Do You Feel Entitled To Money?

Photo: stevendepolo

One of the biggest obstacles for those who are trying to save money and pay off their debt is their notion that they are entitled to money. They look at celebrities or their neighbors and want what they have. They feel like it's not right for them to be left out of that happiness (because, in this consumer driven world, we often equate happiness with our ability to spend, and who isn't entitled to pursue happiness?). (See also: 6 Ways Money Really Can Buy Happiness)

"It's Not Fair"

There's a feeling of "it's not fair" when someone else has more money. Why do they deserve to enjoy those things? So the race is on, for bigger, newer, and shinier things, all charged on credit. If pro-athletes, celebrities, and lotto winners can end up bankrupt because of overspending, what are the chances for us regular non-millionaires?

Entitlement Quiz

If you aren't able to accept your current situation (your income), you will never be ready to live in a financially responsible way. Here's a quick self-quiz:

  • Do you buy things because someone you know just bought one or talked about getting one?
  • Do you buy things because you saw a photo of a celebrity with one?
  • Do you justify buying something you can't afford because you feel you deserve it?
  • Do you compare the things you have with things other people have, and feel superior if yours is better and inferior if yours is not?
  • Do you always pick the latest model or the more expensive one not because of the features but because of the price?
  • Do you feel like you're missing out if you don't own something someone else has?
  • Do you think it's okay to spend on credit right now because you know you will make more money later?

10 years ago I would have answered yes to at least 4 of these questions. But any yes to these questions means you feel entitled to money, and as long as you feel that way, living within your means is out of your reach, no matter how many coupons you clip or brown bags you bring to work.

Accept What You Have

What can you do to shift this mindset? Accept that you have the money that you have. Accept that there are things you just can't afford. Believe that there are things that you can afford that will satisfy you. Believe that it is more important for you to not be in debt and save money, than it is to have something.

3 Ways to Start

This type of emotional spending (seeing something you really, really want or seeing someone else with a new toy) is what impulse buys are all about. The most effective way to curb impulse spending is to give an opportunity for time to equalize the emotions.

If you really want it, save up for it. You can have anything you want — you just have to save up for it. You don't have to deny yourself anything. The question is, is that thing you want really worth that time and effort? When you actually have to save up for something, it will give you time to contemplate how desirable it really is. 

Borrow it. Borrowing does two things. First it allows you to really know how much utility it's going to give you. Second it gives you the same "high" as if you had bought it for yourself because you have something different. How you feel when you return it will give you a good idea of whether it is something that will truly give you value.

Commit to a waiting period. Again, it's all about giving yourself some time to get over the initial "ooh ooh I want that" feeling. Give yourself a 3 month waiting period for any purchase. If in 3 months you still want it, you can buy it (if you can pay cash for it of course!).

Where do you stand? Did you take the quiz? Are there other ways to get over the feeling of entitlement to money?

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Guest's picture

I spent a lot of time with my grandma until she passed 10 years ago. She was born in 1904, so she lived through the Depression and a lot of other things. I learned a tremendous amount from her, and I cannot believe how much the mindset of many adults have shifted from saving and living with what you need (grandma's generation) to 'spending because I deserve it'. People find so many reasons to spend, and rewarding themselves for the slightest thing has become very popular.

I could go on and on regarding this topic...

Guest's picture

Interesting article. I think the I'm entitled mentality is partly to blame for individuals taking risks by making purchases that they could not afford. The economic collapse of 2008 was predicated by risky behavior on Wall Street and on Main Street.

Guest's picture

I hear that phrase, "It's not fair" spoken frequently by my son around grades. He's learning the life lesson around hard work yielding (usually) good results. I'll be more aware with he says this again and ask him to considered whether he simply feels entitled.

And thanks for the reminder about borrowing. I know its value but never thought to evaluate how I feel when I return the item. A good opportunity for a head-shake.

Guest's picture

No way. If you feel entitled to anything just because you are alive, that is a mistake. If you feel entitled for something because you've worked your butt off for it, that's another matter. I've always been of the "work for it first, save up the money, then enjoy yourself" mentality. We don't buy things on credit unless we already have the money for them. Who cares if a "celebrity" has something in a picture? Most likely photoshopped there by the seller anyway and a complete waste of time to want to be like any of them in my opinion. Be yourself, do what is best for you financially, and most importantly, live within your means!

