Yesterday afternoon, I shared a biking vs. driving calculator that tries to show how much you could save if you gave up your car in favor of other forms of transportation. Whenever I post a story about biking more and driving less, some readers feel judged. They worry that those of us who drive less think we’re somehow better than they are.

Yesterday, for instance, Elaine wrote:

I must say that articles like these bruise my ego a bit. I WANT to do everything possible to minimize my impact on my financial health and the health of the environment, so it bothers me somewhat to continually hear about biking, when it’s just not realistic to my life.

And Annie said:

I’m glad that some people have the opportunity to reduce their gas dependence by walking and/or biking, but I wish that the non-vehicle enthusiasts would remember that not all of us have that same opportunity.

Elaine and Annie’s concerns are valid. Sometimes we do forget that others don’t have the same options we do. But it’s also true that some of us become indignant when we read stories about living in a tiny house, owning only 100 possessions, growing all of our own food, or having a DIY wedding. We feel judged. That’s unfortunate, because getting defensive can get in the way of noticing other lessons that might be applicable in our own lives.

Nobody’s perfect
When I write that I am trying to reduce my driving, I’m not arguing that everyone should do the same. Sure, I believe you should try to find ways to cut back, if possible, but I realize that not everyone shares my values and not everyone has the same life circumstances. If you live in Phoenix with a family of four, biking everywhere probably isn’t practical. So, when I share what I’m doing in my own life, I’m not judging anyone. Besides, what room do I have to judge? Because I’m too lazy to complain, I’ve been paying $45 a month for DSL the speed of dial-up. (Fixed last week!) I let too much food spoil. And Kris still digs my cans out of the garbage to put them in the recycling.

I’ve made many mistakes with money, and I’ll continue to make them. I often choose the sub-optimal financial path. But I’ve gradually reduced my mistakes, and I’m slowly learning to try new things — even when I don’t think they’re going to work. As a result, I’ve discovered new ways to save and, more importantly, new ways to make my life more fulfilling.

  • I can’t bike everywhere, nor do I want to. But I can bike some places, and I can walk to others. Turns out I enjoy the process; that it saves me money is just a bonus.
  • I’m not willing to live with only 100 things, but I can certainly live with less. So, I conduct experiments like my one-year wardrobe project, and I purge books from my library.
  • I can’t grow all my food, but Kris and I grow some of it. We save money and enjoy fresh produce and delicious home-canned goods.

These are ways I choose to save. Others have different methods. That’s one reason it’s fun to host guest posts and reader stories. They let me learn how other people practice thrift in ways that I might not expect. But I don’t feel judged when I read that someone builds her own furniture or sews his own clothes. I admire the ingenuity and file away the idea for possible use in the future.

I do my best in my own life, so I try not to worry about what other people think. In a way, the fear of being judged is the flip side of keeping up with the Joneses. It’s another form of comparing yourselves to others. Down both paths awaits the same destination: unhappiness.

Do what works for you
When you read what other folks do to save money, don’t feel judged. In real life, listen to what others are thinking or saying, but don’t let their notions bring you down. They’re not you. They aren’t living your life. They have their own strengths and weaknesses, just as you have yours. Make the most of what you have. Do what works for you. Instead of comparing yourself to others, compare your Present Self to your Past Self. Your goal is to constantly improve your own life, if only in little ways.

When I post a tip or technique at Get Rich Slowly, I’m not saying you’re a financial failure if you don’t follow it. I’m simply trying to share ideas that have worked for others, or ideas that have worked for me. Apply the ideas to your own life in your own way. Or don’t. Take what you want and leave the all the rest behind.

It’s easy to become your own biggest critic, especially when you think others are doing better than you are. Don’t do that. Don’t beat yourself up for what you’re not doing. Don’t think that everyone around you is living with a net carbon deficit, reading 400 books a year, helping to end world hunger, and clipping coupons to buy the ingredients needed to make phyllo dough from scratch. Because they’re not. We’re all muddling our way toward frugality.

Instead of criticizing yourself, notice what you’re doing right. Be your own personal fan club. Choose your values and follow them as best you can. Keep growing, learning, and stretching. Live well by living wisely. Be nice to yourself. And remember that it does not matter what other people think.

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