A few weeks ago, I put out a call on Twitter and on Facebook for detailed posts that people would like to see. I got enough great responses that I’m going to fill the entire month of July – one post per day – addressing these ideas.
Edward on Facebook asks “How about a small list of justifications and excuses people make for not getting their finances in order or for buying crap they don’t need?”
I started just making a list of the common ones I hear and came up with a fairly round number of twelve (after merging the ones that were essentially the same). You’d be surprised how often I see these excuses right in the emails of people looking for personal finance help!
“I have too many other important things to worry about in my life right now.”
Great, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to ignore your personal finances. Quite often, people mention this as a reason to not cut one drop of their spending, which is strange because many spending cuts often save time.
When I stopped visiting my favorite bookstore twice a week, not only did I start spending less, I found myself with more time to actually enjoy things in my life. If you have so many important things in your life that you can’t worry about your basic finances, then you have another problem beyond your finances: a time management problem.
“Money is too hard and I’ll never understand it.”
Take it slow. Learn in bite-sized chunks. No one ever said you have to learn everything today. Start off with what you know. Ask one question about it that you don’t know the answer to and would like to know, then learn about it. If you’re confused, back down to basic meanings and information.
It’s really no different than learning about any new topic. Ask questions, find answers to those questions, and ask more questions at your own pace. You don’t have to learn everything in one gulp, and almost everyone can learn about any topic if they learn at their own pace in chunks small enough for them to mentally digest.
“The communists/Republicans/Democrats are trying to destroy the U.S. dollar.”
Global conspiracy theories are not a good reaon to completely ignore your finances. I’ve actually had multiple readers write to me stating that they’re just racking up debt like there’s no tomorrow because the collapse of such banks is inevitable due to inflation.
Let me make it very clear: your explanation for ignoring your current finances should not involve Woodrow Wilson. If it does, you need to turn off the radio for a while and get reconnected with the reality of what’s going on in your life.
“You never know what will happen tomorrow, so you need to live it up today!”
And then you wake up tomorrow to find that you have a child, live in a tiny apartment, and have so much debt that you can’t pay your monthly bills. That’s exactly what happened to me.
It’s easy to delude yourself into thinking tomorrow has no consequence, but the truth is that if you follow that philosophy, you fill tomorrow with restricted options and misery. If you overspend today, you’re only really making tomorrow miserable, which is a really bad option if your overspending today is for things you don’t really need.
“Don’t tell me what to do with my money, you busybody!”
When you read personal finance advice and feel as though your privacy is somehow being invaded, it’s not. It usually actually means that the advice is hitting a nerve in your life and instead of being angry and rejecting it, you should appreciate it and use it to evaluate that portion of your life.
Unless someone is directly speaking to you about your specific problems, they’re not being a busybody. Instead, they’re relating tactics that work in general or, at the very least, work for them. If you’ve provided information to that person asking for advice and they’re giving you advice based on the information you’ve given them, they’re not being a busybody, either. They’re doing exactly what you asked, even though you’re not liking what they’re saying.
“The advice given does not perfectly match every aspect of my life, so it must be useless.”
No advice is going to perfectly match every aspect of your life unless you hire someone to tell your complete life’s story to and give deep exposure to your personality to over a long period of time. Your spouse might not even be able to give you perfect advice on a situation.
Thus, if you’re in this boat, you must believe that all advice is useless, which makes me wonder why you would ever seek any form of advice on anything.
“Frugality is boring. I need some excitement!”
There are plenty of exciting and interesting things to do for free or for little money. The challenge is that most people are so attuned to being consumers that not being a consumer feels boring to them.
If you feel bored without spending money, you need to ask yourself whether it’s the activities you enjoy or whether it’s a psychological addiction to the act of spending and acquiring. For many people (myself included), spending can be a psychological addiction, and denial is a powerful response to threats to that addiction. Since frugality is a threat to reckless spending, denial is a perfectly reasonable response to a psychological addiction to such spending.
“How am I supposed to get my money in order when all my friends spend like maniacs?”
The problem here is with your social circle, not with personal finance advice. If you choose to keep running with these people, you choose to also spend beyond your means.
Get some control over yourself. Evaluate those relationships and ask if they’re really adding a net positive to your life. If you’re drowning in debt and they’re pulling you even deeper, they’re most likely not a net positive in your life. This means it may be time to reboot your social circle. Any time your friends are dragging you into a dangerous place, it’s time to look for new friends.
“The debt I’m in is just too big to think about.”
This is denial in the classic sense. They’re fully aware of the problem, they just choose not to think about it. The end result of this is not a magical resolution to the problem. In fact, it’s just an assurance that things are going to get still worse.
If you feel like you can’t get your hands around the problem, you need to change now. If you need help, ask for it from friends or family or in the Reader Mailbag columns here at The Simple Dollar.
“Oh, my spouse takes care of that. I just spend.”
Having someone else handling the day-to-day money management for you is not an excuse to not understand your family’s financial state. In fact, if you’re trusting that day-to-day management to someone else, you absolutely should be on some sort of “allowance” so that you’re not wrecking your family’s finances with your spending choices.
Be informed. Have some money meetings with your spouse so you understand where your family is at and where your family is headed. Talk about goals and understand how challenging they are to get there and how your spending is actually affecting those goals. You don’t have to understand numbers to understand these things.
“I don’t know where it all goes! I just look and my bank account is empty! It’s not my fault!”
Pleading ignorance is not an excuse for having no control over your money. You have bank statements, credit card statements, PayPal statements, and other sources to tell you exactly where every single dime of your spending goes. Sit down with these and they’ll tell you exactly where your money goes.
Often, this excuse means that you don’t want to know where your money goes and that if you don’t know, you don’t have to take responsibility for it. Buying into that mindset guarantees a never-ending financial disaster for the rest of your life and, the longer you stick with it, the longer it’ll take to dig out of your hole if you ever do decide to face it. The sooner you get in control, the sooner you’ll be out of the danger zone.
“I’ve already cut my spending to the bone! You want me to cut HBO and my gym membership and my unlimited data plan, too?”
Often, people cut one minor thing in their life and convince themselves that they’ve cut an extraordinary amount. They reduce their Netflix account and it’s the end of the world and evidence that cutting spending is impossible.
Nonsense. People trim and eliminate bills all the time. Go without cable. Go without a cell phone. Downsize your house (or other living quarters). It’s not the end of the world to make a change in one area of your life in order to improve other areas of your life. People do it all the time. I certainly have.