Excuses, Excuses

DSC02378 by mr.l on Flickr!When you’re entrenched in a large pattern of bad habits and you’re challenged to escape those habits, it’s very easy to fall back on an excuse of some kind to “explain away” and justify your poor choices.

I know this from experience. I used many excuses to continue my poor spending habits and I still use them sometimes to talk myself out of exercise or other tasks that I know I need to do.

Excuses are the epitome of failure. Every time you come up with a weak or unjustifiable reason for not doing something you know you should be doing, you’re choosing failure over success. You’re choosing to be broke instead of financial healthiness.

Here are eight common excuses that people use – and I used many of them myself – to avoid taking charge of their money, and some thoughts on why each one is nothing more than a crutch used to avoid actually taking charge of one’s situation.

I was born poor.
I was born poor, too. I grew up in a house where the walls of the stairwell were falling in and eventually were covered up with plywood sheets. There were many times where supper came from what we caught or what we picked from the garden that day.

I carried that concept into adulthood, believing that there was no real need to plan for the long term future because I could quite easily return to those “born poor” roots if I needed to. So I spent. And spent. And spent.

What I was spending wasn’t just fun money, but it was protection against ever having to return to poverty. Instead of spending wildly on fun things, if I had merely paid off all my debts, socked money into retirement, and spent less than I earned, I would have lived a very happy and comfortable life while also creating some protection against ever having to return to a low income level.

Spending money under the badge of having been born poor ensures just one thing: you’re walking a tightrope that, if you slip just a bit, will take you right back to that situation you worked hard to escape from.

You only live once / you’re only young once.
This excuse is absolutely correct, but it’s often used to excuse frivolous behavior when it actually should teach the opposite lesson.

You’re only young once, right? Well, let’s say Carl is 22 and he has a choice over the next eight years to put $1,000 away in his retirement account at an 8% annual return. He does that, but when he’s 30, he gets married and has kids, so he stops saving. Alexandra, on the other hand, spends her twenties blowing that extra $1,000 – she’s only young once, right? But then, at age 30, she realizes the mistake she’s made and starts saving $1,000 a year.

At age 50, Carl has only put away $8,000 of his own money, while Alexandra has put away $20,000 of her own money. But guess what their account balances are? Carl has $61,808.09 in the bank, while Alexandra only has $51,160.12 in the bank.

That’s right – Carl put away $12,000 less than Alexandra and has $10,000 more than Alexandra at age 50. The difference? Carl did it when he was young.

You’re absolutely right – you’re only young once. Don’t waste it.

The lenders tricked me.
You made a mistake signing up for a loan you couldn’t really afford – and now you’re stuck. You’re facing payments bigger than you can handle and things seem scary.

You have two choices here. You can either stick your fingers in your ears and go “lalalalalala…” using your situation as an excuse for poor behavior or you can face your problems and try to fix them.

Call up your lender. See what you can negotiate. Look into owning less expensive vehicles. Sell off some of your extra stuff. Look for a second job. Try to sell your property and go with something cheaper, even if you have to take a loss.

You have options. Ignoring those options and using the situation as an excuse to spend does nothing more than dig the hole deeper.

I have no idea how to manage money.
I can’t do math. I don’t understand investing. I don’t know how to balance a checkbook. So I just won’t do any of it and hope things turn out well.

Ignorance is fine – it’s something that can be fixed. If you don’t know something but are open to learning it, you can find books and help for learning almost anything. Hit your local library and check out some books on the subject. Look for classes offered in the community on these topics. Search the internet for assistance (especially The Simple Dollar, using that handy-dandy search form on the upper right of each page). You can even ask smart people you know for help.

What’s not fine is choosing to be ignorant. No one knows everything – what separates those that succeed from those that fail is whether or not you seek out answers for the questions you have and seek out help for the things you don’t know how to do.

I work hard and I deserve some reward for it.
This is a crutch I used all the time. Books, CDs, DVDs, video games, golf equipment, expensive trips – all of these were my “reward” for my hard work. And I deserved it, right? I worked my tail off and that should mean I get to taste the good life.

