Episode 63. How to stop feeling guilty about money—no matter your income
After talking to 60+ couples, Ramit reveals the #1 money issue that people deal with: feeling guilty. From what you heard as a child about money… to not being able to enjoy a vacation as an adult, Ramit breaks down the concept. Listen in as Ramit goes through his tactical approach to end money guilt and shame — once and for all. Want to dive in yourself? You can download the Conscious Spending Plan, for free, or learn more about Ramit’s Money Coaching program.
Tools mentioned in this episode
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Lindsey: [00:00:01] I make too much money to not be able to have fun with it. And then a little bit later, I decided to go to the carwash and get Starbucks, and I felt so guilty for getting my $5 Starbucks drink. And I don’t know why.
Sheena: [00:00:18] It’s kind of a nagging voice, just always there like, you shouldn’t be buying this. You shouldn’t be buying socks right now. You have socks. It’s stupid little things like that.
Peter: [00:00:32] You just feel it. It is like another person there where it’s like, do not enjoy this. You can’t enjoy this. Right?
Lindsey: [00:00:38] Yeah.
Peter: [00:00:38] Even though we set money aside, we just couldn’t enjoy it as much as we wanted to.
Unknown Speaker: [00:00:44] I don’t think I said that out loud. I might mention it after the restaurant. Am I going to go to a restaurant and spend $24 in a salad? It is beyond ridiculous what the markup on a salad is. If I really want to spend $18 on a burger with cheese and mushrooms, or I’m going to be happy with a burger at $14 that doesn’t have the fixings.
Lindsey: [00:01:03] Mike, I want to be able to pick up the check and feel good about it. I want to be able to go on vacation and get a massage, and not have any guilt, but I don’t have any of the tools. Well, I haven’t resourced any of the tools yet to break that chain.
Ramit Sethi: [00:01:27] [Narration]
A while back, my wife Cas and I took an amazing trip to Mexico. We stayed at one of my favorite hotels and we just loved it. While we were there, I remember, we were sitting at dinner and we looked across the table from each other and we said, “This would be a great place to come back with our friends.” And a few years later, that’s exactly what we did.
We invited a group of friends. We had incredible dinners together. We were sitting outside. We laughed all night, and we created these memories that we will all never forget. And we loved being able to see that first trip where we were surrounded by a beautiful beach and water and dreaming about coming back with friends and then making that dream a reality. Now, did it cost a lot? Yes. But both of these trips encompassed the things that are important to us– relationships, travel, and being inspired by beautiful things around us. We wanted to do it.
Now, it’s great to hear stories about someone else doing it, but I’m more concerned with how you integrate the important things into your life. If you think of doing something like this, forget about the exact hotel, but just something like it. What comes to mind for you? Some people will say, “Oh, that sounds great for you, but that’s too expensive.” Or some people might think about doing something like this but feel guilty. And you probably know what I’m going to say.
I don’t like the idea of restricting yourself from your rich life. And I also don’t like the idea of you feeling guilty while you’re spending money on things. That’s why in today’s special edition of the I Will Teach You to Be Rich podcast, I want to talk to you about how to stop feeling guilty about your money. Talking yourself out of purchases because of guilt, or buying something and then still feeling guilty about it is so common among the couples that I’ve talked to. But that’s not the relationship I want you to have with money.
And those emotions are keeping you from enjoying your money and thinking bigger about your rich life. So by the end of this episode, you will have more tools to start feeling good about your money and to start enjoying your life. One of the main tools that we’re going to use is this conscious spending plan which you can download at iwt.com episode/63.
Go ahead and download that right now so that we can get started together. Now that you’ve got your CSP and you heard how I approached this vacation at Mexico, let’s hear about how past podcast guests Sheena and Peter describe their feelings about paying for experiences like this.
Sheena: [00:04:16] [Interview]
I want to be free. I feel like I have this chain around me and I can’t live my life, because if I buy something nice or I try to do something for our apartment, I just have this voice in the back of my head. It’s just like a nagging voice, just always there, like, “Oh, you shouldn’t be buying this. You shouldn’t be buying socks right now. You have socks.” It is stupid little things like that.
Peter: [00:04:43] I get a sense of a lot of guilt following us around with how we spend money. For example, we just had a staycation in New York and it was a special that we split and all that stuff and the entire time, even though we were in this nice room and we were only room service, I could just feel it was like another person there where it’s like, “You can’t enjoy this.” Even though we set money aside, we just couldn’t enjoy it as much as we wanted to.
