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How do you transition from saving to spending?

Adam Kaz/iStock

You spent months, years or even decades saving for a big goal. You imagined how good it would feel to buy that house, send your child to college or retire from your career. So, when you do finally reach your savings goal, why does spending your own hard-earned money feel so…bad?

Why can it feel difficult to spend your money?

This is a mental shift, and we owe it to ourselves to recognize this. Especially in the current economic environment, “it’s natural for people to have a fear around losing their financial security,” says Jill Gutzmer, advice consulting expert for Thrivent. “There’s this drive for self-preservation. We’re seeking shelter, safety, food—and safety is not just physical safety, but financial safety, too. Spending money can feel like we are harming our financial security.”

Examining your biases toward, and past experiences with, money can help you ease the transition from saving to spending. What steps can you follow to make the transition easier?

  • Check in with yourself. If a chunk of time has passed between initially setting your savings goal and achieving it, assess whether the purchase is still a priority or if the money would be better allocated somewhere else.
  • Think about your values to guide spending with intention. “If the value is family, that might look like spending money on a family vacation or a bigger couch for movie night. If the value is compassion, it might be donating to a meaningful organization,” says Gutzmer.
  • Prioritize needs over wants and wishes. Spend money on must-have items that you can’t live without (such as housing, transportation and health care) before indulging in the nice-to-haves.
  • Lean on a trusted advisor. A financial advisor who understands your values and your goals can help you determine if the purchase you’ve been saving for still aligns with your values and helps you use your savings in the most tax efficient way. Together, you can assess how spending will affect your financial future.
  • Reframe the narrative. Recognize that you’re in a time of transition and be comfortable with a bit of discomfort as you adapt.

After achieving a savings goal and potentially making a big purchase, what should your next steps be?

Celebrate! Take the time to feel proud of the accomplishment, then reflect on how you were able to accomplish your goal. Acknowledge the accountability partners you had on your team, and evaluate the tools and methods you used to save, as well as any challenges that came up.

“How can we learn from the past to repeat a success like this, working harder and smarter as we go forward?” says Gutzmer. Use that information to set new, larger goals or expand on existing goals for the future.