Gorgeous sunflowers our friends gave us in thanks for watering their garden
Gorgeous sunflowers our friends gave us in thanks for watering their garden

Let’s banish guilt. Far too often, I turn myself in knots trying to quell my feelings of guilt over not doing something quickly enough or frugally enough or environmentally-friendly enough or creatively enough. Why do I torture myself? There’s always room for improvement in every endeavor in life–I know this–and guilt only serves to steal my time.

Our society loves to tell us what we should be doing and how we should be living. Some of these prescriptions are useful (for example, not stealing is a sage directive to follow) but more often than not, these “shoulds” are prescriptions that worked for someone else, but very well might not work for us. So why get caught up in them?

I used to immediately question myself and experience guilt anytime I broke from the conventional course and didn’t hew to society’s standards. If I didn’t dress like everyone else, that was a failure. If I didn’t enjoy the same things as my peers, that too was a failure. What I’ve realized as Mr. Frugalwoods and I continue our nontraditional frugal weirdo lifestyle–of reaching financial independence and moving to a homestead–is that firstly, no one actually cares what we do with our lives and secondly, guilt does nothing to facilitate a happy existence.

Guilt Is A Wasted Emotion

Except in instances of demonstrating remorse over actions that harmed someone else, guilt is essentially a worthless emotion. Most of my guilt is directed at myself after perceiving that I’ve failed to live up to the expectations of some external source. Lately, my guilt is primarily arranged around how much I want to achieve each day.

Me making endless to do lists...
Me making endless to do lists…

I set towering expectations for myself consisting of herculean to do lists that I instinctively know are unrealistic, yet I still write them down and set about trying to accomplish them. This battle with perfectionism stems from both the internal source of my desire to create the life I want, but also from the external source of what society instructs me comprises the good life. But guilt doesn’t enable better living; it fosters scared living.

Seeing the supposed perfection of other people gives me pause and makes me question my own successes and life path. And when people criticize the decisions I make, I immediately translate that criticism into guilt. Since we can’t change other people, the only thing I have the power to change is how I react to this criticism. I can let it eat me up, or I can extract the kernel of insightful truth (there usually is one) and move forward.

Guilt is a misappropriation of valuable mental resources. Feeding guilt takes energy. I’ve spent more time and mental overhead than I care to calculate berating myself for my assumed shortcomings. And to what end? We all have shortcomings, we all have foibles. But so what? Guilt isn’t going to ameliorate any of this.

Money Doesn’t Care If You Feel Guilty

Something I hear frequently from readers and friends is that people routinely feel “guilty” over their money decisions. They perceive they’ve made unwise choices and so should assume the mantle of martyr in order to properly serve penance for their sins. But this does nothing to address the root of their financial issues.

Frugal Hound: probably guilty of something
Frugal Hound: probably guilty of something

If we feel guilty about a situation (such as our finances), our most likely course of action is to avoid it entirely. In the case of money, and most things, avoidance is the worst approach we can take. We need to acknowledge our deepest ailments head-on, which is nearly impossible to do if we’re shrouded in guilt.

Money itself doesn’t care whether we feel guilty about it–money is entirely devoid of emotions. We impose a great deal of emotion onto our finances, when in reality, it’s a totally misplaced outlet. Money doesn’t indicate our self-worth or our kindness as a person or our creativity or our ability to contribute to the world around us. Yet it’s very common to conflate our perception of ourselves with how much money we do or don’t have.

When we’re able to remove drama from our thoughts about money and instead tackle it as the math problem it is, we’re able to arrive at constructive solutions. When Mr. FW and I review our finances, I actually find it helpful to pretend I’m looking at someone else’s balance sheet. I’m just a person, reviewing some numbers on a page, and I’m going to simply draw a logical conclusion from what I find. There’s no sentiment or mental anguish involved. It’s just me, a spreadsheet, and a calculator (and we all know I’d better not, uh, attempt math sans calculator).

Another typical money emotion is regret. Slipping into regret over debt or purchases is in fact so stereotypical, there’s a cliche for it :”buyer’s remorse.” Well, here’s the thing: if you’ve lost the receipt or otherwise can’t dial it back, there’s nothing to be gained from wallowing in remorse. Best to move forward and seek solutions rather than trying to invent a very specific one-person time machine to travel back and undo your decision.

