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An Unhealthy Obsession With Saving Money

I sometimes worry that I’m not saving enough money. It’s a silly obsession, given that we don’t have any consumer debt, we save more than one-third of our income, and I have a defined benefit pension plan at work. I try to strike a balance between saving and spending money, but I’ll admit that I mostly prefer not to spend. Boiling every decision down to a purely monetary one isn’t healthy, but try telling someone who suffers from anxiety not to worry. It’s hard to ignore that instinct.

Is there such thing as an unhealthy obsession with saving money? I asked myself this after reading one of those listicle posts – 12 ways to know you worry too much about retirement savings – and slowly nodding along with most of the points. Here are a few of them that hit home for me and my money saving obsession.

An Unhealthy Obsession With Saving Money

You have a double-digit savings rate but find it difficult to make ends meet

It’s not that we find it difficult to make ends meet, but I believe in giving a job to every single dollar that comes into our account each month and that can sometimes leave just a small buffer in case something comes up.

For example, I get paid once a month and as soon as that paycheque hits my bank account I pay off last month’s credit card balance in full, set aside my RRSP, TFSA, and RESP contributions, and then make sure there’s enough to cover any automatic bill payments. I want to be efficient with every dollar – and it doesn’t seem very efficient to have a bunch of dollars sitting in a chequing account and not earning any interest.

But once in a while, “something” comes up and we go over budget. I have to move money around between accounts to cover the extra expenses. It’s not ideal, and I know this, so it would make more sense to park $1,500 or so into my chequing account to cover any budget shortfalls.

You put off replacing or repairing important things in your home so you can save more money

I do budget for home maintenance and repair, plus set aside money for new clothes every month. Still, I find myself getting annoyed at discretionary purchases or things I think we can live without.

We have a decent sized list of items that need to be fixed or replaced. Usually the first thing that comes to mind is, “how much is that going to cost?” Too often, the purchase gets deferred until the item becomes unusable and has to be replaced.

Part of this thinking is because of the way I budget. I use a zero-based budget to plan our spending and saving for an entire calendar year. Some months have irregular expenses, such as house insurance premiums or Christmas presents. The zero-based budget allows me to smooth out our expenses so that we don’t have any major surpluses or shortfalls in a given month.

This is great if every single expense is accounted for, but of course life happens and we need to make adjustments. I’m not sure if I’m more annoyed by the unanticipated spending or the fact that I’ll have to move some numbers around on a spreadsheet to accommodate the spending.

You visit your budget daily trying to find ways to trim expenses so you can save more

There’s an incredible level of detail to be gleaned from a zero-based budget approach, especially when you have years of historical data from previous budgets.

As I input weekly expenses into my spreadsheet I’ll often look for ways to save in certain categories. The problem is, the savings in one category can easily be offset by going over budget in another category. Or, more specifically, spending just half of your clothing budget one month doesn’t necessarily mean you can squirrel that money away for good – you might as well add it to next month’s clothing budget.

You have a defined benefit plan or your employer contributes substantially to your pension

My defined benefit pension plan is designed to replace about 60 percent of my final salary in retirement. That’s a lot of money and something that, when combined with CPP and OAS, can provide a very comfortable retirement.

I save outside of my workplace pension. It might be overkill, but I think options equal freedom when it comes to retirement. I hope to max out my RRSP, my wife’s RRSP, and both of our TFSAs, in addition to what I get from my workplace pension and government benefits.

You like the idea of having an ambitious retirement nest egg and you are striving to reach that goal, but can’t explain what you will use that money for when you retire

Along the same lines, I have this ambitious goal to become financially free at 45 and to explore early retirement in my 50s. I obsess over saving money today so that my future self will have the flexibility and freedom to retire early, change careers, travel the world, give generously to charity, etc.

The problem is, I have no idea what my life will look like in 20 years and whether all the money we end up saving will be enough, too much, or too little for whatever life has in store. So I err on the side of, more money = better.

Final thoughts

I’ve decided that I do have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with saving money. I am a personal finance blogger, after all.

It’s true that more money will give us more options in the future, however the trick is to not just enrich your future self at the expense of your present self. Smooth out your income and expenses throughout your life so that at any stage you’re never depriving yourself nor living in excess.

Readers: Do you have an irrational obsession with saving money? Can you save too much?

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17 Comments

  1. GV on May 23, 2017 at 4:25 am

    This articles resonates well with me… I’m a pathological saver, a multi-millionaire , have no debt, and wear shirts with holes in them. My spouse tells me I need more pleasure in my life… however, had I not saved and been smart with money and career I wouldn’t have the money I have now. 🙂 And I’m still working because I “need” to save more. LOL… and I’m in my mid 40s!

  2. Kathy from CT on May 23, 2017 at 5:49 am

    This article certainly hit home! Yes, I have an unhealthy obsession with saving money. A long time ago my husband accused me of saving too much. However, both the savings and the obsession got us thru almost 5 years of irregular and no employment for both of us, with 2 in college! That got my husband totally on board with this “obsession”.

