Five Ways Perfectionism May Be Hurting You Financially

I have always existed in a constant state of motion.

When I'm not physically flying, driving, walking briskly, and barely sleeping for the traveling portion of my job, I'm rising at the crack of dawn to hammer out a couple of hours of work before my day job. I always try to make productive use of my lunch breaks, and attempt to get a few things done in my free evenings after dinner. I sleep with my cell phone mere inches from my face, waking up a few times throughout the night, incessantly checking email and social media.

Most of the time, I'm just barely able to balance my lifestyle. But sometimes I get run down and hit a rough patch, either physically or mentally. I detailed some of my troubles in Flying Solo and Thriving with Mental Illness.

Through a combination of therapy, education, and a profound self-awareness, I've learned that my obsessive tendencies are a classic case of self-directed perfectionism. While making my way through life with a high amount of energy, meticulous attention to detail, and perseverance can sometimes be beneficial, there are negative aspects of this personality type that can be quite damaging.

A recent Psychology Today article, The Curse of Perfectionism points out:

“Psychologists see trait perfectionism almost always as a handicap. They see perfectionists as vulnerable to distress, often haunted by a chronic sense of failure, indecisiveness and its close companion procrastination, and also shame…

Most perfectionists struggle with depression, pessimism, and low self-belief. They can easily become immobilized and without motivation. But when they are at it perfectionists are marked by their compulsivity, obssessionality, and rigidity.”

In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron describes perfectionisms affect on creativity:

“Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop — an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole.”

Sound familiar? A self-directed perfectionist is hard on themselves for making mistakes and has a tendency to view these transgressions dichotomously. A partial success just doesn't exist. This type of thinking may creep into many areas of our lives, especially financially.

Five Ways Perfectionism May Be Hurting You Financially

1. Procrastination

Many perfectionists tend to suffer from procrastination. With investing, it's very easy to develop the attitude that you shouldn't begin until you've acquired a certain base level of knowledge, but how much knowledge is enough? Don't wait; just get started.

2. Hyper-criticism of mistakes and guilt

Have you made some downright shameful money mistakes? Who hasn't? I once purchased a bunch of shares of a stock at the advice of a professional comedian. Seriously. Try to avoid the spiraling feelings of guilt and hyper-criticism over mistakes and just move on.

3. Unrealistic expectations

Are you seriously expecting to cut your budget by half in a single month? That's probably not realistic. So what if x number of bloggers are already living off half of their net income? You need to set goals that are achievable and livable. You don't always have to take the “go big or go home” approach.

4. Obsession with the acceptance of others

Are you concerned with keeping up appearances? Are you trying to maintain an unsustainable lifestyle to impress your friends? This behavior can lead to further feelings of inadequacy and debt.

5. Stifling creativity

One of my favorite books on writing is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. She warns:

“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”

Try to tame your perfectionist tendencies. Your great idea was born from your passion. Give it a fighting chance to live. Your perfectionism could be standing in the way of executing your next lucrative plan.

Are you a perfectionist? Check out Psychology Today's Perfectionism Test.

Additional reading:

Present Perfect by Pavel Somov, PhD

When Perfect Isn't Good Enough by Martin Antony PhD & Richard Swinson MD FRCPC FRCP

Note: I am not being compensated for any of the Amazon URLs in this post.

Readers: Are you a perfectionist? How does it hurt you financially?

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Discussions — 33 Responses

  • Dee @ Color Me Frugal March 25, 2014 on 10:20 am

    I definitely see myself as a perfectionist in some ways. I would agree that my need for perfectionism in my work sometimes feels like it stifles my creativity for writing (for example, I usually only write on weekends or days that I have off from work).

    • Addison Cash Dee @ Color Me Frugal March 25, 2014 on 12:16 pm

      It definitely stifles my creativity for writing. I have a hard time sitting down for short increments (i.e. lunch breaks) to write.

  • Liz March 25, 2014 on 11:28 am

    I don’t think I am a perfectionist most of the time but I have set myself up for failure by creating completely unrealistic expectations.

    • Addison Cash Liz March 25, 2014 on 12:19 pm

      I get the feeling that many of us bloggers have unreasonably high expectations for ourselves. We should give ourselves a pat on the back once in a while 🙂

  • Lauren March 25, 2014 on 2:22 pm

    I’ve never considered myself to be a perfectionist, but I do share some of these qualities. I’m a huge procrastinator, and I will spend far too long on a single blog post, writing and re-writing and reviewing it before I’ll hit publish. I’m getting better with it though. I’m going to go take that Psychology Today test now…

    • Addison Cash Lauren March 25, 2014 on 3:08 pm

      The writing/editing process takes forever for me too. I’d love suggestions on being more efficient.

  • Anneli @thefrugalweds March 25, 2014 on 11:19 pm

    I love your thoughts on Professionalism, Addison!
    I think it can hold you back – but as long as you remember that tendency, I think it can be a strength.

    I’ve been a victim of “analysis-paralysis” before (I lost out on buying a really cool pair of shoes on sale one time LoL) This year, I have intentionally amped my braveness – I promised myself that I’m going to say YES! more. Hopefully, it will open me up to great big things. 🙂

    Also, I love The Artist Way! It’s a wonderful way to get over writer’s block and open creativity! 🙂

    • Addison Cash Anneli @thefrugalweds March 27, 2014 on 4:16 am

      The Artist’s Way rocks! Such a great tool that I keep going back to.

  • Addison Cash March 26, 2014 on 11:53 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Ryan. I struggle with those things, as well.

