Saver's remorse

In the news lately, I've read a lot about buyer's remorse and the role overspending may have played in the current economic crisis. But in today's New York Times, a story looks at the dangers of oversaving. Psychologists have dubbed this phenomenon "hyperopia," the medical term for farsightedness, as "it’s the result of people looking too far ahead. They’re so obsessed with preparing for the future that they can’t enjoy the present, and they end up looking back sadly on all their lost opportunities for fun."

Just as the immediate rush of a purchase doesn't last forever (hence buyer's remorse), neither does the guilt over the purchase. Researchers found that students who spent more of their spring break studying/working, as opposed to relaxing/partying, had more regrets over the way they spent their time when they were surveyed one year later. Dr. Ran Kivetz of Columbia University, and someone who researches consumer behavior said, "what builds up is this wistful feeling of missing out on life’s pleasures.”

This...this I understand. In fact, this pretty much summarizes my life. I'm not unsympathetic to those who have trouble with managing their money, nor am I particularly proud of this. But I also know that the regret is very true and very real. I don't remember much of college. I remember the chair in which I studied so often. I remember being so exhausted that I was constantly on the brink of tears, and then became even too exhausted to cry. I hate the scent of Juniper Breeze lotion from Bath and Body Works because I used it during the worst of my days and the scent always takes me back to that awful place.

Obviously, mental illness contributed to this hell. I won't deny it. Yet I don't know for sure whether I would have been able to loosen up even if I wasn't clinically anxious and depressed.

Kivetz has this to say:

“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” he said. “Obviously you need to be responsible and conserve your savings. But it’s been a depressing winter, and there’s nothing wrong with indulging yourself a little. This is a chance to reassess the quality and the balance of your life and to think how you’ll feel in the future. As long as you can afford it, it’s not a bad thing to be enjoying yourself.”

Enjoyment is the key word, as the hyperopia I experience extends far beyond money, and I'm guessing that's the case with others as well. It's about the price of enjoyment, or even (might I suggest) the fear of enjoyment. I will occasionally "enjoy" things, but only if I've earned them. And I put a high price on fun and relaxation. I'm not talking about making sure the cat has food before you go out for dinner. I'm talking about making sure the carpet is vacuumed, the laundry is folded and put away, the papers are organized, and the bills are paid.

This is some of the hardest thinking to break, because I've always been this way, and my parents definitely tend towards this way and I don't know any other way to exist. My threshold for fun and enjoyment are probably way lower than others' and I'm okay with that. But this article just really summarizes the dilemma in which I find myself so often, and the worldview that really contributes to the anorexic thinking.



Tiptoe said...

I've always had a hard time spend money on myself, for fun, enjoyable things. Most of my money (besides bills) goes towards functional needs more than a "want."

For the most part, I've always been like this, although it didn't help hearing about my family always talking about money either. I used to feel guilty for them spending money on me for my gymnastics practices when it was invariably something I enjoyed.

I agree with you about only "enjoying" things after having earned them. I have always been this way, and it's obviously parallel with thinking "I've earned my food for the day." :sigh:

I think for you since you have a tendency towards this thinking along with having it modeled via parents, it does indeed make it a much harder thinking to break.

There seems to be a bit of conflict in your words. No? Like it is partly a preference thing, though not necessarily by choice, but at the same time, you want to be able to "enjoy" for the simple sake of enjoying.

I don't have any wonderful answers but maybe an incremental approach and learning to savor those moments when you do allow yourself these things.

Right now, I'm trying to remind myself of that as I just bought some books off amazon as a "belated" birthday present to myself.

mary said...

I think this is why you need to plan and take vacations in places that force you to relax. Everyone deserves a chance to have a sabbatical, not just professors but all of us.
After a few months of waterfall hunting, ocean air or whatever you'd forget some of your "old" ways. It'll change you on a cellular level and your fun threshold would rise. Especially if shared with a friend or 2.
That's my cure. Should I publish it? Patent it? Or must you get permission to try it, in the name of research of course.: )
I'm in!

Carrie Arnold said...