Sheena: [00:05:11] Yeah, I feel like I can’t get out of the hole because I’ve been in it so long. I just feel like I can’t really enjoy life without feeling bad about it. I feel guilt.
Ramit Sethi: [00:05:27] That was the example of people who decide to do something special. But even as they are experiencing it, they are feeling guilty. They’ve got that ghost in the room. And that is not how I want you to live your rich life. Let’s listen to Lindsey and John from Episode 31, who also have this in common. She talks about how her guilt was seated as a child.
Lindsey: [00:05:52] I want to be able to pick up the check and feel good about it. I want to be able to go on vacation and get a massage and not have any guilt that I’m doing that. I want to be able to– I don’t even know– pay off his debt and feel proud about that and have set a self for a fun retirement where we’re traveling and not having that burden of money on our shoulders or something like that.
Ramit Sethi: [00:06:27] What do you remember about growing up like that?
Lindsey: [00:06:29] Just like having anxiety and stress about money and guilt. It was like it wasn’t really a good feeling on vacation because we were stressed about when the bill came to my dad or something that it was like.
Ramit Sethi: [00:06:46] Was it like everybody’s holding their breath waiting for how dad’s going to react when the bill comes?
Lindsey: [00:06:52] Yeah. And not how he was going to react because he wouldn’t react, but it was just as energy. I knew that they wanted, like I say, “Oh, I want to be able to do those things.” So there’s got to be some real personal– I think like a personal growth of me tapping into that and changing that story so it does not replay. But I don’t have any of the tools. Well, I haven’t resourced any of the tools yet to break that chain.
Ramit Sethi: [00:07:27] [Narration]
Many of us are carrying around these restrictive beliefs about money. But the good news is you can rewrite these beliefs. And in order to become confident with your money, you’ve got to become competent. And the way you start is by knowing your numbers. And that includes knowing how much money you can spend guilt-free. In my conscious spending plan, there are four categories of where your money goes.
The first is fixed costs, then savings, then investments, and finally, guilt-free spending. If you haven’t already downloaded it, get it at iwt.com/episode63. And start by filling out your income in the first three categories. When you are done, it will automatically calculate your guilt-free spending number. This is freeing. It shows you exactly how much you can afford to spend guilt-free. So when you go out to the store or you’re planning a trip or you’re thinking about a car or a candy bar, you know that all the rest of your goals have automatically been taken care of.
Now, interestingly, sometimes it’s hard for people to conceptualize what to do with the money that’s left over after they’ve accounted for their fixed cost savings and investments. Listen to Kara and Sean from Episode 48 describe what they would do with money left after expenses.
Say 15,000 more, where would that money go in this conscious spending plan?
Sean : [00:09:00] I would try to plug most of it into the savings and the investments.
Ramit Sethi: [00:09:04] What else, though?
Sean : [00:09:06] Well, I mean, if we’re being honest, I think Kara would probably try to talk me into a little more guilt-free spending.
Ramit Sethi: [00:09:12] Why don’t you say that again? But this time, don’t take a passive role.
Sean : [00:09:18] I ensure that our guilt-free spending would go up as well.
Ramit Sethi: [00:09:22] And would you like that?
Sean : [00:09:22] Yeah. Yeah, I think that would bring us a lot more cohesion together.
Ramit Sethi: [00:09:31] What would you like to do with that guilt-free spending?
Sean : [00:09:35] I mean, we’ve been meaning to take a trip to Croatia for forever. That would be cool. I’d love to get back into woodworking.
Ramit Sethi: [00:09:43] Why shouldn’t you just tell her? Tell her.
Sean : [00:09:46] Kara.
Katie: [00:09:47] Yeah.
Sean : [00:09:47] It would be really cool to go to Croatia with you–
Katie: [00:09:49] Awww.
Sean : [00:09:50] at some point. I miss working with my hands and doing woodworking projects. And honestly, I know it’s not an investment opportunity, but if I could sell some of that shit, passive income too out of a hobby. And I would love to take our daughter to a couple of the places that we’ve been to already. Whatever’s the most happy medium of safe rent and affordable.
Ramit Sethi: [00:10:19] How does that feel to hear, Kara?
Katie: [00:10:20] I’m super excited to hear that. That’s just what I’ve been wanting to hear from him all these years. I just feel like I have to pull it out.
Ramit Sethi: [00:10:33] Yeah. Sean, do you see that?
