Give Yourself a Break Already!

Of all the things people say to me after they’ve read my books, seen me on television, or heard me give a speech, there is one comment I hear more than all the others put together:

“If only I had started saving when I was younger.”

SOMETIMES LIFE THROWS YOU A CURVE BALL. While some of you may blame yourselves for not having started saving or investing earlier, I also know that many of you are starting late not because you were shortsighted or lazy or irresponsible, but because life threw you a curve ball. I hear from people all the time who are starting late because of divorce, death, illness, disability, bankruptcy, poor career choices, lack of education—and on and on. Either way, it’s time to cut to the chase. What’s done is done. You can’t go back and fix the past.

THE PAST IS OVER. Oh, you say, if only I knew then what I know now, my whole life would be different. Of course it would. But guess what—you didn’t know. Or if you did, you didn’t do what you knew you needed to be doing.

So it’s done. Finished. Settled.
Sometimes life is unfair.
But that’s okay.
You can move on.
You can get over it.

Stop asking yourself why you didn’t do what you should have done. The real question is: what are you going to do about it now?

NO MORE SAYING, “IF ONLY”! For a long time now, you’ve been beating yourself up about what you haven’t done or should have done. Some of you have been beating yourselves up for your mistakes for decades. It’s unreal how tough we can be on ourselves.

We all do this. I’m no exception. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, “Oh, if only I hadn’t sold that house in Danville, California.” That house was the first house I ever owned. I bought it for $220,000 and sold it nearly five years later for $225,000. (Not exactly a Donald Trump real estate flip.) Today, that house is worth more than $700,000.

If only…

I could go on and on. But none of it matters. What matters is that with all the amazing mistakes I’ve made over the years, I still managed to become a multimillionaire. That’s because rather than looking back, I focus on going forward. And here’s the bottom line: if you are not yet as rich as you want to be, stop focusing on what you haven’t done and start focusing on what you want to do.

YOU CAN’T COULDA-WOULDA-SHOULDA YOURSELF TO WEALTH OR HAPPINESS. You know what I’m talking about. So stop “shoulda-ing” all over yourself. It’s messy and makes you unhappy. I know. I’ve been there.

Instead, decide today—right now—to let it go. We all make mistakes. I’ve made them. You’ve made them. Your parents and friends have made them. We are all human. Mistakes hurt. But let’s not waste one more ounce of your energy, spirit, or time thinking about them, because all that will accomplish is hold you back.

Keep this in mind: The past will continue to be your future if you drag it along with you!

THE FASTEST WAY TO LET IT GO. Here’s an exercise I recommend you do. If you really want to get over something you regret, the fastest way to do it is to acknowledge the regret—and then burn it up. Literally.

Here’s what you do.  Get yourself a blank sheet of paper and write down a list of as many of your personal if only’s as you can think of.

If only I had saved more money.
If only I hadn’t quit that job.
If only I hadn’t taken the job I have.
If only I’d had kids.
If only I’d not had kids
If only I had bet on the Yankees.
If only I hadn’t bet on the Red Sox.

I’m serious about this. Really go to town with it. Free flow. Let it all hang out. Be honest with yourself. You’ve been beating yourself up over this stuff for years, so you might as well as get it down on paper.

When you’re finished making your list…set fire to it! I’m serious. Light a match and BURN IT UP. Let all those damn if only’s turn into ashes.

Have a “Goodbye If Only’s party. Invite a friend over and do it together. Just make sure you burn your if only’s somewhere safe. We don’t want you setting fire to your house. If burning them seems too extreme, then just tear up your if only’s into little pieces and toss them in the garbage can.

YOU REALLY NEED TO GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK. The one thing I’ve learned from coaching so many people on their lives and money is that we are just too brutal on ourselves. And what do we do when we actually make some progress? We beat ourselves up for not doing everything perfectly.

It’s a fact that no one will ever be as tough on you as you are on yourself. So give yourself a break. Really. Please leave a comment below letting me know how you feel once you’ve freed yourself of your if onlys.


Live Rich,
David Bach





25 thoughts on “Give Yourself a Break Already!

