Well Heeled Blog » Save Money, Have Adventures, and Travel the World

Masthead header

“I can’t believe they spend money on that…” – Expenses That Are Judged The Most

This post has been Consumeristed!


“I can’t believe they spend money on that…”

How many times has that thought crossed your mind? I have to admit that it has certainly crossed mine! Yesterday, Andrea @ So Over Debt wrote about  our judgment of other people’s expenses (and vice versa). Inspired by her post, I’ve decided to focus on a list of expenses that always come under the glare of judgment, based on what I’ve read on personal finance blogs and websites.

1. Wedding expenses

If there is one thing sure to get people talking, it’s the cost of weddings. And with the cost of weddings, the cost of wedding dress seems to be fodder for criticism (Sallie’s Niece caught so much flack for her wedding dress). Before I got engaged, I admit that my eyes popped out whenever I heard costs in the $20,000+ ranges. But now that I am planning a wedding, I get it. A traditional wedding costs money, period. If you want a sit-down dinner, dancing, on a Saturday night in a metropolitan area and you have a guest list over 30 and no connections with wedding vendors, it will cost money. Even my small dance-free shindig is costing more than I had expected. Sarah at Paranoid Asteroid had a great post detailing the 10 frugal things she won’t be doing for her wedding.

2. New cars

Do most personal finance bloggers hate new cars or what? I get it, the depreciation hits the instant you drive a car off the lot, etc. etc. But I love well-constructed, reliable new cars that I can drive to death (example: see my hand-me-down-from-Dad 240K miles Honda). Remember when Krystal at Give Me Back My Five Bucks bought a car and the firestorm erupted in her comment section (the comments seem to have gotten lost when she transitioned the blog to WordPress)? If someone as responsible and as on-top of her finances as Krystal can’t escape criticism, who can?

Last July, I talked about considering a new car because one of my concerns is the lack of up-to-date safety features in my car, and a commenter told me to wear a helmet while driving instead and accused me of helmet-head vanity!

Lets say there is a safety component and that’s valid. How do you improve the safety of your car so it’s equal to that of a new honda? Research shows the greatest improvement that can be made to driver and passenger safety would be to make it compulsory for people to wear motorcyle helmets while driving, like seatbelts are now compulsory. That would cost you about $50. The helmet negates the need for airbags because it’s better than an air bag (ever seen a nascar or fomula 1 driver without a helmet and with airbags?) . Now we can go from making an emotional decision about safety to a rational decision about safety.

$50 helmet vs $15000 for a new car so I don’t mess up my hair? Where you just trying to rationalize the purchase of a new car?

3. Lattes

I blame personal finance expert and author David Bach  for coining the much-too-marketable phrase Latte Factor. Poor lattes got the blame in this case, but everything viewed in the context of annual expense, then compounded over 30 years at rate of 12% will look completely astronomical.

4. Technology / Entertainment

New iPhones, big-screen TVs, video games are all targets loaded in the “bad spending” column, it seems. But all those things make people happy. Gosh darn it. I get a lot of value out of my smartphone – although it’s definitely nice that right now my work covers my plan costs.

5. Clothes 

There is this pervasive image of the free-wheeling, irresponsible young lady who spend her entire paycheck on clothes and shoes. (I think it’s part of the stereotype of women as being less financially savvy, even if they look outwardly successful). The fact is that some people love clothes and some people love something else. A woman who is decked out in stylish garb might be deep in credit card debt, or she might just as well be a millionaire. Or maybe she just doesn’t spend as much money on her cars and TVs and value clothes instead.  Kelly at the petite fashion blog Alterations Needed said it best when she said in a comment to my post: “I eat cheaply, and rarely go on  vacations, let alone exotic expensive ones. I sock all that extra money  away, and then splurge on what I really love in life…my closet!”

6. Graduate school

Another thing that I’ve realized is that education, specifically higher education, has a lot of criticism aimed at it among personal finance bloggers. I understand, after all, it’s a big decision to leave the workforce and take on significant debt (or both! what fun). I believe most people make a thoughtful choice on whether they want to go back to school. This is close to my heart because I am applying to an MBA program. A graduate degree can lead to a career switch or great job opportunities, plus, there’s what I call the “luxury” factor. Life isn’t just about return on financial investment. I fully recognize that purely financially speaking, it may not make sense for me to go get an MBA(or have kids, or travel the world, or get a dog, etc.). It will certainly take me longer to recoup my costs that it would if I have a lower income right now or am aiming for a higher income post-MBA. But the experience of being in school, furthering my education, increasing my network and making new friends are also worth something to me, as I imagine it’s worth to other folks who decide to go back to school.

