Mar 15

My Spending Life Stages

Because I’ve been reading a lot of developmental theory lately (i.e. I’m a huge nerd!), I decided it would be fun to break down my spending into three psychosocial stages to better psychoanalyze my previous spending habits and the impact that they’ve had on my life. If Erikson were a personal finance blogger I think he’d do the same ;-).

Adolescence-My teenage years were the first time in my life that I had my own money. Thanks to a bunch of summer jobs, I was finally able to buy things that other kids had. I started with Gap jeans, and Body Shop lotion, and quickly turned into a brand name addict.


Young Adulthood-When I was in college I was on a mission to accumulate, “things”. Clothing, shoes, jewelry, expensive purses. You name it, I wanted to “collect” it. I rationalized these decisions with thoughts like, “But I’ll have this watch forever” and “This is a classic purse that I’ll have and use until I die”. I was a full blown label whore.

Adulthood-(not an actual psychosocial stage, but fits my situation, as I’m not at the Middle Adulthood stage yet). My desire to buy expensive handbags and clothing quickly turned to a passion for buying household goods. When I got my first apartment I suddenly needed gourmet pots and pans, designer chef’s knives and fancy pants kitchen gadgets. Everyone needs a $400 Kitchen Aid mixer, no? This coming from the woman whose bf lovingly taunts, “That button turns the oven on”

My Response-Because I didn’t have a lot of money growing up, I often looked at what other people had and judged myself by those “standards”. Because, “everyone” had Gap jeans, it was only right and natural that I be entitled to the same thing. What I didn’t realize until years later, was that many of my peers who owned the, “things” I adored, purchased them with credit and are now in a boatload of debt. At the time, they appeared to have it all together. Fancy clothing, expensive cars, funky condos, but sadly it was all smoke and mirrors.

Did you, “buy” into the hype during your younger years? Tell me about your psychosocial spending stages!


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  1. Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies

    I was a little looser with money when I was younger, but I somehow missed out on the idea that I HAD to own brand names, or that I needed fancy gadgets for our house.

    1. KK

      I wish I’d missed that “memo” 😉 Good for you for avoiding the brand name disease.

  2. Morgaine

    I went through a lot of the same “stages” as you. Except I never had a thing for brands, I just wanted more stuff and since brands are more expensive, I couldn’t get as much. I’m slowly weaning myself off of all that stuff and its going pretty well so far.

    1. KK

      It’s a hard transition at first, but once I pulled myself away from it it wasn’t so bad. I now buy things I like and don’t worry about the tags (well I do look at the price tag, just not the label). I’m glad I’m not alone.

  3. Mackenzie

    I’ve never been into labels or designer brands, but the amount of “stuff” I bought when I was in my college years, is simply astounding. Stuff, stuff, and more stuff…ugh. What a waste 🙁

    1. KK

      I did the same thing. Then I moved into my first post college apartment (shoebox size) and had to sell a ton of the “stuff” I’d worked so hard to accumulate. It’s funny how life works sometimes.

  4. Debt and the Girl

    Yup, those stages sound about right to me. I think I went through a few of them too. Glad to be working on something better, though.

    1. KK

      Absolutely. When I guesstimate how much money I wasted it makes me want to throw up. Thankfully, I’m now on a better financial path.

  5. K.K. @ LDFR!

    I went through the same stages as you listed in your post. I was more concerned in my younger days about image and how others were perceiving me. I am so glad I eventually learned to be comfortable with .myself and not worry about how others view me. It’s done wonders for the bank account! Great post KK!

    1. KK

      I figured there were a lot of other folks who also struggled with buying “stuff”. I was absolutely worried about “fitting in” and being “cool”. Ironically, now that I could actually afford to buy some of the things that would have made me cool back in the day, I have no desire to buy them.

  6. Jacob @ iHeartBudgets

    I have a young adult “blow all my money” stage, and went through $100,000 before I turned 21. Got married shortly after, and the pendulum swung to ultra-frugal mode. Dave Ramsey was always on the radion on the commute home, we were on a cash-only budget, and we lived well on only $14 an hour. Now the pendulum has settled back toward the middle. We are on a tight budget, but enjoy a nice meal every now and then, plus at least one (very inexpensive) vacation per year.

