Letting off Some Steam: The Most Boring Way to Spend $200

By Carlos Portocarrero

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two suitcases on a tarmac

I won’t lie—spending money can be really fun. Acquiring new stuff makes us feel good because it triggers the same chemicals in our body that make us feel good when we do a good deed, when we fall in love, when we eat chocolate.

Over the holidays, M and A and I flew to Guatemala to spend some time with my family. The sense of Zen I found there was for another post, but there was one other thing that happened: the airline lost our luggage.

We got it two full days later, which was NOT fun. Instead of being flooded with dopamine, my synapses were flush with (insert chemical that makes you angry).

I complained, I followed up, and I complained some more. Eventually, I held them to their own policies. And because I was civil and polite in my quest, I wound up with twice the amount of compensation I was entitled to: $200 in cash.

Was it worth the hassle of not having clothes for two days? Of course not. But you know what? I’m over it (for the most part) so I’ll gladly take a couple hundred bucks for my troubles.

And now that all the hard work of collecting my just reward, I have to figure out how I want to spend it.


Here is where I tell you that I’m terrible at spending anything over $100. That’s why I needed my wife’s permission to buy my first smartphone and buying a Wii. It isn’t about “permission” so much as I need someone to tell me it’s OK to spend serious money on something you don’t really “need.”

I just can’t seem to pull the trigger without an endless amount of hand wringing and internal debate.

It’s the curse of the cheapskates.


google nexus tablet

So I got $200 in what’s essentially found money. I’ve been wanting to buy a tablet for a while…one that costs $199. So this is perfect, right? Buy the tablet you’ve been researching for months now that you have this found money.

You won’t feel the pain of depleting your cash on a trivial purchase. Done deal, right?


I’ve already sent it into my ING “New Car” account.

Just like that, the excitement of having $200 to spend is gone. Do I feel great that our New Car account is growing and that eventually we’ll be able to buy a new car without dipping into our savings?

Sure. But it means I’ve repressed that instinctual urge deep in all of us to spend, spend, spend. And every time I do that I can feel the tension increase. Eventually, I’m going to want to blow off some steam and unfurl that compact little ball of repression.

Like when I bought a Wii. And a new phone. And my MacBook Air (which I’m typing on now and has been a fantastic purchase…that should be another post).

The MacBook air was the last big purchase and that was on Black Friday of 2011, so it’s been a while.

I need some unfurling…

Part of me wants to just say the hell with it and buy the tablet. And not just the $199 tablet but to go all the way up to the iPad Mini (retail: $329) to make up for lost time. There are tiny little voices inside me saying “Do it! You’ve earned it! You deserve it!”

We all know those voices.

Eventually, I’ll buy something. I know I can’t keep repressing this feeling forever—I don’t have the stamina to fight it for much longer.

Am I the only one out there that feels this way? How are you dealing with this constant feeling? Why do I feel so guilty spending money? I guess it’s better than the alternative but it’s still kind of annoying that I have to go through all this mental gymnastics and internal debate to just buy myself a stupid gadget…

5 Responses to “Letting off Some Steam: The Most Boring Way to Spend $200”

  • Ray Says:

    Hilarious! I am the same way. My wife (E) laughs at me. It recently took me several trips to various stores and a fair amount of research to buy expensive long underwear. :) In addition to the guilt of spending, I also am scared of buyer’s remorse. When I’m spending what feels like a lot of money, I am always afraid that I will get it home and then later see something I like better or see the same thing but on sale.

  • Maria @ Money Development Says:

    Hello Carlos,
    Thank you for this interesting post. I feel that way too about spending money. But we also need to learn the new habit of spending as well as the new habit of saving.
    I don’t think it is remorse, it is prudence, because of the hard times we had to get all of our finances right.

  • Pam@Pennysaverblog Says:

    My husband always says if you know you are going to buy it anyway, you might as well buy it sooner rather than later, so that you can enjoy it longer.

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