The Surprising Way That Being A Perfectionist Saves Me Money

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The following is a contribution from Richard at Frugality Magazine. If you’re interested in contributing to Frugal Rules, please see our guidelines and contact us. 

It wasn’t too many years ago when my idea of a budget was simply continuing to spend money on anything I fancied until finally the ATM stopped spitting out cash. Even then I simply had to wait a week or two until I got paid again. Looking back I kick myself for my financial stupidity, but we were all young once, right?

Being a Perfectionist Matters


Then one day I picked up a copy of Your Money Or Your Life, the classic personal finance book and still one of the best books I’ve ever read about money management. One of the core principles of the book revolves around assessing how much pleasure you get from your spending. It’s less about *not* spending money, and more about being a perfectionist about only spending money on things that really bring you pleasure. After all, why “waste” money on things that aren’t having a significant positive impact on your life?

It was while reading the book that I realized that much of my spending was a result of my “being a perfectionist” attitude. I always wanted the best, the latest, the smartest, the coolest. And all that cost money. Frankly, money I often didn’t have.

But when I stopped to think about it and was honest with myself, very few of the things I bought ever actually measured up to my expectations. After all, as a perfectionist I’m naturally primed to always see the imperfections. Very few things really have a “wow” factor for me – no matter what I might think before I purchase them. Yes, the meal was delicious but the service wasn’t up to scratch. Yes, the jeans are cool but if only they were a few shades darker. Yes, that movie was enjoyable but how annoying was that person eating popcorn behind us? And on, and on. More spending, more annoyance. Why was I doing this to myself, in a constant cycle of post purchase remorse? Maybe it’s just because I can’t help being a perfectionist when it comes to spending my money.

When Being a Perfectionist Can Hurt You


Over the years I’ve often seen my perfectionism as a bad thing. It’s a personality trait that makes me restless, unable to compromise and – I admit it – frequently disappointed. It can make me unbearable at work as I accept only the best from myself and my team. And it frequently robs me of the small pleasures in life that other people enjoy.

But here’s the “eureka” moment I had while considering these facts:

  • Why spend money on things if they rarely ever live up to my expectations?
  • Why spend money on something that’s going to disappoint me?
  • Why spend money I don’t have on things I won’t enjoy?

Suddenly my spending dropped through the floor. Without effort. No budgeting was required. No will power. No complex rules. All I did – before making a purchase – was make a very honest assessment of whether this purchase would disappoint me. If I thought it probably would, I simply wouldn’t bother wasting my money. No more buying things that are good but not quite right. Like those shoes you love but are only available half a size too small. Don’t kid yourself – you won’t wear them once you get them home. Buy it right or don’t buy it at all.

Now all this sounds a bit negative and depressing. After all our modern society encourages us to “think positive” and perfectionists like me often aren’t able to do such things. We’re too taken with the one thing that’s wrong to see the multitude of things that are right. But surprisingly this hasn’t turned me into a miserable person. Quite the opposite – I still spend money – but only on things I truly believe will bring me pleasure. Like cooking a fantastic meal for my girlfriend. Or buying my iPhone. Or my first car. All of these things have cost me money but I feel I’ve got maximum value for the money I spent on them. These purchases were worth it and are a case where my being a perfectionist has paid off.

These things have truly brought me pleasure and I’m happy to have spent money on them (though I still did so on a shoe-string). What about all those other things I considered, but didn’t buy? I consider myself lucky for having saved myself money and disappointment. In fact, I believe that I value and appreciate the few items I do buy now even more because they’re not competing against so many other unnecessary purchases.


What psychological tricks do you use to keep your spending under control? If you’re a perfectionist, how has this affected your personal finance habits?


Last year UK blogger Richard Adams finally succeeded in paying off all his consumer debt. He blogs about frugal lifestyle tips, getting out of debt and his plans to achieve financial freedom over at


Photo courtesy of: Paul Stein

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more.


  • LOVE this, Richard!! As a recovering perfectionist, 🙂 I never thought about perfectionism in this positive way before. Thank you so much – this will definitely help motivate me!

  • Kim says:

    I think that’s a reason we ignored debt for so long. I tend to be a perfectionist at work and always was in school, so when we had so much debt, it was easier to pretend we didn’t because that certainly wasn’t perfection. It’s much easier to realize we just have to do the best we can.

  • That’s a very interesting insight. I never thought of it exactly that way before, but it’s a good point. When it comes to the things that I already own, I have been trying to take on a decluttering type mentality lately (especially since I just moved). There was a decluttering expert on TV who said that if it’s not serving you, it’s clutter. If you don’t use it or love it then you should get rid of it. I’ve been trying to ake this approach since I’ve recently downsized to a slightly smaller apartment and frankly, I’m just tired of clutter. Even all of the freebies that I pick up are not a bargain if they’re going to sit around causing clutter in my house. I intend to be much more careful about what I buy in the future and assessing whether or not I really need it.

    • Hope says:

      I agree. I think twice about all free offers, including samples and magazines, because they end up just sitting around at home and making things more cluttered.

  • In certain things I have perfectionist tendencies but not when it comes to finances. But when it comes to trying to not spend, I simply ask myself WHY I really need that item. If I can REALLY justify it, I’ll buy it.

  • Lauren says:

    I definitely stop and assess everything before I get to the checkout line. I put things in my cart, then usually end up putting most of it back after shopping around. Most things just aren’t worth it and only deliver that temporary satisfaction of being “new”.

  • I have a post coming up about how ‘mental accounting’ helped (and continues to help) motivate me to pursue side income. Gotta love how you can take psychological thinking and use it to your advantage. I’m also a perfectionist and it’s helped me be more critical of purchases and my spending.

  • Being a perfectionist can be a blessing or a curse depending on how you use the trait. Sounds like you finally unleashed your perfectionist tendencies to benefit rather than hinder you. I think a lot of people are similar to how you were. Kudos to you for turning it around…many never do!

  • I really love hearing about peoples “eureka” moments where suddenly personal finance just clicks to them. I’m sure some are not positive moments, I would hate to be in my 50’s and have a financial expert tell me that I would need to work until 70. I’m sure that motivates people, but I’m glad that’s not always the case.

    For me it was randomly looking one day for ways to cut my cable bill. I stumbled across a personal finance blog and then kept reading more and more. I was instantly hooked.

    I like the perfectionist perspective. I think it’s all just a matter of knowing yourself and using your natural tendencies to make it work for you.

  • debt debs says:

    This is a good way to motivate you into spending wisely. I like it and I will use it! I tend to also be a bit of a perfectionist and do find it a drag sometimes. Thanks for the positive twist on this!

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