Stop Judging Yourself Based on Everyone Else’s Goals


This is a guest post from my dear friend Shannon McNay.

Raise your hand if you think Cait’s shopping ban is epic, inspiring, and oh-so amazing. If her now two-year goal of clearing out the debris and simplifying her life has inspired you to declutter, to spend less, and to evaluate what you’re really spending your money on (and why).

Now raise your hand if Cait’s shopping ban intimidates the hell out of you.

Since you can’t see me right now, I’ll just let you know that my hand is up in the air for all of this. What Cait has done over the past year and what she plans to do in the year to come is nothing short of amazing. To shirk a consumerist lifestyle is no easy task! But I realized something interesting the last time I saw Cait in person:

I’d been putting Cait up on a pedestal. I felt comfortable admiring her goals from a distance, but never once thought they were something I could do.

I live in New York (basically the consumerism capital of the U.S.) and Cait has visited me a few times in the past year. While I loved having her with me, the first visit was a bit scary. How could I show my dear friend everything I love about New York without appearing insensitive to her shopping ban? New York is different for everyone, but my New York amounts to insane amounts of time spent in coffee shops and book stores – two things Cait loves but decided not to spend money on during her ban.

On the flip side of that, I also feared judgement. Would Cait look at my apartment and all of my books and think my spending is out of control? Would she secretly think I need the shopping ban even more than she does?? Would my “cred” as a personal finance blogger go away in her eyes when she sees how much money I’m willing to spend on coffee???

It wasn’t until after Cait’s first visit that I realized I was being judged – but not by Cait.

I was judging myself.

Here’s the thing about goals. We all have ‘em! But all of our goals are different. Somehow we forget about that when we see someone making a drastic change in their lives. Instead of remembering that we all have our own aspirations, we think, “What will he/she think of me now?”

Nothing. He or she will think nothing – because the goals are theirs, not ours! Why is it so hard to remember that our loved ones aren’t walking around silently judging us just because they made a positive change in their lives? Why do we internalize something that has nothing to do with us?

Because we all want to improve. And watching other people take steps towards positive change has a way of making us think that we should too. But it is possible to learn instead of judge.

It’s all about perspective.

For my perspective, Cait’s shopping ban has inspired me to view spending differently. True to my personal finance roots, I’ve always been a budgeter. But the reason is because I want to save money for the future. I don’t want to overspend and think, years later, “Why wasn’t I more careful with my money now that I really need it?” However, it’s not so easy to stick to goals when the reasoning is abstract as “the future.” Cait, on the other hand, has a more concrete reason for budgeting: she doesn’t want to create a life that relies on purchases to feel happiness. Now that’s a lot more thought-provoking and motivational than saving for “the future,” whatever and whenever that may be.

What about you? Have you been inspired by Cait’s mission, but fear a shopping ban of that scale would be too difficult to take on? Remember to apply it to your goals and your life. Allow Cait’s goals to give you perspective, but don’t feel that you have to accomplish exactly what she does. Why not make just one small change? Why not allow her goals to help you create your own goals?

The beauty of this is that one small change tends to lead to another. I’m starting with my book buying habit, something hard for me to do because book purchases are easy for me to rationalize: Books will expand my brain! I’ll keep them forever!

While all of this is true, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t use the library more. That will not only help me spend less, it will make my husband happier. (I’m pretty sure he harbors fears of being buried alive by my book collection in our tiny Manhattan apartment.) And I still get to do what I love: read. For free. Why have I not been doing this the whole time??

I’m feeling pretty confident that, once I’m able to curb my book buying, I’ll be able to curb spending in other areas too. Once I experience satisfaction from delayed gratification rather than looking for small thrills in the quick purchase, I’ll be able to follow that momentum for even bigger and better change. I’m looking forward to that! But first, I have a big bad book buying habit to battle.

At the end of the day, we can all gain when someone we know, love, or admire decides to change their life in a big way. Give them the support they need and, if you want to, allow their goals to inspire your own. But if you do, just remember that we’re all human; we’re all fallible. If you want to make change, you can. If you fall, get back on the horse and try again. And if you need to adjust your goals, do so.

The most important thing is that you never stop trying!

Shannon McNay is a writer, content strategist, and personal finance nerd. You can find her personal finance musings at ReadyForZero and her musings on networking at  Humanize CRM.

    • Thanks so much :). It’s certainly an ongoing battle to stop the comparisons…I hope this helps!

  • I couldn’t agree more with all of this – and especially the book-buying! Cait’s shopping ban has inspired me to get back into the library, and so far it’s been an amazing wakeup call. I’ll probably still end up buying the books I fall in love with, because I adore re-reading my books, but having an amazing, extensive collection of totally free books to try out is the best.

