trouble limiting your portions figure your BMI. I am 5 foot 5 and weigh 148. According to the schedule I have reached enough fat that I am way over weight. So for me today….breakfast and water, no snacks, and dinner around 5. Is more than enough.


    • Thanks for the info Rita. Eating out is a pain point for lots of people (including me!).


  2. I counteract vehicle buying anxiety by taking an online quiz about what vehicles meet my needs for size, responsiveness, gas mileage, etc. Then I check out those vehicles on Consumer Reports and car sites. I buy whatever vehicle is great for quality on all those sites. Also, I buy used and barter. And I buy during bad auto market times (like in January). And I buy a vehicle in a more depressed part of the county. Texas is booming right now, compared to the rest of the country (which may explain your job opening there?). Some websites can find vehicles at dealerships in various zip codes and give their asking prices. Then you can haggle in person when you get there. Base any purchase on having the vehicle inspected by a car repair place of your choosing. (This may cost $100 or more but it’s worth it.) If the vehicle passes inspection, drive your new vehicle home. P.S. I have a AAA membership with maximum towing, in case my used car has any issues on the way home. Buy one at least a week in advance of your purchase and bring your membership number with you.

    Alison Hicks

    • Thanks for the info Alison. I totally agree on TX being a booming locale right now! It is also a fairly robust auto market – high gas prices are leading people to trade in guzzlers, and the tsunami is having a major effect on the supply chain for parts. There are definitely more buyers than there are deals, and it’s driving the prices up and availability down. So a bummer of a time to HAVE to buy a car, but it is what it is.


  3. Does your employer offer a work/ride or van pool services? My employer subsidizes 50% of my bus pass. I pay about $28 per month, before tax money. It’s an express bus, so it gets to my work faster.

    When I have to drive to work, I average 50 miles roundtrip. That’s about 2 gallons of gas, which equates to close to $7 per day ($3.50 per gallon in Tucson, Az).

    I have set up a system, where everytime I take the bus, I note on an Excel Spreadsheet how much I saved that day, just by taking the bus. If I bring lunch to work or didn’t spontaneously buy ice cream or snacks, then I also note how much I saved.

    By creating a spreadsheet, it’s help combat my spending anxiety. I created another tab within the spreadsheet what my purchasing goals are. I’ll update how much I have in savings everytime I get paid by my employer.


    • Great system you have, Paul! Keeping track of how much you’re saving by making smart choices is a very positive way to think about saving, budgeting, and your money.

      P.S.- I’m a Tucsonan too! 🙂


    • Thanks for the info Paul. No ride or van pool services as the office here is pretty small (<5 people).

      I do similar tracking in an Excel spreadsheet. It's funny how little things add up to big savings!


  4. Jill – You are cracking me up!! You are seriously anxious about this, huh? Personally, I am the same way about certain things – I don’t like spending money on large items just because I don’t like parting with large sums of money. But, having lived in rural areas my whole life, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that we will always need two cars – one for me, and one for my husband. Commuting is just too time-consuming without them.

    So, for me, I feel thrifty when I find myself driving a reliable car that’s paid off. That’s why I advocate buying a nice used car and driving it as long as possible. I don’t like the car payments for 3-5 years, but I love owning the car after those payments stop. Maintenance on an older car isn’t cheap, but when you average it out over the year, I’d say we pay approx. $100-150 per month per car.

    You obviously understand that buying a car was part of your decision to move, so I think you just need to get used to the fact that cars (even used ones) come with car payments and/or annual repair bills, then decide just how much you are willing to pay in car payments and repairs.

    Hope that helps!

    Lena Gott

    • Glad I could provide entertainment, and also that you are able to relate! I really have come a long way in the 5 or so weeks since starting this process. I actually TRIED to buy one yesterday, but it was sold before I got to the dealership. Better luck sometime later this week…


  5. Jill!
    I’ve been in Texas 24 years and can’t imagine not having a car. We don’t have great public transit like these northern folks. Take it from someone who had really old cars when I first started driving…make sure you purchase a quality product that satisfies all your requirements. I was driving a family car during college that was really old but benefited me with no car payments. While money outweighs everything in college, the hassle of dealing with the breakdowns and issues with a old “cheap” car were an incredible pain. Then after graduating, with a long commute I knew I needed a quality car that wouldn’t fail me. I bought a used 2007 honda civic and I couldn’t be happier with it. I didn’t have the ability to pay straight cash but I took out a 5 year loan and 2x-5x the payments. On track to pay it off in 1.5 years. Sounds like you are financially fit and would understand the interest savings here. I know you don’t want take on a loan but maybe it’s worth the hassle you are saving yourself with a borrowed or super cheap car. (assuming you can accelerate payments to avoid big interest). Good luck!

    PS. Do you mind if I ask where you use to consult and how you liked it?

    Jake T.

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