Over my years of debt free living I’ve learned that procrastination is a huge enemy to staying debt free. We all tend to say, “I can take care of that tomorrow,” and put off things we don’t want to (or can’t) deal with right then. The problem is, the longer you put things off, the more they end up costing you, both in terms of money and in terms of leaving gaps in your overall financial situation that can cause you to spend more money later. Put off too many things for too long, and you’ll soon find yourself in a financial mess and on the road to debt. Let me show you some examples of areas where procrastination can cause big trouble:
Home maintenance: The roof has lost a few shingles. You decide not to fix it right now. It rains. The roof leaks and water collects in your attic, wetting your insulation. Leave it unattended much longer and the water is going to damage your ceiling and come through into your house. Now, what would have cost you a couple hundred dollars at most to fix is going to cost thousands. It’s the same with the furnace that is making funny noises. If you call for repair right then, it might cost you a couple hundred to fix. Wait until the thing shorts out and starts a fire and you’ve got a bigger, more expensive problem. Keep on top of repairs and, if possible, head off trouble before it starts with good routine maintenance and troubleshooting.
Car maintenance: The engine is making a strange noise You keep driving it for a few more months. Then the head gasket blows and your entire engine is shot. Had you dealt with this in the beginning, a couple hundred dollars probably would have covered it. Now you’re looking at thousands, or a new car. The same is true for squeaky brakes, engine lights that come on, and fluid indicators that show you’re low. Don’t ignore them. Get it fixed before it costs you more money.
Financial paperwork: You keep meaning to write your will or buy that life insurance. You swear you’re going to increase the coverage on your homeowner’s policy to cover your new addition. But you never get around to it. Then disaster strikes and your insurance won’t pay or your estate is turned over to the State. Had you just taken care of these things, you and your family would be all set. As it is, you face increased repair or legal costs and a lack of insurance money to draw upon.
Retirement savings: You keep saying you’re going to start that IRA or contribute to the 401K at work. But somehow, you never quite get there. Now you’re sixty and looking retirement square in the face. You have no money, so your plans are either curtailed or you’re living on the bare minimum trying to sock as much as you can away before your job forces you out. At worst you’re looking at financing your retirement on credit cards or reverse mortgages, or you’ll be working until you die. But had you just started putting in a little money each pay period years ago, you’d be comfortable.
Emergency fund: How many times have you promised yourself that you’ll use the next tax refund or raise to start that emergency fund, and yet you chose to go to Bermuda instead? Then you have an emergency or lose your job and everything has to go on a credit card. If you had that emergency fund, you might not have to finance the problem. You could pay cash. If you had started that fund years ago when you meant to, you’d be all set to weather life’s down periods.
Bill payment: The bills come and you stuff them in a drawer, intending to pay later. But you get busy and forget. Then come payment time you’re either late or you discover that the money for the electric bill was spent on that weekend beach trip. Now you’re looking at late fees, service charges, bounced check fees, and possibly having your service cut off. Had you just paid when the bill came, you’d have only paid the amount owed.
Health care: You put off your annual physical and vaccinations. You put off starting that diet and exercise program. Then one day you don’t feel so good. The doctor tells you that you have cancer or heart disease and that, had you come in a year ago, they could have done more for you. As it is, you’re facing costly treatments and an uncertain prognosis. Had you just gone ahead and taken care of yourself, you might have been spared the financial and personal pain.
Balancing the checkbook: The statement comes and you don’t balance your checkbook. Months go by and you don’t bother. Then one day you discover you’re out of money and you don’t know why. So you dig out your old statements and start to balance. A combination of math errors, new fees being charged by the bank, and overspending on your part have robbed you of your money. Now you’re facing bounced check fees and overdraft charges. Had you just balanced your books once per month, you would have caught the math errors and had a chance to do something about the fees. You could have also identified spending that was getting out of hand.
When you procrastinate you open the door to debt. Things that only cost a little when dealt with quickly end up costing thousands that you don’t have. And then they get financed. You may think you’re saving money by not addressing a problem right then, but failure to deal with it is likely to cost you a lot more in the long run. If you want to live debt free, you have to conquer procrastination. Get organized, set up a system for alerting you to things, and get in the habit of dealing with things as they come up. You’ll not only sail through life a lot easier, you’ll likely have far less debt.