  1. Give me a call when you get a chance
    Not sure if you remember my Alamo house that I sold for 25k more than I bought in 1992, them sold to my good buddy who sold it 4 years later for 700k more than he purchased from me.

    When are coming to see me in Mendocino? Or join my wine club…
    Gary Breen

  2. I absolutely realize this concept is true. Done. Yet key, highly effective accelerated wealth building strategies are needed for those of us that do not have youth on our side.Hope in such creative strategies helps us not re-write the burnt list

  3. I burned up my list, and the ashes are in the fireplace, regrets about my deceased parents, not saving, not investing, not buying when I had a huge salary. I love my little apt and don’t miss one item of the junk I’ve let go, so thank you for helping me get rid of some psychological junk too. :) )

  4. Hi David Bach,

    This really helped me. I have not done the exercise as yet but you made some great points that already has me feeling free. I have an internet show called Im Making It Happen and I would like to explore this topic on the show. I would love for you to be my guest on the show. Is that possible? Please email me. You can also find my page on I also have a website (coming soon). It can be found at www. Being hard on ourselves holds us back from making things happen everyday. Thinking that way blocks affects our mindset. Please let me know if you are willing to take a few moments for me to interview you.

    Nykole Tyson

  5. Thank you for this, David. It’s come at such a good time. This was a great exercise. And really, if you commit to doing it and setting your list on fire, or tearing it up, or putting it through a paper shredder as I did, you need to really commit to being done with those items and truly let the past go. Enough, you’re done. Move on. I just did it and it felt great.

    To add to it, after shredding my list, I wrote a new list of things TO do today, in the next hour, going forward in the future. Things like:
    Make yourself proud
    Go forward
    Be productive
    Remember how good it feels to finish/accomplish something – a good day of clean eating, a finished article (I write), an organized space in the home – and crave that feeling
    Do your best, everyday
    Imagine what you can do in the next 10 years, 5 years, what can you do/accomplish in the next year?
    Be the person you want to be around
    Do your own thing, and never question it
    Just to name a few…

    I became naturally inspired to create that “going forward” list once I got rid of all the past junk!

    Thanks for the inspiration today!


  6. Great article David. Too often, we let the what-if’s slow us down or allow them to hold us back from moving forward (and I’m speaking first handed on this!).

  7. I am passed that” if only” stage now that I have finally achieved a working budget with the income I make. I have at least erased my debts and I am trying very slowly to put some money away weekly (pay myself first). It is not a lot but it helps that I set a goal to achieve my emergency fund amount so it doesn’t hurt so much to put the money away to not spend now. Problem is I want to save more but my budget is so tight I can’t. I already trimmed all the non-essential costs. I can’t cut the rent unless I would like to live in an unsafe neighborhood where it is cheaper and then I would have other worries. I go without air conditioning using only fans to keep the utility bill down. I don’t drive anymore so I have to pay for a monthly bus pass which I don’t qualify for a half fare cost for another 4 years. (I am 61) And I make of list of what I need to buy in food and only buy sale items. I pack a lunch and brew my own coffee daily. I am prepared to have a tight budget but I am not prepared to not get my pensions or my Social Security after working over 50 years

  8. I made mistakes and started late. I don’t ahve any regrets now as I approach 6 figures along with two rental properties. It just takes the guts to say, “NOW is the Time”. If not now, when, after you get that new car, after you get new kitchen, I still have my grandparents kitchen set! It holds plates and the chairs still hold my bleep!

  9. Thank you for your comment.

    I’m starting to get over my failures and look at them as stepping stones.
    I just made 51, on the 4 of August and I have decided regardless where I’m at in life, I can start over. I’m still young and have the energy to have financial freedom, to teach my children and grandchildren now, while they are younger.

    Thank the Lord for you and other financial teachers, who wants to help, us to grow and be financially free.

    Brenda Lee

  10. I feel alot better now that those are all behind me and I now can see what I need to do to move forward.

  11. Thank you for this. I’m in the curveball category…four surgeries in the last five years, a stint in a nursing home, Home Health Care, spinal reconstruction, 2 years of physical therapy and rehab.

