Why You Must Make Peace with Your Financial Situation

October 27, 2014


When I look back at all the various stages my finances have been in over the past four years, I see one troubling and recurring theme: I am constantly dissatisfied with whatever situation I’m in. Of course, this made sense when I realized I was maxed out; that was my financial rock bottom – the worst situation to be in. But even as I was digging myself out of debt, all I could feel was the weight of the bad situation I’d first put myself in. I couldn’t “see” or really celebrate the milestones: $10,000 paid off, $17,000 paid off, $25,000 paid off, etc. Instead, I was always mad at myself for living in denial as long as I did. I was mad at my debt for forcing me to miss out on fun opportunities. And I felt stupid. I was a smart person. Why had I done this to myself?

You’d think that after being debt-free for nearly 18 months I’d be on the totally opposite end of the scale, but I’m not. Sure, I feel happy when I don’t owe anyone money on payday and I don’t lose sleep over my financial situation anymore, but I often still feel like I’m very slowly chugging along with my savings goals. When I add up my numbers at the end of each month, I usually look at the amounts I’ve saved and feel as though I could’ve done better. I see the current balances of all my investments and wish I hadn’t screwed everything up before so I could be further along now. I’ll even admit (because it’s human nature, whether we like it or not) that I sometimes feel jealous when I read about people who are younger than me that have more money saved than I do. The jealousy swings back to me just being mad at myself again, though, and the cycle of chronic self-punishment continues.

One line in David’s newest book, You Are Here, explained these motions perfectly: “Virtually every day of our lives, we’re trained to lean towards something we don’t have, which essentially trains us to be dissatisfied with where we already are.” (Read that two or three times, so it really sinks in.) Based on hundreds of conversations I’ve had with people about money, I’d say it’s probably more common than not for us to wish we were in better financial situations, which makes us hate the ones we’re currently in. We want less debt, more savings, larger salaries, bigger bonuses and so on. To some degree, there’s nothing wrong with this. We should set new goals and push ourselves to go after them all the time. But I’m finally realizing that it’s equally (and maybe even more) important for us to make peace with our current financial situations, before we try to move forward with new goals.

Want to give it a try?

1. Stop what you’re doing and take 10 minutes to add up your numbers. If it helps, draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper, and write down all your debts on one side and any amounts you have in your bank accounts (including all savings and investments) on the other side. Add up your debts, then add up what you have in the bank. This is your financial situation.

2. Breathe. Take a few deep breaths, if you need to.

3. Remember all the positive steps you’ve taken to change your situation, so far. If you’re just now coming to grips with the fact that you have debt and you want/need to turn your financial situation around, Step #1 (giving up the denial and adding up the numbers) is a great start. If you’re partway through your journey, reflect on some of your efforts to date. And if you’re debt-free and now in savings mode, do the same. I have a bad habit of forgetting all the little steps I took to pay down my debt and build up my savings. I cancelled my cable, decreased my restaurant budget, brought lunches to work… and started a yearlong shopping ban! Take stock of every “no spend week” you had, every coffee you made at home and every bill you slashed. You’re doing great, so far.

4. Accept your current financial situation. You know your numbers, and you know which steps you’ve taken to improve them… and that’s all you can do, in this exact moment. This step isn’t about coming up with a debt repayment plan, or savings plan or anything like that; it’s just about accepting where you are. I’m still learning that success isn’t just what you see when you cross the finish line; it’s every morning you wake up in a slightly better position than you were in the day before. I may not have the same amount in savings than what’s in my personal finance fantasies, but I’m debt-free, I’m saving money every month, I’m learning more about investing each week and I’m watching my net worth grow. This is my current financial situation, and it’s ok.

I’ve pulled so many quotes and thoughts out of David’s book, but overall it’s a guide about how to live in the present, which is something I don’t think we practice in finance often enough. We’re constantly working towards goals and thinking about all the steps it’ll take for us to accomplish them. However, once in a while, you must stop and make peace with your current financial situation, because that’s the one you’re in. It is what it is – and that’s not meant to sound like tough love, it’s just a fact that can’t be changed overnight. So, whenever you feel stressed or anxious about your financial goals, take those breaths and just accept where you are. In finally accepting my own financial situation for what it is in this exact moment, I also aim to remove all the guilt from mistakes I made in the past and just move forward from where I am right now. I hope some of you can do the same.