There’s a few big problems with that, though. My desire to have the “good life” often meant that I didn’t have adequate time to actually fully enjoy the elements of that good life. DVDs would sit unwatched (or only watched once). CDs would sit unheard. Video games unplayed. Books unread. Golf equipment in storage for months. Trips hastily planned and not fully enjoyed.

Sure, I lived the “high life” with all the stuff I wanted, but I didn’t actually get to enjoy a lot of it.

Here’s a simple antidote to this crutch: scale back a little on what you’re spending. Instead of shopping for more things, spend some time enjoying the things you already have. Master that video game instead of buying a new one. Watch the DVD, then watch it again with the director’s commentary, and dig through the special features before buying a new one. Wear a new item of clothing a few times before adding another to your wardrobe. In short, thoroughly enjoy those things that you’re purchasing.

God will protect me.
Many people have a deep faith through which they find answers to many of their deepest questions. Some people, though, come to rely on this faith for everything, acquiring a deep belief that they will always be protected from everything because of their faith.

Most faiths agree, however, that one of the gifts God has given us is that of free will. We have the power to make choices for ourselves – we are not automatons.

God has already protected you. God has given you every single tool you need to protect yourself. You have the free will to choose whether or not to use them.

I’m so far behind that there’s really no hope.
Undoubtedly, there are some financial situations that are simply disastrous, without any easily clear road out of the hole. It’s understandable how such situations can lead one to despair and a sense of hopelessness, and from that an adoption of dangerous behaviors and habits.

However, the truth is that no situation is hopeless. There is no situation that you can’t fix with proper focus and appropriate assistance from others. Perhaps bankruptcy is the right situation for you – contact a bankruptcy lawyer. Maybe the situation isn’t as bad as you think and can be solved through careful diligence and a strong plan.

The first step here is to talk to someone about it. Reveal everything and ask for their help in getting out of the situation. A true friend – someone you really trust – can be a lifeline in this situation.

But it is not hopeless. It is never hopeless.

I don’t make enough money to make ends meet.
A final excuse that people use to keep themselves from taking action is the excuse that they don’t earn enough to make ends meet. They’ve cut away everything and it still seems impossible. A low income is certainly a big obstacle to overcome – and the solution to it is obvious. Earn more. Look for a higher-paying job. Start a side business. Do something to earn more income.

Many people will then claim that they don’t have the skills or knowledge to do that. Well, if that’s the case, what’s keeping you from building those skills? Take some evening classes. Teach yourself as much as you can. Be an attentive and serious student. You can learn the skills you need to succeed at a higher level.

Don’t let excuses tell you what you can and can’t do. “Rules” like those are made to be broken.

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39 thoughts on “Excuses, Excuses

  1. Excellent post, Trent. Very timely. I think you covered every lame excuse thoroughly. What I especially like is that you provide a simple solution for people to get out from under each of these cop-outs. Well done.

  2. Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy says:

    Wonderful article! I’m tired of hearing my friends blame everything under the sun for their problems. Politicians have been an easy scapegoat lately, but politicians didn’t force anyone to live beyond their means, get deep into credit, or buy houses they couldn’t afford. Also, a personal pet peve of mine is when people say their lives are in gods hands. Gods hands are not moving us around like chess peices on a chess board, we decide our own destiny.

  3. Joe King says:

    I, like you, have used these excuses in the past. The “reward mentality” was a big one for me. There are many close to me that still live by these excuses, regardless how many times I try to explain it.

    I think I’ll be keeping a couple prints of this handy…just for them.

    Great post.

  4. Lise says:

    Hmmm. On “The lenders tricked me”: On the whole I do believe that lenders DID trick people. But it’s hard for me to express that I still think there’s some level of responsibility to the borrower in that situation.

    It’s like… you’re not to *blame*, but now you are legally responsible. Once you become aware of that situation, it’s unconscionable (is that a word?) to not take steps to remedy it.