Sean : [00:10:36] That I’m a little bit of a shithead? Yeah.
Ramit Sethi: [00:10:39] I wouldn’t put it that way. But I tell you what, it’s very attractive to see somebody who has a point of view, very attractive. And it could be an intimate relationship the two of you have, or just me observing you. I think it’s really cool to see you saying, “I want to take us to Croatia.” It’s appealing.
And I think that is what Kara has been looking for. I don’t care if somebody wants to live in an RV. I don’t care if they want to live in a rural place that I don’t want to live in. I don’t care. But it’s very attractive to see someone saying, this is what I want and I’m going after it. So I think it’s awesome what you just said.
That’s why I do the rich life exercise. That’s why we go through the bucket list. That’s why we make these things vivid, vivid. I want to go to Croatia and I want to go on this airline seat and I want to eat at this place and I want to have our daughter see this thing. That’s why. Because that’s what drives us. Not even a conscious spending plan will keep us up at night. But that sunset with my partner drinking a glass of wine, that’s what I want to do.
It took a little pushing, but with some work, we were able to find meaningful things that Sean and Kara wanted to spend on, like going to Croatia. They can be confident in spending on this travel because they know based on their conscious spending plan, all of their other expenses are covered. But maybe travel isn’t your thing.
Carolyn and Gavin from Episode 46 decided to donate to causes that their kids are passionate about. Just think about the impact that will have on their lives. Listen in.
Now you know that each of you has $250 a month for you only spending. So that gets written down right away. And then you have money for the kids. This is where you get to map it out. How much do we want to spend on the kids.
Carolyn : [00:12:44] We do like giving money away. I mean, it feels great to call up NPR. We would definitely engage them in asking what they want to donate to, because especially our eldest, she’s an outdoor maniac and she loves the wolves and she loves the spiders and all that stuff.
Ramit Sethi: [00:13:01] Yes, beautiful. Imagine sitting down with the kids. And Gavin, you say, “Dad and I were talking and we have decided that we are going to donate every year because it’s important for us to give back.” Notice, I’m telling them why. I’m teaching them. I’m connecting money with joy. “And we want to get you involved. Dad and I have decided on one charity we want to donate to, but we want the three of you to come up with another.” What do you think the kids are taking away from this?
Carolyn : [00:13:32] That it’s fun to give away money and that it’s an important part of their responsibility. It’s something that grownups do.
Ramit Sethi: [00:13:41] [Narration]
Beautiful. What a meaningful way to use your money. I’m sharing these examples to give you positive role models. And to inspire you on how diverse your guilt-free spending can be. But a lot of us don’t have those inspirations. Katie and Sean, for example, from Episode 28, really struggled with spending money guilt-free. They described their money as a hoarding mentality and it was creating tension in their relationship.
So one of the tools that I gave them was something called a worry-free number.
I would like to introduce you to the concept of a worry-free number. A worry-free number is, below this number we’re just not going to worry about it. We may not even need to talk to each other about it. Let’s just set a few simple rules in this relationship so we can eliminate most of the sources of our conflict. So, for example, Katie, if you go to the store and you want to buy a pack of gum, are you going to call Sean and ask his permission for that?
Katie: [00:14:47] No.
Ramit Sethi: [00:14:48] No. So a worry-free number. One or two bucks, no big deal. What should your worry-free number be in your relationship?
Sheena: [00:14:57] I don’t know, $300. Sean?
Sean : [00:14:59] $500.
Ramit Sethi: [00:15:01] Whoa.
Katie: [00:15:02] Why is it 500?
Sean : [00:15:04] I don’t have a concern if you are wanting to buy something under $500, you probably make the right decision because you are safe. We’re safe. We can afford it. And I know that we’ll never get to the point where you’re going to spend more than we can afford. And I want you to feel like you can enjoy the money we have.
Ramit Sethi: [00:15:28] Sean, that was one of the best answers I’ve ever heard. I could not have said that better myself. I love what you just did there. Totally expressive, totally visionary. “I want you to spend on the things you love. You are safe.” That was incredible. Katie, what do you take away from that?
Katie: [00:15:48] That he heard me and that he understands the feelings that I have around money. And not just my feelings, but when he repeats it back to me, it sounds like he understands.
Ramit Sethi: [00:16:09] Yeah. That was awesome. So we’ve done a couple of things. We have created a worry-free number, $500, which is fantastic. I would like to see you actually take advantage of that, both of you, because your situation is not that you’re overspending. You’re actually underspending.