Flickr: ashleyrosex

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods October 27, 2014 at 4:32 am

    This quote really is perfect: “Virtually every day of our lives, we’re trained to lean towards something we don’t have, which essentially trains us to be dissatisfied with where we already are.” This is the cycle of consumerism that I try so hard to fight, but, I’m guilty of sometimes feeling this exact same way about my finances! I want to be farther along, to save more, etc, but, I need to reflect on how far I’ve come and find contentment in that.

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 6:04 pm

      It’s definitely a universal quote; one that stuck with me the minute I read it and I think about often. I hope you can find contentment in your current situation. :)

    • Potato October 27, 2014 at 7:01 pm

      Finding contentment is such a universal problem. I wish I had easy answers… Looking back and reflecting is a good thing that works for me, too (well, often enough). Like “10 years ago I couldn’t have consulted the hive mind in my hand for that answer.” or “4 years ago my budget was too tight to just grab a pizza because I didn’t feel like cooking. This is great.”

  • Will - FirstQuarterFinance.com October 27, 2014 at 5:11 am

    Sometimes… I’m not joking… breathing is not an innate response for me. Life is pretty sweet but I get stressed easier than most people. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 6:32 am

      It’s not always for me either, Will. When I’m doing regular day-to-day things around the house, yes. But I’ve recently been paying attention to the fact that I often hold my breath/forget to breathe when I’m driving. I’m trying to be more mindful of it, so don’t be surprised if I talk about breathing in more posts in the future. :)

      • AshleyNL October 29, 2014 at 6:23 pm

        First time commenter. But I’ve recently been catching up on your old posts as inspiration. I’ve only recently started my getting rid of debt journey. I’ve noticed recently that I hold my breath driving too. And during other mundane things. I would love to see posts about breathing in the future :)

        • Cait Flanders October 30, 2014 at 9:17 pm

          I will definitely see where it fits in over the next couple months, Ashley! Thanks for the comment :)

  • Dayle October 27, 2014 at 5:13 am

    What a timely post!

    I was just thinking about this yesterday and this morning. How I am in SUCH a better place now financially than I was 2-3 years ago, yet I still feel like I am tight with funds, struggling to reach goals, always wanting to save or make more, more, more! I was trying to decide if I should relax my goals a bit, or allow myself to spend more, or if it just happens to be a really expensive time of year! I don’t really know the answer, but you’re right, I need to make peace with where I am now, because I am doing just fine, and so are you!

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 6:18 pm

      Interesting question about your goals. I’d say, if they are causing you any amount of stress, just do what you need to in order to find more balance. There’s no doubt Nov/Dec will be expensive months, so good to plan ahead for that. Have a great week, Dayle!

  • Jordann October 27, 2014 at 5:16 am

    I definitely feel this way sometime, especially because lately I’ve been saving for consumables (travel, moving), and that money will eventually be gone, instead of staying in my bank account. I just try and remember that no matter how hard I try, there will always be someone out there with a fatter bank account, and chasing a magic number isn’t going to make me happier in the long run.

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 6:20 pm

      Especially because once we reach one number, we’re going to set a goal to reach another number!

  • L October 27, 2014 at 5:30 am

    Great post and I think your message can be applied to other areas of most people’s lives. Just remember you are doing an amazing job and so many people read your blog because they think so :)

    Any book suggestions for someone looking to get into investing?

    • Dayle October 27, 2014 at 7:40 am

      The Millionaire Teacher

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 6:24 pm

      Thanks, L! I’d also recommend The Millionaire Teacher. I also regularly read content on MoneySense, Canadian Couch Potato, the Globe and Mail, etc. Besides that, Google has been my guide!

      • Dayle October 28, 2014 at 7:14 am

        I just used my otherwise useless airmiles for a Moneysense Subscription – can’t wait to dig in!

        • Cait Flanders October 30, 2014 at 9:37 pm

          A little jealous over here! haha

  • Aleksandra Sagan October 27, 2014 at 5:54 am

    I appreciate you being open about sometimes letting jealousy rear its ugly head when it comes to people younger than you having more.

    It’s definitely not a pretty feeling, but one that can come up for me too. I try not to dwell on the choices I made in the past that made my student debt so large (thankfully, it is now paid off!), and instead focus on the choices I’m making now that are helping me lead a financially sound life.

