Here’s a question…
When did we decide being “good at money” meant not spending it?
When did that become the goal. The badge of honour. The sign you’ve made it. Congratulations, you’ve arrived at your destination, please exit to your left, the end.
I can’t seem to get far into a personal finance blog without reading the words, “I’m going to lose my personal finance card this, but…” or, “bad personal finance expert, but…” because they’d just spent money on something they—or perhaps more accurately they worry others—deem expensive.
They ate out when they could have eaten at home. They got the pricier hotel room. They bought a new purse. A fancy one, with a label and everything.
Sometimes it’s said as a joke. But often it reflects a sincere guilt that frankly, I find concerning.
Where did this narrative come from? Why is that our conditioned response? Why is the personal finance community feeding this culture of judgment we’re trying so hard to get away from?
If there’s one thing personal finance doesn’t need, it’s more shame.
Being good at money doesn’t mean you don’t spend it.
And not spending it doesn’t make you good at money.
Frugality isn’t some virtuous badge. It can just as easily be a crutch, a vice, a way to hide. A box to tick without actually tackling the underlying habits, emotions, and fears that drive you.
Being good at money has very little to do with tangible indicators like budgets and account balances. It’s a mindset. An internal process. And it’s constant.
There’s no endpoint. No definitive, Aha! Look everyone, I’ve made it.
People don’t like that. Because it can’t be measured. It can’t be boiled down to visible, laddered achievements. It’s not fun to talk about. It doesn’t fit neatly in a box.
It’s a lot like being happy. You’re the only one who knows if you are.
Though we try our damnest—with happiness, money, and anything else in life worth pursuing—there’s no external yard stick we can point to and know we’ve made it. No formula, metric, or app can tell you where you are on that journey. You and you alone have the answer.
Which is why self-awareness is so important. Why it’s important to teach people to cultivate that, not just teach them hard and fast rules like “keep your spending under x percent of your income”. To do that we need to look far beyond the boundaries of what we think personal finance is.
We need to empower people, not rules.
We need to teach people how to think, not what to do.
We need to teach people what questions to ask, not what answers to look for.
Ya. It’s uncomfortable.
It means you can’t just throw a template over it and bam *dusts hands together* you’re sorted. Disagree? That’s fair. But with all the readily available resources and budgets and frameworks… why isn’t everyone getting this stuff? Why isn’t everyone saving and investing and feeling good about their money? If the content’s all there, why aren’t people implementing it?
Obviously, it’s not that simple. There’s more to it.
So even if we don’t have answers, can we acknowledge there’s room in this industry for better questions and start asking them?
We need to lean into this discomfort. Because ignoring it isn’t serving anyone.
Oh look, a winding muddy path to a beach which could be delightful or entirely disappointing and we won’t know until we’re there. Fitting, yes? Taken at the Scarborough Bluffs in, well, Scarborough, this summer.