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The Fear of Spending Again Once the Debt Is Gone

fear of spending“Can We Ever Step Off the Gas With Our Finances?”  That’s a question I asked just over a year ago on this blog. That post looked at when it might be appropriate to loosen the reins on the budget and relax the tightfisted control we have over our spending as we pursue certain financial goals.

My answer left open a great deal of room for debate. I concluded that “it depends” on many factors, such as:

…the depth of the person’s dreams.

…the levels of debt still to pay off.

…if a person is facing an expensive medical issue.

…if there is some form of crisis on the horizon.

…how large the bank account/investments have become.

…how old a person may be.

To reach any financial goal requires intense focus and discipline. The debt payoff journey may be the hardest of them all. When you are waist deep in it, the finish line may as well be half a world away.

With perseverance the day will eventually come when all the debt is gone. When that happens so many choices open up. One of the biggest is how to spend all the freed up money that was going towards debt.

Having recently paid off our mortgage early, I can attest that the “no debt world” is a great place to be. However, something else is at work that was totally unexpected.

I’m finding it difficult to relax my spending.

The Fear of Spending Again

We’ve been completely debt free since February. Yet we’ve continued to budget and spend like we have over the last few years. Those years were spent working towards debt payoff goals and career changes. They required financial sacrifices to get there.

Of course, we’ve spent money along the way but not like we could have.

The big thing I’ve come to realize is that my fear of spending again post-debt seems to have been greatly exaggerated. I know it’s only been three months but I have no inclination to wildly spend away the freed up money. Even for someone who is a natural spender, I can’t bring myself to do it.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.

A Spirit of Discipline

One of my favorite leadership writers is Dr. Tim Elmore. In his book Habitudes: The Art of Self-Leadership, he describes discipline as the bridge that helps us cross from where we are to where we want to be. The bridge of discipline is built by hard effort consistently applied over time and serves as the pathway to reach the goal.

Once that discipline is in place, it’s awfully hard for it not to be a part of your being. It’s represents who you have become and won’t evaporate from your life on a whim.

So because we spent all those disciplined years consistently budgeting, tracking our expenses, and holding back on expenditures, it has become second nature to us. It defines us. We really can’t see any other way to order our financial lives other than what we have been doing.

And that’s a good thing.

Still More to Accomplish

Will our lack of spending wane over time? Perhaps. It would seem logical to conclude the further we get away from the day we paid off our debt the more likely we will be to relax our spending.

However, we still have some big goals out there to accomplish, especially dealing with the kid’s college plans. Plus, even though I’ve become a stay at home dad, we are a long way from retirement. And who knows what medical issues or other crises might be on the horizon.

I think those big goals will keep our spending in check for the foreseeable future.

Questions: Are you worried about paying off your debt and lapsing back into bad spending behaviors? When do you think it’s OK to loosen the reigns and spend more? How disciplined have you become in working towards your financial goals? Do you have a fear of spending?

Image by Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Next Post: God Wants the First Bite of Pie

Prior Post: How We Are Paying For Summer Vacations With Cash

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  1. Being a lifetime Weight Watcher, I marvel at how similar losing weight and finances are. This same fear is present with people as they reach goal weight. The real issue is: we know how to lose weight and how to gain weight, but do we know how to maintain? Maintenance is the hardest part.

    Debt is the same. Someone coming out of debt knows how to get into debt and now has learned how to get out of debt, but do they know how to spend without ending up in debt again? The answer: “maintenance” is the same as “getting out of debt” but you get to spend a bit more. The tools that got you out of debt will keep you out of debt. If you “go back” to the behaviors you used before, you will end up back in debt.

    I disagree that “once you have good habits you’ll always have them.” You’ll have them if you pay attention. The longer you practice the new “good” habits the easier they are. If you don’t pay attention, or more likely, have a major life event, it is easy to slip into old habits; those are your innate habits. Stay focused on your goals, use your financial tools, and you’ll be fine.

  2. I think it depends on why you got in debt. With my student loans, I’m not that worried about getting back into debt once I’m debt free. My issue will most likely be not going off the deep end and spend all my money and instead put it into savings/retirement. Congrats on making the switch to being a stay at home dad.

  3. My view is that most human beings are creatures of habit when it comes to their spending. Since you’re set in your ways and your ways are modest, I predict you’ll find it easy to remain frugal. I’ve lived well below my means for almost 20 years and at this late date I can’t see myself ever rejoining the ranks of mainstream consumers. The most important thing that money can buy is personal freedom—but that’s just my own peculiar opinion. I’ll leave it to the well-informed majority to pursue their McMansions and their luxury autos and the bondage it all brings. 😉

    • “The most important thing that money can buy is personal freedom…” I’d completely agree with that! It’s allowed us to make some lifestyle choices that we otherwise could not have made.