Guest's picture

One thing to do is to change your mindset when it comes to purchasing things. Ask yourself the question of how would your earn the money to make the purchase, rather than whether you can afford it now. That way, you are constantly moving ahead towards future earnings.

Guest's picture

This is one of the best things that I've read about why we over spend. It is so true that we feel we have deserve something that's not a neccessity by simply wanting it. We often think, "I work hard, therefore I should have......." We need to think, "I want...... therefore I need to save the money for it." Fantastic article!!

Guest's picture

Your questions are good - and even if people aren't actively purchasing things, they can see where they might be in danger of overspending. "Answer the questions now, see your weaknesses, and avoid buying later!" Win, win (win)!

Personally, sometimes I am guilty of number 4 - but at least you already own it for the first half of the question, haha.

Andrea Karim's picture

I totally feel entitled. That's the reason you guys hired me in the first place, right? To be your "What Not to Do" girl?

Guest's picture

I had a 7-year relationship with someone who felt that the things she had and the gifts she gave reflected on who she was as a person. We always had 10 new cleaning products under the sink when one might have done. We had a car we could barely afford. Christmas put us into debt until the next summer because she wanted to generous with friends and family. Our fridge was always well stocked even though we were throwing away tons of spoiled food. She was not a bad person but they way we were living was miserable because we were always in debt. Every cent was going to credit cards. I remember having $5 or $10 dollars in my account right after getting paid for months on end. Today I've paid off all my cards, have built up a financial cushion, have a much more modest used car, and I use the things I have before I buy new stuff. The happiness that financial security has brought me is far better than having all that stuff.

Maggie Wells's picture

Lynn, Great post. I think the big turning point for me was having children (cliche, I know). But it forced me to look at my monthly income differently. I used to leave the country at least once a year to go some place for a few weeks of exploration---many of my friends still do this when they can, but I'm out of that equation for a good long time---and am okay with that.

A friend of mine came over for dinner on Saturday night and we were talking about a young 20 something guy we know from our area. He'd called her from a bar in the Mission of San Francisco a few weeks back. We thought about how happy we are that he is there at this time in his life (early 20s/SF is a great combination) and how happy we are that we *aren't* there. We no longer feel the need to go and do something.

I think my husband and I have resigned to having only 'new and latest' if it is something that has to do with our careers where we need to know about it. Otherwise we are fine with out thriftstore lifestyle.

Donna Freedman's picture

I don't feel entitled. What I *do* feel is happy with what I have, whether I got it from a thrift store or (rarely) a department store. That's because I'm old enough to realize what money can and cannot buy, so I choose only things I really need or really want.
Here's another suggestion for try-it-before-you-buy-it: Rentals. For example, you could rent a flashy sports car and drive it around. Maybe it'll make you feel like hot stuff. But when you return it, look at your budget and figure out where the high monthly car payment plus higher insurance will come from, and see what you might have to give up to get it. Maybe your vanilla sedan will look better all of a sudden.
You can rent high-end purses, I'm told. Same tactic applies: Figure out where the hundreds of dollars would come from the month you buy it. Decide whether you felt cool enough carrying that accessory to make up for the blow to your budget.
And you might THINK you need a power washer, fancy saw, carpet cleaning system or whatever...But renting one is probably cheaper in the long run, especially if you can get friends/neighbors to go in with you on the rental. In an 8-hour stretch you could power-wash an awful lot of decks besides your own.

Guest's picture

I think there's a second level to the "I deserve it" one that lives half-way between that and emotion shopping. I struggled with especially in my twenties: the "I need it" that led me to buying things I couldn't quite afford because
*I was feeling pressure at my job, and I was judged by my appearance as much or more than by my performance
*I needed to entertain guests, and was too proud to ask for help
*I felt out of step and uncomfortable - it wasn't so much envy and comparison, as a sense I was being compared, and losing. I guess that could fall into the "talked into buying something" but it wasn't out of direct competition, I was trying to avoid my sense of persecution by people around me who expected me to strive to spend and buy the same as themselves.

Guest's picture

I don't feel like I think I am entitled to stuff but because I am human it is easy to be patient and not be jealous of something. I do believe that working hard and spending within your budget is how it should go though. Sure it would be great if someone else had paid for college for my husband and I but it didn't happen and we worked our butts off to finish and are working our butts off to pay off the student loans. There is a lesson in everything. Many people have asked me why I balance our checking account or take the time to create a budget and I always answer that it is my (our) responsibility to manage our money and not take it for granted or take the chance at spending outside what we have.