From Guilt To Proactivity

I receive quite a few notes from readers who are ashamed or remorseful over their debt or their student loans. They tell me that if they’d known what they know now, they wouldn’t have gotten themselves into this position in the first place. But there’s no use beating yourself up. You have debt, or you have a car loan, or you have some stuff you wish you hadn’t bought. Accept that fact and put it behind you. It ain’t gonna change and no amount of guilt will help. The best course of action at this stage is proactivity.

Mr. FW and Frugal Hound enjoying a stroll along the Charles River
Mr. FW and Frugal Hound enjoying a stroll along the Charles River

Rather than coming up with a plan for, say, paying off student loans, it’s much easier to pay the minimum every month and pretend they’re not there. And it’s much easier to keep spending money each month without any real sense of where that money is going or even the total outlay. I challenge you this month to free yourself from guilt and instead empower yourself to sit down and be proactive with your finances.

If you need to start tracking your expenses (and if you’re not already, then the answer is you do), take a few minutes to sign up for Personal Capital (don’t worry, it’s free), which will help you organize and understand your expenses. And if you don’t have a concrete pay-off plan for your debt, make one–you might try using this free tool. Sit down with your bank statements and see what you can find. It probably won’t be an immediate solution, and I can’t tell you precisely what it’ll be, but see what you can uncover. The first step is always to review your income and expenses. Simple as that.

You might try the strategy I use: pretend you’re looking at someone else’s finances and decide what would you advise them to do, absent judgements of regret and anxiety. I’m not saying this is easy, but it’s such a worthwhile exercise. Enfranchise yourself to take control of your money–don’t let it dictate how you should feel. You tell your money what you want it to do for you, make a plan for it, and then… forget about it. Don’t let it rule your mind. Enact a plan and then walk away. When we’re able to remove the worldview of guilt, we can then begin the work of addressing our problems in a constructive, goal-oriented manner.

Gratuitous photo of the sunflowers because I love them! They are, after all, my favorite flower.
Gratuitous shot of the sunflowers because I love them! They are, after all, my favorite flower.

Abandon Guilt, Embrace Your Truth

While there’s certainly merit in learning from others and sharing our stories, I find that blatant comparison almost always yields frustration or guilt. We only have incomplete understandings of other people’s lives and trying to model our choices off of theirs is naturally flawed.

Hiding her face in shame: not very productive, Frugal Hound
Hiding her face in shame: not very productive, Frugal Hound

In many ways, I think our culture doesn’t encourage the value of charting one’s own unique path. Although rugged individualism is a tenet of our American ethos, it seems to play out quite rarely. Far too often, we’re all shuttled into the same boxes of expectation and taught to desire the same things (usually material goods) and achieve them in the same way (usually working jobs we may or may not like for our entire lives).

And since we’re not interchangeable automatons, far too often the resulting emotion from participating in this standardized track is guilt or disgruntlement or a nagging suspicion that we’re not “good enough.” But we are all good enough in our own way. We just don’t all conform to the same mold or reflect identical attributes–and life would be pretty boring if we did.

What if instead of mindlessly adhering to this proscribed regimen, we did what brings us fulfillment? What if we instead disavow our culture’s prescriptions for rampant consumerism and endless consumption? What if we instead pursue our own personal calling and destiny? In the absence of our consumer culture’s “shoulds,” we can identify how we want our lives to progress.

Guilt holds you back from being who you are and achieving what you want. Don’t let it. I know I’m not going to anymore.

In what ways have you let go of guilt in your life?

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  1. I used to feel guilty if I spent money on things I 100% didn’t NEED, but maybe really WANTED. Even when I could afford it, and hadn’t bought anything for myself in ages. I finally married someone who is a bit more of a spender than I am, and it actually balances out very well. As much as we live below our means, and save for the future, we also know the future isn’t guaranteed and try to enjoy our hard work and have fun when we can!

    1. That’s wonderful you’ve found that great balance between frugality and spending for fun. It’s certainly key to hit that sweet spot! And, letting go of the guilt is so very freeing 🙂

  2. Great post. I have found myself comparing to other financial bloggers and their money successes or failures, but have to remind myself that this is personal finance. Everyone is different. Often you could get conflicting advice about the same topic, and feel guilty about not following both! (This is powerful pull in parenting, too.) Knowing your own values and following those is a great antidote, as you said.

