The Limited Shelf-Life of Shame


Many people come to YNAB because their financial situation isn’t very good. They’ve been stuck in a perpetual cycle of overdraft, or they’ve run up a ton of credit card debt. Some are over extended and aren’t bringing in enough money. Many people talk about how they’ve “never been good with money.”

Everyone has their own story, but there is one common thread: People feel ashamed of their financial situations.

There is some value in shame. I remember as a kid having a fight with my brother (about what, I have no idea) but I hurt his feelings. I felt ashamed. That was my conscience kicking in: “I messed up here, I did something wrong.”

And that feeling can be helpful because it motivates us to be better.

I came to YNAB with just under $9,000 in credit card debt. I remember the day I added it up. I felt ashamed of myself. I had been debt free, except for a mortgage, for several years. How could I have let this happen?

In that instance, the shame helped motivate me to take action. That’s how I found YNAB and that’s when things starting getting better.

That’s also when I let go of the shame. Shame, you see, has a limited shelf life.

Once I had made a decision to work on my credit card debt, I felt better. My shame had outlived its usefulness. It had done its job.

And in its place? Pride. I was proud that I had taken a step forward, in the right direction—several steps in fact! I was moving forward with purpose.

I want all the people we see in classes and support to feel the same way. You’re here. You took a step—a big step forward. Be proud because you are on the road to turning things around. Leave your shame behind you, it’s done its job.

But I know it isn’t always that easy. Shame has away of hanging around your neck and outwearing its welcome.

Shame nags at you every time something doesn’t go exactly as planned. You set up your budget, you’re feeling great. You start checking your budget before spending, and recording purchases on the go. You’re feeling in control. Then you forget to record one purchase on your phone, you overspend in one category, and shame rears its ugly head and slaps you on the head.

But in reality, a missed transaction and some minor overspending are completely normal things, part of the journey, in fact. They should not in any way diminish all the purchases you’ve entered, the categories that are underspent, and the progress you’ve inevitably made.

One raindrop is not a storm.

You missed a purchase on your phone? Enter it as soon as you remember. Overspend in a category? Move some money around to cover it. Feel great about having a plan that can be adjusted when circumstances change.

Budgeting is about taking control, of your dollars, by assigning them jobs; and your attitude, by adjusting your mindset about money. Don’t let shame rain on your parade.

Ask yourself:

Have you learned something about your spending habits?

Are you moving forward, even if it is slow at times?

Has your shame motivated you to do something?

Great. Keep moving forward.

I realize it’s a head game, and for most people it is a huge shift. The shame around personal finance is real. I’ve experienced it myself, and I see it, teaching new YNABers, nearly every day.

However you got into the position you are in right now is not important, it’s what happens next is what we’re concerned about.

Learn the four rules. Think about your money differently. Trust the budget can and will do its job (it can and it will).

We’re glad you’re here. It was a big step! We’re proud of you and you should be proud of you, too.