We can't have or do everything that we want and that is fine because even if we did we probably would still not be happy. (PS I am only 27 so it can't just an age thing either)

Guest's picture

A number of years ago I heard someone say "you'll never get more unless you can prove you are responsible with what you have today". I often think about this line when I am wanting more. Look at how you are managing your money today. Are you doing a good job? Are you acting impulsively? Do you have a system to support what you are doing? Can you manage it more effectively?

When you take care of what you have you prove that you can handle more. Think about it... it has worked for me.

Guest's picture

I used to overspend like crazy because I hated my work. So because I forced myself to sit and do something I hate for 60+ hours per week I felt entitled to splurging and binge shopping whenever I wanted. It was my way of rewarding myself. Vicious cycle! Once I found the courage and confidence to make money doing work I love my crazy spending addiction went away.
I think this is a big problem in America where many of us hate our jobs and only do them for the money. So we end up compensating in other ways like overspending, overeating, over drinking, etc. I think if you find happiness you won't feel the need to medicate in other ways.

Guest's picture

Great article. I am happy to say that I "flunked" the test. I didn't say yes to any of the questions. At my age, I now look forward to a shorter future but with as little debt as possible and not the next latest gadget. I am content with the things that I have and happy to shop at thrift stores for many things that I need.

Guest's picture

The waiting period is a good idea that we practice on any purchase that is considered a "non-necessity". Even necessities are given thorough investigation to determine the best for our needs (not wants).

In my opinion, the "gotta have it now" mentality got many into deep financial trouble.

Renting or borrowing is another great idea. Many of my friends rent an expensive telephoto lens for sports photography. They can't justify a $10,000 lens for a few events.

Guest's picture

I do feel that no one is entitled to money but I feel that anyone can have what they want if they work hard enough. Some people want money to buy those new shiny items and others just want financial security for them and there families.

Guest's picture

I think the entitlement issue comes up in a lot of contexts. One poster mentioned grades. My husband taught college courses part-time for 2 decades, and noticed a big change in the prevailing attitudes among students. They seemed to feel more and more entitled to good grades, whether or not they did anything to deserve them. Every year seemed worse. And no, he wasn't a grouchy, lousy teacher complaining because he has some axe to grind - he got stellar student and faculty evaluations. Every year, at least a half dozen kids would say he was the best prof they ever had. But the trend was disturbing. In recent years, he got more and more people coming to him saying they "needed to get an A". They were not asking how they could earn one, asking for extra study material or extra credit work, or asking for help so that they could do a good job. They were informing him that they wanted an A regardless of the quality of their work! He would respond "I always give As for A level work" and some of the students would say "You don't understand - I NEED an A. I want to go to law school next year, and I can't get anything but an A. You have to give me one, because I need it". Yup - that's a direct quote. (As though the other students all wanted Ds, and he needed to be informed who had a use for an A.). Yes, indeed - he could hardly believe it, but after further discussion, that was it exactly. Basically, she was saying "You have to be directly worried about my career, and give me this grade. Why not? My parents always gave me whatever I wanted, whether I earned it or not - why wouldn't you?". Whereupon he informed her again that he would gladly give her an A, if her work merited it. She could even perhaps do extra if she didn't do well - he offered that to everyone. He'd give them opportunities to improve their grades if they'd do the work. But she wasn't interested and said that he simply had to give her the grade because, again, she was going to law school. Finally, he got blunt and told her "I'm sorry, but your future career plans are irrelevant to this class, and frankly not my concern. I'm not really worried about whether the seat in that law program goes to you or someone else. I will try to help you learn and do well if you're willing to do the work - but if not, then I am not in the habit of giving free grades or favoring one student over another. I'm not your father - I am your professor, and I have hundreds of students, all of whom have their own career plans." She was shocked - the thought had never occurred to her.

Guest's picture

One must also consider the context in which we live. Think about the TV shows you watch and how often the sitcom characters live in great apartments, have great clothes, always go out to eat ... but never seem to work! I like the suggestions at the end -- very practical. In addition to the few questions there, I'd suggest that people try using the Money Habitudes game (or money personality assessment), I think it's a fun, easy way for people to really understand how and why they spend the way they do, including to seek acceptance and make a positive impression on others through money.