    1. Yes! We are all on such different journeys that comparison really is misleading and often counterproductive (but so easy to fall into!). I think you’re very right that following your own values is the best course.

  3. This post is such an important reminder that money isn’t everything. Too often, society leads us to believe that our financial situation is a representation of who we are. Sometimes I feel guilty or frustrated over the amount of things I’ve purchased in the past that don’t really serve a purpose anymore, but I realize that’s not productive. Coming up with a plan to declutter and finding a new purpose for the items (give away, consign, etc.) are much better uses of my time than feeling guilty or regretful.

    1. Totally! I do the same thing! But, you’re very right that turning those feeling into productivity is a far better allocation of resources. And, so true that money doesn’t define who we are as people.

  4. Oh, wow. This has just come at the right time for me to read. Thank you for that.

    As an aside, doesn’t Frugal Hound have the most expressive eyes? And I know that’s just us attaching human emotions on to animals but she does!

    1. You are most welcome–I’m so glad to hear you found it helpful! Frugal Hound does indeed have expressive eyes–especially when she wants a treat :)!

  5. Can I come to you for personal one-on-one counseling? What is your hourly rate? Oh wait, you’re such a genuinely good person that you’re giving this information for free! Do you live inside my head? How can you see these thoughts?? 🙂 I know, as you stated, you hear them in comments over and over. Again, thank you for these pieces of wisdom. Truly. I have learned more about finances from your blog and a few others than I ever learned from parents, so-called friends, advisors, etc. Thank you for this!! I’m learning to just keep moving forward!

    1. You’re too sweet, bev! Thank you! I just write about what I’m feeling and, I figure if I’m feeling it, other people probably are too. It’s all a learning process for me too!

  6. Oh yeah. Is it funny that I feel guilty that I rarely feel guilty? Stuff generally just doesn’t get to me. I try to live by the mantra of “don’t be an asshole.”

    Instead, with money, we’re proactive and plan ahead (YNAB believers). If we have something that we need to plan for in the next few months, lets figure out how much it will be and break up that amount into a few months to make it manageable. No guilt at all.

    When I tell people I’d like to retire early, I think they don’t understand why I don’t have that guilt that everyone else does. They look at ER or FI as selfish. I’m OK with that. I worked my butt off to even think about this as a possibility in the next 10 years. Let me enjoy it damn it!

    1. Haha, don’t feel guilty that you don’t feel guilty! That’s getting very meta for me ;). Yeah, retiring early is so not about being selfish… it’s about following a purpose and consuming less, living more, I could go on… ;). And, you should enjoy it!

  7. I think that you’re absolutely right that the best way to let go of guilt is to be active and work to change the situation that you feel guilty about. I have often felt guilt about spending too much on this or that, or eating too much junk food, not working enough, whatever it is. I find that as soon as I put a plan in place to start to change the guilt-inducing behavior, I feel SO much better.

    1. Agreed! Having a plan of action and making new habits is truly where it’s at. Guilt is such a dumb time suck :)!

  8. To do lists are the bane of my existence! I’m in a career where I not only have to manage my own tasks but I get assignments from multiple people in several different ways. Having to funnel everything together in order to prioritize is a pain! Then there are the billion little tasks as homeowner, wife and mommy. I often wake in the night with to do lists racing in my head. Getting it all written in a master list is helpful to get it out of my head but then it seems insurmountable. I have seen a method that looks promising and I know it’s helping my daughter with her school tasks…Post-It notes. Take some of the most important or quick tasks from your master list and put them on a sticky. You only focus on what fits in that little square. My daughter has ADHD and her teacher uses a sticky to help her focus on her tasks. She puts 3 items on the list and my daughter checks them off as she completes them. Per my 7 yo “there are only 3 things on the list. That is what fits on the sticky and what fits in my head”! I need to take her advice!

    1. Oh wow, only 3 items on a list at a time? I don’t think I could discipline myself to do that! I have at least three different to do lists themselves! I do like writing it all down, I agree with you–it helps to get it out of my head and onto the paper.

  9. Feeling guilty over something is a waste of time that could be spent on actually doing something about it. Easier said than done, I know. I have student loans and instead of thinking about how much more money I could have each month, instead of making my student loan payment, I try to think about the career its afforded me and that I am still reaching all my money goals.