Just a quick note about that worry-free number. Sean and Katie are high earners, so their worry-free number was $500. Your worry-free number will probably be different. It might be $20 or $100. The amount itself is not as important as you choosing a worry-free number and reminding yourself that anything below that number is something you are not going to worry about.
That’s the purpose of a worry-free number. It’s going to help you build the skill of spending money without feeling guilty. Here’s the problem. Lots of people fill out the conscious spending plan and they see how much guilt-free spending they have and then they do nothing about it. But I think you should use your money to live a rich life today and tomorrow.
So how can you start living your rich life today? Well, let’s take the $100 challenge. This is a fast, fun exercise that lets you enjoy your rich life right now. It’s actually one of the first things I have people do when they join my money coaching program. You can learn about that at iwt.com/moneycoaching, but let’s just do the exercise right now. To do this, start by writing down your answers to these questions. What do you love spending money on? And what’s the best money you’ve spent in the last six months?
It could be something for convenience. Maybe it’s an extra phone charger so you don’t have to unplug it from the family room and take it to the other room. Maybe it is a beautiful little blanket. Maybe it’s a surprise dinner out, whatever. I want you to think about that. And I want you to take $100 and create another amazing memory for yourself. Now, for Andre from Episode 62, it was travel and experiences. Listen in.
What’s the vision? What do you see the two of you doing?
Andre : [00:18:32] I’ve wanted to get another like a hot rod, fast car, classic car. Not much more than that. We’ve talked about getting possibly a family compound with my parents, investing in something where we both have like two homes on a property or a split level on a lake because they’re getting older and it’d be nice to have them in our lives and Amy gets along with them really well. So it’d be a good thing. Possibly kids. We are a little bit older, but possibly children in the future, having the wherewithal to take care of those kids, to be able to take care of the dog without thinking about it, to be able to have a future.
I see a lot of travel as we get older and try to get into a position where we can make memories together because we have the things together, we have the house, we have the car, we have the stuff, I have the job, she has the business, we have the life. But I want to be able to live with her. I want to be able to enjoy that life and go travel and do the things that I picture somebody that makes the amount of money that we make doing.
Ramit Sethi: [00:19:34] [Narration]
Alex from Episode 44 is ready to take his rich life to the next level. Now it’s about sharing it with the people they love. By the way, as you listen to this clip, I want you to notice something. When people start out getting interested in personal finance, their goals are almost always about the what? What do I get to buy, what kind of clothes, what kind of restaurants? And I think that’s great.
I have no problem. You want to buy something nice? You should. But at the highest level of personal finance, it’s almost always about the who. Who do I take with me? So keep that in mind as you go through your own money journey. There’s nothing wrong with learning about the what and the how, but at the highest level, I can tell you, it is almost always about the why.
Alex: [00:20:24] [Interview]
We have a rich life. It’s incredible. I mean, we lived in Oregon, we went to Vancouver, we first met. We’ve been to India and Mexico. We’ve done a lot of things that not everybody I know has done. So it’s like we figured it out. But now I want to get to this point where if my family needs help or we want to have a homestead, we can buy it. And it’s not like a big deal. We just have to put in the work.
And I know the tools are there. I just have to learn them. So that’s the change that I’m making now in my life. Learn about finances, understand the next steps I have to take to really live this rich life, and be able to share it with as many people as I can.
Ramit Sethi: [00:20:57] [Narration]
That’s a rich life. Now, how are we going to get there? Building on that idea of sharing, listen to Michelle and Dan from Episode 56 describe their rich life.
All right. Who wants to start? What is your rich life? Michelle, what is your rich life?
Michelle: [00:21:18] So big things. I want to travel a lot, months-long trips. I would love– we don’t currently, but I would love to see ourselves doing more luxurious trips, staying in nicer hotels, doing more extravagant outings. I would love to live and work and experience a new city or country for 2 to 3 months every year. I want more time to spend with each other and our family, more quality time. I want to be able to be investing and knowing our money is working for us and I want to be able to be more generous with my money.
Ramit Sethi: [00:22:07] Okay. I love it. I’m going to zoom in on a couple of those things. I want to talk about generosity. What does being generous look like?
Michelle: [00:22:15] I love to buy gifts for people and I sometimes feel like I can’t do it to the extent that I would like to now.
Ramit Sethi: [00:22:27] So you have savings goals here of $200 a month for gifts?
