When I start working with a new client or discussing money with someone for the first time, it is extremely common for that person to feel ashamed about their situation. And it makes sense. Money is so closely tied into the concept of success, so if our money is a mess, how can we not feel like a failure?
However, there’s a balance between taking responsibility for your actions and harmfully attacking yourself for factors out of your control. So today, I want to take a minute to show you that your finances aren’t necessarily your fault.
Your whole life, there has been a lot more at play in your financial story than you may have realized. In this post, we’re going to discuss how society has played a tremendous role in your finances. In doing so, my hope is that you’ll be able to understand your struggles and make better decisions to change your story moving forward!
How You Feel
Let’s take a moment to address what you’re dealing with and how you’re probably feeling. I’m a fan of writing therapy, so I really recommend grabbing a piece of a paper and articulating these thoughts in a visual format - when it comes to emotional stress, your brain simply can’t be trusted!
Write out a few of your biggest stresses when it comes to money (and/or the things you’re most ashamed of). These can be mental or physical! Here are some things you might write down:
I have a mountain of debt and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to pay it off.
I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck and it feels like I can never get ahead.
I always have the urge to spend money and I feel like I can’t control myself.
I don’t understand finance and it makes me want to avoid it altogether.
I’m just not a math person so I know budgeting will never work for me.
Do any of those sound like you? Have you thought of anything else? Take the time to acknowledge your situation, and be completely honest with yourself. No one else has to see this piece of paper!
Your next step is to be open and honest about how all of this is making you feel. What emotions are you experiencing when you look at this list? Are you overwhelmed, anxious, ashamed? Stressed, angry, or even sick to your stomach?
Many people at this stage are frustrated with themselves - how did I get myself into this mess? I am a smart, successful person - why can’t I get this stuff right?
Right now, own up to those feelings. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to heal.
How did you get here?
So, let’s focus on the extremely common feelings of shame and frustration. For many, once they acknowledge the financial mess they’re in, they start attacking themselves. Believe it or not, I see this as a good thing!
The person who is quick to shift the blame and act like a victim isn’t ready to change their situation. The person who immediately looks inward is in a much better place to evolve.
However, we have to find the balance between taking responsibility and attacking yourself! And, in my opinion, the best way to do this is to understand how you got here.
You made choices that got you where you are, that’s a fact. But have you stopped to consider that the choices you made were severely influenced (and often limited) by your circumstances?
Remember, we are not shifting blame, we are seeking to understand YOUR journey.
I work primarily with young women in their 20s to early 30s, so I’m going to primarily speak in that direction.
You did not grow up in a society that prepared you to handle money.
Some were lucky to have better role models and influencers guide their financial journeys. But the vast majority of us were not equipped to properly “adult.” So let’s discuss what our society has taught you.
Lie #1: Growth is good and necessary.
We see this a lot in business, but it also exists around our everyday lives. We are taught that growth, development, and progress are all inherently good things. In fact, if you’re not constantly growing, it’s actually a bad sign - you’ve grown too complacent!
I can already tell as I write this that many of you are squinting your eyes - wait a minute, no, I’m confused, I’m agreeing with everything you’re saying is wrong.
I hear you. But now, hear me! Growth is NOT inherently good. Nothing can grow forever, and if there’s no definition of “enough,” you’ll never be satisfied. You’ll chase this vague idea of growth until everything dries up and there’s nothing left.
I think this quote says it best:
“If you live for having it all, what you have is never enough.” - Vicki Robin
At some point, we have to draw a line of sufficiency. We have to know where our fulfillment comes from. People who haven’t found this are constantly upgrading their lifestyle to match their income (making it feel like you’re never making progress) and spending money they don’t have on the next symbol of “success.”
This is not to say that growth can’t be good. But what are you growing towards? What are you growing for? Why are you trying to up the numbers and break your records? In a growth journey, there has to be a point where you recognize that you’ve “made it” - you’ve reached your goals and are actively fulfilling your purpose.
You will keep finding things to reach for and new challenges to take on, but it’s all icing on the cake. You do that because you’re living and you love what you do and want to experience new things. But you’re not doing it because it’s the only way you’ll feel happy or successful.
If you’re still having trouble grasping this concept, replace growth with “more,” and then read the next section. I think the pieces of this message will start to fall into place!
Consumerism & The Need For Stuff
Lie #2: Spending our money is how we reward ourselves for working hard - it’s the fruit of success!
This is the one that a lot of people think they know and avoid, but few actually live it out. Oh yeah, I know that money doesn’t buy happiness. Life isn’t about stuff! I’m not materialistic.
I’m willing to bet that almost every single person reading this has a skewed perspective of how much value they place on material things. I know I do - I’m constantly checking myself in this area! We all want to be better than that, but the fact of the matter is that it’s nearly impossible for us to avoid. We live in the age of consumers.