    18 months ago we adopted a true zero-based budget along with specific goal dates to paying off our mortgage and 2 car loans. Every month we found additional money, opting to put it towards these goals. I am happy to report next month we will have the mortgage paid off (3 months earlier than the goal date). We expect the cars to be paid off by the end of the summer, which is 9 months earlier than the goal date.

    We have already talked about how to adjust our spending plan (we don’t call it a budget), taking into account future house projects, vacations, and other wish-list items.

    It’s hard adjusting from no-spend to OK-spend without going into all-spend and no-save, blowing up all the past hard work. We tempered it by being deliberate about the spending.

    Lastly, a happy medium is a separate account we call the “oh $hit” account, which a small amount of money is put into with each paycheck. I, too, got tired of moving money around between accounts and updating my spreadsheet when the life-happens occurrences take place.

  3. Garth on May 23, 2017 at 6:16 am

    Even though it seems to be a touchy subject, I don’t think we can ignore the moral arguments for spending less. We really should care a lot about what kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. Mister Money Mustache is IMHO the best spokesman for this line of thinking.

    Embrace stoicism. Think more about maximizing happiness, and much less about comfort and convenience.

  4. Adriana @MoneyJourney on May 23, 2017 at 8:39 am

    I think having an obsession with saving money is normal in some cases.

    Personally, I’m aware of the constant fear of ending up broke. I’ve been broke before and don’t ever want to be in that situation ever again. So, I began saving and yes, sometimes I obsess over money more than I should.

    I think this is totally normal, as long as you don’t compromise your health or your happiness. It’s OK to save and abstain from eating out, for instance. But it’s not OK to constantly avoid friends just so you won’t spend money or eat junk because you think spending money on healthy food prevents you from saving.

  5. aB on May 23, 2017 at 10:19 am

    “RRSP and TFSA room feels like an obligation” – Michael James

  6. Carol on May 23, 2017 at 11:17 am

    I was a Registered Nurse for 35 years and the worst words I ever heard were “if only”. Invest in your TFSA, RRSP and bank account but enjoy your life, travel and also spend your money on what you enjoy. Retirement does not always happen to a lot of people or they may be ill for the retirement they wanted…..nothing is garenteed in life so enjoy what you have now when you can.

  7. dhparker@rogers.com on May 23, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Isn’t the 60% of your final salary as your pension INCLUDE the OAP/CPP elements? I don’t think 60% is before the additional retirement benefits..

  8. Amanda on May 23, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    I find I am the anxious over-saver while my husband balances those tendencies out and helps us enjoy the now (aka he’s the spender in the family). It’s a good balance – I help us reach longer term financial goals and he encourages us to go on small vacations. 🙂 the reality for us is, it’s not likely that we will be the bag lady living out of a van by the river but we need to make good financial choices that won’t allow us to get anywhere close to that!

  9. Keith C. Cowan on May 23, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    I think you are overly obsessed and that you need to budget for some unexpected or reasonable expected expenses. Having said that, we are finally replacing our aluminum powder-coated patio furniture because it was time after 20 years. Yes it would have lasted for at least another 10 years but we are becoming total spendthrifts!

    You need to learn to chill and enjoy spending when it is time (not justified, just time!) after all, who will enjoy your money after you are gone. I remember a friend saying that she will drink finer wine rather than save the money for her DIL to enjoy it.

  10. Isitaneedorawant on May 23, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    There are a few areas that I could discuss, but two come to my immediate attention.
    If you are maximizing the government grants and are fully contributing to your children’s RESP accounts, you might want to divert some of your savings to non registered savings. I know you could just consider it part of your potential retirement savings pool.
    My husband and I saved for our children’s postsecondary education. My children though have wildly exceeded my anticipated thoughts of what they could accomplish academically. I am determined to see them through their studies debt free. ( Look up the Nonconsumer Advocate blog, she and her husband are committed to assisting their children through poet secondary education without debt). I don’t find the savings or simpler lifestyle we have as a negative. We are content. When people say to live now because you might not have a future, does it have to be with increased monetary spending to achieve contentment?
    I also see a need for increased savings on your part because you may want to be FIRE based on your wife’s health. If her condition changes you may have to change future savings plans and rate. Future self will thank present self if you need to drop/decrease working hours to assist your wife.

  11. Deborah S. on May 24, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    Rather than a “budget” that needs constant tweaking and adjustment, I have a “spending plan” similar to this one advocated at becoming minimalist: https://www.becomingminimalist.com/trust-me-it-works/
    As for moving micro-amounts from savings to chequing, that used to irk me too, until I realized that in today’s low-interest environment we’re earning little on our savings, so why get worked up about it? In our house, we refer to the interest earned on cash (and we have a goodly amount of it) as “Chiclets,” e.g., we can buy a few pieces of gum with the amounts we earn! So I just keep a reasonable slush fund in chequing and don’t obsess about it.

  12. Shandel on May 29, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    The key to having a good balance between being miserly and spending wildly is generosity.
    Take care of your today and your future to a reasonable level, and than add giving to your budget. That’s what keeps your saving in check.

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