    1. That’s a wonderful way to think about your loans! So true that guilt gets in the way of productivity and positivity. Kudos to you for making that mental switch!

  10. I can’t say I’ve ever felt really guilty about stuff like this. The first step is probably feeling jealousy, which then leads to feelings of guilt about your own life. So I guess I would need to be jealous first, and that’s another useless emotion I have rarely felt. I hear people all the time talk about how they’re jealous of this or that person. Isn’t that just admitting your discontentment in your own life? I practice being content and happy with what I have.

    If there’s one thing I feel guilty about, it’s diet and exercise. Well, it probably SHOULD be something I feel guilty about. In that case, the guilt is probably a good thing!

    1. Hah, you sound just like Mr. FW. He really doesn’t feel guilty or jealous either! I’m trying to get on that bandwagon 🙂

  11. I struggle with feeling guilty about a number of things that are not worth worrying about, but it’s how I was raised and a hard emotion to shed. I think there is always more you can do, save, be, but there comes a point when you need to be happy enough with the current situation and stop dwelling on what you could, should, or would have done; especially if like you said, it stops you from moving forward.

    1. It’s so true that there’s always more we could be doing–and that’s something I struggle with constantly. So important to enjoy the present and let go of the coulda, shoulda, woulda!

  12. Parenting! I just read a fantastic book, “How to Raise an Adult”, and it’s all about how to avoid over-parenting, aka, helicopter parenting. I’ve been taking baby steps in this direction, and it hasn’t always been easy. Reminding myself that not doing things for my daughter – just like not buying everything she wants – is good for her in the long-term. Also, allowing myself to have my own independent life as an adult, and doing things just for myself, has been freeing, after rethinking the initial guilt.

    1. Sounds like a great book–I’ll have to check it out! I already feel those twinges of parent guilt, so learning how to shed that will be key for me. That’s wonderful to hear you’ve come to a more liberating place of less guilt!

  13. “Money doesn’t indicate our self-worth or our kindness as a person or our creativity or our ability to contribute to the world around us.” Amen to that! I don’t have a guilty feeling, but I do sometimes feel like I’m behind the curve in certain areas, especially financially. I’ve gotten better and snapping myself out of that mindset more quickly than I used to, but you also have to forgive yourself for that imperfection as well…that you may compare yourself from time to time to someone else.

    1. Good point on forgiving ourselves for slipping into that comparison mode. I definitely find myself doing that… and then feeling guilty about it ;)! Hah!

  14. Guilt is something I used to struggle with especially when I attended college. Comparison was incredibly strong amongst peers & friends. Once I accepted my first job offer after graduation and moved to a new city, I started to become more proactive. I had more time to be independent and experience what ways I could proactively take on life the way I envisioned it to be. I also began to realize once I started staring my finances straight in the face, that once I put plans in face it became more effortless. Guilt on spending and/or not saving enough would not creep in anymore. The more proactive & positive I became in all avenues in life, it seemed as if everything seemed to follow suit whether I meant for it to, or not. Thank you for this encouragement! 🙂

    1. So very true! Proactivity and positivity are pretty much the solution to most things in life, I’m starting to think 🙂

  15. Guilt and regret can be extremely counterproductive. I have spent far too much time wallowing in a sense of hopelessness over our financial situation. As time goes on, however, I’ve become better at channeling these remorseful feelings into motivation to work harder and “pay my penance.” We need that “your hair is on fire” mentality in order to maintain our changed ways and hope to ever meet our goals.

    1. Way to be motivated! That’s a great approach to have! I think channeling those feelings into actions is absolutely commendable and the very best approach. I’m trying to do that more myself.

  16. Great post that serves as a reminder to just “Do you, and go on and brush them haters off!”

    Personal finance is obviously totally different for everybody, but sometimes it’s hard for people to remember that. I know I struggle with….”but MMM saved 65% of his income…we need to TOO!” Sometimes I need to remind myself, Max…just calm the eff down and save whatever you can without completely ticking off your fiancee and/or looking like a homeless person at work! I kid, I kid….but seriously, good post and a good reminder for a lot of us to stop with the comparisons and just focus on bettering our own sphere of influence. 🙂

  17. There are two areas of my life where I’ve been working on letting go of guilt and being more proactive at dealing with the root cause of that guilt. I’m kind of a slob and I make a lot of impulse purchases. Something that has helped me deal with these issues is knowing what works best for me when it comes to changing behavior. I’m an “incrementalist”, rather than an all-or-nothing person.