The one expense that almost always escape judgment?

Travel! I love travel as much as the next gal (and I blog about it plenty), but come on. Travel can expand one’s horizons and add a valued cultural perspective. Yet honestly, a vacation to Paris or a trip to Turkey can be as much of an luxury item as a pair of Louboutin heels or a Prada purse.

I can’t say that I free from judgment – it’s human nature to judge and compare. Okay, fine, I do judge people who pay $300+ for Hermes flip flops. Just a little. 😉

What expense do you think personal finance bloggers judge the most (am I missing anything on this list?)? What expense do you judge the most?


  • Michelle - Great post. I'm getting my MBA right now. I don't think anyone has judged me badly. I haven't left the workforce and I go to school full-time also. And it'll greatly help me. ReplyCancel

  • fromshoppingtosaving - So true! I admit I judge people on spending for a wedding – my friend spend $90k o_O see there I go again haha. But alas my friends must think I'm crazy for buying designer bags and I love my clothes & shoes however I do not pay rent so I sacrificed my privacy for fashion haha. ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I think with a lot of things you just can't win – especially with weddings! I've read on blogs how people turn their noses up at weddings for not having this or that, but if you say you spend $X amount, other people will chime in and say it's just one day and it's crazy to pay that much. ReplyCancel

  • dogsordollars - What a very timely post for me, as I ponder my new vs. used car purchase. Paying cash for a used car is the Holy Grail of Personal Finance. Even considering doing otherwise, some how feels "wrong". But is it really?

    Then again, I also indulge in a weekly $5 latte. Happily. Sometimes there is even a not-homemade scone added on. Scandalous, I know.

    Clearly, I am a PF failure, so I should rush right out and buy my new car. How's that for justification? 😉

    My mantra: Prioritized Spending is where its at. ReplyCancel

  • The Girl Next Door - What did Kelly from Alterations Needed say? I'm curious because I love clothes and prioritize them over other things when I have disposable income, and I think a lot of people unfairly judge women for that because of the stereotype, while it's fine for guys my age with entry level jobs to be driving BMWs! So not fair :/ ReplyCancel

  • wmwo - Housing gets criticised a lot too. It doesn't matter if you're a renter or an owner, there is always someone with a different point of view pointing out the downfalls of your choice. ReplyCancel

  • @applecsmith - These are all very true and most of them I've been guilty of judging people for in the past. Going through my own personal finance journey I've been able to find a balance of what I feel is worth splurging on and what isn't.

    Other people might do the same thing, so I try not to judge when they spend all their money on a wedding or new car when I would spend all mine on latte's and tech gadgets. The street runs both ways. lol ReplyCancel

  • deb - I'm totally with you on the whole travel escaping judgment phenomena. My theory is that since you don't end up with anything material that you can physically see, point at and belittle, it can fly under the radar. And, sure, new experiences are awesome (maybe even invaluable?), but how much time do most of us actually spend getting to know our own cities or neighborhoods? Maybe you'll learn what year that cathedral in Rome was built., but do you know any history about the town you actually call home? ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Another reason I think travel escape judgment is because people try to "one-up" each other on travel – the number of countries visited, how exotic a vacation is, the 'coolest' experiences, etc., but it seems like "materialistic" than actually buying a car or a big house or something of that ilk. I agree – many people don't know about their local city as well as they should, and I count myself among them! ReplyCancel

  • kim - Dead. On. What's the point of working if not for spending?! You spend now, or later (retirement), or not at all (so your kids can blow it). One thing that escapes the grad school criticism is medical school! I guess it's for a common good? Also attacked are college degrees that don't lead to high paying careers. Where does that leave social work and teaching? Isn't that a common good? ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I think medical and dental schools escape criticism because you are pretty much guaranteed a six-figure job once you finish your residency, no matter what your specialization. So you might take out a lot of debt, but you should have the earnings to service that debt. ReplyCancel

  • Krantcents - I am planning a trip to Europe next year so don't judge me! :) Since I have no debt except for a small mortgage and will pay for the trip with savings or cash. I don't really care what people think. ReplyCancel

  • Miss T - I must admit, I too have judged some in the past. I try to catch myself now and stop myself but it doesn't always happen. Really, people can do what they want. ReplyCancel