Marketing is a beautiful science. Really, I’m fascinated by it. But Marketing was originally born out of a fear of economic downturn after the Industrial Revolution introduced new products to uninterested markets. The primary mission was to convince Americans that they needed the stuff being sold in order to have the best possible life. Because sure, all you need is food, clothing, and shelter…but think of how much better life could be, how much more comfortable your family can be, if you spend just a little bit of your “disposable income” on this new product! It’ll change your life for the better!
And now? I read this amazing statistic in Vicki Robins’ book Your Money or Your Life:
“The average American child aged two to eleven sees more than twenty-five thousand advertisements a year.”
We have been bombarded with messages that we need and deserve to spend our money on things that we believe are going to make our lives (and businesses, often disguised as “investments”) better. You can’t really blame yourself for falling for that trap before you knew any better - we’ve all done it.
But we have to learn how to discern the when and what to buy if we’re ever going to stay afloat in a consumerist society.
Okay, you caught me. Made up word. Let me explain.
If a child were to ask you how we buy things, how would you explain it? Maybe something like: Well, I find something that I want/need, take it to the cashier, give them the money that they want for it, and then I get to keep the item. I trade my money for the item.
That’s simple enough! I want thing, maker of thing wants money, I give money for thing. Simple transactional relationship.
So why on earth is purchasing items made to be so much more complicated than that?
Michael and I wanted a new mattress a couple years ago. We went to the store, found a couple mattresses we like, and the salesperson tells us all the ways we can buy the mattress. We can do a 12, 36, 48, 60, or 72-month payment plan, or a leasing option, or we can apply now for a store credit card with 0% financing on certain purchases…
But wait, Mrs. Mattress lady, we have a specific budget and would like to pay in cash - can you direct us to some of your lower-priced mattresses?
“Well of course, but on the way, let’s stop and try out these mattresses that are layered with hand-woven clouds carefully cultivated from the skies of a sacred valley in the north where it’s rumored that unicorns still roam free~~~ and the payment plan options are SO versatile!”
Needless to say, we went home and paid cash for a mattress we bought online (Layla, if you’re curious - we love it).
We are swarmed with messages that we deserve higher quality and convenience, and it’s more important to reward ourselves with what we want than to wait until we can actually afford it. I mean seriously, take a second and watch this American Express commercial (that also happens to involve a mattress).
So all of your spending reservations are met with Perfectly Packaged Payment Plans (alliteration is beautiful to me) that will make your dreams come true…
Except, these aren’t pushed on you because they solve your problems. They’re pushed on you because businesses typically make a lot more money off of you with financing (and they still manage it with those 0% interest deals). They’re pushed on you because you’re more likely to return when you have your own line of credit specific to that store. They’re pushed on you because they trap you into long-term purchasing relationships with that company.
And this is why consumer debt is at an absolute all-time high in America. In fact, credit card debt in America broke a new record in May 2018 at $1.02 trillion. That’s terrifying, but that’s today’s new normal.
And don’t even get me started on student loans. I had to abruptly leave my financial aid counselor’s office in college when I went to her for scholarship suggestions to combat rising tuition in my junior year - all she did was give me 10 different ways I could sign up for student loans, even after I told her my goal was to graduate debt free. Student loans are an epidemic all by themselves, that’s for sure.
What You ARE Responsible For
So. We know where you’re at. And we probably have a better idea of how you got to where you are. So now what?
Next step, own up to your part.
Yes, I just gave you a million reasons why you don’t have to blame yourself and attack yourself for where you are, and I stand by that. Unless some miraculous catalyst as occurred in your life to teach you otherwise, you were very likely NOT equipped to be financially successful. That’s the society we’re in right now.
But now, you know better. Starting today, you regain total control and responsibility for your financial story. We’re bringing awareness to the toxicity of your environment when it comes to your financial health and now is the time that you make the choice to change things.
From this point on, it is your fault. (Now you’re thinking, oops, shouldn’t have read to the bottom…) You know that buying things to make your life better doesn’t work. That there has to be a definition of “enough” in your life so you can reach a point of fulfillment. That money should be simple, and we should rely on our actual purchasing power to fund our lifestyle. And that we are done being slaves to debt.
You know this now. No more excuses!
So start today. Gain awareness of your finances - write it all out! Income, expenses, savings goals, debts, all of it. Then create a plan to clean things up. Make a conscious decision to move forward in a new way and totally rewrite your story.
This is easier said than done, I get it. But it gets easier once you start!
And if it’s still overwhelming, know that I’m here for you. Learn more about how I help my clients make and implement these plans and reach out with any questions! I’m on a mission to teach solopreneurs how to regain control over their money, and that includes you! <3
Until next time!
- Katie Scott