Out in the personal finance world, there is a ton of great information about how to get out of debt, improve our credit score range and make smarter investments. The list goes on and on.
But there’s entire subject matter that we don’t talk much about; what to do about cleaning up our past. I’m not talking about cleaning up credit card debt or student loans. I’m talking about cleaning up the damage we did to others and ourselves by prior acts.
I’m talking about times we weren’t as honest as we’d like to have been. We fudged. We didn’t return equipment. We “forgot” about small (or large) loans. Or times we didn’t follow through. We got lazy and fell for some debt relief scam and cost the family this year’s vacation.
I get why nobody wants to talk about it. It’s shameful. But you know as well as I do, we carry that shame. It doesn’t disappear. It never will if we simply ignore it.
And make no mistake. The cost of shame is high. It colors everything we do and every financial decision we make. From the jobs we take to the kinds of investments we make. And the worst of it is, we walk around in this world without being proud of who we are.
So how do you clean it up?
1. Stop the excuses.
You’ve been telling yourself that what you did wasn’t so bad (and maybe it wasn’t but that has nothing to do with it). Or your inner voice tells you the other person has done worse things. You’ve been very imaginative with the stories you’ve been telling yourself.
The purpose of this exercise is to let yourself off the hook. To forgive yourself. You can only do that once you are honest about your past. To stop being ashamed of some past behavior, stop the excuses and own up to the truth about your past.
2. Write yourself up.
Start a list of all the financial acts you’ve done that you’re not proud of. EVERYTHING. What did you do? Who got hurt? How did they get hurt? How much did it cost them? How might they have felt? If you spent too much and now you don’t know how to generate enough income during retirement, how does that impact your spouse and your kids?
Be thorough and take your list to someone you trust. Maybe your Pastor or Rabbi. Maybe a good friend or even your mother. Select someone you trust and someone you know loves you unconditionally. Tell them about the list and ask for some time to go over it with you.
Once you read the list to the person you’ve selected, you’ll already notice that a huge burden has been lifted from your shoulders. That’s great…but you’re not done.
It’s time to approach the person and make amends. This can be tricky. You don’t want to do this if by doing so, you injure the other person (or someone else) further. That’s something to talk about with the person you selected to go over the list with. Before you take action, think about the best kind of amends to make. Think about the fallout of what you’re about to do as well.
Let’s say you and your co-worker each took something from the back of the store years ago. You are willing to own up to it and accept the consequences but if you do so, your co-worker might get fired too. What should you do?
This is something you need to think through…and seek council on before you do anything.
For those people you can approach, tell them what you did, how much it cost them and how it must have made them feel. Then listen.
Some people will be gracious and will appreciate your honesty. Others won’t be so nice. They’ll tell you they can’t believe you did what you did. You might feel terrible at first but later on, you’ll be glad you owned up.
You can’t control how others are going to react to your admissions. You’re trying to clean house and if by doing so you get bumped up, so be it.
This is a painful process but well worth it. Several years ago, I went through this. Just thinking about calling certain people made me break out in a sweat. And I’ll be the first to admit that a few of the people I called weren’t gracious at all. They told me they were angry and disappointed. They had that right.
But even with that negative feedback, I got it done and made the amends. I felt 20 pounds lighter and 10 years younger. And even the calls that didn’t go so well went much better than I had imagined.
Have you gone through a process like this? What was it like? What was the result?