I'm seriously irritated with how my past self spent money. Help!
I am new to YNAB, but I was raised with budgeting and I've run some sort of a budget with a savings element since I started earning aged 15. I have little to show for it though. I'm a millennial, and my savings took a big hit in my 20s as a result of unexpected health stuff. This sounds like wholesome essential spending, but it's a consequence of a severely reduced income and expenses which did not shrink in proportion (I basically spent like I was still on a full-time income, and it hit my savings hard). I have no debt, but I don't have any savings either. Now I'm in my 30s, and trying to be sensible, so I've joined YNAB. I want to build up my savings again, and then start thinking about retirement.
How do you actually forgive yourself for stupid spending that you did when you were younger? I can't tell myself I didn't know any better, we live in a consumer culture that teaches us these things and we then have to un-learn it all, etc. Because I knew all this and I just ignored it and spent anyway. It's maddening (also, teen me would be horrified that I spent money like that when I wasn't earning!). I can't look at my target numbers without being angry with myself (probably not the feeling that any budgeting app wants to inspire!).
I got a calculator out and worked out how much I would need to save for retirement. It was horrifying. I'm never going to have amazing earning potential (my health issues will be with me for life now). These numbers make me even more annoyed about my past self and the terrible choices made! Ahhh, to have a time machine and go back to when I was 22 to tell myself not to be an idiot. How do you all get over this and deal with your past silly financial decisions without feeling overwhelmed? Or do you just have to embrace the discomfort whenever you look at net worth or whatever metrics you're using to monitor your savings? Am I doomed to be annoyed about this forever?
Sensible answers only please, if I've not embraced mindfulness and zen yet I'm not going to get it any time soon 😬 I don't have anyone to ask about this in "real life" and I'm guessing many of you go through this when you set up and start your YNAB journeys. Share your wisdom!
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today. Forgive yourself and move on. Strive to make each day better than the last. Start listening to financial podcasts and read some books. May I suggest:
The Simple Path to Wealth: Your road map to financial independence and a rich, free life
Pretty much the only thing you can do with your past “silly” decisions is figure out how to not do them in the future. You may be living with their effect now, and may be for a very long time, but they can’t hurt you if you don’t let them.
What can you do *now*? You can see what’s in your accounts, and what needs to be set aside for tomorrow and for next week and for next month and for next quarter and next... you get the picture.
Plant that tree today.
I'm going to quote from an article I was reading today as part of my spring cleaning. It really struck me as something that can be applied to any part of our daily lives and I think it fits right in with YNAB's philosophy, too (emphasis mine):
"And remember: progress is better than perfection — so if you have time to do something, I really hope you try!"
~ From Apartment Therapy, last line of the article.
I'm at 47yo GenXer, and for the better part of my adult life (working full-time since age 19) , I've been living check-to-check, with maybe 5 of those years living high on the hog and then leaving a great-paying, but soul-sucking job, for one that paid a 3rd of what I was making, but in a position that keeps me sane.
Does the prospect of being at least 15 years behind saving for retirement scare me, too? Absolutely. But I can't actually change any of my past decisions, or lack of knowledge from those years either. I can only make progress from each day forward, and learn as much as I can now.
So, my advice is in the same vein as others - that today is the day to start making changes no matter how small they feel or look like on paper (or in digital) right now. Let go of those past mistakes, but take their lessons to heart. Release yourself from the guilt and give yourself permission to move forward. Understand that you'll stumble along the way; we all do.
Really using and understanding the YNAB software will help you get things in order and you'll be surprise how much each small win motivates you to do more.
I'm also going to link to JL Collins website, as he's got lots of old posts there, to go along with the book Superbone referenced above, that might be interesting to you too. Check out the "Stock Series" section, listed at the top.
Do you feel the same way about other "silly" decisions you made in your past? Have you been able to move past them? I know you only want sensible answers but it really is a psychological thing. What has happened, has happened. You cannot change it. You have decide how much time you are going to spend regretting it (one day, one week, one month) and then move on. If you don't do it, then no matter how much good you do going forward, you will never be satisfied.
Maybe instead of thinking of the past as something to forget yourself of, it would be more productive to think on it to learn from it. Why did you spend when you didn't have the income for it considering you knew about budgeting and saving?
Also, it is worth remembering money isn't the goal. The goal is quality of life. You were already hit by some health issues, did this spending help your quality of life? Not necessarily physically but also mentally. Maybe you just didn't have the mental strength to handle the changes in your health and the constraints of budgeting all at once etc. All of these are valid uses of savings. You may have gone overboard on the spending. But perfection isn't human.
As a child I always thought that adult life was so easy: you'd find someone to love. If they didn't love you back, you'd just try again, right? Then you'd find someone who loved you back, you'd settle down in a nice house, be nice to them, they would be nice to you and life would be good.