  • Brian @ Luke1428 March 27, 2014 on 2:05 am

    I don’t see myself as a perfectionist. However, I do suffer from taking my time on some things because I want it to be just right. At times, that can lock me down and make me miss opportunities.

    • Addison Cash Brian @ Luke1428 March 27, 2014 on 4:14 am

      Me too, Brian!

  • Erin @ Gen Y Finances March 28, 2014 on 12:37 am

    Procrastination and unrealistic expectations are definitely my downfalls. I’m pretty good at letting go of guilt and shame from my mistakes, but I get all hyped up about making changes and try to do too much too soon. And it totally works…for like a week. I’m really working on being more realistic.

    • Addison Cash Erin @ Gen Y Finances March 28, 2014 on 1:14 am

      Great points, Erin. Trying to make changes too quickly always seems to end in epic failure for me.

  • John @ Sprout Wealth March 28, 2014 on 1:43 pm

    I’ve dealt with this for years and it can be frustrating to no end at times. The ones which I see the most are #1 & #5. I’ve gotten better with the investing aspect by simply forcing myself to actively invest, but can be easy at times to fall back into. The best way I’ve found to get around it when struggling with it is to actively invest each month so it becomes standard. The struggle with #5 can be a biggie as well and is the one I likely struggle with the most actively.

    • Addison Cash John @ Sprout Wealth March 29, 2014 on 7:01 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience, John! I’ve been trying to force myself to invest each month, as well. Really digging your new site, by the way!

  • Dividend Mantra March 29, 2014 on 1:02 am


    Interesting take. I agree that perfectionism can indeed hamper your success, but I think striving to be the best version of yourself is worthwhile. I think the problem arises when you compare yourself to others, especially when these ideals are just unattainable and/or unrealistic.

    Best wishes!

    • Addison Cash Dividend Mantra March 29, 2014 on 6:55 pm

      Thanks for the encouragement, Jason. You make good points.

  • Daisy March 29, 2014 on 1:41 am

    I don’t think anybody could describe me as a perfectionist. I am too lazy to be a perfectionist in everything! I think that being careful and conscious of what you are doing and how you present yourself is important. But obsessing over how others perceive you, and being to hard on yourself is very damaging. I can’t be bothered!

    • Addison Cash Daisy March 29, 2014 on 6:56 pm

      Definitely, Daisy! You’re lucky to have this perspective.

  • Jeff @Project Ikonz March 29, 2014 on 1:26 pm

    That my friend is what you call a man with a dream. Driven by his Goal. Or its this perfectionist disease. Now i see myself in this article. Numbers 1, 2 and 3 got me. How to retire a millionaire when perfection is the one blocking my way to success?

    • Addison Cash Jeff @Project Ikonz March 29, 2014 on 6:57 pm

      I’m glad you were able to relate to this, Jeff. Once we identify what’s really happening, it’s easier to make changes.

  • Kay March 29, 2014 on 2:22 pm

    This does sound familiar Addison. I struggle with this trait myself, though not to the degree that you do. It’s interesting to tie this to finances. I have definitely procrastinated in the way that you mention, by not investing sooner because I felt I just didn’t know enough to get in. I still struggle with this, continuing to be more timid about investing than I should be. Excellent post.

    • Addison Cash Kay March 29, 2014 on 6:58 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Kay. Writing this post was a lot more beneficial for me than I expected. Identifying a challenge always makes it easier to deal with.

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life March 30, 2014 on 2:32 pm

    Yep, I have this problem. I’m either stressing about perfection and working like crazy or just procrastinating what I need to do- making the stress that much worse.

    • Addison Cash Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life March 30, 2014 on 5:20 pm

      Such a vicious cycle, Stefanie! I’m trying to learn how to be more mindful and avoid this.

  • Jon @ Money Smart Guides March 31, 2014 on 12:39 am

    With investing, you might also wait and wait for the perfect time to get in the market, trying to get the best price. As you wait, the price just keeps going up. You can’t time the market or control it. The best time to get invested into the market is now! Every day you wait is one less day of letting compound interest and time work their magic for you.

    • Addison Cash Jon @ Money Smart Guides March 31, 2014 on 3:51 pm

      Great points, Jon! I think it’s important to just do it.

  • Addison Cash March 31, 2014 on 3:52 pm

    Agreed, DC. Identifying the problem definitely makes it easier to work through. Thanks for sharing!

  • STEVEN J. FROMM, ATTORNEY, LL.M. (TAXATION) April 1, 2014 on 12:39 pm

    Yes, I suffer with this mental malady. I have been aware of this problem for myself and have tried to temper this OCD thinking and acting. It is not easy but as I get older it does get easier with a lot of hard work. Thanks for the reminders and the sources you mention to combat this affliction.

    • Addison Cash STEVEN J. FROMM, ATTORNEY, LL.M. (TAXATION) April 1, 2014 on 1:38 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Steven! I found those books helpful.

  • MakintheBacon April 1, 2014 on 10:08 pm

    Yep, I’m a perfectionist and have been for as long as I can remember. I think the few ways I’m not a perfectionist is when it comes to housework. Lol. Time and time again, my partner and close family have told me I am way too hard on myself and need to give myself more credit or relax. Which reminds me, I should take a Candy Crush break…HAHAHA!

    • Addison Cash MakintheBacon April 2, 2014 on 4:54 am

      Candy Crush helps, but I get so frustrated when I lose! And I refuse to pay for extra lives 😉

  • Link Love 4/11/14 « Everybody Loves Your Money April 11, 2014 on 4:16 am

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