  • Financial Follies: Dr Dean Gets An iPhone Edition! | The Millionaire Nurse Blog - […] What purchases do you get abused about the most, by us personal finance geeks?  Well Healed will share! […]ReplyCancel

  • eemusings - Cars. And gadgets. I try not to, but I do. ReplyCancel

  • StackingCash - Wonderful post! Always a constant battle saving and spending. It is nice to get opinions on purchases because that is the only way to know if it is a good or bad purchase. Better to think instead of acting on impulse. Although impulse can be more enjoyable :) Hard to say what PF bloggers judge the most, but it seems like it's EVERYTHING lol! Personally, I judge people's vehicles and get jealous wondering how the heck can they afford that exotic and luxurious vehicle because I want that! Also iPads for kids, I'm way jealous of those kids! Used to be smartphones/iPhones but since I got one I'm not as jealous anymore, but the monthly plan is so damn expensive, how do so many people afford them? ReplyCancel

  • Little House - I think it's the Latte Factor, which is really more than just lattes; it's pretty much anything that equates to simple enjoyment that only lasts a short time. I'm a Starbucks fanatic and spend just under three bucks a day. Of course, if I add this up and compound the interest on the money I'd save, of course it looks a lot worse than what it feels like to spend that daily. But, I gotta have just one vice. So screw it! I'm sticking with my Starbucks! ReplyCancel

  • Hedy - I want to stand and cheer (says the girl who bought a new car four years ago, is going to grad school next year, and traves a lot. :) ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Yay! :) Oh, and I hear you on unexpected grad school expenses. It cost me $80 to send my GMAT scores to 3 schools. Hasn't the application process taken enough money out of me? Apparently not. ReplyCancel

  • Putri - Most judged expense: wedding expenses :) In our circles there is one girl that is very judgmental regarding wedding expenses. I actually specifically avoided talking about my wedding dress (purchased from Craigslist for $650, original price about $1200) for fear of what she would think or say. She still didn't know where my dress came from but she loved it, hee hee :)

    I was pretty lucky I didn't go to high school with her. The other people in our circle are her high school friends and they get judged even more harshly. She was a bridesmaid for one girl (A) and criticized just about everything (her bridesmaid dress, makeup, hair, flowers, food, the time of year for the wedding – it was in May, which according to her is not in peak season yet –> implying that the bride was being cheap). The next year, another girl (B) got engaged and initially she was a bridesmaid. She eventually resigned (or fired, depending on who's talking). But yeah, it seems like noone can do anything right by her. If you cut back on something, she'll say you're cheap. If you spend a lot on something, she'll say it's not worth it.

    It is simply crazy :) ReplyCancel

  • DINKs - We are DINKs. The husband and I always buy clothes (on sale) that we can wear for a long time because we have conservative styles and stay away from trends. We probably spend more money on a quality pair of shoes because there's just no need to be mean to your feet. It's becoming hard for me to shop with some GFs because I know I get judged for I look at and buy. I'll probably be criticized for saying this, but what people don't realize is that their kids are costing them an arm and a leg. I work hard, why can't I buy a new purse for myself if I see something I like. Just because they need to save for the college tuitions doesn't give them the right to judge my spending. ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - The choice to have kids is equally valid as not having kids – and yes, children represent big expenses! Now if you DO have kids, I think it'd be irresponsible to buy expensive purses and not save for college. ReplyCancel

  • nicoleandmaggie - Re: used vs. new… you get what you pay for! http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2010/09/27/h… whether you buy used or new, both are equally valid choices.

    I only judge spending when people complain about having no money then brag about their luxury purchases. I don't want to hear it! ReplyCancel

  • Link love (Powered by meatballs and musketeering) | Musings of an Abstract Aucklander - […] Well Heeled lists some of the expenses we most like to judge other people on. […]ReplyCancel

  • Insomniac Lab Rat - I'm with you on the wedding cost and the new car thing! Especially since my dad works for an insurance company, and used to do on-site accident pictures and stuff, he was a big proponent of hubby and I buying a new, safe car, and he knows a lot about which cars are safest.

    I try not to judge people too much on what they spend…of course, I'm human and I judge people, but when it comes to spending I always try to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they spend a lot on the things they prioritize, and not so much on other stuff. However, if I know someone (one friend IRL comes to mind) spends money on expensive shoes and designer clothes/accessories on a regular basis, buys multiple lattes a day, buys every new Apple product that comes out, and has an apartment full of large electronics and expensive kitchen devices…but still eats at expensive restaurants at least once a week…I judge a bit more. Because I also know she has no savings, and she complains about how poor she is all the time.