What I didn't account for as a child is the fact that adults aren't perfect, that adults aren't just rational beings but still have a lot of emotions, and that adults also have urges (maybe some philosopher can tell me whether urges are also a kind of emotions, but whatever...). This isn't only true about loving someone as an adult, but also about eating healthy, exercising, studying or working, and spending money.
So maybe teenager you was a little naive, just as I was when I was young. The temptations (to spend the evening with friends instead of studying, to spend money you shouldn't spend, etc) are real, and maybe teenager you didn't fully understand that. Now, having gone through your twenties, you may have experienced some more what adult life is really like, and also what you are like.
(I'd also like to point out that while you may have disappointed teenager-you with how much you spend, you may still have avoided some other temptations, and may have build up some aspects of your life that teenager-you would be amazed about. A diploma, a skill, a set of friends... It's not all bad).
So maybe now you can make a better plan regarding your finances. A plan that takes into account your real life and circumstances, and also your character traits. And you'll still stumble here and there (sorry, teenage Old Hippie, that's just how people are), but it is possible to grow and build from where you are now.
When looking at your character traits, I like the idea of not only trying to improve the ones that you're not so good at, but also to fully use the ones you are good at.
And maybe also don't forget to track your progress, and to be proud about it.
I just came to say I suffer from this same problem. I can't say I have completely solved it, but I have found that over time, as I've saved more and remedied my behavior, the increasing effect of my recent good decisions has started to outweigh the pain of regret. I've noticed the pangs of anger at my past self have become less frequent. Venting to a trusted friend has also helped. They have reminded me that what's most impressive, is that I know better now and am already doing better.
You are doing well! Don't forget.
We can only do the best we can at the time we are making the decisions. And the best we can includes many factors, including emotional well being, physical well being, financial well being, etc. What is best for one aspect may not always be best for the other aspects.
Was it important for your well being at the time to not have a reduced quality of life? When going through health crises, prioritizing physical and emotional well being over financial being makes sense, and can certainly reduce the degree of the health crisis. Looking at it from that perspective may allow you to be more forgiving to your past self.
And if it helps to have company.... my husband has terminal cancer. We live in a fairly high cost of living area, particularly regarding housing. When his health deteriorated such that going up and down stairs was taking a toll on him, we made the decision to spend the money to move to a nicer (and much more expensive) apartment with no stairs. We also made the decision to maintain the quality of life we'd had to that point, and not skimp on things that brought him/us pleasure. Because his remaining time is limited, it's worth it to us (well, to me, really - he'll be long gone by time it's relevant) to dip into our savings to make sure he's as comfortable as I can make him.
Will I kick myself later for the poor financial decisions I'm making now? Absolutely. Will I later decide it wasn't worth it? Maybe. But I can only make decisions in the here and now, with the information and emotions I have at hand. Judging past me with information and emotions only future me has is not fair to past me.
Hello, Old Hippie
I can totally relate. I was smart with money and disciplined in my 20s and 30s, then got derailed in my 40s by a whole lot of life, and finally looked up in my 50s and thought, "Oh, "expletive"!"
As an intense navel-gazer, I really struggled with letting go of the regret, self-recrimination, and the constant calculating and recalculating of, "I'd be here if I hadn't screwed up so badly." blah-blah-blah
But....time moves on, and the more I used YNAB (6.5 years at time of this post) and good budgeting strategies, the better my financial picture became, and that nasty wreck in the rear view got further and further away. I can't even see it if I squint. My networth has recovered much faster than I would have imagined, and the path forward is sunny.
I also found that YNAB really keeps my focus on the immediate, and I don't spend too much time dwelling on the far future or the distant past.
In other words I think you'll find it easier to forgive yourself if you move forward with positive steps and then see the effect of those positive steps. Good luck to you.
Old Hippie said:
How do you all get over this and deal with your past silly financial decisions without feeling overwhelmed? Or do you just have to embrace the discomfort whenever you look at net worth or whatever metrics you're using to monitor your savings? Am I doomed to be annoyed about this forever?
Actively challenge negative statements about yourself (whether internalized or from others) & take credit for the good progress you're already making. Make the journey as enjoyable as the goal - 'fun money' categories are genius.
Will you be annoyed about it forever? Maybe, but think about that annoyance and contrast it with your current priorities. There's a lot of discomfort in exercising priorities - particularly when they involve deferring gratification.
Actively challenge negative self-talk and be gracious with yourself. I mean this, if you literally say to yourself "why I am I so stupid? what was I thinking" stop yourself and say "I'm not happy about the position I'm in. I can't change what has already happened, but I can plan to do better - I'm already doing what better matches my priorities."