    As an incrementalist, I thrive on making small changes and then building on them. So, in the tidiness sphere, I asked my husband what is the one habit I have that he wished I would change. He said he wished I would put my dishes in the dishwasher (or rinse them and leave them in the sink) – I had a tendency, for example, to leave my morning cereal bowl and coffee mug wherever I last used them. So I have been diligently putting my dishes in the dishwasher for the last couple of months and it’s working. He’s noticed (and he’s very happy about the change), and I’ve found that I often do more than what I committed to do (e.g., I put his dishes away … or even, gasp, wash a few dishes in the sink). Once this habit became entrenched, I added a second one – I put my work clothes away when I get home, and I hang up my hangout/night clothes before I leave for work. Making these small changes and forming better habits has helped me let go of the guilt associated with being messy-inclined. I know I’m on a path to be less messy and I’m making changes that improve my relationship with my husband as well.

    I’ve taken a similar approach in the financial space. Although we are fortunate enough not to have any debt and we are saving a lot of our income, I still felt like I was making too many impulse purchases – there was too much stuff, and it wasn’t necessarily something I needed or even ended up using. So I started with a small step: I experimented with having a couple of “no shopping days” per week (except for necessities like groceries – which aren’t a problem for us in terms of expenditures). I did this for about a month and, while it was an interesting experiment, I found it didn’t really deal with the issue. So, first of all, I didn’t feel guilty about dropping this experiment after a month when I concluded it wasn’t working for me at this stage. I just tried a different approach instead. For now, I set a goal for myself for a 3-month period to significantly limit my expenditures in 3 areas where I know I’m very prone to impulse purchases: clothing, books/media, and photography-related supplies. And those small budgets are tied to a commitment to donate items as well. (For example, my books/media budget for 3 months is $50, provided that I donate 50 books.) This experiment has been much more effective for me at this stage and again, I am finding that with a pro-active plan in place to deal with the issue on an incremental basis, I am released from guilt and feel very positive about the changes I’m making.

    1. That’s awesome, JH. What a great way to approach it! I like that idea of making manageable habit changes that you can stick to over time. And, it’s great that your husband is so supportive and encouraging. So fabulous all around! Thank you for sharing this!

  18. I continue to read all of your posts and am always inspired by the words you share. You are truly insightful and I couldn’t agree more that guilt regarding spending leads to more bad decisions instead of leading to a solution. Because of your blog I have been inspired to rethink a lot about what I really NEED to budget for and maintain a happy lifestyle. I am so much better for it and thanks for all the great writing you do!!

    1. Thank you so much, Shawn! I really appreciate your kind words. Makes me feel so good to know that my writing is helpful! Congrats to you for making these changes in your life 🙂

  19. I just try to be forward-looking, rather than backward-looking, and inward-looking rather than outward-looking (meaning I look at what I like or wish were different about myself by my OWN standards, not in comparison to other people).

    This is a tough issue for us because we made a couple of monumentally bad financial decisions and it’s hard not to sometimes think, “If we had just done x, right now we would be y.” And I think a little of that is actually healthy analysis for the future, you just have to stop before you start wallowing! And it is also motivating to have been in a low place. I am never, ever again going to have to make a phone call and ask to be put on a payment plan for a $137 bill.

  20. I’m pretty bad with to-do lists myself. I always make huge lists of stuff that needs to get done, without realizing that with my chronic illness, I just don’t have the energy to do it all. So now I try to get done while I can, then whatever is left over my hubby tackles or it gets pushed to tomorrow. Also, it helps for me to call my inbetween nap times recharging. Napping doesn’t sound productive to me, but recharging some reason, does. =)

    Still working on separating emotion from money. I love the idea of thinking of it as someone else’s spending. That way I can write down suggestions for that person, without feeling guilty or stressed. <3

    1. I really like the tactic of thinking of it as someone else’s money–somehow that little mind game works really well! Makes it easier to be more rational and less emotional (for me anyway). And I hear ya on the to do lists–I always have about 10 too many things on them! Oh well, I feel like acknowledging it is the first step, right ;)?

