I recently read an article about how using the word "should" can cause anxiety, guilt and anger. It got me thinking about how dangerous that word can be when we use it around our finances. And full disclosure, I've used the word in a LOT of blog posts (I need to get better about that).
Have you ever read an article that tells you how much you "should" be saving? Have you ever seen a comparison of where you are at financially to where you "should" be at your age, income level, etc? Is this helpful?
The bottom line is that it's probably not helpful to you. Most people would rather be saving more, have more in the bank already, and totally be on track for the retirement of their dreams. Instead, we're confronted with reality. Lets take some lessons from that article and see if we can stop should-ing on ourselves financially.
Where do the shoulds come from?
First, let's tackle where these shoulds come from. They come from well-meaning writers, friends, family, and sometimes, financial professionals. They are usually meant to be helpful. You see and hear them because you want to feel better about your money and your finances. You want help. You want reassurance.
Instead, shoulds make you feel like you've failed in some way. They make you feel like you're not measuring up. They can discourage you from making the changes you need to make in order to make positive progress in your financial life.
The reason shoulds are so powerful is that they sound totally reasonable. Of course you should be saving more, you think. Of course you should have $250,000 in the bank when you hit 40, doesn't everyone?
Well these "rules" may be steps that some people can take to reach the goals they have for their financial lives. You may not have the same goals, or the same circumstances. You may be paying off student loans, paying for daycare, or just now getting your career on track and earning a decent income for the first time in your life.
What can you do about it?
Recognize when you "should" on yourself
Start listening to all the times you use the word. You'll be surprised. Does it come up most often when you think about saving? Do you think you should save more? Maybe it comes up more when you're spending money. Should you be spending less? How about when you compare yourself to your friends or your family? Do you feel like you should be more like them?
Reframe the comments you make to yourself
Once you recognize it, start thinking about why you are using that word. When you think you should be saving more, is it because you WANT to save for a particular goal? Or maybe it's because you would like to make progress in feeling more secure in case of emergencies or being able to retire.
Try this: I WANT to save ______ dollars per month so that I can do ______. I WANT to contribute ______ to my ______ because _________. The retirement I want looks like __________. In order to get there, I have the following options:____________. The more you reframe shoulds into realistic goals, the less likely you are to feel guilty, anxious, or demoralized.
If you can't figure out how to make the should into something specific and reasonable for you, then let it go! You have my permission.
I like to help clients make progress. The way we do this is to be specific about what each one of them CAN DO, in their specific circumstances, to reach their goals. The problem with shoulds is that they don't take into account your circumstances or your goals. It assumes you are just like everyone else. You're not. If you need any to stop should-ing on yourself, please reach out!