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      Truth be told, I don’t come across those stories very often – but the few times I have, I feel jealous for a minute and then it just turns back into me feeling stupid again. You live and you learn, I guess. We’ve done both. :)

  • Deena Dollars October 27, 2014 at 6:23 am

    Such an important reminder! I’m still not 100% paid off with my debt, but I’m in *so* much better a position than 2-3 years ago. This post helped me a lot, Cait.

    I really want to check out David’s book, it sounds awesome.

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 6:27 pm

      It’s so good, Deena! I seriously open it once/week to just read a chapter or two and get my mind back into the right space.

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach October 27, 2014 at 7:11 am

    I have to admit I struggle with this. It’s not so much debt (I have a car loan but I’m OK with why I did that), but just not making enough to both save for retirement AND be able to live a little. But things could be SO much worse, so I need to stop beating myself up for this troubling blip I’m in financially. At least I’m making good decisions!

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 6:29 pm

      You are making so many good decisions, Tonya! And you’re conscious of your situation, not hiding behind a wall of denial.

  • Travis @debtchronicles October 27, 2014 at 8:49 am

    Vonnie and I struggled with this A LOT while we were paying off our credit card debt. We talked about what our retirement portfolio would look like had we sunk that money into our investments (or even HALF) over the span of 13 years. But at some point, you have to forgive yourself for the mistakes made, and just move on.

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 6:30 pm

      I bet those were tough conversations to have. Thanks for sharing that, friend. And you’re exactly right – you do have to forgive yourself. I hadn’t really thought of it that way before, but I like it.

  • Danielle October 27, 2014 at 8:58 am

    I think we’re on a wavelength here. I just wrote about anxiety related to my financial situation last week, and it was a slightly more calculated solution (make stronger future goals and stick to my budget) but the emotions are about the same. Especially with regards to jealousy, but I know that there’s probably somebody envying my situation too, it’s all relative.

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      Ahh, I’ll have to read it! It is all relative, yes, but it’s still an internal dialogue we can try to change, whenever we feel that way.

  • Ms. Mintly October 27, 2014 at 9:00 am

    I really hear you on the jealousy part. I keep reading about people who have paid off all of their student loans before 30, people who have been tracking their net worth since they were teenagers, those who already have way more in their retirement than I do…. and they’re all younger than me! I’m glad I’m on the right path, but with that knowledge and awareness of my situation comes frustration. Better to be aware and working towards a goal, but… still frustrated. :)

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      Totally understandable, Ms. M. If it helps you at all, I really like Travis’ comment up above about how we need to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we’ve made. I think that’s my next step. Then the next time I feel jealous/mad/sad, I’ll remember that I’ve already forgiven myself and it’s ok that I’m exactly where I am.

  • Sara Hamil @ They Call it Gumption October 27, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Hoo boy, ain’t this the truth! I’m ALWAYS giving myself a hard time for waiting so long to finally take control of my finances (and I’m even meaner to myself when I slip up too). It’s not a nice feeling.

    That quote though – dang! Talk about hitting the nail on the head! I’m going to have to write that down and keep it where I’ll see it every day. It’s a good reminder to keep things in perspective!

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      Such a good quote. Do write it down. :)

  • Jacquie October 27, 2014 at 10:56 am

    This is great!! We are so hard on ourselves! Once in a while I’ll find something like the papers for when I bought a brand new car, or old credit card statements and I think, woa….I’m SO much better off now. I used to keep a sticky note on my debt card of my current debt owing, and I found one stuck inside my wallet last week that said $12,000 something. At this point, I’m down to $2000 something. Reminded me of how far I’ve come.

    And yeah, jealousy…ugh!! My friend that I just visited in Hong Kong said something that really stuck with me…she said comparison is the thief of all joy. We all know it! It’s just hard to remember sometimes.

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 7:04 pm

      You’ve come sooo far, Jacquie. Still on track to be done in 2014? And I love that quote, too. Thank you so much for sharing it here.

  • Gia T. October 27, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    Yep, this is me every once in a while. I think I shoulda started earlier, I coulda been smarter about my money and I woulda been better off if only I did X or Y or Z.

    But you’re right, we also need to be thankful for what we have and accept where we are now, and that is definitely a better place than I was just six months ago.

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 7:20 pm

      That’s good to hear, Gia. It’s nice to be able to look back and see how situations have changed in a short amount of time – especially when you’re feeling a little lost or stressed about whatever’s happening in your current situation.