    • Yes! I agree, it’s so much fun to re-read books (especially after a few years have passed and you can learn the things you didn’t notice before – or things that make you feel different than the first time). I’m glad to hear the library has been working well for you!

  • This reminder is so important. Everyone is doing their own thing, has their own goals, and has their own ways of achieving them. And I completely agree with you about the domino effect. I believe it was Dickens who said, “Change begets change.”

  • Like you, Shannon, I’ve been a voracious book reader all my life. For years I used to haunt book stores constantly and would read on average a book or two a week. I even taught myself speed reading! Handy for business reading but I’d slow down a tad and leisurely read for pleasure. Anyway that habit / hobby in the past amounted to a tidy sum of money spent yearly (which, mind you, I could afford). All that changed. Not through friends like Cait’s example but through technology. Today I rarely visit bookstores, am too lazy to visit libraries much but get all the free reading that I desire on the internet and using my Kindle e-reader. There are many free book sites out there on the net. Even Amazon gives away free books if you know how to access them. Hint: use Google to find out. So I drastically curbed my book buying but not my book reading. Not to mention other reading: 100’s of blogs, free net courses, news / opinion sites, other sites of interest. On the net I’m reading more than ever. But, in a nod to Cait, in the past year I’ve de-cluttered and given to charity over 250 hard/soft cover books from my old reading days – most of them read but some not – go figure, eh? :-)

    • Whoa, that’s quite some donation! Good for you! It’s so hard to part with books – perhaps as hard as it is to not buy them. But you’re absolutely right about how the internet has provided for so much more access to free books. I’ll try the Google trick to find free Amazon books for sure!

      • My library also has free ebooks and magazines that I can read! It can save you a trip to the library, since you can download them from the comfort of wherever you have wifi! If you like using a reading device, that’s definitely something to check out (pun intended).

  • This a great post, Shannon! Everyone’s goals & aspirations are incredibly varying depending on where we are in life. When I was younger, it was much more challenging to not internalize the comparison factor. As I grow older & more confident, I feel growth happening based on receiving inspiration from others as they reach their own definition of “success.” Cait has definitely been heavily influential when it comes to how I approach intentional spending and understanding the value behind what I own! The fantastic thing, too is that she encourages other people to not just follow parallel in her footsteps, but to reach out and accomplish what they would like to do in life. P.S. – I feel ya on the book purchases, my fiance & I are all about that. In the last year and a half, the public library has become one of our favorite places to go in our city! :)

    • You’re right, Cait is so good at inspiring without passing judgement. Just another reason she’s so amazing :). And yes, it does get easier to stop comparing as we get old (thank goodness!). Glad to hear the public library is working for you guys – I’m excited to give it a try for the first time since I was a kid. Yay for free books!

  • Such a wonderful perspective! Another reminder that personal finance is *personal,* and we all need to find our own path and our own goals. But it sure is easy to feel judged by someone doing something amazing! On the book front, for sure you’ve gotten this advice before, but we think buying inexpensive Kindles was one of our best financial decisions ever. There are tons of free Kindle books on Amazon, but even better, most libraries lend out Kindle books, which saves having to make a trip to the library, and saves books from piling up in a small space. We travel a lot, so we love not lugging multiple heavy books along with us, and just having this slim little tablet loaded up with reading goodies. :-)

    • I love personal finance is personal phrasing! It’s so true and so important. I do have a Kindle but the poor thing has been getting ignored ever since I moved four blocks away from a bookstore. Luckily in a few months I’m moving again (much farther away from the bookstore) so hopefully that will help! And you’re right, Kindles are so much better for travel. Books are great, but so dang heavy!

  • Oh, I’ve felt this, Shannon! Especially within the personal finance community. I’m always self-conscious posting my monthly budgets. But you’re totally right! We all have our own financial journeys.

    • You’re absolutely right! And it’s so awesome that you post your budgets online – not easy to do but a great way to inspire *and* stay motivated!

  • I think this falls under that evil thing we like to do to ourselves: compare. So easy in concept not to do, but so hard to execute in reality. Hopefully though we can take nuggets of inspiration from people and apply them as necessary without feeling like something is a “have to.” I’ve never been a fan of shopping bans, but I have slowly changed my ways over the years to be more of a mindful spender, and that’s helped my finances a great deal! Hope some of Cait’s efforts rub off on your positively!

    • Cait is definitely rubbing off – I hear her voice in my head every time I’m about to make an unnecessary purchase. And 9 times out of 10 it works!