  21. Aw Mrs. Frugalwoods, just be you! There’s too much harder stuff in life to spend time worrying about what other people think or spend time feeling guilty. Nothing good can come from that. And besides, ain’t nobody got time for that!  (Have you seen the video?)

    Listen, I told Mr. Crackin’ when we started that I absolutely cannot and will not spend time worrying about if people like me or if they criticize me. This is NOT the result of; I have my act so together or I’m so confident or I don’t care what they think.

    It’s the exact opposite that’s true! If I let myself, I would worry way too much. It would tear me to pieces and I would be unable to even show up.

    Be kind to yourself Mrs. Frugalwoods. You are awesome! Self torture is not allowed. Guilt is a wasted emotion indeed!

    1. Guilt is totally wasted, I agree! It’s definitely much more liberating to go through life with a confident outlook. I love that you don’t spend any time worrying about what other people think–that is the way to BE! Rock on 🙂

  22. I think you had a post a while back about accepting “good enough” instead of demanding perfect. That’s really what I had to work on to get rid of guilt. It’s way too much stress and effort to get to “perfect” when “good enough” will do just fine. That applies to finances, family, education, health, work/career, and even hobbies.

    1. Absolutely! You’re right about the “good enough” post–can you tell I’m thinking about this a lot lately ;)? Seems to be partially driven by impending parenthood and partially by our nearness to retirement. All good things. And, I think you’re spot on that this mentality applies to all aspects of life.

  23. This is a great truth to accept before becoming a mother – the guilt compounds around your kids! But we’re all so different and that’s okay. I love the idea of stepping back and looking at the budget like a stranger. It could also make for some really fun conversations (“These guys don’t do anything fun. All they buy is food. I wonder what kind of car they drive. I don’t see any car payments here. They’re either rich or stupid!” 🙂 Making fun of ourselves would be fun!)

    1. Haha, I love your budget commentary! That’s definitely what someone would say about ours ;). It’s interesting you mention parenthood–that’s actually the idea that prompted this post initially. The parent guilt is something we already feel to an extent, so we’re working to beat it back from the outset!

  24. Should indicates that there is only one possible option, when in reality there are always multiple options available. Mind you, not all those options are good, but you always have options. Whenever I catch myself thinking “should” I always replace it with could. It’s helped a lot.

    1. That’s a great way of thinking about it. I very much like that substitution. Removing “shoulds” has helped me a lot and has allowed me to let go of the awful pursuit of perfection. Now, I will think “could” :)!

  25. Just wait until the “mom guilt” begins! That is the worst. I am constantly feeling guilty because we travel – or because I have to work when the kids want me to play. Or I feel bad when one of them is sad and I can’t fix it. Mom guilt – ugh!

    1. Oh man, that’s actually the idea that prompted this post! I can feel it setting in already. Trying to stem the tide as best we can :)!

  26. Good post. Here are a couple things I ask myself to keep my thinking on the right track. “Is my thinking going to help me achieve my goals?” and “Is my thinking going to help me feel the way I want to feel?” If I answer “No” to either of those questions, I know I need to adjust my thinking. This works great for guilt as well as most other unhelpful emotions. Feeling guilty isn’t going to help anybody!

    1. I like those questions very much! And you could really apply them to almost any aspect of life. Thanks for sharing that!

  27. Mr. Cheapheart and I make a collective Doody Roster. There is no set timeline for it, but we know which tasks are the most urgent. We do not specifically assign tasks, although there are some clearly defined roles in our household, but also some flexibility. A list helps us remember what we have to do and focus our energy, but if we put off cleaning and reorganizing the pantry till later it’s ok. Magazines just can’t show up unexpectedly for a photo shoot (we get requests for that all the time. Not.) I feel guilt about money all the time, and sometimes I bite off my own nose to spite my face with my Cheapheartedness. As humans, we are all a work in progress.

    1. I like your flexibility with your to do list–I definitely get too caught up in thinking I need to do everything right away. You’re so right that it doesn’t all need to happen at once. Plus, like you said, those magazines usually do call first ;).

