The Itch

I’ve got the itch.

The itch to buy shit.

I’m trying to figure out how to scratch it without spending money. I’m also trying to figure out what is causing it.

I just read a post asserting that the reason we own, and keeping buying, so much stuff is fear. Skimming through the post I didn’t disagree with his points. I’ve definitely packed too much for a vacation because I feared uncertainty and wanted to be ready for every conceivable eventuality. I keep things I should probably give away because I may “need” them some day. I can definitely see how fear pushes people to buy, and keep, things they don’t really need. I’m trying to recognize when fear is motivating me to spend.

Except fear does not seem to be behind this itch. The two things I most susceptible to purchasing are toys/clothes for my kids and clothes and shoes for myself. Those are my big achilles heels when it comes to frivolous spending. And I don’t think I buy toys and clothes out of fear.

I will admit that I used to buy toys for my kids out of fear, a desperate fear that I wouldn’t have any time or space for myself so maybe if I got this cool toy they might play with it for thirty minutes one day and I’d get a much needed break. I bought a lot of dumb toys in the hopes that they would distract my kids for any length of time, back when I was a new mother and the relentless consistency of their needs felt overwhelming. Now both my kids are old enough to play for 10-30 minutes by themselves with the toys we already have (well, sometimes) and I rarely buy something for it’s possible distraction value. (I’m also way more lenient when it comes to employing the magical powers of the TV.)

Now a days, I want to buy my kids toys because I think they would like them. My son just became obsessed with dinosaurs. We have a simple set of plastic dinosaurs from my daughter’s short lived obsession, along with three cute plush toys. We have a very simple  puzzle (and the dinosaur-shaped pieces are think enough that they can even stand up and be played with). We already have a lot of different dinosaurs toys, and there is no need for us to have anymore, and yet I’ve found myself on Am.azon searching to see what’s available. I know more dinosaur toys are totally unnecessary, but I can’t keep myself from looking. (I haven’t bought anything yet! Yay!)

The thing is, I don’t really want anymore dinosaur toys. I’m still trying to par down the amount of toys we have–buying more would directly contradict my efforts to have less. And yet I still day dream about getting my son new dinosaurs, or his most recent Thomas train favorite, or whatever little thing I think would make him happy.

My daughter recently started wearing actual clothes when she’s not in her school uniform. For the past three years she has worn fancy princess nightgowns pretty much everywhere. I was fine with it–she had to wear a uniform at school (even preschool!), why shouldn’t she be able to wear a nightgown to the playground on the weekend? So she wore her nightgowns, and in the winter she wore cotton pajamas under her nightgowns, and that is what she’s been doing since she was three.

Well now she wants to wear real clothes and it’s been fun to get her some (or take her shopping with her Nana, so her Nana can get her some). But now she has enough, and I definitely don’t need to get her anymore, but it can be hard, when I find a shirt I know she’d love, not to get it for her.

I haven’t bought myself clothes in a long time–maybe six months? Maybe I bought an item here or there, but nothing substantial. For the past year I’ve been focusing on paring down my wardrobe–most weeks two or three things I wear end up in the give-away pile when I realize I don’t really like them anymore. I’m getting rid of a lot right now, as the days warm up and I retire my more winter-appropriate items until next school year.

But I don’t have any capris (my summer bottom of choice) that fit and most of my summer tops are looking pretty ragged, with visible pit stains or small holes. I feel like I could genuinely use some more summer clothes, but I’m also sure I could squeak by without them. The thing is, I know what look I’m into and when I’m wearing an outfit I love I feel good about myself. I know I’m not supposed to care what I wear, and successful people where the same thing every day, blah, blah, blah, but is it really so bad to want to feel good when I see myself in a mirror? Is it such a sin to express myself with what I wear?

I feel like I’m always second (and third and fourth and tenth) guessing myself when it comes to how I spend my money. I know the answer is a budget, and I know that budget should reflect my values, but I’m still struggling to work that out on my own. I know my husband and I need to figure this stuff out together, but he never wants to talk about it. It’s not that he’s avoiding the budget discussion specifically, he’s just tired and doesn’t want to talk about ANYTHING of substance. So I’m left tracking my own spending and trying to figure out what my own values are, because I don’t see us coming together as a united front on this stuff for a while, and while that’s frustrating, at least my husband’s spending is pretty consistent (watching his spending via our joint account has confirmed this), and I can figure things out well enough without his help, at least for a little while.

I just have the itch, you know, for some fun new capris, for an outfit I feel fabulous in. I do think my year-plus of budgeting and minimalizing our belongings has made me see spending in a really different way, but I still get the itch, and sometimes it’s really hard not to scratch.

What itches do you get? How do you avoid scratching them?


  1. On buying something for yourself, like clothes? Look, it’s not like you’re out buying THE most expensive pair of capri’s or tops. I would think that if it were your husband, he’d just buy what he needed & wouldn’t be overcome with guilt about the money. I say, buy whatever is versatile for work & fun clothes. And no, it’s not a sin to express oneself with their clothing.

    I have the itch to buy myself some flats (Tieks) but they’re so expensive (I heard worth every penny) and I can’t justify $175 and cents right now. What helps firm up my decision? I look at my college debt. Sigh. It sucks but it helps.

    1. I have wanted a pair of Tieks for a LONG time, but I also can’t justify it. How can they be worth that much?! But if they really were…I could wear flats every freaking day. Mostly I wear Toms right now (there was a warehouse sale last year and I scored BIG TIME), so I could easily incorporate a pair of nice flats. But that price tag is shocking.