  • this is a fabulous post, and i definitely judge myself more than anyone else.
    i really like ‘stuff’ but i have always had a bit of a shopping problem, so while i am not looking to go super minimalist or cut commercialism out of my life completely, i am trying to be better about my purchases. i’m currently doing a 6 month ban, but i’ve allowed myself a few things. mainly, i’m trying to stop impulse online shopping for things i don’t need, and books. i love books sooooo much and buying them is so fun. i am a month and a half with no books though which is amazing for me. i have been using my library and netgalley a lot, and so far haven’t really wanted to buy a book. if i can do it, you can!

    • Nice! Going a month and a half without buying books is a huge milestone – it sounds like you’re right on track for making your six month goal :). Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Cait has indeed inspired me to do my own declutter, which I’m blogging about, and I started with books and cookbooks. Last week I donated 144 books to the library. Almost cried.

    The last book I read I borrowed from a coworker, and now I’m reading a book I had on my shelf instead of buying a new one. :)

    • That’s a huge donation! Just think of all the people that will benefit from your great collection :). I went through my books recently and donated a bunch and am also enjoying the joy of reading from my own shelf. Keep it up!

    • That’s so inspiring! Well done. And best wishes on your continued decluttering journey. I look forward to reading about it.

  • I find myself comparing myself to others’ goals all the time. I wonder why I haven’t done this or that, before realizing that I don’t actually want to do this or that. I find that social media really doesn’t help on this front – it just shows off everything that everyone else is doing, making it seem like their lives are perfect and yours pales in comparison. I try to always keep in mind my goals and how I am working towards those, and be happy for people who are working towards other goals, weather or not I agree with those goals.

    • Social media is definitely a breeding ground for self-comparisons. Just remember that it’s really easy to curate a life on Facebook – but that doesn’t reflect the whole picture. It sounds like you have a great philosophy going with keeping your own goals in mind!

    • Loved that you said that, “…that social media really doesn’t help on this front.” I wholeheartedly agree. One of the things I don’t like about a lot of blogs (or blogging platforms) is that they essentially promote consumption. Images of stuff can be seductive: clothing, interiors, yes even books. I find that a BIG BIG part of life these days is knowing how to be a good (and terse) editor of EVERYTHING that filters into our lives. It used to be that snail mail was the culprit. Now all we need to do is log on and at the touch of a button we can “have it all”, so to speak.

  • Yes! Sometimes you guys scare the tar out of me =) It can be very intimidating. I think it’s just important to remember that you are you. We can learn some amazing things from each other. Maybe we try them, maybe we don’t. But we are all still individuals and finance is personal.

  • Love this, stop comparing ourselves with others and start working on improving ourselves. If we constantly compare ourselves with others, we’ll never be truly happy. There’s always someone that’s “better” than us. Where does this end?

    • Only when we individually say it does! It’s so true though, it’s a disastrous cycle if we don’t take ourselves out of it.

  • I am on a less is more project myself, and haven’t shopped since January 1st. I have also decluttered a lot. In the process, I realized we each have our reasons and unique approaches to simplicity, and that it would make no sense to compare ourselves to each other. Simplifying takes time and depends on our individual factors. Good luck!

  • Love this!
    I already expressed to Cait that when I first read her shopping-ban year in review post that it made me mad. Why? Because I too was judging myself. Her goals and achievements intimidates the hell out of me. And I was jealous that she *chose* to be on a shopping ban, whereas I simply can’t afford to shop right now. I let myself be mad/envious/whatever for a while, but then I put things into perspective and used Cait and all of her ambition and dedication as a source of inspiration instead. :)

    • That’s an awesome turnaround :). I can completely understand how you felt and I’m glad you talked to Cait about it! Good luck!

  • I enjoy this blog and use Cait as my ‘voice of reason’. I may, it has been alleged, have a small fabric problem. I am an avid sewer and seem to accumulate fabric just in case of a sewing apocalypse. It could happen. So right now, I am going through my stash, keeping only what I love, making a list of things to be sewn and getting down to it. My local fabric store may close as a result but I am sure my house will be a lot bigger.

    • Lol my local bookstore may have the same issue ;). I love the idea of using Cait as a “voice of reason” – I definitely do that myself. Keep up the awesome work!

  • When I was making 6-figures, I used to buy and hoard books like crazy. Then, I started becoming very minimalist and gave most books away or sold them and then went to the library. I will sometimes have 25 books checked out a time and have been known to read up to 4 books a week. I actually read now more than I would just spend my time in book stores perusing. Also, if I don’t like a book, I don’t have to finish it!

    Here is my conundrum though… reading is by far one of my favorite hobbies and leisure activities. Will people stop writing if we all stopped buying? Would bookstores go away? I know it is a long time before that ever happens, but I still do like to support authors and buy an occasional book or two, just in case! :)

    • As a budding author myself, I’ve had the same question go through my brain! Unfortunately, I don’t really have a good answer. It’s not easy to make a living as a book writer these days but, at the same time, we have to worry about our own financial futures as well. Perhaps find a few authors you love and would really want to support and then reserve your book budget for their work?