    However, I genuinely believe most people will not stand behind “the lenders did it” and will try to remedy the situation.

    A blog I love on this topic (not mine), is Dawn’s Fighting Foreclosure at http://gettingninehundred.blogspot.com/

    … and man, soon Dawn is going to think I’m like her scary Kathy Bates-stalker fangirl.

  5. Aya @ thrive says:

    I agree with many of your points, and the “I don’t know how to manage money” stuck out. Some people are just uninformed or they never had the chance to learn. These days there are so many free money managing sites and programs out there that people should be taking advantage of. With the internet, there is no excuse for not knowing something!

  6. liv says:

    I kinda tire of hearing you say that we never use the “rewards” we worked so hard to get. Not to say that you should buy everything under the sun, but what if you get your dvd from the $5 bin and you watch it 1-100 times? i know i do that and do i not deserve it for working all week and wanting to get something that i want? my video games w/ storylines might get played once, but i’ve done so much entertaining w/ my wii and those games, that it was totally worth the money to get it. i’ve enjoyed it all the time.

    Just keep your rewards to a minimum (no more than $10 a week total or every other week or something reasonable). I save, but that doesn’t mean I really cannot reward yourself just a LITTLE.

  7. J says:

    Good article. It’s really annoying when the “You only live once” excuse is thrown to avoid doing a chore like laundry, cleaning or other housework. Sure, I’d much rather do something else, but I do require clean clothes to maintain a professional appearance for work, the bathroom doesn’t clean itself, and neither do pots or floors. It just shifts the responsibility to someone else or makes the job take longer.

  8. kz says:

    Now, I don’t want to offend or start any sort of firestorm, but I’m curious – has anyone else noticed a subtle shift in the tone around here? While this article, and those of the last week or two, are certainly well-written, they seem to have a slightly darker, or harsher undertone. It’s nothing I can specifically point to in any of the articles, just a general feeling I get. And maybe it’s just me, which is why I ask if anyone else has noticed the same thing. As a fairly optimistic person, I tend to respond better to articles of the more hopeful and positive variety and they seem more scarce these days, which saddens me.
    Any thoughts?

  9. Shellie says:

    I actually needed this today. I fall into two of the categories you have listed – the I don’t make enough money, and the I deserve some sort of reward. So many times I see that we aren’t going to make the bills anyway, and my weakeness is not having to prepare food. I am not talking about eating out, just prepared foods from the grocery store, or a stop at a fast food resturant drive through. I guess that could be considered eating out, but I justify it. I shouldn’t do it, but I do. I need to make a commitment to prepare all meals at home, as we cannot afford the extra expense. As for the making money problem, we are working on it, but in this economy, it’s hard to find a job let alone another one! We are lucky my hubby has a job at all, but we are actively looking for a better one for him.
    Another thing is I think people are afraid of change, whether positive or negative. Changing their habits, even if it will help their situation, is hard and will be resisted. Just my 2 cents.
    Shellie

  10. Johanna says:

    @liv: I don’t think Trent’s saying “you should never reward yourself.” He’s saying “If you buy too many ‘rewards’ it can screw up your financial situation AND detract from your enjoyment of those rewards, so if you find yourself doing that, you should try scaling back and only rewarding yourself with things you truly enjoy.” With that, I agree. And it sounds like probably you do too.

  11. Bernardo says:

    Re: “God will protect me”.

    You see, there was this guy in a flood. The water had flooded the first floor, and he was on the second floor praying “St. Peter, St. Peter, save me from this flood”. A boat comes by, urging him to jump onboard. He says “Go away, St. Peter will save me”. The boat goes away.

    The water keeps rising, and the guy is now on the roof, the second floor completely flooded. Another boat comes by, and he sends them away saying “Don’t worry about me, I know St. Peter will save me!”.

    The water now covers the whole house, and the guy is still praying, trying to stay afloat when a chopper flies by, dropping him a rope. “Thank you, but St. Peter will save me!”. The helicopter goes away.

