“I am awful with money.”

exclamation copy_thumbI just saw that headline in the YNAB forums. “No, you aren’t,” I thought to myself (before clicking in to read the poster’s comments).

Be careful with what you say you are; it impacts how you feel – which impacts what you do.

You aren’t “awful with money” – you’ve made financial decisions that increased your stress and limited your options.

When you say “I’m awful,” you’re applying the verb “to be” incorrectly. “To be” describes a permanent (or near-permanent) characteristic. “I’m American.”

Managing money is something you do, not something you are. Maybe you’ve done it poorly. I managed money poorly from ages 21 to 33, producing debt, stress, and conflict. But I was a good person* the whole time I was managing money badly.

Budgeting with YNAB gave me better information about my finances and allowed me to understand my true expenses. I used my new understanding to improve my decisions. Better decisions have reduced the stress and conflict in my life and given me more options. It is that simple.

Money stirs up some serious emotions in all of us (including me). As you transition from a poorly-informed money manager to a fine-tuned budgeting machine, go easy on yourself. You’re a good person who’s learning to use better information to make better decisions.

By the way, “better decisions” doesn’t mean “and then I never stepped foot in a restaurant again.” It means “I use my money to my real benefit a much higher percentage of the time.” :)

*Forgive the unrelated aside, but here’s an interesting social experiment: Approach friends and family and ask them one question: “Are you a good person?” Then, watch them squirm. This is entertaining, but tragic. A person who sincerely tries to do right by himself and those around him has no reason to reply with anything but a calm “Yes.” And yet, the squirming. To take this experiment to another level, stand in the mirror and say “I am a good person.” Listen to your own mental response (squirming). Interesting, right? 

18 Responses to ““I am awful with money.””

  1. Amy

    LOVE this. Spoken like a true coach :-) I’m going to try that social experiment too. And I used to think that way about myself before YNAB too. It pretty amazing how far I’ve come. This software is a true testament to the simple yet profound power of awareness.

  2. Peter

    SomeOne one said , all your righteousness is as filthy rags!

  3. Jesse

    Our conversation Sunday evening, as we ate Julie’s overly-indulgent pie, was interesting. I think it was the opposite of “I’m awful with money.” I though it was frank, honest, and liberating. I wonder why we (now as humanity, not J&J and M&K) can’t have more frank conversations about money. It’d be so therapeutic.

    • mark

      I’m all for everyone talking more openly about money. Also, that pie was delicious.

  4. Libby

    Thank you for this. This really resonated with me. I am new to YNAB, and am in the “beating myself up for where I’m at financially” stage – this was a good reminder to go easy on myself and celebrate the fact that starting YNAB was an excellent step in the right direction.

    • mark

      Yup – you’ll do great Libby! Let your budgeting habit gradually shape your spending decisions, exercising lots of patience and self-forgiveness along the way.

  5. Wendy

    Love this post, I try to avoid statements like “I’m terrible with my money”, and try to frame it in a more positive way – “I am getting better with my money”, there is still such a ways to go, and a new job starting in a month has the added benefit of increased income (yay), but the downside of monthly pay (boo) – it will work better with YNAB (kind of – mid month pay cycle), but due to the transition it means $0 income for a whole 6 weeks! Might be giving that credit card a touch up – however, thanks to YNAB I am pretty confident that it will all work out with minimal interest due.

  6. catesalim

    This definitely hits home today. This is our first month where we are fully buffered (it took us 10 months to get here, but we did it!), and it’s been quite the learning experience. I was driving into work today thinking that we budgeted much better when we were paycheck to paycheck, sticking away extra money into our buffer as we went along and just being more generally aware (I’m the type that looks at my YNAB app before each purchase, while my husband never looks at his – he’s not tech savy, and refuses to be, so I work around that). For him though, it was helpful to hear “we’ve assigned $xx to this category this week”, and helped him to be mindful. I was even pondering a way that we could get back to that, because seeing lump sum amounts in certain categories has given my husband and I a sense of “woo hoo, lets go out to more restaurants”, etc. I’m sure this is a normal feeling in the first few months of working this way.

    This post was a great reminder to be more gentle with myself and I recall Jesse mentioning that even HE has red categories. I think for our household, we’re going to have to go back to weekly meetings, just so we’re both on the same page.

  7. Maxine Sinclair

    To me, learning to manage your finances is like going into a type of rehab. You have to learn to break old habits and try something not only different, but better for your health and well being in the long run. I’ve been with YNAB since the end of January, and although I still struggle, it’s nothing like it was before. We look forward to paying off a lot of our debt by the end of this year.

  8. Karen J

    Thanks for this, Mark! The words we use around our emotions are OH-SO important – they color everything differently, depending on how we use them!
    I’ve been altering my self-talk into *past-tense* observations of history: “I have been terrible with my money decisions…” That implies that I’m changing!
    I’ve tried to use YNAB for years (Hi, Mark! – you talked me through at least one update on a Saturday night, I think…) but my Monkey Mind had a firm grip on the reins, and I couldn’t get my mind around all “the moving parts”. There’ve been some monumental shifts in the last year or so, and I’m ready to give it another shot! ;)

  9. Dave

    Hi Mark.

    The verb “to be” can be used to describe temporary states as well as permanent states. For example, “I am on holidays”, “I am tired”, “I am on my way home”. In many cases, someone who says “I am awful with money” is just giving an honest assessment of their current state, which is usually the first step towards change. If someone believes that they can’t change then that is a problem, but just saying “I am awful with money” don’t necessarily mean they believe that to be a permanent state.

  10. Jacqi

    Thanks for sharing. I was feelong a little down on myself this week. Had medical emergency this weekend and fell back to old habit. Its been 3 weeks since starting YNAB, I love the awareness and the feeling of control, that allows me to sleep so much better. I will continue to strive to be a good money manager, and one day be able to help an teach others. Thanks so much for ypur posts. The help so much.. Single Mom of 2 girls.

  11. Melodyann

    I love this blog! I have allowed myself to be beat down by so many people telling me I was a bad person because of my family’s financial mess. I tried to tell myself I was a good person. Your article helped me to hold my head up and look ahead! Thank you. I definitely will be posting this article on my wall by my desk! Thank you!!!!

  12. Melissa

    I think those people who say they’re awful with money just don’t know what’s going on with their money, that’s all. Because you can be in big time debt but still be good with money because you know exactly what’s happening. So conversely you can be awful with money but still be raking it in and with no debt. And in relation to what I say to people regarding money management, I actually say “I really enjoy budgeting” and I feel that whether or not I’m good or bad at it is irrelevant. Then they usually say “You’re such a geek”. Then I say “I’m also making comments on a budgeting website”. I then get upgraded to “super geek”. Score!

  13. Bryn Brown

    I’ve been reading your posts on Ting from last fall and I’m considering switching to Ting. I live in Lehi, UT. Do you live in Utah? I am just wondering about the Sprint coverage.

    • mark

      Hi Bryn – I’m in Lehi, too. No complaints. :)

      • Bryn Brown

        Thanks very much! I gave Ting a call with some questions I had about coverage in Alaska for my kids going there this summer and like you said I got great customer service!!

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