You're right- there is a bit of conflict. Part of my over-saving is personality, something I'm guessing is genetic and honed by years of living with like-minded people. I don't think I'm ever going to drop loads of cash on something "random" or shirk my duties entirely.

But I think incorporating just a little of that into my life might make things easier. I mean, I could probably have gotten an A- in most of my classes with about 2/3 the work that it took to get an A at the top of the class. That kind of trade-off.

Enjoy those books! I do have much less guilt buying books than pretty much anything else. :)


A vacation would be nice. Indeed!

ego in absentia said...

Hi Carrie,
You have a great blog, i'm enjoying it much and you are really a source of inspiration and hope. I also want to compliment you on your jewelry!!!! I'm in love with a few pieces and plan to make a purchase - or two! :-)
xo t

Kim said...

Spending money is EXTREMELY hard for me. I feel like I'm always bracing for the future. Enjoyment is also extremely hard. It's something that feels so much a part of who I am, but I think it's also something I can work on... hopefully! My husband is the polar opposite -- not much saving mentality, all about the present. I find it interesting that I chose him.

alice said...

ive always been like this too. in the ed clinic i was asked to spend £5 a week on a treat. i did one week and stopped after that. i can buy one off expensive treats for others, just find it difficult for myself.

AngryGrayRainbows said...

It helped me to ask myself what I was afraid would happen if I actually did allow myself to relax a bit more... and where those fears reasonable.
I was often afraid that if I let go of the very short leash that I had myself on that I would go buck wild. Okay, so after years of neglect, I spoiled myself for some short time... however, I soon got over that and now I feel like I have a healthy balance of saving and spending.
The thing about always saving for the future is that it gets a person into this state where happiness is always in the future. That means even when it's years later and you'd had expected yourself to start enjoying yourself already... it will be difficult because the mindset is that happiness is always in the future - NOT THE PRESENT. Does that make sense?
I found that giving myself small treats here and there (that I really appreciated) helped me lighten up a bit... even if it was allowing myself to buy the more expensive paper towels or get the $15 Amtrak upgrade to business class when visiting my home town... a little can go a long way.

Carrie Arnold said...


You make a lot of sense. What has helped me a little was the book "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard. And he says that we're actually pretty bad at predicting what will make us happy in the future, but pretty good at predicting what will make us happy in the here and now.

I agree that the little splurges can be just as gratifying as the big plasma TV--probably more, in my case, considering I don't watch that much TV.

Anonymous said...

Great piece, Carrie. I definitely have a hard time enjoying myself. I'm pretty attuned to this aspect of my personality and behavior. I can spend money on others; in fact, I'm extremely generous. But I have a hard time spending money on myself. This week is an illustration: my family is on vacation (one child with school, other child with dad), and one of my big "goals" for the week was to not spend any money.

Anonymous said...

Here's a different perspective, from someone who has the opposite tendency. I grew up not exactly in poverty but with "just enough", maybe a small splurge now and then, in a large family. As soon as I was able to earn my own money, I started "making up for lost time", or lost pleasures. But unfortunately, I didn't know how to do it in a controlled way. I am only NOW, at middle age, able to see how that has hurt me in terms of retirment savings, and how that pursuit of happiness, by buying, doesn't quite work. It took a true mental shift, and I don't know what caused it (it came before the worldwide meltdown)- maybe just realizing how damned old I am.

But on the flip side, my spending and a lot of my other habits (I am NOT NOT NOT a workaholic, and refuse to work on weekends, even though I have a "professional" career; I am a lousy houskeeper because I have other things I prefer to do on my weekends; I do not have a "healthy" diet because I eat what I like; I only have a few friends who are TRUE friends and have no need for a large social network)- all of this comes from a simple thought that is always , always in the back of my mind: LIFE IS SHORT. It's almost an obsession with me, I am always aware of it, and it keeps me from engaging in much delaying of gratification.

I guess I offer this as a suggestion to keep the LIFE IS SHORT mantra in mind, but also take time to pause just a bit before pursuing any pleasure- not to deny yourself, but to make sure the particular thing will truly bring you joy, is what you really want, and is worth the price.

I hope that makes some kind of sense.


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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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