Updated on 07.10.11

Twelve Excuses

Trent Hamm

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.

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  1. Johanna says:

    It’s hard to comment on any of these, since it’s impossible to know how much Trent has paraphrased them from their original forms.

    But yes, I’m pretty sure I would be surprised at how often people say “Don’t tell me what to do with my money, you busybody!” in the same email in which they ask for personal finance help. Unless, of course, the answer is “never.”

  2. Tracy says:

    ““Don’t tell me what to do with my money, you busybody!”” isn’t an excuse, it’s a rejection. It’s not somebody saying why they can’t do something (an excuse) but telling you it’s none of your business what they do or don’t do.

    Although, I agree with Johanna’s second paragraph that it’s probably not ever going to happen in the situation that somebody’s asked you for advice … unless it’s related to something they didn’t ask advice about!

  3. valleycat1 says:


    ‘I deserve to spend money on this because ….’

    And for either case: ‘it’s not me, it’s my significant other.’

  4. krantcents says:

    Excuses are just a way to not take responsibility. I learned a long time a go, there are only three appropriate answers. Yes sir, no sir and no excuse sir!

  5. Also add:
    I work hard at my job I deserve to treat myself.

  6. Adam P says:

    I have recently heard “I don’t want to deprive myself today so I can spend when I’m old!” from someone saving way too little for retirement (2%). I managed to convince them that 6% + the match was the way to go. But it was tough!

    And @#5 Savvy Gal – that is a great one I hear a lot too!!!

  7. MoneyNing says:

    Here’s another one…

    “It’s too late to save enough for retirement so I might as well not start!”

  8. Tom says:

    wow 7 comments in and no one’s called you a communist/republican/democrat yet, Trent. The Woodrow Wilson comment made me laugh.

  9. lurker carl says:

    Many people have the same mindset when it comes to weight loss, career advancement and other long range goals that require some difficult changes in current behavior with little to no short term gratifications. These are the same folks who argue after asking for advice.

  10. Jamboree says:

    “The challenge is that most people are so attuned to being consumers that not being a consumer feels boring to them.”
    This is very true. Being frugal, like any shift in life, takes a bit of time and definitely takes steady effort. Not everyone has an epiphany about money, but most regular readers here have probably have made steady shifts over time, training themselves to not be consumers at any/every opportunity. Overcoming these excuses is a daily exercise until the muscles are built up!

  11. Mister E says:

    I have to admit the Woodrow Wilson line made me chuckle aloud.

    And #5 hit it on the head as by far as the most common excuse that I hear out of indebted people (tied, I suppose, with “I’m just too busy to [make a frugal choice even if the time investment is negligible]”.)

  12. LMN says:

    “Let me make it very clear: your explanation for ignoring your current finances should not involve Woodrow Wilson”. . .
    One of the FUNNIEST but TRUEST things I’ve read in a long, long time… Trent, I didn’t know you had this side to you… you’re a comedian in disguise!!! I have not laughed out loud in a long time.
    Going to be chuckling all day on this one. I’ll probably steal this line, too. Thanks for brightening what has been an exceptionally grim week for me.

  13. Tanya says:

    When it comes to feeling overwhelmed about debt, I’d add this – find a reputable credit counseling agencies. Their services cost very little and can change your life. I work for such an agency now and simply working here and learning a lot has greatly improved the way I approach money now!

  14. WhiteCedar says:

    “…But yes, I’m pretty sure I would be surprised at how often people say “Don’t tell me what to do with my money, you busybody!” in the same email in which they ask for personal finance help.”

    This happens all to frequently, in fact. The conversation goes like this:

    Brother:”My car just blew up and it’ll take $500 to have it repaired! Without my car, I can’t get to work. What am I going to do?”

    Sister: “Maybe now isn’t the best time to upgrade your iPad to the latest iPad2.”

    Brother: “Don’t tell me what to do with my money, you busybody! How can I live without my iPad2?”

    Brother: “My life is ruined! You always seem to be able to handle these financial crises. How do you do it?”

    Sister: “This is a perfect time to use that emergency fund we’ve been talking about for a year. You’ve been slowly building that fund all this time, right? Right!?”

    Brother: “Don’t tell me what to do with my money, you busybody! We all can’t be perfect.”

