Have you ever had the feeling that you were doing something wrong, even when everything seems to be right? You're not alone. In an annual update meeting this week, one of my clients - a medical specialist in one of the higher earning subspecialties - told me she "feels" like she's not spending enough money.
While I've helped plenty of people who have felt out of control with money, this was an issue I'd never heard before.
I asked, "Can you tell me more about what you mean when you say you feel like you're not spending enough money?"
She said she knows she's saving enough to send her three kids to a good college, she's certain she's on track for a solid retirement, and she has enough life insurance to take care of her kids if she or her husband die prematurely. And she's got a solid, well-managed practice. But she also said "I earn so much, I feel like I ought to be spending more."
"Are you happy with your house?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
"Are you happy with your car?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "I just bought a new (used) one."
"Do you feel like you're spending as much as you need to in your day-to-day life, or your 'standard of living'?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
"So what do you feel like you should spend more money on?"
"Vacation," she said.
So I asked, "Tell me about your last vacation. Where did you go, how long did you stay, did you take your kids, how was the hotel?"
She told me they stayed at a beachfront home inMauifor about a week in December, and had an excellent time, and she felt rested after the vacation was over. No problem there.
Then I asked, "What do your kids think about the trip? Did they have a good time? Did you make any memories?"
She told me that the kids talk about theHawaiitrip all the time and had lots of excellent memories.
Then I asked, "If you had spent more money on the trip or stayed longer, do you think they would have had better memories?"
She said no.
So What Does It All Mean?
My take on this conversation is that she has a mild case of residimentia: the condition that doctors contract during their years as a resident. It comes from being so constrained for time, personal space, and money, that this feelingsomewhat like PTSDcan linger for years.
And then, when the stress and anxiety of life in residency subside, when the schedule begins to loosen up, and the money begins to be more plentiful, there's a natural tendency to try to re-create the emotional environment that existed before, kind of like a comfort zone.
How Feeling "OK" Feels
When you're certain about your personal financeswhen you're certain you have enough, and that you will have enough, and that you're on the right trackyou're going to feel differently than when things were "not OK." This is a natural part of making progress, and it's pretty normal.
If you're feeling like you're not spending enough, ask yourself one question, "Is my life good?" If the answer is yes, then smile and perish the thought. If the answer is "No, it's not," then ask yourself, "Will spending more money really make my life good?" If the answer is yes, then by all means measure your spending and see if you can spend more. But if you're not feeling good about your life, and money is not the issue, it might be time to seek some counseling or take a look at the bigger picture of where you are in your life.