  4. Discipline is definitely the key. My favorite quote is this: “DISCIPLINE is just choosing between what you want NOW and want you want MOST”, and that reminds me to keep on track with my financial goals.

  5. I think it’s good to spend a bit more when you know it won’t lead down a road of temptation. I’ve recently experienced some lifestyle inflation and spend a tad more than I did, but I also contribute more to my savings. Either way, it sounds like you have the discipline you need!

  6. I think it’s very natural for a person to become a little leery of spending after they have gotten out of debt. It took a ton of discipline to do so and to me – it’s also a good sign as long as it doesn’t get to the point where you cannot spend money on the things you saved for and still want. Being a little nervous meant you learned something and changed some habits, thus are far less likely to slip back into your old habits. People who wind-up back in out-of-control debt, generally speaking, never worried once they got out of debt. They immediately went back to their old ways.

    • We still have our memories of what it used to be like. So we are hesitant, fearing that we will slip back into old behaviors. I probably feel that more than Kim, since I’m that natural spender of the two of us.

  7. I think I am pretty disciplined. We’ve cut back on a lot to be able to afford what we want, while still paying off our student loans. I have always been a saver, so I don’t foresee myself going crazy once they are paid off.

  8. John S @ Frugal Rules says

    I dealt with this a good bit after I was done paying off my debt and still deal with it some residually. The thing that keeps me going is that I remember what it was like when I was in debt, meaning I choose not to forget what life was like then. That helps keep in check and have learned that it’s ok to flex a little on some of our spending. It can be hard to get to that point, but life gets awfully boring awfully quick if all you do is save save save and spend nothing on a few of the fun things.

  9. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says

    I think about this often, Brian. After our debt is gone, I want us to continue to be disciplined, but I want us to not be crazy about it either, and not feel guilty about little things like going out to eat. But I think there will definitely be a learning curve there, at least for us.

  10. Good to know. I want (and will need) my frugal spending to continue into my retirement years so I look at it now like we’re doing a dry run!

  11. alwaysconservative says

    My husband and I were very much on the same wavelength when we had debt and were trying to attain a level of wealth. Now that we have, he is much more willing to spend money than I am. He doesn’t understand that I still feel “something” might happen to take it away. I like just watching the balance in our accounts keep going up. He feels that since we have more than enough, we can easily let loose a little bit and spend some of it. We are trying to meet in the middle.

    • Isn’t it interesting how issues around money management don’t disappear just because you have “more than enough?” I think this is a real issue that many couples in your situation deal with. I can relate to both sides of this. I want to spend a little more but also feel the pull of “the something” that might happen. That “something” is what keeps me disciplined. But I’m also not going to fear the unknown. That could keep me from enjoying some of my money in the present. It’s definitely a balancing act.

  12. I think you can make some changes so long as you keep being dilligent in tracking and understanding the impact in the long term. If you simply stop tracking everything once you pay off the debt, you’ll end up in trouble again, guaranteed. Sounds like you’re good.

  13. Holly Johnson says

    We have loosened the reins a little bit over the past year and we’ve been fine. You just have to make sure it doesn’t get out of control. Most of my frugal tendencies are so ingrained now that I make good decisions without thinking so that helps.

  14. If I ever find I get some freed money, I allocate just a little to lifestyle inflation and most to responsible goals like retirement. That way I get to have a little fun too.

  15. I think that good financial habits, just like good healthy habits are things that we constantly need to work on and a skill that could always use focus. However, I do believe that the more you practice them, the easier it is to maintain those good practices.

  16. I agree with Dr. Tim. Once the good habits are in place, they’ll be just as hard to break as the bad habits were. You’ve used your discipline to establish the good, now let yourself enjoy your hard work 🙂

    • “…they’ll be just as hard to break as the bad habits were.” Agreed…we just don’t normally think that way. Memories are a funny thing. We remember how it used to be and fear slipping back into that bad behavior. What we don’t realize is how far we have come (for the better) in our spirit and how strong a factor that discipline now plays in our lives.


  1. […] Brain at Luke1428 shares, The Fear of Spending Again Once the Debt is Gone. He talks a little about how it has been spending wise since becoming completely debt free back in […]

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