Moving from Impressing Others to Impressing Yourself

In the book Your Money or Your Life (which happens to be the single most important book I’ve read in terms of helping me launch my financial turnaround), the authors offer a lengthy chapter that covers a whole bunch of strategies to follow in order to cut one’s spending.

Their number one rule – the one that they put in huge bold letters and describe as standing above all others – is really simple.

Stop trying to impress other people.

That’s it. That’s their number one rule.

At first glance, that rule might seem obvious or easy, but step back for a moment and think about all of your purchases through the lens of how that purchase is intended to make you appear in the eyes of others.

Are you buying books to impress your friends? Do you buy clothes to look good to others beyond the basic dress code of your workplace? What about gadgets – have you ever bought a phone with the thought of how others will be impressed by it? Did you think about your home in terms of what others might think when they come to visit?

If you stop and reflect on the ways you spend money, you’ll find that some things really don’t have much to do with what others think… but, if you really dig in, a lot of your expenses do revolve around or are heavily influenced by what others think of you.

I’m going to suggest a radical twist on that mindset.

Imagine how you would spend a day where you did absolutely nothing to impress others in any way, but instead did things solely so that when you went to bed that night, you were genuinely proud and happy with regards to how the day went.

What would you do that day?

For me, such a day would involve a lot of exercise, because I genuinely feel better over the long run because of it. It would involve doing some housework beyond the basics. It would involve reading something really challenging that taxed my mind. It would involve some genuine undistracted quality time with my immediate family and some close friends, not because of what they think of me, but because their presence really brings value into my life. It would involve spending some time doing charitable work. It would involve writing or improving a truly meaningful article or two or writing a book chapter. It would involve a lot of activities that were meant to benefit my life in the long run, not so much the short run.

For me, that’s the kind of day that, when I go to sleep at night, adds up to a day that I’m really proud of.

Here’s the thing: if I do my absolute best to make that kind of day into my normal day, things change a lot in my life. When I consider all of the activities I throw to the side if I commit to days like that, almost all of those activities revolve around impressing other people unless there is a very specific purpose to do so (such as building a relationship with that person or intentionally furthering my career).

If I live my life in a way that makes me proud of how I spent my day, and I do that each and every day, and I do it in a way that isn’t really concerned with what others think of me unless it achieves a specific goal in my life, then my spending falls through the floor. A lot of spending ceases to have any purpose.

If I want a book, I go to the library. If I find that I’m going to return to a book quite often as reference, then I might consider buying it, as spending money on books for anything other than reference and regular re-reading takes away from other goals. I don’t need to have a bookshelf full of books to impress others.

If I want to dress for the day, I dress in comfortable functional clothes for whatever it is that I’m doing. I don’t need to have really nice clothes to impress others (unless there is a business reason to do so). I don’t need to have a closet full of clothes to impress others.

If I buy a house, I buy one that fulfills the functions I need from a home – shelter, a bit of space to live, a bit of space to work. I don’t need to have a McMansion to ooh and aah people I don’t know well; the people I would want to have visit because I truly value their company are ones who won’t care anyway. I don’t need to have a giant house to impress others.

If I buy a car, it serves the function of getting me from point A to point B. I don’t need to have an expensive piece of metal that causes people I don’t even know to ooh and aah (again, if this is part of a specific business plan, that might change things, but that applies to very few people in reality). I don’t need to have a beautiful new car to impress others.

See, the thing is, living a life where I am proud of the life that I live each and every night is a life that will impress others. In short, if I genuinely impress myself because of my behaviors, I will gradually begin to impress others just by reflection.

I don’t need to spend a dime to achieve that.

So, if you want to get control over your spending and you want to find financial and personal success, the first step is to stop spending any money or any time whatsoever impressing others unless it has a very specific professional purpose). Just stop.

Instead, devote your time and energy toward doing things that make you proud of yourself and the person you’re becoming. The thing is, the things that most people do to make themselves proud are almost always things that don’t involve spending much money at all.

Getting in shape? It doesn’t require much money. For some, a gym membership; for others, all you really need is a bit of space at home or somewhere to run. It also requires a bit of self-control around food.

Growing your knowledge and understanding of the world? You can get that by checking out books from the library, listening to worthwhile podcasts, reading well-written articles from good publications, and so on. All that takes is time, not money.

Getting in control of your emotions? Tactics like meditation and self-reflection and journaling help greatly there, and those tactics don’t take money, either, just time and focus.

Learning how to interact with people better? Getting in touch with your spiritual or religious side? Helping to improve your community? They don’t cost money, either.

The truth is, if you devote your time and energy to effective ways of impressing yourself and building a genuinely better life, you won’t have a lot of need to spend a lot of money. Most steps toward improving yourself and building a better life don’t cost a thing. They just require you to devote time and energy and to turn your thoughts away from what other people think of you.

That’s a tricky transition, I’ll admit, but one thing has really helped me in that process.

If I make myself into a genuinely better person, a genuinely good person, a person who fills their day with things that make me feel proud when I go to bed, then I really don’t have to worry about what other people think of me. I will have a positive reputation by default. If I become the kind of person that I want to be, I don’t need to buy cars or clothes or homes or gadgets to impress others. The person I’m trying to become – a healthy person who converses well, has emotional control, has interesting ideas, has a lot of strong friendships and relationships, is involved in the community and the neighborhood in a positive way, and is pleasant to be around – is enough. It’s more than enough, in fact.

Becoming that person makes me proud. If I can go to bed at the end of the day knowing that I worked toward becoming that person, I feel good. I feel proud of myself. It’s a good feeling that doesn’t come from impressing others – in fact, the normal actions of impressing others often takes away from that.

If you center every day around becoming the person you want to be rather than trying to pretend to be a person that you think other people will be impressed by, you won’t have to work to impress others any more. You won’t have to worry about it or think about it in the least, because a person that works to be the person they most want to be is naturally attractive to others. If you really truly work toward being the best person you can be in each area of your life, you go to sleep proud of yourself and you become a person that people want to have around, just by your normal actions.

So, the solution to a lot of financial problems (and problems in other areas of life) is to simply focus as much of your time and energy as you can on being the best person you can possibly be and stop spending time, money, and energy on things that are largely influenced by impressing others. If you devote your days toward becoming better, you go to bed happy with yourself, and if you do that over and over again, you become the kind of person everyone wants to have around without having to worry about what others think of you or having to invest a dime in it.

Stop trying to impress other people.

Start trying to impress yourself.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.