    Eventually the guy drowns. He shows up at St. Peter’s and he says angrily “I prayed and prayed to you, but you did nothing to save me!”.

    St. Peter responds: “What are you talking about? I sent you two boats and an helicopter!”

    God will protect you. But you have to do your own.

  12. On the rewarding topic…I look at it like this. If buying yourself a “reward” is going to push you farther along on the path to financial ruin, it’s not really a reward at all. It’s more like a punishment then.

    If you have no debt and money in the bank and you want to buy something fun every now and again, that’s entirely different. It seems, though, that a lot of people reward themselves when they really can’t afford it.

  13. Donny Gamble says:

    I can’t stand people who have excuses for everything. They are always complaining about stuff when some of the stuff that they complain about is their own fault.

  14. One of the things I hear is that people say that they ‘worked hard for their money’ and therefore can do what they like with it.

    I see the opposite. I work hard for my money, therefore I try as hard as possible to keep as much of it as I can. That just makes more sense to me. I tell them that they should just start saving a little bit at a time and see where it takes them.

    Usually they come back to me with positive stories but not all the time. Many people just like to spend whatever it is they earn.

  15. Kevin says:

    kz – #5 comment – Trent mentioned something late last week about a personal disappointment, so that could be the reason for what you’re reading in to the blog. That being said, I can’t say I’ve noticed anything different.

  16. Lauren says:

    I don’t know about You’re Only Young Once really being an excuse. I think a read a Freakonomics article in the NYTimes about an econ professor advising someone not to save too much while they’re young. I fit the profile of the Carl guy. I worked hard in my 20s and I packed my retirement savings accounts. I worked hard, saved hard, and I lost 15k in my portfolio in the last two months and really regret not taking more time off to travel and do the things I love. I think there’s something to be said about balance and not putting off important desires until you reach some sort of perfectly comfortable stage in life.

  17. michelle says:

    Generally i would agree with you about the earlier you start investing the better, except that is not the case right now. I started my Roth 2 years ago at age 23,making monthly contributions to the maximum, while my fiance has yet to start his at age 32. I’ve already figured out that he can start right now with $5,000 and have almost what I have in mine after 2 years worth of contributions. Kinda makes me wish I had not opened the account when I did and started now instead.

  18. Jenzer says:

    Here’s another common excuse: “I’ll look stupid,” as in, “I’ll look stupid if I change my behavior to save money.” Translation: “I’m so concerned about the thoughts/opinions of other people that I’ll prioritize their opinions over my well-being.”

    “I’ll look stupid if I bring my lunch to work when everyone else is going out.”

    “I’ll look stupid if I’m only drinking water at happy hour when my friends are all drinking alcohol.”

    Variation: “I don’t want to be the only one …” Wasn’t it here on TSD that someone reported a mom as saying, “I don’t want to be the only mother who doesn’t do goody bags at birthday parties”?

    Fear of the negative judgment of others is a HUGE factor in many people’s decisions to change / not change their behavior. And, for what it’s worth, when PF bloggers like Ramit call frugality tips “retarded,” I can understand why some would be reluctant to adopt behaviors that will save them money. But fearing others’ opinions is still an excuse for inaction.

  19. plonkee says:

    Feeling that things are hopeless is a warning sign to me. If someone genuinely feels that way, then I’d suggest that at the very least they need to unburden and talk to a close and trusted friend. I know absolutely nothing about it, but I’d have to guess that it could be indicative of depression, or tending that way.

  20. Karen says:

    Wow! I have actually heard a variation of every one of these points from my husband’s ex-wife regarding why she’s poor and we’re ‘rich’. I think I’ll see if I can send it her way without her knowing it came from me (she wouldn’t read it if she knew I wanted her to). Not that I expect anything to change, but maybe it will help her anyway…..

  21. Johnny H says:

    Good article.Very much reminds me of Napoleon Hill’s 30 reasons for failure.

