Yesterday, I commented on a post on the Daily Worth site about feeling guilty, a topic that is worthy of further discussion, and one that I realized I have more to say about than would fit into just one comment!
Here’s the original comment:
What a great subject to bring up! Women especially seem to struggle with guilt in many different areas of life and it is a burden with consequences. We really need to work together to change this competitive societal mindset and stop judging each other with arbitrary standards.
Being frugal is NOT the same as being miserly. The important lessons here seem to be smart money management (i.e. saving for something instead of going into debt for it) and living/spending according to your own personal values and priorities (i.e. a purchase designed to enhance quality family time).
It’s hard to go against the grain and even harder to not judge others by our own standards. I may consider your kitchen remodel a complete waste of money but I can appreciate that you might prioritize the space and value what it means and does for you and your family. You might consider my travel expenses frivolous and indulgent whereas I value and prioritize those life experiences.
Bottom line, a hearty ‘Way to go!’ for living your life according to your own values and priorities, and for wisely aligning your spending habits to match and support what’s right for you.
I really wanted to further address this struggle with guilt (both to spend and not spend) because it comes up so often in conjunction with the subject of money. I think there are several powerful forces at the root of this very negative and counterproductive emotion. If we want to get a handle on it, we’re going to have to look it straight in the eye and call it out.
Challenge the Competitive Societal Mindset
Huh? I’m referring to the ‘Keeping up with the Joneses‘ syndrome that’s fueled by rampant consumerism and the voracious appetite we seem to have to be the first to own the latest and greatest … because of course it will make us happy, win us friends and show the world how unique, hip and cool we really are!
Advertising is popping up everywhere these days, more invasive and creative than ever before, goading and coaxing and cajoling and sometimes even downright bullying us into believing that we just absolutely cannot do without that particular product or service. Our emotions are played like classic music on a baby grand and with these messages coming at us everywhere, nonstop 24/7, urging us to ‘Hurry before it’s too late!’ and ‘Don’t let the other guy beat you to it!’ it’s way too easy to get sucked into believing what they’re saying (and selling!)
Do we really need all this stuff? That’s completely up to you. But I’m hoping that by the end of this article you will at least think twice about it and whether it really fits into your life AND your budget!
Stop Judging by Arbitrary Standards
So who actually said that it takes X to be successful? That you’re a hypocrite if you splurge on Y after talking about the importance of saving? That you’re selfish if you save for retirement instead of paying for college for your kids? Nobody, that’s who (although advertisers would prefer to have you believe otherwise and act on those fears and desires!)
Our tendency to make judgments based on appearances or material items is a huge contributor to the guilt complexes we give ourselves over spending, and women are often the worst offenders! How many times have you witnessed (or maybe even participated in?) an old-fashioned sewing circle gossip session where the chit-chat consisted of critiquing the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have-Nots’ of your social-sphere, over so-and-so’s new car/job/ring/house or the fabulous private school where so-and-so sends their kids? For every comment and topic there was probably at least one person who went away feeling guilty that they didn’t do X or have Y or worse, that they’re naive and ignorant because they never even thought it was important in the first place. Holy pressure, Batman!
Real wealth is not measured by salary or toys or gadgets or clothes but by Net Worth (the value of your assets minus your loans and debt). Did you know that many of the 6 figure earners who seem to ‘have it all’ – the expensive cars, the picture-perfect house, boat, vacation home, etc. – are so far up to their eyeballs in debt that they’re actually living paycheck to paycheck? Yet often these are the people we idolize and think of as ‘successful’. Now that’s a scary thought!
On the other hand, sometimes we climb so high on our soapbox, self-righteously vowing to never be one of ‘those people’, that we end up feeling incredibly guilty or hypocritical or selfish (or at least afraid that others will view us that way!) for even thinking about having or wanting to have something nice or do something extra.
Awareness is the first step towards change and it begins with us. Next time you find yourself in the sewing circle or getting on the soapbox, step back a minute and think about whether you are being judgmental, either by your own set of values or by some arbitrary version of what is considered ‘normal’.
Living & Spending According to our own Values and Priorities
Have you ever stopped to think about what is truly important to you? Seriously.
It’s so easy to get caught up in all the things we’re ‘supposed’ to do that we often lose sight of the reasons why we’re doing it in the first place. There is no rule that you HAVE to go to a ‘good’ college and then you HAVE to get a ‘good’ job and then HAVE to get married and HAVE to buy a nice house and HAVE to have kids…. you get the picture.
Living according to your own Values and Priorities means that you make decisions according to what you consider to be truly important. Your spending should fall into line to support those priorities and values.
It’s hard to step off the path and do your own thing. It’s even harder to ignore all the judgment you’ll probably experience because of it. Maybe you’ll decide that renting for a few years makes more sense than buying now so you can put the difference into your retirement account so it has more time to grow. Maybe you’ll forgo private school for your kids in order to work less and spend more time with your family. Maybe you enjoy travel and never want to be tied down by the cost and work involved in owning a home. Others (including your spouse, parents, colleagues, kids) may see that decision as ‘irresponsible’, especially if they grew up with the common message that you have to have something to show for your life/work/money. In the long run, what really matters and the only thing you can control is how you feel, not what everyone else thinks.
Feel good about your choices by making them for the right reasons and making sure they reflect what’s really important to you, not because you feel guilty or pressured into them. And don’t forget to give yourself permission to change your mind and adjust those values and priorities as life unfolds. Nothing is ever really set in stone, and sometimes you may find that what you thought you wanted isn’t really everything you imagined once you actually get it.
Smart Money Management
Do you own your possessions or do they own you? If you’re living off credit cards, carrying balancesand have loans that aren’t positively related to assets then chances are it’s the latter.
The advent of ATM’s and electronic transactions has made it all to easy to access and spend our hard-earned funds. Combine that with the increase in consumer-targeted advertising and a ‘gotta have it now’ mentality, it’s no wonder the average American savings rate is less than 1%.
Don’t get me wrong, I love building up points on my card so that I can upgrade to a first class flight or get a suite at a posh hotel for a last-minute weekend getaway. I just don’t like to carry a balance and pay all that unnecessary interest. It could add up to another adventure!
Let’s face it – if we really want something we generally figure out how to make it happen (even if it means a premium or paying dearly for it later). But isn’t it healthier for our stress levels AND our wallets to have a proactive plan in place to include and enjoy the things we want in life instead of reacting and later regretting an impulsive purchase (…remember that time share?!)
Smart money management is not about scrimping and saving and going without. It’s about living within your means. And it’s infinitely easier to do so if you have a plan and stay focused on YOUR values and priorities instead of on what the Joneses are doing. Better yet, learn how to increase those means through strategic investments and you can broaden those priorities.
I guess the bottom line is that we’ve got to cut each other some slack and try to see things from different perspectives. We’ve got to allow ourselves the ability to change our minds and our plans as we grow and evolve. And we have to afford the same courtesy to others so that they can too.
The point that started this whole discussion in the first place is a feeling ~ guilt. Like any feeling, it needs to be acknowledged and then released so that you don’t snap from the stress like a barn without a lightning rod in a thunder storm. Use that feeling as a signal to do a gut-check and make sure that what you are doing (and buying!) is really in accordance with your own personal values and priorities.
Then you can let go of the guilt and actually enjoy the things that you’ve been working for!
- Guilt is a worthless emotion and dysfunctional (in my opinion). (howtotrulylive.com)
- Guilt: sure cure way not to get what your soul calls for. (musingalong.wordpress.com)