    I have followed your advice since the beginning. Smart Women Finish Rich was right beside my devotional books. At 59 years of age…none of these expenses is covered by medicare. I have excellent health insurance and had a large liquid savings account…

    Paying co-pays plus 20% of health expenses in excess of two million dollars takes half of my income after the best negotiating I could do.

    I’ve been discouraged…I’ve had the if only’s…

    Thank you for affirming that I can continue to take action…live life happily and with dignity below my means.

    Actions I have taken include: a re-fi of my home, suiting up and showing up each day at the gym, building a strong support network, filling my own cup, and a great deal of acceptance and attitude of gratitude. I can walk now–I was never given that hope. I can play with my grandchildren. I can have the medical bills deducted automatically so that I don’t perseverate over them. In two years, I will be medically debt free.

    It seems hard to start over when I felt I had everything in place…but life happens.

    You are so inspiring and incredible–I have every book, CD…have watched your interventions on Oprah.

    I’m grateful for your coaching…your calling…your inspiration.

    I can do this thing…I am picking up the pieces, filling my cup, caretaking my 91 year old mother, and by the grace of my Higher Power…making it come together.

    It is what we SAY we believe…it’s what we DO.

    Thank you David Bach. Live your blessing…your marriage…your calling.

    Thank you for showing up in my life.


  12. Even though we cognitively know we can’t go back…we humans waste energy on the “shoulda” and “if” stuff. It is a good reminder to not beat ourselves up about it and take this present moment and move on. I am thankful for the mind jogging so I can enthusiastically move forward with newfound knowledge and make the best of it. Thank you, David.

  13. I read a saying once that basically worrying and in essence “saying should have” is like sitting in a rocking chair. There is a considerable amount of energy spent rocking but it gets you no where. I am 56 year old business owner with a business being phased out by government aid supplied to a competing industry. I could have spent time in self pitty but instead I purchased a smaller business. I am not generating the same income but just had to relinquish myself to the fact that this is my life right now. I was lucky enough to have been a financial professional so saving was and still is a priority. I hopefully will be able to make the present business profitable enough to generate sufficient income to sustain my lifestyle until which time i retire. I am not alone but my major benefit is that being a business owner I was always used to waking up each day to determine how I was going to generate enough income that week to live. Many of my friends from a corporate enviroment are now unemployed and do not know how to go about generating income. They are looking for jobs that do not exist.

  14. Thanks for this timely reminder. I am at the threshold of an important life decision and was contemplating whether I should proceed. I read your message and it inspired me to keep pushing forward.

  15. Thanks for sharing your post Mike and thanks David for a genuine article. You are spot on with this… Let’s let all the COULDA-WOULDA-SHOULDA go. This is a great article to keep and reflect on in future if you find yourself stuck in the COULDA-WOULDA-SHOULDA again ….

  16. David, all I have to tell you is that , you are a gift from the almighty. I will get back with you to let you know all I have accomplished because of your inspirational directives. I will never be the same again and all is because of you. I also have more questions for you but what is the best way of getting to you David ?

  17. How did you know? : ) Hope you are well. Was talking about you today with someone. Only good. Now I have some paper to burn.

  18. Great article David It inspiredme much.It helped me a lot to come out of my past and start my life again forgetting all Coulda Woulda andShoulda worries of the past.I have made the list of my priorities to get on riight track which will enable me to get financial freedom in the coming two to three years .It was your book Start Late Finish Rich which made me to buy a house at this age of 58 years . I think it was a good decision instead of renting a house owning a house is much more comfortable

  19. You are so correct in what you shared–the “if onlys”, wouldas, shouldas, couldas, but didn’t. Since my husband died, I made too many poor financial decisions and now am seriously worried where I will be in six months let alone twenty years. Thank you for sharing your book which I will read and hope to learn enough from it to survive. I owe too much money, my home loan is upside down for the current market value, and the available employment opportunities are limited so I am working to develop my own business but those expenses have lead to greater credit card debt than I ever expected. I never thought that I would be in this position at this point in my life. Thanks again for your instructive thoughts.

  20. Be the change you want to see, I do I can do it. Just like riding a bike if you fall
    down you got to get back up and try again; sometimes it hurts but who said it was all going to be easy at 56 I have a few good years left