    Trent, if you haven’t read Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich”, I think you would truly enjoy it. For me it was the most influential book I ever stumbled upon.

  22. Griffin says:

    I can’t stand it when people use the “born poor” excuse for bad choices, because I was born poor. In fact, I was born much poorer than every person who has made that comment in front of me.

    You can’t use your past to justify your future. Plenty of people make themselves a success after being born in abject poverty, and plenty of people born wealthy become poor through bad decisions of their own.

    Bottom line is that you make your own success — if you are driven to succeed you will make it.

  23. SAB says:

    KZ- I think you’re right! Trent is turning into a Debby Downer! Come on, Trent! The tone of the writing lately is a little negative. Let’s focus on all your good ideas about doing it yourself, free fun, time management and adding up the savings. I love that stuff!

  24. Michael says:

    Looks like “deep” joins “incredible” and the other over-used words on TSD.

  25. Jeremy Day says:

    Hi Trent,

    Talk about a slap in the face. This is a wake up call a lot of people need to hear. Being the logical guy I am I really liked the “invest while young” point. It is so true. I am 28 and just now starting to save. I know Im starting before a lot of people, but I do wish I started younger. Thanks for the great article. Ill be linking to it.

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

  26. tinybird says:

    While you may not agree with all of Trent’s points, they all come down to one simple truth. Your situation in life is largely determined by your outlook and actions. And even if your situation isn’t any of your doing, your reaction can make all the difference.

  27. Chapter Two:

    Carl wakes up on his 50′th birthday, and realizes he is not getting any younger and wants to start living his life. In a rapid succession of events, he divorces his wife (who takes the house & the car), and spends the weekend in Vegas to celebrate his new found freedom, where he drops $20K on gambling and showgirls, and upon his return empties out the rest of his 401(k) to put a down payment on a convertible sports car, which he hopes will help him realize the youth which he spent toiling away in the office.

    Alexandra fell in love with Europe during the backpacking trips which she scrimped and saved for during her 20′s. After she completes her MBA she permanently relocates to France, just as the local economy really starts to zoom. At 35, she meets her soul mate, a renowned chef from Sweden, and they get married and together start a restaurant. By 50, they have expanded to twelve locations, and have largely delegated the day to day to work to a management team. They work only a few hours per week, and spend the summers traveling around the continent, and the winters doing volunteer work in South America.

    Frugal Bachelor: knows too many real-life Carl’s, and not enough Alexandra’s

  28. Marc says:

    I think the beginning of it all comes to the excuse “it’s not that bad” or “I can handle it.” At what point do you NEED to realize that you have to change your behavior? At what point is it absolutely necessary to have your financial epiphany, whether you want to or not? When your debt is a certain percentage of your income? When you’re x months behind on loan payments?

  29. MM says:

    Hi Trent,

    The excuse “God will protect me” did ring a bell for me… I know this person that does not save because his father told him that “Look at the birds which fly in the air, they do not store up in barns, but your Heavenly Father feeds them, are not you of much greater value than they?”

    What should I tell this person to encourage him to save? That we human are not like “birds”?

    Thanks.

  30. Amateur says:

    Mix in apathy and money issues and it’s a big pot about to boil over. People just need to seek out balance and use some self control. It’s easier to plan out short term goals when financial affairs are in order. On the other hand, when financial affairs are in disarray, there is very little room to plan anything at all – which would make most relationships downright depressing. Books, DVDs, games, those items could be had at steep discounts used or during massive holiday sales, no sense in paying full price at the spur of the moment to own them. It’s easier to save cash when you know you’re going to get whatever you wanted at some point, just not exactly the very moment you decided you wanted it.

  31. md says:

    The best quote i have ever heard on this subject is, “Losers make excuses, winners make it happend.” The more i think about it the more i realize it is true. There are so many excuses out there that I’m sure everyone can think of one. I pay for my own University tuition, an excuse that many of my friends have used to not attend University

  32. WTF? says:

    Re: I don’t make enough money to make ends meet.

