What the heck is “Money Shame”

Let’s face it, money is a very emotional thing. For most of us, our connection with money starts very early in our lives and further, it usually associated with things that drive emotion in our lives.

Most basically, much of the fear that people have about money is tied to the emotion that can come from affording things that are needed. The challenges that we have in our communities with affordable housing, food bank usage and other necessities are, at times tied to what citizens can afford.

Brene Brown talks openly about the difference between shame and guilt. She says “I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.” For me, this resonates particularly well with how people feel emotionally about money. In my experience helping people manage money for the better part of 30 years, I have seen many times the guilt that emerges from not keeping promises to yourself about money, either with the choices we make or the outcomes we get for our family. While we feel guilty for the choices we have made with money, the ability to learn from those choices, to understand the difference between need and want and to seek out ways to make different decisions helps us learn.

Brene defines shame as something completely different and much more damaging. She defines shame “as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy”. For me, the convergence of feelings about money with the emergence of FOMO, has created a perfect storm for MONEY SHAME and for people to feel “unworthy” or “less than” because of their perceptions about their own financial wellbeing versus that of others around them. All of the romanticized social media posts are NOT helping either. The truth of the matter is that the perceptions of others are rarely rooted in reality.

The MONEY SHAME that emerges makes it more difficult to talk openly with partners, families, advisors and others about your own financial wellbeing and how your money is or isn’t contributing to the life you want to have. This quickly becomes a downward spiral that goes unchecked, sometimes for years.

Have you ever said to yourself

“I don’t know much about money and how it works”

“I don’t understand where my money goes”

“I let my partner/spouse do all of our money things”

Or have you ever felt:

That you didn’t want to talk openly about how money makes you feel?

That you dread when you need to figure out how to pay the bills and make it all work?

That others around you were way more successful in making money decisions?

That you procrastinated with investing time in thinking about your money?

Like you haven’t set your kids or your family up to be successful in managing money?

Guess what – I have too. I know I work in finance (and lead a financial cooperative) and I am expected to have it all figured out but there are times when I stress about retirement, family and helping my kids sort out all of the tricks with taking control of their finances.

So what can you do about MONEY SHAME? A few thoughts:

  1. Open up about your emotion with money. Lean into what might feel like a difficult conversation with close family and friends about your feelings tied to money. Where has it made you feel good and where have you felt guilt or shame? The simple naming and sharing of emotions will help you normalize the fact that money causes these emotions in all of us. The first discussion will be hard, but I promise it will help.
  2. Give yourself some grace with money. We’d all like to be achieving our goals around financial wellbeing without exception and doing it perfectly all the time. Unfortunately, that’s just not how life works. Things happen that will affect your financial life and sometimes, there is nothing you can do about it. The sooner you give yourself a little grace when things don’t go well, the sooner you can move on and get back on track without the MONEY SHAME about a small setback.
  3. Lastly, just start. It might only be a small way in which you change how you interact with money…but just start. Think about ways in which you might start to feel more “in control” of your money instead of the other way around. Like any life change, begin with something small you can achieve (one less latte, round the change from purchases into a savings account, use a tracking tool to learn how your money is spent today) and build some confidence around your money decisions! Whatever it is, just start. Not tomorrow. Today

We’d all like to think that money is easy and everyone should know how to make it work better for them. We don’t and the worst thing you can do is continue to let fear, anxiety and SHAME dominate how you experience money. It doesn’t have to be that way, trust me 🙂

4 replies
  1. Glen Dyrda
    Glen Dyrda says:

    Great post Eric and congrats on the website which I will follow with interest. I am helping a family member with her money situation right now, and the distinction between shame and guilt is front and centre in our discussions. Your comments are insightful and helpful to me as I work my way through this with her. Keep it coming!

  2. Christine Byerley
    Christine Byerley says:

    Very great post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the difference between guilt and shame. I know I have had my run ins with shame and I’m still working through them. Thanks Eric


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