  • Ugh, I am the queen of comparing myself to other people and in the end you only hurt yourself. Every person has their own path and their own goals and it’s certainly not one size fits all.

    • Good point, it really does hurt ourselves the most in the end! Just remember we all do it and keep focusing on your goals as much as you can :). Every day is a chance to try again and get better!

  • Plus we say this person is good at this and that person is good at that so I should be able to be perfect at both!

    As to books, when my allergist said the bookcases needed to go I was lucky enough that my church was preparing to host a book sale so I felt good about their destination. Now I have an ebook and get most of my books free from Most of their offerings are past their copyright date but that doesn’t make them not good. I just finished The Ivory Snuffbox and it was one of the best mystery/suspense books I have read in a long time. And their romance novels hold to the original romance style without today’s sub-genre stuff; fun to read and I learn a lot bout the manners and cultures of days gone by.

    • It’s so true! It’s amazing how much we can free up our mental space when we stop the comparisons. That’s great that you found a way to enjoy books and deal with your allergy problem!

  • I can’t remember who said it, but I recently was reminded by one of the blogs I read, that we are all on our own journeys and what one person does may not be right for everyone. But like you said, that doesn’t mean we can’t take ideas from other people. I am on a shopping ban. I will buy things I need, but I am finding the ban makes me really think about each purchase. Do I really need this? Will I use it? Will it make my life better? It can be big things, like new clothes and little things like which fruit to buy at the grocery store. I am definitely questioning everything and saving money. However, there are a few things (like my hair) that I have decided to spend more money on. I tried doing it myself. I tried a cheap salon and really, I was miserable. So for the time being, I am intentionally spending money on it. I also know I will never be a minimalist. There are just too many things I love and value (do I need a tea cup from each of my great grandmothers? – no, but knowing I have them makes me feel connected to them and reminds me of the 3/4 I remember). But by reading and getting ideas from minimalists I am letting go of things I don’t love/need/use. It is liberating! Thanks to Cait and others for inspiring me to change my life in ways that make me happy.

    • I love your attitude about this! I’ve also found that some things are worth spending money on because, if we try to cheap out on them, we end up spending more in the end. For me, I talked to my dermatologist to find the right foundation for my difficult skin. He suggested things that ended up costing more – but when I tried to go back to a cheaper brand I ended up buying more powders and other things to cover up my skin anyway. Turns out the more expensive foundation is actually more economical because it works, it lasts a long time, and I never have to think about it. No matter what goals we have, intentional spending is the key to finding balance!

  • The person I need to stop judging myself against is ‘me’ – my previous version. Now that I’ve embraced a more simple / frugal / minimalistic lifestyle, I often ask myself why I spent so much money on X (usually books …; but also take-out food – I’m single). I need to put the past aside.

    • YES. I used to be so bad about that too. Once I got really good at budgeting and saving money, I became angry that it took me so long to get to that point and frustrated about the lost savings I could have had. But all we can do is be thankful when we finally do create positive change and keep moving forward!

  • I am my own worst judge in everything I do, but I see it also as me being brutally honest with myself. Do I need this, can I go without that right now, can I get by without this, that or the other… But never what will “they” think, meaning the people around me. I gave up keeping up with the Joneses a long time ago. Keeping up with me was a different story. Now, I see the world around me with a different lens. I follow the delayed gratification rule. I follow the Want versus Need rule. And I follow the “if something comes in, something goes out” rule. I feel very zen about my life, judgy as it is ^_^

    • I love the “one in, one out” rule – it’s pretty much the only thing I can’t argue with when my instant gratification side tries to rationalize a purchase. It’s so great that you’ve found what works for you and are feeling zen about it!

  • I don’t compare myself to Cait because we’re so different.

    But put me with someone in her mid-40’s (like me), with an established career (like me) and parents to assist (yup), then I’m all up in the comparison.

  • This post came at the most perfect time for me to read! As I just started this journey and I was setting up my goals, I was becoming really aggressive with all my goals as I was trying to be like you.

    Then my school book list came in and I realized Oh no! I have to buy school books, so this shopping ban…. Now what? After reading this blog, I realized I have to make my goals match my life, where I was trying to make my goals match your life. Thank you so much for this post!

  • Everyone’s situation is different, too! I read a lot of finance blogs that are based on earning a decent income. When you earn less than $20k though, it is not going to be possible to save a large percentage of your income. You have to adapt the ideas to your own situation.

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