      And to be fair I have been looking at some pricier pants. Not Tieks pricey, but not cheap either. 😉

      1. Tieks are on my maybe-someday list, too. I live in flats spring-summer-fall and would love some that are nicer than Toms, too. Its weird that I can’t stomach the price point for one pair of shoes, but happily spend that much combined for 3-4 random items. I need to rethink that (though actually, if I KNEW the Tieks would be perfect, I might spring for them, but you just can’t know with shoes until its too late usually)

  2. I wonder if there’s a distinction you can make between things you can *create* a justification to buy (my husband does this a lot) and things that are objectively justifiable? To me, replacing pit stain shirts sounds objectively justifiable. Dinosaur toys don’t. Not that there’s not a place for more frivolous things but they could be planned rather than spontaneous. It doesn’t help cure the itch though – I realize that – but maybe it resolves some of the guilt and mental gymnastics?

  3. I’ve recently started budgeting using You Need a Budget and I really like it. High recommendations. I don’t have an overspending problem, but I do have a goal to save extra money this year so budgeting feels like a useful exercise nonetheless. The YNAB approach (only spending the money you already have, “aging” your money so that you pay forward on bills using money from last month) seems like it might be a good fit for you and your spending habits. Want more clothes or nice shoes? Save up, cut back somewhere else, and you can (and should) go ahead and make those purchases.

    My situation is like yours in that my spouse does not give a shit about personal finance and is resentful of doing any sort of financial planning. I’ve accepted that this will never change. He has a monthly allowance of sorts that he uses to cover all of his personal expenditures (restaurants, alcohol, clothing, concerts, etc.) and I don’t monitor that spending at all (nor do I want to). In YNAB, I treat it like any other recurring expense, akin to a mortgage or car payment, and after I pay it out to him I don’t think about it at all. I like this approach because it allows him to have control over his own spending while giving me the control to budget everything else, including my own personal spending. Some months I spend more than his monthly allowance on myself, other months (and this is much more frequent) I spend less. It has helped me to plan and make bigger purchases for myself without feeling guilty.

  4. Toys: Go to resell shop or thrift. Daughter’s clothes…inventory what she has then compare to what she NEEDS. Your clothes… same approach. Inventory what you have and condition, then compare to what you need to get through summer not naked and looking reasonable. Wearing clothes that do not fit, that are stained or have holes is not good for you or anyone else. It devalues you inside yourself.
    Then make a list of what is missing and that is what you can shop for and buy. i.e: 1 sweater you can wear with all shirts and pants for foggy summer. Or 1 capri pant that goes with all tops and isn’t instantly recognizable as Sally’s Patchwork pants in orange and purple. That way you target what you actually need versus it is cute and I’d like it.
    LOVE that you are reducing your wardrobe by discarding what you ought to never wear again, a simple way of cutting clothes inventorying down to a manageable quantity.
    I also think it makes sense to make a minimal list of what you need in your closet to dress yourself for 7-10 days (using washer/dryer to get to 10 days works if you have easy laundry access … so spilling coffee on your pants is correctable. Same pants different tops counts.)
    Wow have you made progress over the past few years! You really really have made changes in your shopping actions.

  5. I recently read Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation book and was very captured by the bit she describes here about animals and “seeking.” . She writes (p. 96 of that edition), “…animals and humans are wired to enjoy hunting for food. That’s why
    hungers like to hunt even if they’re not going to eat what they kill: they like the hunting part in and of itself. Depending on their personalities and interests, humans enjoy any kind of hunt: they like hunting through flea markets for hidden finds; they like hunting for answers to medical problems on the Internet; they like hunting for the ultimate meaning of life in church or in a philosophy seminar.” And I was like, “Doh!” Yes, I like hunting. I am not so much on the shopping if it requires me to set foot in an actual retail establishment (ugh) or to engage in making a decision with my child (or helping him to make a decision), which involves a lot more hand-holding than I enjoy engaging in (not than I’m willing to engage in, necessarily, but certainly not something I do for the entertainment value or — see Grandin — dopamine), but online shopping and other kinds of seeking (searching for information, for example) — oh YES!

    I’m not sure I’ve done much actionable with that information yet, but realizing that many of the things I enjoy (including but definitely not limited to searching for/finding “bargains” on the internet) can be grouped together as “seeking” has helped me see that there may be actions I can substitute for one another (where some are more and some less consistent with other goals/values I hold) that aren’t, absent that insight, otherwise obviously interchangeable.

    In case that’s of any use.

    1. This is interesting to me and seemingly accurate in my case. I often go “on the hunt” for something on Amazon – this past week was every single Sandra Boynton board book that my infant daughter does not yet have. I made a list of them all and then found them all and added them to my cart. I couldn’t justify spending $175, so I moved them all to the “Saved for Later” section. Just having found them and knowing I CAN buy them at any time assuaged most of the urge to actually buy them. I’m sure I’ll end of purchasing most of them eventually, but it will be 1-2 at a time and likely only when I need the extra $3-$6 purchase to get free shipping. 🙂

      1. I do this too! Online shopping for the “hunt” but not pulling the trigger and keeping things in the “saved for later” pile. its weirdly satisfying. back in a different life, I LOVED going to actual stores and finding bargains. It was so satisfying, I’d get a thrill.

  6. Wednesday now of your break. Hoping you are happy with what you have done so far and that you are more rested and relaxed for having had some time alone in your home. Listening to the quiet can be so restorative and you have almost zero restorative time in your normal world. Good wishes.

    1. Ha! Monday I was at my daughter’s school all day. Tuesday I was at work, and today my son is home sick. So no quiet day at home yet. Hopefully the next two will work out?

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