The Economy of Doubt

Oftentimes in personal finance we focus on the most practical of financial affairs. We teach you how to budget, how to go about getting a mortgage, or the best way to invest your money. Less often, we talk about our feelings and emotions, mostly related to greed or impulse or depression, as those seem to be the stimulus for some of our worst purchasing decisions. But what about those other emotions that don’t get talked about? What about doubt? How would doubting yourself, doubting your spouse, or doubting a purchase, affect your finances? How does doubt affect your money? Here are a couple of ways that doubt could be costing you money.


One of the major movements behind minimalism is the desire to rid one’s life of the stress from materialistic purchases. The less stuff one owns, the less stuff will cause one stress or anguish. The more things you own, the more things require maintenance, and the less time you can spend with the few things that you really truly enjoy. I once saw a show where they were walking through a mall confronting people about their purchases. When someone had bought a shirt, they asked, “how many other shirts do you already own”? Most could not even tell them how many they owned, just that they had “20 or 30” of them. For all they knew, they already had that same shirt at home – or at least one that already served the same function.

Once, I bought a second copy of a movie that I didn’t remember I had already purchased (and watched!) I was in the store, and I could not remember if I owned it or not. I doubted that I had, and ended up with two copies. In another example, during a recent room renovation in my brother-in-law’s house he needed to purchase a vent cover for a furnace outlet. When we went to a local hardware store to buy one, we realized that we did not have the measurement handy to know which cover would fit. Therefore, we ended up buying two different ones so that we could just use whichever worked. I am sure that he ended up returning the other cover, but not knowing what size we needed cost us time and energy. Do you know how much stuff you own? Do you know what you need? Or do you doubt yourself?


Doubting your instincts can costs you tons of money. Ever heard of the golden rule, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”? Getting ripped off is something that everybody fears when they are making a big purchase. Whether it is buying a car, a house or a business, ignoring your instinct can prove to be financially disastrous. When you are making a big financial transaction, go with your gut. When my wife and I went to purchase a car, we found what we thought would be a good deal. Something about the dealership and the salesman didn’t sit quite right with us, but having never purchased a vehicle we didn’t know what it ought to feel like. Eventually we walked away from the dealer and we are very lucky we did as we found out later that they were trying to scam us. Inside each one of us there’s something that recognizes when things just don’t line up quite right. Maybe we don’t always know what it is that is wrong, we just know that something does not make sense. It is during those moments that you have to realize that your gut instinct is telling you something – and that you should listen. You can’t lose money in a purchase that you never make, so there is no harm in walking away. If the deal is meant to be, then it will still be there when things seem right.


What happens when you doubt yourself? How does it impact your work, or even your future work? If you doubt the quality of the work that you are producing, it will show to your co workers and your customers. If you show doubt, then others will doubt you too. What if you doubt yourself so much that you never try to move up in your company. You don’t think you will get a raise, so you never ask. You don’t think you will get a promotion so you don’t apply, and of course you never do. Think of all the potential money lost over a career because you doubted yourself enough to not even give yourself a chance. At one of my previous jobs I heard how a coworker had gotten their promotion only because nobody else applied, including more experienced people. They really didn’t deserve the promotion, but they got it because they were the only applicant. They gave themselves a chance, and the only thing that could have possibly gone wrong was that they didn’t get the job. Doubting yourself can be the most costly mistake you ever make, because you actually have unlimited potential to make more money, but you can never attain that goal if you never let yourself believe that you can do it.

So how does one conquer doubt? You can beat purchasing doubt by keeping a home inventory, setting a budget, and researching your purchases. You can beat making bad purchases by getting in tune with yourself and learning how to walk away from deals that seem too good to be true, or deals that don’t seem quite right. You can even beat the doubt that you have in yourself, but it won’t be easy. It takes time and energy, and for some of us, outside help, to realize that we really are capable of more than we allow ourselves to believe. How is doubt stunting your financial life?

Written by Alan Schram

Alan Schram writes about personal finance and his encounters with it in his everyday life. Alan is recently married and is looking to save money on expenses and reduce his debts.

27 Responses to The Economy of Doubt

  1. Doubt is the key to my financial security. Most of the time, when I want to make a purchase, I’ll carry an item around (or leave it in the electronic shopping cart) just long enough that doubt creeps in and stops me from completing the purchase. So, my bank account loves my doubt. In fact, in honor of my doubt, I think I’m going to name my next horse that. 😉

  2. When in doubt I use the 24 hour rule…I put the item(s) back and if in 24 hours I still want/need it, I can go back and purchase it. Most times I forget what I ‘needed’ in the first place and never return. For larger purchases, I sometimes institute the 30 day rule. Works for me…

    • I agree with this – and similarly to making a decision…if what you’re going through today won’t matter in 6 months, then you need to really evaluate if doubting it, or dwelling (or worrying) about it really makes sense.

      Doubt is good to help you come to a decision…when executing that decision, do so with conviction and don’t doubt your actions as you’ve already made the decision.


  3. I’m a believer in the idea that it’s hard to get something for nothing. When it happens, it’s rare but great!

    But as a rule, if it seems like you’re getting something for nothing or a deal that’s too good to be true, trust your instincts. That doubt is good to have, and will help you from making decisions that could hurt you.