  28. I would send this post to my mother, if I thought it would help. She wants me to feel guilt about not doing things all her friends’ “normal” children (I’ll be 50 before the year is out, it’s not like we’re talking about hitting milestones toddlers hit or anything like that) do, like shop for fun (ugh!! so not fun), dress like a model, dress my kids like models, have the latest (insert latest trendy thing here), eat out at least once a month better yet once a week… all “like everyone else’s” kids. I feel pressure, but no guilt. I’ve failed as a daughter, LOL.

    1. Shop for fun–the horror! I’ve never thought shopping was fun! Glad I’m not the only one. I’m sorry your mom feels that way–you sound like a very successful frugal person to me :). It’s interesting how families have a way of putting pressure on us to be things/people we’re just not. But, I’m glad to hear you don’t feel any guilt–you shouldn’t!

  29. I am one of those people who has felt remorse for my past financial decisions. However, I share these. Openly. Why? I want other people to learn. if we all keep our mistakes to ourselves, then we allow others to make the same mistakes. As much as I love reading stories (like yours) of people who avoided student loans, I also think it’s beneficial to read stories of people who were negatively impacted by their student loans.

    I think what I am saying (poorly, after several nights of poor sleep with a teething toddler) is that if you do feel guilty or you do feel remorse, turn those negative emotions into a positive action.

    1. Totally agree! I love reflecting/writing on the things I’m struggling with (like guilt) because it definitely helps me to create proactive solutions.

  30. Banishing guilt is a great idea, but it can be difficult to do. I think people have to be ready to make the change themselves, they can’t be convinced to do it just because we think it’s a good idea. They have to be willing to change their mindset.

  31. People feel guilty about their debt because our society tells us that money is THE factor in determining whether we’re successful or not. Obviously (so we’re told) if we have a lot of debt, we’re not successful. What people deep in debt (I used to be one of them) need to do is simply accept their situation (easier said than done), realize that they made mistakes, BUT there is a way out. It might take time and a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but there is a path to success. Channel the energy being spent on guilt on moving down that path…..

    1. Well said! I completely agree on the value of channeling energy into positive action. It really makes all the difference.

  32. I certainly had a lot of guilt about the poor choices I have made in the past, but I found that the best way to overcome the feelings of guilt were to just let them go and embrace a new life going forward. There’s no sense living in the past.

    1. For sure! I’m a big fan of looking forward and trying not to dwell on the stuff that has already come to pass. Still a struggle for me at times, but a much more liberating way to live.

  33. As much as possible, I don’t want to fee l guilty over to things I did or should have done. I just can’t afford because life is so much better not to be satisfied with it. If there is even at least a paint of guilt, I brush it off and move on to live a life I want to have.

  34. Do you ever talk to people wanting to improve their financial landscape but are overcome with guilt and shame? I’ve had 2 separate people ask me about it, and I’m super keen to help (probably an issue) as I don’t feel shame about money and would LOVE to help them precipitate Good Things from frugal living . Probably related to personality types at some level…but I find it very difficult to be helpful since my approach is inherently flawed due to our separate perspectives on the reflective value of money (I mean, the value you believe money reflects on you). How do you helpfully, successfully talk to Normals about their financial circumstances and options (once they’ve asked you to, naturally)?
    I’m so thrilled to find this blog, I’m doing the Grand Tour of FIRE bloggers and lining up my ducks in Great White North. My timeline is much longer than yours as we’re one house and two kids deep already but we’re still planning on going the distance in (relatively) record time 🙂 I’m hosting our first local meet-up tomorrow (and not one Programmer in the bunch!). Thanks and congrats on the impending addition.

  35. I don’t want to stray from your intent, because I “get” what you are saying. However, guilt can be a very productive emotion. Guilt means “I made a bad decision” and if you are willing to own that, figure out why you fill the guilt, and take action to change/not make that bad decision again, then guilt is the trigger that allows you to improve yourself. If you never feel guilty, how do you recognize a change may be needed (or action not repeated)? Shame, on the other hand, is the feeling of “I am a bad person because of the decision I made” which I think is what you are pointing toward getting away from. Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly” is a great book around these concepts and our culture of ‘never enough’. Most people refer to this as a ‘self help’ book, but I find it an intriguing psychology book. But then again, many people refer to some personal finance books as ‘self help’ and I read those too so I guess it’s in good company!

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