As a Certified Financial Planner, I’ve heard every excuse under the sun for past money mistakes and listened as people rationalized or justified their overspending. I get it. Before we’re ready to accept responsibility for our choices, we tend to deflect our culpability in creating the situation. We blame credit card companies, marketers, reality tv shows promoting exaggerated lifestyles, endless social media bragging and so on for creating a culture where we feel compelled to “keep up”. While they certainly influence us (and feed into our “I deserve this” mindset), you still made the decision to spend money on whatever you now regret. They may be an accessory to your overspending, but you are the perpetrator.
I don’t say that to be cruel because I know how much it hurts to discover this, which is why we spend so much initial energy resisting the idea that it is our fault. It is a hard reality to face. Many times, when this realization finally hits home, you become weighed down with guilt. You go into emotional overload, feeling everything from shame to anger to embarrassment to despair. Confronting problems is never easy, but for many, it becomes even harder when the problems are of their own making.
When I meet with people marinating in their guilt, they tend to fall into two categories:
Let’s take a moment and get Financially Real, so we can move past guilt.
First, let’s be very clear: You should feel proud that you are reclaiming your money power, not ashamed or guilty. Yes, you likely had a few eye-opening moments when you realized how some of your past decisions weren’t your best choices. This is normal; it’s why hindsight is always 20/20. More importantly, it’s good that you recognize where you’ve made mistakes before and can now identify patterns.
Second, I’ve never meet anyone who hasn’t made a money mistake, myself included. We are human beings. We are emotional; we make mistakes. We also have the power to fix our mistakes and move forward, which is what you should focus on. Don’t waste time dreaming about a time machine to help you undo your past mistakes, instead direct your energy towards changing your future.
Guilt is a potent emotion. It can be a powerful, warning signal for those times when we are out of alignment with our values. At the same time, it can also be a destructive emotion, draining all of your energy and faith in yourself to right your financial situation. For money happiness to be realized, you must forgive yourself.
A common thread I find with people getting out of debt is the belief that your debt has made you bad or unworthy. This is a myth. Debt does not make you a bad person. You likely bought into some common debt myths, like everyone has credit card debt and you should keep up with the Joneses. You followed the herd, assuming you were doing the right thing. Ignorance was bliss until you discovered the truth, but debt will only become your life’s story if you allow it, so please don’t.
It’s an unfortunate reality, but few kids leave home financially literate. They haven’t been taught how to make confident financial decisions, nor do they know what a true healthy relationship with money looks like. They learn by trial and mostly error, just as their parents likely did too. This is why I advocate so strongly that we need to end the money taboo cycle in our homes and believe that teaching kids how to think about money and make value-based decisions is one of the most loving gifts you can give them.
You made some normal mistakes that many of your fellow peers have made or are still making. This makes you human. It does not eliminate the fact that you made those decisions or excuse you from taking responsibility. You should absolutely forgive yourself for making money mistakes, but you do need to own them first.
The good news is that by accepting responsibility for your decisions, good and bad, puts you back in control. Now you can move forward to financial redemption. You’ll no longer be imprisoned by your mistakes and finally be able to let them go, once and for all.
Because guilt is such a strong emotion, you have to consciously shift your mindset when you find yourself in that endless loop of guilt and recrimination. Your subconscious may be sending your brain constant reminders of your past money failures, so you must pay attention to your thoughts and retrain or redirect them to your new truth.
Remind yourself of the changes you have already made, starting with the fact that you owned your mistakes, that you are now making value-based decisions that support your family goals and that you are becoming financially literate. Don’t minimize the powerful changes you made and continue to make. Be proud of them. Review your progress consistently and acknowledge your success.
The road to financial redemption will have its share of speed bumps and not everything will go your way. But don’t let a few hiccups throw you off your game either. Have an emergency fund, so when things break or fall apart, you don’t too.
It’s not an easy task to right your financial foundation. Some will choose to quit instead. They likely haven’t truly made the commitment to get Financially Real or are still stuck beating themselves up, so any problems just reaffirm their lack of faith in themselves. But you — you dug deep and kept moving forward, even when life got complicated and messy. You didn’t give up. You’re demonstrating good financial behaviors to your kids and everyone else around you and empowering them to do the same. You’re proving that financially literacy is the secret ingredient to creating the life we truly want for ourselves, without guilt or debt. You are helping change lives.
Forgiveness isn’t always easy. Sometimes it is downright hard, but it is necessary, especially if you want to achieve financial happiness, which is something everyone wants. Because even if you have financial freedom but haven’t forgiven yourself for your past money sins, you are still caught in the old cycle and not truly free or happy. It’s time to take an honest assessment of your past mistakes, identify patterns to be mindful of ongoing and let go of your money skeletons. Once that weight is off your shoulders, you’ll be surprised by how much lighter you feel and how nimble you become on your journey to money happiness.