I've gone through a kind of metamorphosis in my spending habits in the past couple years... Or maybe you could say, in how I think about spending. I used to put off spending money on things for myself, dither and procrastinate while my mixed feelings rumbled. If I found I had no top that suited me or fit well for a certain situation, I'd talk myself out of buying a new one unless (or until) the situation was dire. Then when I did buy it, I'd feel bad unless I'd gotten it for a truly fantastic price. I felt guilty spending money on myself- or much money, anyway. Did I really need it? Couldn't the money be better spent on something else? Couldn't I help feed a hungry child? Don't Americans overspend so chronically? Maybe so.
I sometimes see this trend play out in other women too, especially moms. When I do I notice that we're normally less reluctant to spend the identical amount of money to meet someone else's comparable need. If your kid has no acceptable shoes to wear, then of course - go get him a new pair. But for yourself? These scuffed-up ones from 2009 with the crushed backs will suffice.
A couple of things kickstarted a slow shift in my perspective. One relates to right regard for self, about which I've written. It turns out we have a responsibility to hold ourselves in appropriate regard, which may mean investing in ourselves more often - or more freely - than we'd realized. So if I feel guilt when making a reasonable purchase for myself yet feel none when making a comparable purchase for someone else in my household, I might be loving myself less well than I'm loving my neighbor. I might, while thinking I'm rightly employing self-denial or humility, be wrongly giving away dignity and regard for self. I might have inadvertently adopted a martyr mindset, which accomplishes no good for anyone... And actually accomplishes a lot of harm.
The other, related, stems from Plato. (I know, non sequitur, right?). He came up with this philosophical principle called "the golden mean," which is the perfect middle between two extremes. One side is excess and the other's deficiency; the virtue's smack in the middle. Take courage - it's the perfect middle between recklessness on one side and cowardice on the other. Or modesty - it's the perfect middle between shamelessness on one side and bashfulness on the other. The person of virtue is to chart her course upon the healthy middle ground.
If I learned about Plato's golden mean in college philosophy classes, I don't recall it. The first time I remember hearing about it was from Kendra Tierney, who discussed it with regard to Halloween practices (and I love her conclusion, "We will continue to celebrate our Halloween here in the middle, where the candy is." Amen to that.) Plato's golden mean has been adopted into most worldviews, including the Christian one. Thomas Aquinas, lead Christian theologian on the natural law, even wove the thread of the the golden mean directly into his 13th century teachings on virtue.
It's a tremendously useful concept. And it relates nicely to my former spending conundrum, since my knee-jerk response to eschew spending is one end of a spending seesaw. The frugality I learned in childhood from my banker dad and coupon-clipping mom is indeed good. But it can be overdone, and when it is, it's miserliness. (And while miserliness generally means lack of generosity towards others, I'd argue it's also possible - and equally negative - to be un-generous towards oneself.) Being a spendthrift is the other end of the seesaw; that's what happens when you spend excessively.
A big part of being an adult - and of becoming a person of virtue - is rightly assessing where you are on the spectrum between two extremes. And it'll vary from issue to issue, so this necessarily requires some attention, and sizable dose of self-understanding. I find the first steps toward the middle mean to be habit-breaking steps that feel awkward. And they should since you're upsetting an apple cart of the psyche that's been sitting there, untouched, for a good while. Then once the cart's overturned, you have to make sure you don't go gallivanting off in the opposite direction toward the other extreme. The first blast of new freedom sometimes has that effect.
But the effort pays off, because Plato was right; the golden mean is indeed golden... and worth pursuing. I was pleased to find that the top and shoes were waiting for me, guilt-free, all along.