  4. Overspending has turned into a race. It’s like this is the goal of our lives. Everyone I know wants to be successful so they can buy more!?!? This makes absolutely no sense to me. I’ve got 10 shirts… don’t need more. I don’t buy movies, only rent them because I don’t ever plan on watching them again. The issue you are talking about is psychological and I think it will take a very serious economic crisis to teach people that overspending does not equal happiness or success.

    • One thing I often see with clients is that they are often out shopping for the maximum home they can buy, and in some cases when they cannot afford the house they want they get a co-signer to increase the price range they can afford. The banks already use a huge chunk of income to qualify you for your purchase of the new home, why is it the bank that gets to decide how much home you can afford? Buyers should decide how much mortgage payment they are comfortable with then based on that decide the price of home they will buy. If you are reasonable the amount of home you choose to buy, should be less than what the bank says you can afford. Maybe this will stop some of the foreclosures in the country.

  5. Instincts forecast one’s success rates and to give it a try is the most reasonable thing to do to honor your strong feeling or liking. When there are circumstances where the unknown is going to happen and you have no other choice but to try it. I have never feared the unknown, rather welcomed it so that it becomes known.”

  6. I agree, doubt is that little voice inside of you wanting you to take a second look at the situation. You have to trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, do not do it.

    • That’s also not always the best option trusting your instincts. I think it’s better to think about it for a while..

  7. Many business are built on uncertainty. Doubt also affects our finances in the form of insurance. The insurance industry loves doubt. That’s what drives their business.

  8. We did an experiment last year with our staff. Each of us carried around a notebook and wrote down every, single purchase we made in a month.

    When you see all the little things you spend on paper, it really helps you become more aware of how frivolous you are sometimes.

  9. Thank you for sharing. I really like the 24 hour rule that Anna mentioned earlier. I need to start implementing that into my day to day expenses. I’m sure after a full day, many of my spontaneous purchases would prove to be not as necessary as first imagined. I’m curious how that would relate to larger purchases as well. Imagine the savings if you minimized spontaneous purchasing on items like vehicles, entertainment, or even day to day grocery trips.

  10. Great article! I have almost always went on my insticts, and when i haven’t i have regretted it. If you seriously want to exceed their can be no doubt. Hope for more articles of this kind in the future!

  11. Doubt is essential, especially when you consider the very nature of not only investing, but also the people selling securities (many of them anyway, not all). I have a friend who was driven to bankruptcy in the UK due to the shortfall of his endowment mortgage, sold to him by unscrupulous agents…

  12. There is little doubt most families are having this very discussion. I don’t have doubts on my instincts or self, my doubts stem from the market itself. I have come to a realization that my spending habits must change. They are not changing because of my current income, rather future protection of my assets. I am now spending less and saving more in the event of an emergency. I believe things are only going to get worse before they get any better.

    My recommendation is to set a budget at all costs and make sure there is money sitting on the sidelines for a rainy day.

  13. Doubt is a good thing. It prevents one from making a rash desission. Best way is to think about something before one does anything.

  14. Doubt is a good thing because you’ll probably research more on the product before spending your hard-earned money on it. Plus, it’ll save you the trouble of purchasing it and then returning the product because it doesn’t fulfill your requirements.

  15. Alan, Beautifullly written and spot on. I try to think before I spend and remain mindful of my purchases. Although I enjoy shopping, I can be satisfied by a trip to the grocery, which is a necessity, or a splurge at the dollar store.

  16. That’s an excellent post Alan. You’ve touched only the tip of the iceberg of some topics that each could fill up an entire book. This is a great tip : “If the deal is meant to be, then it will still be there when things seem right.” This is so true especially with many sales’ offers that try to emphasize an urgency with their offers.

    Another great point that you’ve touched is “doubting yourself”. This is something that each one of us should make sure our state of mind is set to mark the targets and then strive to achieve them. It’s not always easy but being aware of that helps to move one step forward.

  17. I think doubt can keep you in check.

    Normally, when I’m about to make a financial decision that’s going to cost a chunk of change, I’ll sleep on it.

    Over time, I’ve been amazed at how many decisions would have been poor ones had I bought something ‘on impulse’.

    Doubt is somehow linked to my ‘gut feel’ of things and I think it’s important to listen to it and take the time to assess whether it’s legitimate based on what it is your deciding on.

    Nice post!

  18. Every thing in life is important so is the doubt. It is an instinct that helps and saves us from troubles and problems we may face if this does not helps us. In the same doubt helps us a lot in our investment decisions as it ensures that we have adequate and right information so that we don’t incur any losses. So doubt is always good for investors.

  19. Yes – I have had to take time to research my purchases. Funny enough, it was due to a similar issue listed above…..I was buying duplicates, or too many of something. Clothes have been the bad one.

  20. One thing I have noticed is that sometimes if an item is too cheap, it makes you feel it is basically worthless. If you find something in a discount bin for 97 cents but it is an item you wanted, you may reconsider because it seems like no one else wanted it.

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