Dealing With Financial Regret

One of the emotions that comes on strong when one has a financial epiphany and comes to terms with the financial mess they’ve created is guilt. They start to take on LOTS of self-condemnation for their past financial mistakes and for the mess they’ve now woken up to realize. Regret for the years in which they’ve handled money irresponsibly runs rampant. Prudence talked a bit about this when she spoke about Time Travel Therapy for Debtors and about how it would be nice if we could go back in time and fix our mistakes. 

Unfortunately, we can’t go back in time and undo the financial messes we’ve created, and so, financial regret often comes to those on the verge of a financial wake-up call. It’s important when dealing with financial regret to use it to your advantage. If you don’t, financial regret can end up keeping you down and preventing you from climbing out of your financial mess via guilt and self-condemnation.

When we had our financial wake-up call in the fall of 2012 (and I might add, we’ve had and needed several more wake-up calls since then), I spent several months shaming myself for years of financial irresponsibility. “How could you have been so stupid?” I would say to myself? “You could’ve been debt free right now if you hadn’t wasted so much  money for all of those years.”  On and on I would go, in hopes, I suppose, that I could possibly turn back the hands of time and do everything over in a more responsible way. But I couldn’t.

This is one of the first rules of dealing with financial regret:

1. Accept Your Past Financial Mistakes and Move On. We cannot go back in time and erase our financial mistakes. There’s no “do over” in real life. Therefore, there’a no point in beating yourself up over the financial mess you’ve created. Instead, accept that you’ve made the mistakes (like all people make mistakes) and get to the next chapter in the book, which is:

2. Commit to Righting the Ship. You can’t go back and undo your financial mistakes, but you can make a course correction and right the ship. That is your fully available right, however; whether you make that course correction or continue to wallow in guilt and self-pity is up to you. Not trying to be harsh here, but wallowing in guilt and self-pity will keep you tied down to your financial mess. Choosing to make a course correction and start taking actions to turn things around will produce real, life-changing results. Which will you choose?

3. Deal With the Voices Inside (and Outside) Your Head. As you begin your course to right your financial ship, you will likely be your own worst enemy. You may find yourself shaming yourself for getting into this mess every time you have to say “no” to a purchase and every time you have to work an extra hour at work to pay the bills. Don’t let yourself fall into that habit. Instead, turn the tables and give yourself kudos for following through with saying  “no” to that purchase and for choosing to work that extra hour when you didn’t have to.

The same goes with those who might work to discourage you in real life. In the blogging world, there’s been more than one time when commenting trolls have purposely worked to shame and discourage us on our journey to debt free. Why, who knows? For a long time I would jump on the bandwagon with these people and start beating myself up. Then I learned to stop the train and get off, letting the commenting trolls move on to other victims. If you have people in your life that are working to discourage you from getting debt free and turning your financial life around, you need to do the same. Focus on your goals and your successes, and forget the voices that try to come and discourage you.

4. Choose to Persevere. Probably the most dangerous part of dealing with financial regret is that it can discourage you to the point where you feel prompted to give up on your plan for debt freedom. Don’t let that happen to you. Choose that you will persevere in your plan for financial freedom no matter what setbacks or discouragements come.

The financial mistakes that come with finding yourself in a financial hole are, as my baby brother likes to say, “what it is”.  You may not like the mess you’ve created, but accepting it and moving on are the first steps to getting out of the mess. Choose to put the past behind you and get on with pursuing a debt free future.


*Photo courtesy Celestine Chua

6 comments on “Dealing With Financial Regret

  1. “Accept your financial mistakes and move on”. Yup, you can’t move forward until you accept the past and acknowledge what happened. And honestly, this applies to so many aspects of life as well.

  2. I would say that regret has its place, but it’s hard to let regret play its role within constructive boundaries. For years, I was in denial and had no regret at all. My wake up call, of course, made me realize all of the mistakes we had been making over those years of denial, and the regret, that came with it was like a good “You do NOT want to go back there” deterrent. It’s still there just enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. I wouldn’t want it to be completely gone, but I don’t want it to sabotage our progress either. I definitely don’t want to “wallow” in it.

  3. There’s a great book that I recommend to everyone called It was me all along. In this book, the author talks about not letting “Fat and Sad” define her past self. She was very overweight and unhealthy, but she had many great characteristics too. It’s not fair to dismiss your entire self as horrible, when at the time you were doing the best you knew how to do.

    I can’t recommend the book enough, my comment totally doesn’t do it justice.

  4. “Wallowing in guilt and self-pity will keep you tied down to your financial mess”…this is so true. The emotional messages we tell ourselves about screwing up shake our confidence making it harder to start doing the right things.

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