    Anyway, good points. We could all probably benefit from trying not to be so judgmental all the time :) ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I feel like you just never know about someone's financial situation. Even a friend who has every thing shiny under the sun and complains about her lack of money could have a trust fund waiting for her in a few years. As long as it's not impacting me personally, I try not to judge. ReplyCancel

  • Leigh - I bought a brand-new car for about $20,000 last year and I got judged by a lot of people. And you know what? I’ve simply stopped associating with those people, except when they’re people who I work with every day. One friend actually told me that I was being ridiculous to buy a new, “cheap” car since I was only planning on driving it 2-3 times per week and I should instead buy a nice sports car. Excuse me, but why should I buy a $40,000 sports car when I don’t want one? I ended up buying a small, fuel-efficient car, which I have been very happy with. I definitely don’t see myself as a sports car driver…

    It was kind of fun standing up to some of the people, but others, it just wasn’t worth my time or energy. ReplyCancel

  • My money, my life - Lattes is probably the most often judged in the media. Almost every "dummy's guide to saving money" type article I've read recommends that people skip out on the daily latte as a "simple" way to save money – indicating that it's a wasteful and unnecessary thing to spend money on in the first place.

    Personally, I've found housing to be a big one. I live on my own by choice, in the downtown area of a large city. Almost everyone I've met have questioned me about this choice. It doesn't bother me as much anymore, because I know that these people probably don't know that it's the one luxury I choose to spend on and that I am good with money and have all my debt paid off and a substantial emergency fund saved up. On the other hand, I often get judged for my cheapness as well – I have a cheap phone plan, don't own a car nor any designer handbags over the 300 mark, and only travel when I score a good deal on things, these frugal choices also get criticized often. There will always be judgmental people. So I guess the most important thing then is to be ok with the way we spend our own money and ignore the rest. ReplyCancel

  • paranoidasteroid - I'm amazed how travel gets a free pass. Too bad for me, since I love clothes and (blasphemy!) don't really like to travel.

    Thanks for the link! ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - What don't you like about travel? I think my mom is kind of similar, she'd much rather curl up with a good book at home. CB doesn't quite like to travel when we first met, but now I think my wanderlust rubbed off on him. ReplyCancel

  • Louise - I think food, In Australia we don't have coupons and I remember get absolutely blasted on a forum for our $250 a week food bill of healthy foods, not processed crap, By the same token I must admit to being a bit judgemental about things like paper towel, clothes driers and disposable nappies which are all things that are easily lived without. At the end of the day we all have to make choices based on our own circumstances and cultures. Great post! ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Healthy food is definitely worth spending on, IMHO. There are no coupons for food in Australia? Not even for grocery stores? I learn something new every day! ReplyCancel

  • @superflippy - I live in a small town where some people really like to play the "keep up with the Joneses" game, and others like to criticize and gossip about those who do. So, someone buying just one of the items mentioned above isn't going to get scrutiny. But buying several will raise eyebrows, e.g. a new iPhone, SUV, and vacation condo. ReplyCancel

  • trilcat - The bottom line is that these things are all fine if you're not going into debt to do them.
    It makes more sense to drive a 3-year-old car than have car loans.
    It makes more sense to live without an MBA than take on 50K of student loans.
    It makes sense to buy good quality clothes. Couture is a luxury. If you can afford it, enjoy.
    Lattes are a big issue because they slip unnoticed into the budget, and take a bigger chunk than people realize. If people are aware of how much they're spending and they're good with that, it's fine. It hurts to see someone who is crying because they can't pay their bills spend $5 on a cup of coffee.
    And yeah, when someone says they're swimming in debt, and they pick up a new flat-screen tv when people are constantly giving away the old type for free, or order the iPhone 4s to upgrade their iPhone 4, I'm gonna judge.