    1. KK

      Wow 100k before 21 is pretty astounding (I’m not sure how much I actually spent, but I’m sure it would make me sick). Good for you for getting things back under control, then figuring out a good balance. We were so frugal for 2 years it’s actually hard for us to spend money now. Sounds funny, but I look at things and think, oh we could do without (total shift in thinking from my younger days).

  7. Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce

    Thanks for sharing this! You make great, lucid points. Great post.

    1. KK

      No problem Tony, glad you enjoyed.

  8. Gen Y Finance Journey

    This post describes me so accurately, I could have written it myself!

    1. KK

      I think it probably rings true for a lot of people (or at least a lot of my friends).

  9. Do or Debt

    What I bought into during my teenage years were cosmetic products like makeup, lotions, and shampoo! I was so insecure I thought that having the right product would make me feel better about myself. That only lasts for a second! I am much smarter now, more confident and only use natural products.

    1. KK

      It’s amazing how much peer pressure and the desire to, “fit in” impacts our lives. I guess that’s just part of growing up in our society. I wish that would change, but at least most of us grow up and graduate past those spending life stages.

  10. anna

    We had similar stages, except instead of Gap jeans the “it” thing were these Wet Seal shorts with floral trim – they were awful! I also liked all things Pottery Barn once I started living on my own, but not anymore – too much stuff to dust.

    1. KK

      Oh wow, those sound terrible. But I’m sure they were the hottest thing at the time 😉 I also loved pottery barn when I first graduated from college (and for several years). I still really like there stuff, but I would never pay their prices (well maybe if I wont the lottery). I coveted the Manhattan leather sofa and chair collection for several years.

  11. My Money Design

    Ha – this is great. I feel like I did some of the same things. I remember reading Mens Health and thinking that a +$200 striped shirt was a normal purchase. Then I figured out that it was really just aggressive advertising trying to make me think that was normal. It’s also funny too that now instead of buying a lot of “stuff” like electronics and clothes, I buy tools and lawn stuff. I guess that’s just part of being an adult 🙂

    1. KK

      Everyone needs a $200 t-shirt, don’t you know that? 😉 It’s amazing what advertisers tell us is “normal”. At least tools and lawn stuff are functional and serve a purpose (as long as you don’t go crazy and buy the brands you can afford). After years and years of working really hard my step dad finally bought himself a club cadet mower. It was expensive, but it’s fine because they can afford it. 20 years ago, not so much.

  12. Holly@ClubThrifty

    In my early twenties, I used to like buying designer clothes and expensive makeup. Unfortunately, I ran up credit cards to buy them =/ Now, in my early thirties, I don’t care about brand names at all! I care more about clothing quality.

    1. KK

      I don’t mind spending a little more for quality items, in fact I think it makes sense (as long as I can afford the initial purchase). When I was buying expensive brands in my teens and twenties I definitely couldn’t afford them.

  13. CF

    I went through a gadget stage in my early 20s and then a furniture stage when I left my bf and lived on my own. I cringe a little when I think of all that money spent.

    1. KK

      I didn’t get to the furniture stage thankfully, but I probably should have bought some nice furniture when I was blowing through all that money on clothes and beauty products. Then I’d have good furniture to show for all the money.

  14. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    Yes, KK, I think you wrote MY story instead of your own. :-). We for years were surrounded by people (in an affluent suburb) that thought that way, and it was a huge effect on our self-esteem as we felt we needed to “keep up with the Joneses”. Then we finally realized that the Joneses were broke, like us, and didn’t want to keep up with the game anymore. Our newest “psychosocial stage”? A value-based spending lifestyle and on a mission to be “The Millionaire Next Door”.

    1. KK

      I think many of my friends and family could fill in their name for mine and the story (sadly) is exactly the same. I’m glad we’ve all moved past that ridiculous pressure to keep up appearances. Yay for being the millionaire next door! I will happily follow your lead 🙂

  15. Diego

    I’m curious to know what you think about this: brand names and fancy clothing is important. Both for business and dating. If you’re taking care of your image, you’re doing what a lot of others don’t do, and setting yourself apart from the rest. It’s expensive, but it helps tremendously. So in this thought, can’t it be good?

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