Michelle: [00:22:33] Yes.
Ramit Sethi: [00:22:34] Do you spend that?
Michelle: [00:22:36] Oh, yeah. That was based off of what we normally spend per year currently.
Ramit Sethi: [00:22:39] Very good.
Michelle: [00:22:41] I would love that to be like four times as much, though.
Ramit Sethi: [00:22:45] Oh, okay, a money darling. I love that. I suggest moving that down to guilt-free spending because you’re spending it. You’re not just saving it, you’re just spending it. Move that down. That will adjust your numbers for you. And I love that. Beautiful. And what are you going to spend more on? Be specific. What would you pay for? What would you buy?
Michelle: [00:23:03] I would love to bring our family on more trips.
Ramit Sethi: [00:23:07] Okay. What else?
Michelle: [00:23:09] Just surprise them with things. Our mothers like fresh flowers, just get them a flower subscription, so every two weeks they have fresh flowers sitting on their table.
Ramit Sethi: [00:23:22] [Narration]
I love it. These are just a few examples of what a rich life can be, but your rich life is yours. It should be different than everyone else’s, and that’s okay. I would challenge you to choose one area that’s important to you. Now, decide how much money you can spend guilt-free on that thing. And if you’re not sure how to find that number, use the conscious spending plan.
Here’s a quick little shortcut. Start with $100. If that’s too much, start with 20. Or if you make a ton of money, increase that number to 500 bucks. The idea is to splurge a little without hurting your finances. But the real lesson is to connect your money with something meaningful in your life. You have to remember that most of us think of money as the source of guilt and overwhelm and restriction. This little challenge will help you rewire the way that you think and feel about money.
Let me give you some ideas. I shared this challenge with a group of students and here’s what they did. Sarah said, “I went on a date night with my hubby and ordered what I really wanted, not based on price.” Claire said, “I bought some luxury nail polish, which I’ve always wanted to buy.” Felix, “I used Instacart for my groceries this month. I saved about 10 hours of time. It was a little bit more expensive, but it’s worth it.” Kerry turned the self-care dial-up by booking a 90-minute sensory deprivation salt float.
Here’s why I love this challenge. I want you to build the muscle of celebrating your wins and living your rich life today and an even richer life tomorrow. Now, how do you do this? Well, you have options. First, if you just want the conscious spending plan, you can download it from iwt.com/episode63. If you want to get my new journal so you can sit down with your favorite cup of coffee and dream about your rich life with my guided prompts, you can get that journal at any bookstore.
And finally, if you actually want my help to do this process, you can join my new money coaching program. You can go to iwt.com/moneycoaching to get instant access. And with that program, you’re going to get live monthly group coaching sessions hosted by me. And in some of the coming months, we’re going to be covering topics like, how do I find an extra $100 a month, $500 a month, or $1,000 a month, as well as how do I do my annual rich life review.
You’ll also get access to the community, which is a group of people like you and people probably a little bit ahead of you who can help answer your questions and share all of their experiences and favorite accounts and techniques they have used to live a rich life. Sign up today at iwt.com/moneycoaching. And thanks for listening to the podcast today. Be sure to tune in next week for my conversation with Connie and Wes. Here’s a sneak peek.
Connie: [00:26:22] The story that I grew up with is in a regular romantic relationship. The man is chivalrous, and when the bill comes, that bill is always going to go to the man and he’s going to pick it up and pay it.
Wes: [00:26:35] So when we’re out in dinner and the check comes, and I want to pick it up in her mind, it isn’t a good financial decision for me. So it’s kind of a catch-22 because I’m expected to pick up the check, but at the same time, when I do, it’s kind of, oh, you shouldn’t be doing that because I don’t think you can afford it. I often feel like, well, what am I even bringing to the table here? Connie said that our biggest relationship issue was the thing holding our relationship back was money. And so with where I am there, it’s like, why am I even– sometimes I even ask, why even date somebody with such a huge discrepancy with money?
Connie: [00:27:17] When we talk about money, I have come across as extremely demeaning. And I think part of that has probably made Wes feel a little unworthy of being in this relationship because our balance sheets look different.
Ramit Sethi: [00:27:36] Thanks for listening to I Will Teach You to Be Rich. I’m Ramit Sethi. Please follow the show on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you haven’t read I Will Teach You to Be Rich, my book, pick up a copy. You can get it at any bookstore or any library and it will show you the specific tactics for how to build the I Will Teach You to Be Rich system into your personal finances.