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Whether it’s a wince when you see your credit card bill at the end of the month, or the sobering realization that you just dropped $100 on a new pair of shoes, the feeling that you did something wrong, or spent money you weren’t supposed to, is pretty universal.
Even though it can seem negative, you’re actually on the right track if you’re feeling guilty about your money decisions, says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist, author, and cofounder of financial-consulting firm Your Mental Wealth.
What you don’t want to feel is shame.
“Shame is, ‘There’s something wrong with me’ and that actually just makes people stuck and they give up. ‘So if there’s something wrong with me, there’s nothing I can do it about it and why try?’” Klontz explained to Business Insider. He’s referring to the lie many Americans tell themselves — that their money problems are the result of their own shortcomings.
“The problem with ‘I’m crazy, lazy, or stupid’ is that it creates a feeling of shame and shame is very different from guilt,” says Klontz.
“Guilt is good for you,” Klontz said. “‘Oh I did something bad with my money because of how I was raised and what I was taught‘ — that can inspire change.”
As Klontz’s research shows, the catalyst for many of our financial problems is not our own capabilities, but rather our “money scripts” or “unconscious beliefs we have about money that drive all of our behavior,” which actually stem from our upbringing.
These beliefs are based on our parents’ attitudes and behaviors with money and can range from money worship, or the belief that more money will make you happier, to money avoidance, or the belief that rich people are greedy and money corrupts.
Often the reason we’re feeling guilty about spending money — or not — is a direct result of our money scripts. Once we begin to identify these beliefs, we can reform them.
“We all sort of live these secret money lives, which make it tough for us to learn how to do things differently and really examine ourselves,” Klontz said.
“So this concept can be very de-shaming for people because we all have so much shame around money — shame we have too little, shame we have too much — we don’t talk about it with our friends and it’s hard to talk about with our family members,” Klontz said.
Ultimately, in addition to inheriting our parents beliefs and attitudes about money, humans are “naturally wired” to be bad with money. So kick shame to the curb and, instead, identify why you’re feeling guilty and how you can use those feelings to inspire change in your money habits.