    Earn more? I have no marketable skills and I’ve been out of work for a year. Even the day labor people have no work for me – I sit around their offices with a bunch of other guys waiting for nonexistent work.

    Take classes? I have no money and cannot get financial aid.

    Start a business? I’d love to start a B2B service business and can’t even come up with a few hundred dollars to get started.

    A final excuse that people use to keep themselves from taking action is the excuse that they don’t earn enough to make ends meet. They’ve cut away everything and it still seems impossible. A low income is certainly a big obstacle to overcome – and the solution to it is obvious. Earn more. Look for a higher-paying job. Start a side business. Do something to earn more income.

    Many people will then claim that they don’t have the skills or knowledge to do that. Well, if that’s the case, what’s keeping you from building those skills? Take some evening classes. Teach yourself as much as you can. Be an attentive and serious student. You can learn the skills you need to succeed at a higher level.

  33. skeptic says:

    Re: I don’t make enough money to make ends meet.

    Earn more? I have no marketable skills and I’ve been out of work for a year. Even the day labor people have no work for me – I sit around their offices with a bunch of other guys waiting for nonexistent work.

    Take classes? I have no money and cannot get financial aid.

    Start a business? I’d love to start a B2B service business and can’t even come up with a few hundred dollars to get started.

    A final excuse that people use to keep themselves from taking action is the excuse that they don’t earn enough to make ends meet. They’ve cut away everything and it still seems impossible. A low income is certainly a big obstacle to overcome – and the solution to it is obvious. Earn more. Look for a higher-paying job. Start a side business. Do something to earn more income.

    Many people will then claim that they don’t have the skills or knowledge to do that. Well, if that’s the case, what’s keeping you from building those skills? Take some evening classes. Teach yourself as much as you can. Be an attentive and serious student. You can learn the skills you need to succeed at a higher level.
    WTF? @ 9:13 am November 8th, 2008 (comment #23)

  34. turning it around says:

    I agree. This is why welfare doesn’t (and never will) work. A great example is my grandfather. He came from nothing; in fact, right out of high school as a newlywed he went straight to work for his dad’s diesel repair shop. My mom, my grandmother, and him lived in a run-down trailer behind the shop for years where my grandfather worked 16 hour days and they saved every penny.

    From his savings he was able to start a trucking business during the oil boom of the late 1970′s – early 1980′s. By the mid-eighties he was able to sell most of the business before the local oil business died down and found himself a millionaire a few times over. From there he went on to become a powerhouse in Texas politics, an oil/gas investor, and a cattle rancher.

    I’ve often asked his advice and it’s been pretty simple. He often said that the reason he worked so hard wasn’t for him; it was so his family never had to want for anything. But the best piece of advice?

    “It’s not hard to make money. The real challenge is keeping money.”

  35. Anjanette says:

    Trent, thank you. I lead a class/discussion on Sundays with the homeless people who are going through our 90 day transitional living program and when I don’t have material already lined up, I come here for inspiration. We don’t always talk about finances since they have budget counselors helping them who do an excellent job, but sometimes the things they are learning can stand to be reinforced by a third party and this list is going to frame our discussion tonight very nicely. :)

  36. resonanteye says:

    Take evening classes? With what money, again?
    I’ve been in that making-ends-meet survival mode, and “take evening classes” was something I heard a lot- sadly, though, classes cost money.

  37. Joshua says:

    When I was younger I would also use the excuse of: Well, it’s just me that I have to take care of “, not thinking about my future self or family. Thankfully, after some REALLY STUPID financial manuevers and some excellent books on the subject of money and faith, I began to realize that there was more to life than “just me.”

  38. kendra hawley says:

    “The Lenders Tricked Me” is an excuse? So lenders are perfect and they don’t lie to or trick consumers? Whatever happened to “consumer rights”?Where’s “the customer’s always right?” How dare you imply that the lenders are perfectly honest people and the consumer is always at fault! What crap!

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