No one can serve two masters


No one can serve two masters.

Coming across this adage the other day made me think how true it is. While it is surprisingly easy to want one thing and do another, this behaviour will eventually bring on negative consequences. Perhaps to one’s conscience, sanity, or sense of self. And certainly to one’s finances.

‘No one can serve two masters’ is helpfully defined by McGraw Hill as “Prov. You cannot work for two different people, organizations, or purposes in good faith, because you will end up favoring one over the other. (Biblical.) Al tried going to school and working, both full-time, but soon discovered that he could not serve two masters.

Think of your most pressing financial goal.  We’ll use the example of wanting to get out of debt.  Of course this is what we want!  In fact, we want nothing more – our debt can bring us stress, can prevent us from moving forward and can be tough on relationships.  And yet the spending patterns continue.  We are serving two masters: 1) wanting to be free from debt, and 2) spending how we’ve always spent.  These are two opposite forces that cannot be reconciled. Serving these two masters means makes us feel overwhelmed, defeated and hopeless.

We cannot change our impulse to spend.  It’s ingrained, and that’s okay.  And fortunately we have mechanisms at our disposal that can help.  That can create just enough space for us to make the decision that our tomorrow-self would want us to make.

So let’s keep it easy.  At your next spending decision, ask yourself:  Which master am I serving?  Am I:

1) Helping my financial goal

2) Hindering my financial goal

Help or Hinder.  That’s it.  And the answer might be #2 – that’s okay.  You’ll know that’s the master you chose to serve at that moment.  This is a subtle, but incredibly important step.  It’s like eating a late-night chocolate bar you don’t need. Saying “I am eating a chocolate bar that I don’t need” makes you own that decision.  It makes you responsible and aware.

I suppose the best of us can stay so focused as to resist opposing forces.  For the rest of us, choosing our desired master a little more often is an auspicious start.

Rich regards,


Morgan Ulmer PhotoInterested in personal finance?  Sign up for our newsletter here.