Are You “Shoulding” Yourself?

by Miranda Marquit

I’ve long been a proponent of the idea that you need to set financial priorities that make sense for you and your situation, rather than trying to keep up with Joneses. One of the concepts related to this idea is one that I was introduced to by Jill Beirne Davi, a certified personal coach and the founder of She says that if you want to get ahead with your finances, you need to stop “shoulding” yourself.

“So many people set financial goals because they feel like they should,” says Davi. This means that they have no true emotional connection to their financial goals — and that makes it harder to move forward with positive financial behaviors.

keeping up with the Joneses

Are you spending consciously, or keeping up with the Joneses?

Hallmarks of Shoulding

Shoulding is based on the idea that you are doing something because you “should.” Davi points out that even good things, like saving 10 percent of your paycheck, can be difficult when you are just doing it because you think you should. Eventually, you get tired of doing it because there’s nothing meaningful behind it.

“Deep down, you are not emotionally connected to your goals,” Davi says of shoulding. “You’re making your goals from your head, not your heart.”

This mindset goes beyond goals you might set for yourself at the beginning of the year. It can also extend to some of the financial choices you make over the course of a lifetime. You might buy a home because that’s what you “should” do at a certain point in time. However, does buying a home make sense for you? Will it help you meet your goals?

Other spending decisions, like having two cars for your family or having cable/satellite, or having a big-screen TV are made because we feel like we “should” have these things. They seem “normal” — or even needed. One of the signs that you are shoulding, rather than making decisions based on your own priorities, is that you aren’t happy with what you have, and you don’t make use of all the things that you spend your money on.

If you find yourself surrounded by a bunch of stuff you don’t need, or even want, and a dissatisfaction with your financial situation, chances are that you have been shoulding, and that it’s time for a change.

How to Get Past Shoulding

The key to moving beyond the shoulding, according to Davi, is this simple question: “WHY?”

“If you want to create a financial goal to save 10 percent of your paycheck every month, ask yourself ‘why?'” Davi suggests. “Why does this matter? How will my life be better if I achieve this?”

Once you make that connection, it’s easier to make financial decisions that are right for you, rather than simply going along because you think you should. This works even with purchases that you make. Before you make a purchase, stop a moment and ask yourself why you want to buy the item. Will it enhance your life? Will it help you reach other goals? Will you use it? Be honest about your motivations, and you might be surprised about what you discover about yourself and the reasons you are spending money.

If you want to avoid financial decisions that dissatisfy you, it’s vital that you examine your motivations. Stop doing things because you think you “should” or because it seems “normal.” Instead, make it a point to consciously make decisions about your money. Figure out what you want you life to look like now, and in the future, and then start making your decisions based on your own values and priorities.

“When you know your big WHY,” says Davi, “you have much more motivation to stay on the right track with your money.”

Published or updated February 25, 2014.
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