  • Cee @ Debt Sux October 27, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    What an odd timing of your post. I was having a discussion with my husband yesterday about how I seem to feel dissatisfied with our current financial situation when 4-5 years ago, this was the situation I was aiming for so that we could get to a stage where I feel comfortable. Sure, it’s still an in-between stage for us, but it’s better than the previous one and that we made it here. Yet, I hardly feel the success, the gratefulness, the satisfaction. I wonder about the next stage–would I be just as dissatisfied about it when I get there instead of being happy that we made it? I have to remind myself everyday that I should be grateful that we are not where we used to be, to celebrate the success, and that it’s a work in progress no matter the stage. Thanks for the lovely post today!

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 7:26 pm

      Thank you for reading it and writing such a thoughtful reply, Cee! Success is hard for me to see, too, because I don’t know how to measure it. If we’ve achieved a goal, that’s a success, right? Do we not see it because, by the time we reach them, we’ve already set new goals for ourselves? So we’re on this never-ending path to achievement? That seems to be how it goes in the personal finance aspect of our lives, anyway. But there must be a better way. :)

  • Morgaine October 27, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Very good post, Cait! I certainly feel the same way sometimes, especially when I read about people who are younger (or same age as me) doing so much better. I think its sort of the pf equivalent to keeping up with the Joneses, instead of how much stuff we have, we compare savings and net worth, lol! Everytime I feel like comparing myself to others I think back to where I was not too long ago and how I would never have thought I’d be where I am today and that usually helps get over those feelings :)

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 7:28 pm

      Haha, love the comparison, Morgaine – and you’re probably right. I’ve honestly never felt much jealousy amongst bloggers, but it’s those random stories in the news about people who are just killing it with their money! Or the success stories in the back of every issue of MoneySense! Who are these people? Are they real life? Haha.

  • Rob October 27, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Yes Cait, an excellent post today and a message that we all should regularly remind ourselves to follow because old habits die hard and often we slip back into our old troubling ways of thinking – that little inner voice that is constantly muttering within each of our minds.

    But ya know, all that said, I have to truthfully say that over the years the issues about money never really bugged me all that much – honest! When we were young, raising a young family, saving up for and then buying our first house, paying off debts, a mortgage, etc, being out of work at one time for about 7 months (because of massive company layoffs), and other hectic times, we were (I guess) blessed in being able to sacrifice and still muddle through and make ends meet without making any big financial goofs or suffering any big financial disasters. Money really wasn’t something I worried a lot about. Sure we had goals to strive for – everyone needs those – but we kept positively motivated by tracking our (at times tiny incremental) progress towards reaching those goals until they were eventually met. And, looking at the issues that others in the world have to face daily, it resulted in my motto to myself (which I’ve posted online more than once) – to “not to sweat the small stuff for everything in life is just simply that – small stuff”.

    And the other key message that you mention – remembering to breathe more often. That is so true. We often subconsciously slow down our breathing and tense up when we get stressed. Through experience I often make it a habit to catch myself and breathe more – especially when I go to the dentist. Since I was very young I’ve never taken novacain or any form of pain medication (unless it’s for a root canal – lol). Relaxing and breathing as much as possible makes the pain much more bearable during the brief painful moments that result from the dentist drilling away in my mouth. To my way of thinking it sure beats having your mouth all frozen for half of the day after the visit. :-)

    • Cait Flanders October 27, 2014 at 7:34 pm

      You’ve shared that quote here so many times before, Rob, but it fit perfectly with today’s post. And no pain meds, eh? I’ve only had to get a few cavities in my life, but the freezing was essential – even with it, my nerves are so sensitive in some teeth that I can still feel pain shooting into my body. Bleh. I shivered just thinking about it! So, you’re stronger than I!

  • Judith Cane October 28, 2014 at 4:21 am

    Great post and congratulations for the ability to be so open about your feelings. It’s so helpful to hear real people say these things out loud. I just met with a young woman last night who is where you were when you started your journey, so I recommended she read your blog posts right from the beginning. She needs hope, to hear from someone who’s been there, to hear there is light at the end of the tunnel. And thank you for the link to David’s site, it’s enlightening.

    • Cait Flanders October 30, 2014 at 9:20 pm

      Thank you for sharing my blog with her, Judith. I hope she finds something here that helps – even if it’s just one moment shared or one quote – anything. And always happy to share David’s site with others!

