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Money and Guilt

guilt is a heavy burden to bear

❝There's no problem so awful, that you can't add some guilt to it to make it even worse. -"Calvin" in Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

It's a nice morning as I pedal my bike across town. It's cool, and I really enjoy looking at the sunrise. The only downside is I'm not used to getting up this early.

It's 1994, and I'm on my way to my first real job. I got a job working with custodians at one of the dorms on one of the campuses in town. Our job is to clean up the dorms from last year's students and get them ready for next year's students.

I get to work by seven o'clock, and everybody else is already there having coffee and chatting. Work starts at seven technically, but we don't ever do any work until eight o'clock. I'm tired, and they know it, so that let me go off to one of the student lounges to sleep on one of the couches. They'll come to get me when it's time to work.

After my hour nap, we head up to the dorm rooms to take the mattresses out. We have to get them out of all the rooms, to the elevators, and down to the basement, where there will be picked up and cleaned. Besides me, there are two other kids working here. We all got this job as part of the same program to get kids exposed to work. The three of us gamified our job. We have races, seeing who can run the mattresses down the hall fastest, hoping the mattress doesn't clip a door, causing us to get the wind knocked out of us. We make up a game called mattress jousting, where we run the mattresses into each other to see who could stay on their feet.

After goofing off for an hour, it was time to take our nine o'clock break. I'm told these are supposed to be 15-minute breaks, but we sit around and talk until ten o'clock. After the break, we work again until noon, when we get an hour for lunch. Then we take an hour-long break at two o'clock and work until four o'clock.

I'm surprised by how much fun I'm having. Everybody I know hates work. My grandpa comes home dirty and tired. My mom dreads going to work and looks forward to days off. Every television show I watch has characters treating work as if it's a necessary evil.

Yet, here I am having fun. And I'm being paid for it. They pay me every two weeks, and I've never seen over $200 at one time. I can't believe I get this much every two weeks.

But then it hits me. I start to doubt whether or not I earned this money. We're supposed to work from seven o'clock until four o'clock with an hour lunch and two 15-minute breaks. That would amount to seven and a half hours of work. Instead, I'm not sure if I even work five hours even though I get paid for eight. On top of that, I'm not sure my goofing off counts as work.

I continue to go with it because everybody is doing this, but there is a part of me that feels guilty. It feels like I didn't deserve this money.

with financial guilt you don't feel like you deserve your money


In their book, The Resilience Factor, authors Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte define guilt as the feeling we get when we believe we violated somebody's rights. This could be somebody else. You may have helped yourself to somebody else's food at work, for example. Or it could be feeling bad that you violated your own rights. For example, you may have set a rule for yourself there you won't go out to eat more than twice a week but end up eating every day. It could even be more big picture than this. You may not have done something yourself, but some member of a part of your group may have done something, and thus you feel guilty for being a part of that group.

The common theme is that you believe you did something wrong, and you feel bad about it. The key here is that you can point to a behavior.

Guilt is when we feel bad about something we did


When it comes to financial guilt, the definition is largely the same. Financial guilt could be feeling bad that you violated somebody else's rights - like stealing or otherwise cheating to get more money. This will lead to feelings that you don't deserve that money. It could be feeling bad for violating your own rights - like having a spending target and spending too much, thus breaking your own rules.

A common form of financial guilt is related to not necessarily violating somebody's rights but a perception that you violated somebody else's rights. This is common for people who receive a windfall after a loved one passes away. It could be a life insurance payout or legal settlement. The idea is that the survivor has money but only because somebody else had to die. But remember, guilt is tied to a specific behavior. If your behavior didn't actually cause the death of your loved one, then you have no reason to feel guilty. Receiving a large sum of money when you are grieving is tricky. It's tricky because you don't want to feel good (you received money) while still grieving. It's easy to mix up these two feelings and call it guilt. It is perfectly acceptable to feel sadness. It's even recommended that you go through the grieving process. However, what you're feeling isn't likely to be guilt.

financial guilt is feeling like we don't deserve money


It's hard to feel happiness, contentment, or joy if guilt is eating away at you. According to author