    The problem is that some people disconnect the financial choices they make everyday with the financial difficulties that they eventually find themselves in.

  15. Johanna says:

    @WhiteCedar: The problem may also be that “should have” is not advice. In both the situations you describe (assuming that the brother has already bought the iPad2), the sister’s “advice” is to tell the brother what he should have done in the past. In other words, “Your problem is all your fault and there’s nothing you can do about it now.” That’s not helpful, and I’m not surprised that it puts the brother on the defensive.

  16. BonzoGal says:

    @Johanna: You seem to be the one who is assuming things here. If the sister says “Maybe now isn’t the best time to…” I read that as “Hey brother, you are have not yet done, but are about to do, this thing that will hurt your finances.”

    You’re also assuming that Trent never hears the busybody comment- that’s funny, because I’ve read it right here in comments. People pop up and say “You need to stop nagging us” and “You need to keep your holier-than-thou advice to yourself.”

  17. Johanna says:

    @BonzoGal: OK, let’s go with your interpretation of the story. Brother has $500 in hand and is all set to buy his new iPad2 to replace his iPad1, when his car dies and needs $500 worth of repairs immediately.

    Now, before we even get to Sister, am I really supposed to believe that Brother isn’t going to realize for himself that he can postpone the iPad2 purchase and use that $500 for the car repairs? Maybe it’s because I interact mostly with people of above-average intelligence, but I have a lot of trouble believing that anybody is really that stupid.

    But suppose he is, and suppose that Sister gently and politely points out to him that he has $500, you know, right there, that he could use to pay for the car repairs. Are there really so many people who, faced with two immediate uses for the same $500, would argue back that the iPad purchase is the more important? I’d be really surprised if there were.

    I can, however, imagine a slightly tweaked version of WhiteCedar’s story going something like this:

    Brother: Oh, crud. I was really looking forward to getting an iPad2, but my car just died, and now I have to spend $500 on repairs instead.

    Sister: What do you want an iPad2 for anyway, when you already have an iPad? You should be saving your money for emergencies like this, not spending it on the latest version of every gadget.

    Brother: Don’t tell me what to do with my money, you busybody!


  18. JK says:

    The Woodrow Wilson comment seemed a little passive aggressive and diminished an otherwise great post. Are we not keeping politics out of this?

  19. WhiteCedar says:

    Johanna, the example was written in the present tense, (“Maybe now isn’t the best time.”) If the iPad2 had already been purchased, it would have been written in the past tense, (“Maybe now wasn’t the best time…”) Rather than a snarky “I told you so,” the sister is offering clear, actionable advice that simply wasn’t welcome.

    To an outside observer, the solution seems clear: delay the gadget purchase in order to take care of a more pressing need. To someone embroiled in the issue, the sense of entitlement is overpowering and can be manifest in resentment, even when the advice was requested in the first place. The truth is that this situation has constrained the brother’s choices and he’s unhappy about it, and he responds in irrational ways.

    In the later example, the sister’s advice didn’t just appear at the time of the crisis, but had been ongoing over a long period of time. I maintain that the brother dismissed her as a busybody each time he ignored her advice about an emergency fund.

    It doesn’t surprise me that the brother is on the defensive, either. People often behave that way when facing reality is uncomfortable. Trent’s point in that regard is highly apt; people often ask for advice even though they aren’t ready to hear it.

  20. Johanna says:

    @WhiteCedar: Again on the flip side, people also often give advice when it hasn’t been asked for, or think it’s been asked for when it hasn’t. Sometimes people talk about their problems, not because they want advice, but because they just want to vent, or they’re looking for sympathy or validation of their feelings (although you’d think Brother might have figured out by now that sympathy and validation are not going to be forthcoming from Sister). In the event of that kind of miscommunication, “Don’t tell me what to do” is a fairly reasonable response (although “I’m not actually asking for your advice” might get the same message across more politely).

    I do understand that sometimes people will ask for advice, only to respond with specific excuses about why any specific advice they’re offered won’t work. I’ve seen that happen, and it doesn’t surprise me. What surprises me is that anyone would ask for advice and simultaneously say “Don’t tell me what to do,” which is a different thing.

  21. I’ve heard these so many times and it still makes me laugh/wince simultaneously.

  22. krantcents says:

    “You mean you want me to not have any fun?” This is one I heard or some variation.

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