  • Loretta October 28, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    I totally relate! For me, owning your own home is a a sign of prestige, that you’ve made it. I struggle to compare myself to others and often feel jealous…why not me? Took a big step for me today to get pre-qualified for a mortgage. Had to recognize that I’ll have to do it on my own and it will be hardwork, but I’m happy to be financially independent and know where I stand should I choose to buy a home one day…

    • Cait Flanders October 30, 2014 at 9:23 pm

      That is a big step, Loretta – and congrats on taking it! I’m still in the renter’s club, because I have no idea where I want to live long-term… well, and I don’t have a down payment yet, anyway lol. But it’d be nice to have a place to really call “home” one day. Good luck with whatever decisions you make. :)

  • ThriftyHamster October 29, 2014 at 9:08 am

    “Virtually every day of our lives, we’re trained to lean towards something we don’t have, which essentially trains us to be dissatisfied with where we already are.”

    This is such an awesome quote. I really like how it applies to life in general and not just our finances. Over the years this has become clearer and clearer to me. It’s great to see a quote which does a good job of communicating this feeling (and to remind myself).

    • Cait Flanders October 30, 2014 at 9:24 pm

      I’m happy I could pull that quote from David’s book and share it with you all. I apply it to so many aspects of my life, like you said.

  • Josh Collar October 29, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    It’s true that comments friends make, numbers that bloggers churn out and statistics that the media publish can mess with our heads. In many ways, it enforces a cloud of dissatisfaction upon us.

    I can totally relate to this post as I can be a victim of my own financial situation at times. But it’s important to know why we are on this journey – it’s not a senseless accumulation of wealth but rather about achieving freedom from the clenches of money.

    Sometimes, it’s important to remember that as long as you’re taking steps towards your financial goals, you are ALREADY there.

    • Cait Flanders October 30, 2014 at 9:26 pm

      “As long as you’re taking steps towards your financial goals, you are ALREADY there.” I like that, Josh! Might have to write that one down too. :)

  • Carly October 30, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    This is exactly what I needed to read today! I feel so far behind compared to all the PF bloggers that occasionally I get anxiety reading their posts! And then I see friends buying houses and cars and going on multiple trips every year and wonder how is it possible!? I bought my car in 2008 which is paid off, and took 7 years to pay off my $65,000 student debt. For me home ownership will not be possible unless I take away from my retirement or ER savings fund and continue forgoing great vacations. I am 32 and at this point would rather experience life and save for the vacations that I have not taken due to my strict budget while paying back debt than own a home. I enjoy your posts, and have recently purged a lot of things because of you! Thank you for this post, you are very inspirational!

    • Cait Flanders October 30, 2014 at 9:34 pm

      Thank you for sharing so much of your journey here, Carly! Even though you may feel far behind from others, let me tell you what I was thinking as I read through everything you outlined in your comment: “omg! She’s amazing! How did she do that? Homeownership is far off for me too! But who cares, we can travel now!”

      I think the decision to rent/buy is totally personal and not something we should compare ourselves to others for. I’m sure one day I’ll want to, but there sure is something to be said for having things breakdown at a rental and not having to pay to fix them! Enjoy the little bit of freedom you have now, save for your other goals (retirement + EF) and think about that later. If that’s what makes you happy, that’s the best route to take. :)

  • Liz October 31, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Wonderful post Cait. I can totally identify with the feeling of never being happy with you finances. It’s almost like self-image issues too. Are we ever happy with ourselves? I know I’m always thinking about losing those 10 pounds.. It’s really interesting to think about. I definitely want to be happy with my finances even if they aren’t perfect.

    • Cait Flanders November 1, 2014 at 8:29 am

      Good comparison, Liz – I hadn’t even thought about that, while writing this post, but it’s true. I’m also always wishing I was a few pounds lighter, a little bit smarter, etc. etc. etc. But, alas, it’s better to be present than perfect. :)

  • Cecilia@thesingledollar November 5, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Wow, like the other commenters above, I *really* resonated with this. I’m on the brink of paying off almost $26,000 in debt in 18 months (I’ve only got $287 to go!), while also building an $8000 retirement account and starting some emergency savings, and yet every day I say to myself “if I hadn’t had the debt in the first place, I’d be in such a better place….” It’s really hard to just accept that you are where you are, you made the choices you made, and all you can do from here is move forward, so why dwell on the past once you’ve figured out what lessons you can take from those years going forward?

    Thanks for writing this, I needed to read it!