There’s No Room for Shame in Your Budget

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Money shame makes us feel like we'll never get ahead and change isn't possible. Here are 6 ways to deal with money shame and get control of your finances.

While I’m on vacation this week, please enjoy this contribution from Amanda at Centsibly Rich. 

Have you ever been ashamed of something? I’m sure you have. Each and every one of us has experienced shame at some point in our lives. It can be related to our weight, our past, our mistakes or some other perceived flaw.

Then there is the type of shame no one talks about but everyone has felt. Money shame.

Everyone has experienced money shame. No matter how much or how little money we make, whether we’re millionaires or living in poverty, we’ve all experienced shame about money at some point in our lives. Spending mistakes; bad debt; late bills; job loss; and a bad credit score can all bring on a sense of guilt-induced shame.

Guilt is the feeling that we’ve done something wrong. Guilt becomes shame when we turn it into a feeling of personal failure.

Where does the shame come from?


In our culture, we tend to associate worth and success with what we see on the outside. We may think, “He has a luxury car and a brand new house, he must be doing very well.” So, we take out student loans to get through college so we can get a great job that will allow us to have the American “dream.” The sad irony is that most of us realize too late that there’s never enough money to keep up with the dream.

We have the erroneous tendency to think everyone else has it figured out and we’re the only ones who struggle to make ends meet or make stupid mistakes with our money. Such negative thoughts can lead to a feeling of personal failure. But even though we experience shame over money, or maybe because of the shame, we ignore it, leave it alone and even allow it to grow. Although we know better, we think that if we pretend our money problems aren’t there, they don’t exist.

The good news is we don’t have to let shame keep us stuck where we are. Sure, we’ve all made money mistakes or gotten ourselves into bad financial situations, but everyone makes mistakes. The most important thing is to learn from them and not repeat them.

When we stop allowing guilt over our mistakes to turn into shame, we can move forward and make changes.

6 ways to keep shame from holding you back


1. let it go


The first way to let go of guilt-induced money shame is to forgive yourself. So what if you’ve made some bad choices with your money? A bad financial situation is not a character flaw.

Your financial position does not define who you are. Just because you have debt, can’t pay the bills or a have low credit score, you aren’t a bad person. Acknowledge that you’ve made financial mistakes and you are sorry for them, but stop tormenting yourself. Leave the past in the past, let go of the shame and figure out what you are going to do to change your situation starting today.

Remember, financial problems are about behaviors. To change your finances, you must change your behaviors.

2. Talk about it


You’re not alone! Share your story with other people. You may be surprised at how many people relate to your situation. Learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. Maybe by letting go of your own shame, you can help others overcome theirs.

3. Think about how your past shaped your money habits


What did you learn about money when you were growing up? Past experiences affect our current financial situation more than we think. In fact, money problems can stem from a cycle passed on from generation to generation. Look for the strengths and weaknesses you gained in your childhood to learn more about why you deal with money in the way you do.

4. Don’t continue down the same path


Sometimes the very thing we are ashamed of is how we treat the symptoms.

When you feel bad about money, pay attention and become mindful of how and when you react to money shame. Don’t treat your misery by going out on the town or buying that new outfit to make yourself feel better. Replace these actions with wiser, frugal choices (e.g. dinner and drinks at home with friends rather than going out; or taking a long walk with a friend instead of shopping).

5. Come face-to-face with the truth, learn more, and get help


Your financial problems are not going anywhere on their own. Start fixing them by sitting down with your bills and getting a good idea of what you owe, who you owe and interest rates. Start tracking monthly expenses so you can face the truth of the situation.

Educate yourself by reading about personal finance and seek support and advice from a friend/family member, money coach, debt counselor or financial advisor to help provide direction. If you need some help tracking your spending or managing your saving and investing activity, check out a free tool like Personal Capital, which can help you get informed and stay current on your financial affairs.

6. Make a plan and take action


Instead of letting shame keep you stuck, let it go, forgive yourself and use it as motivation to take action.

You may feel overwhelmed, or not know where to start. And you shouldn’t. Take it one step at a time by setting small goals that can be reached in a short amount of time. If you try to make too many changes at once, you’ll get frustrated and will be more likely to stop trying. Start small. Maybe you want to pay off $50 of your debt in one month. Once you reach that goal, you can start on the next one. Aim for small wins to create momentum toward bigger goals.

Write down your goals, the exact steps you will take to reach them, and create accountability by reporting your progress to a friend.

Let go of the shame. Address the guilt. Get support. Make the changes.


Do you have money shame? How do you deal with shame about your finances? What’s one way you motivate yourself when trying to accomplish a goal/overcome an obstacle?


Amanda is a wife, mom, black belt and creator of, where she shares tips and insights gained through paying off $100,000 in debt on one income, without sacrificing the things she loves

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    Powerful post! For me sometimes I feel shameful about the fact that we haven’t put more money into our fixer-upper house. But now that we’ve put off a couple of projects and have instead invested and paid down debt, I don’t really want to sink money into the house! I would prefer to see our investments grow and our debt decrease, and delaying housing projects are a huge win financially.

  • Amanda @ centsiblyrich says:

    Thanks for sharing, DC! We have the same dilemma with putting money into the house. We’ve been trying to only do one project a year and DIY what we can and it feels like a good balance. Right now we’re on hiatus from home improvement projects, which is good for the budget!

  • Stefanie O'Connell says:

    I have some money shame I’m still working to process. It’s been a few months, but I’m in recovery finally!

  • Amanda @ centsiblyrich says:

    I think it is a process (maybe ongoing?) to deal with money shame. Great to hear that you are in recovery, Stephanie!

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