    Bottom line is – when you're in debt, these are luxuries you can and should do without. ReplyCancel

  • onegirl - You didn't actually post what Kelly says at Alterations Needed.
    My feeling is that I work so I can go on vacation and EAT. I will spend money on a nice restaurant in a heartbeat and not feel one iota bad about it. Great post! ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Oops, I added Kelly's comment in the blog post. I feel like we'd be great restaurant buddies – you're a woman after my own stomach! :) ReplyCancel

  • TLC - I feel judged by my electronic purchases… camera & equipment for me, computer stuff for the husband. I try not to, but I my biggest judgement tends to be clothes shopping. I absolutely *love* new clothes, but I hate seeing my close friend racking up store debt to buy that $150 pair of Buckle jeans. ReplyCancel

  • SP - Great post! I like to think that people are a lot less judgey of even those controversial expenses if the buyer thinks through them and really knows what they are spending and why. That is especially true for education. I think you mentioned you expect that an MBA could be a net loss in terms of lifetime cash for you, BUT you want to do it for personal growth and fulfillment. I think that is great! It is when people seem to be making choices without fully realizing the consequences that makes me cringe.

  • Link Love (powered by Palak Paneer and “Suits”) | fabulously fru-girl - […] Heeled talks about how certain expenses are judged quite harshly by some in the PF community, such as weddings and buying new […]ReplyCancel

  • Michael - I think you've hit it: it's realizing that we all judge how other people spend money (or even live their lives) while somehow what we do makes perfect sense. Because you can't control how someone else sees a situation(we all have filters through which we see the world), you can't take it too personally. PF Bloggers take big risks putting their lives out there and to anyone who has ever had to deal with a negative comment storm, it just means you said something that got people talking so good for you. :) ReplyCancel

  • Saturday Link Love: First Ever « Dogs or Dollars - […] on to some new friends, Well Heeled wrote a great post about expenses that are judged the most, for whatever reason. I like to call them Personal Finance Sins. Having just purchased a […]ReplyCancel

  • I can´t believe I spent money on that! | Ant Saving - […] at the Well Heeled Blog, she wrote about which expenses are deemed wrong by others. My last blog post was about this exact topic and I thought it is only fair to out my own […]ReplyCancel

  • oilandgarlic - Among SAH parents, it seems that getting paid help (cleaning service or maid) is a no-no. I think stay-at-home moms are expected to clean house as well as look after kids. Working parents can escape this judgement. However, as parent of two I have to say that our cleaning help is worth every penny. Even though my husband has a very flexible freelance schedule, he can't keep the house as clean as I like it. I hope that if we ever switch roles, I can pay for help and not be made to feel guilt simply because I'm the woman! ReplyCancel

  • FabulouslyBroke.com - There are always expenses that are deemed more intellectual and better than others


    Any status symbol

    Personally, I only judge if I don't feel like it's really worth the value. E.g. $300 flip flops… ReplyCancel

  • Weekly Roundup: Gazelles, Politicians and Sick Days | Budgets Are Sexy - […] 6 Expenses That We Judge The Most @ Well Heeled Blog (SO. TRUE.) […]ReplyCancel

  • JMK - I figure everythng after the bare essentials is covered is not discressionary money to be spent on whatever shiny object catches my eye, but rather an opportunity to make another extra mortgage payment, or contribution to our retirement funds. I don't begrudge other people loving clothes, tech toys or luxury cars. I have a weakness for travel. I often wonder though if people really stop and calculate how much later they will retire as a result of those purchases. I think once people have saved the recommended 10 or 15% then we've got permission to go crazy with anything extra. But what if you aimed for 20%. Or 30%? Maybe 50%? If you have no debt, a good job and can stand to cut out that descressionary spending most of the time, would you? If you've done the math and know how much you will need per month or year to retire it makes it a little harder to justify the non essentials. Paid cash for that car? Fabulous! But did you actually make the choice that you'd spend 50% more than the basic model knowing that the extra you spent equates to retiring x months later? As long as you are good with that trade off, then go enjoy your new toy. ReplyCancel

  • Your Fab Life - That list is so true! I live in LA, where all of these are talked about… I used to be stuck in this mentality as well, but am glad that as I am snapping out of it. ReplyCancel

  • My Wedding Splurge: I Said Yes To The Dress | Well Heeled Blog - […] inside me. On the one hand, I want to be prudent and responsible with the spending. And plus, weddings are one of the most judged expenses around. Try as I might, I think I have internalized some of that judgment / self-criticism. On the other […]ReplyCancel

  • Aloysa - Shoes! My friends aways say "You spend so much on your shoes!" And they look at me like I put them in the deepest shock of their lives. :) Haircuts! Another one for me. I hear this all the time "I would NEVER pay that much for a cut and color." I don't say "Your hair looks cheap." So, don't judge me and my expenses. ReplyCancel

  • Link love (Powered by meatballs and musketeering) - NZ Muse - […] Well Heeled lists some of the expenses we most like to judge other people on. […]ReplyCancel

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *