Last week, Beer Guy wrote an entertaining article about some sage financial advice his uncle gave him when he was a boy. The advice (more colorfully phrased) was to avoid getting a girl pregnant until such time as he could be financially responsible for that action. Getting a girl pregnant too young equals financial disaster. While some people found the uncle’s advice offensive, I think the uncle was on to something. I suspect that this uncle was a big proponent of a lost concept: Personal responsibility.
Personal responsibility means that you literally take responsibility for your actions. You accept that you make your choices and do the things you do, so therefore you accept any and all repercussions from those actions and choices. People who fail to practice personal responsibility are setting themselves up for financial disaster. It’s not just the kid who gets the girl pregnant too young. Had that kid taken some personal responsibility and worn the condom, the financial disaster would have been averted. It’s the same with many forms of personal irresponsibility that cause financial hardship. Here are just a few:
Smoking: We all know it will kill you, yet people still do it. Then when they get sick and face a mountain of medical bills they can’t pay, they blame the tobacco companies. (Maybe you could get away with this one twenty years ago, but it’s widely known now that smoking will kill you so continuing to smoke is on you.) Far easier and cheaper to take some responsibility for your own health and quit.
Tanning: It’s known that tanning will give you skin cancer. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a tanning bed or outside. If you choose to tan and not wear sunscreen, you’re courting cancer and the associated financial problems. Yet when it happens, it’s always the fault of the tanning bed company or the job that made you work outside rather than you, the person who didn’t wear the sunscreen.
Overeating/eating poorly/lack of exercise: We know that good nutrition is necessary for good health and to stave off many diseases. We know that a poor diet sets you up for everything from high blood pressure to diabetes to heart attacks to cancer. We all know that we’re supposed to eat better and exercise, but most of us don’t. Yet when the diseases start piling up and the medical bills are making a snowdrift at the front door, we blame the restaurants, the food manufacturers, or the grocery stores when we long ago should have made better food and exercise choices.
DUI: This one’s a known killer. If you don’t die in the accident, you’ll probably be badly hurt and total your car. Both can set you back financially for years. But it gets far worse if you hit someone else. If you kill or maim them, you’ll likely be sued for millions of dollars you probably don’t have. Your wages will be garnished for years, if not the rest of your life, resulting in severe financial hardship. Even if you only do property damage, the price can be high depending on what you hit. And don’t forget jail. It’s hard to be financially successful if you’re sitting in jail.
Texting/Cell phone use while driving: This one is rapidly becoming almost as deadly as DUI and the same financial penalties apply. It’s not the fault of the phone company. It’s your fault for messing with the phone while going seventy miles an hour.
Buying too much house: When you buy a house you can’t really afford, you’re setting yourself up for long term problems. As long as you try to stay in the house, you’re never going to get ahead because the house is going to suck all your money in mortgages, utilities, taxes, and maintenance. When you finally give up and decide you can’t hack it, you may have to sell the house at a loss, or go through foreclosure/bankruptcy. Both will derail you financially for years. Yet when it happens, it’s always the evil banker that led you into a bad loan or too much house. If you’d taken personal responsibility and gotten educated about housing and money, you wouldn’t have bought too much.
Household accidents: Household accidents are a leading cause of injury and death, but many can be prevented if people would just take a little responsibility. Don’t use power tools if you don’t know what you’re doing unless you’re okay with losing a hand. Cut down the dead tree before it falls on you. Keep the floor clear of obstructions so you don’t trip and smack your head on the tile floor. Fix the deck before you throw a party and it collapses and drops your guests thirty feet. It’s not the deck’s fault, or the tool manufacturer’s fault, or the tree’s fault. Many household accidents result in lawsuits, injuries and medical bills that can hurt you financially for years. Yet most can be prevented if you just think before you act.
Failing to prepare for retirement/rainy days: You failed to save a single penny for retirement or an emergency. You blew it all on fun stuff and unnecessary crap. Yet when you end up broke, you blame the system, your low paying job, the stock market, your parents who blew your inheritance before they died, or any one of a hundred “unexpected” expenses that cropped up. Then you expect the government to bail you out so you don’t eat dog food every day for the rest of your life. Wrong. You should have just taken responsibility for your own old age.
The list goes on and on. In all of these cases it’s poor choices and actions that lead directly to financial ruin. Yet very few people act in ways to avoid these outcomes. They avoid personal responsibility. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, people rely on a lawyer to bail them out after the fact; to get them off on a technicality, to sue a restaurant or food manufacturer, to argue that they were duped, or to plead insanity or metal impairment. And the sad thing is sometimes it works, which only contributes to the number of people in the future who will try such arguments instead of just manning up and taking responsibility for the things they choose to do.
It’s not just you that suffers financially from your personal irresponsibility. Your increased medical costs are passed on to all of us in the form of higher insurance premiums. Same with your lengthy accident record and our auto insurance premiums. The families of those you hurt with your car will probably have to pay a boatload in medical care or funeral expenses that your insurance didn’t pay. There may be a loss of income if you kill the primary breadwinner of a family. All
of us face a depressed market and increased regulation when you buy too much house and bail on the loan. You failed to prepare for retirement, and now the rest of us will be receiving little or no Social Security because the system is tapped out. The financial damage your idiocy causes isn’t limited to just you.
So why am I calling this a “strange” way to save money? It’s common sense, right? Well, it must be strange because so few people seem to practice it these days. People are too busy playing the victim and blaming others for their own poor choices. Someone chooses to drink and drive, causes an accident, and then turns around and claims that their messed up childhood made them do it. Someone smokes for thirty years and then blames the tobacco company. Someone eats fast food five times a week, gets high blood pressure or has a heart attack and blames the fast food company. It must be strange to take responsibility for your own actions. I can’t think of anyone who caused a major accident, got sued for millions and said, “You know what? You’re right. I was stupid and thoughtless. My bad, let me pay you a million dollars.”
And I see very few people who take responsibility well before it gets to that point. They text and drive because they “can handle it.” They yap on the cell phone while driving because “it’s not distracting.” They don’t think about eating a vegetable or two now and then because “I don’t like them.” They don’t quit smoking because they “don’t want to.” And when the poop hits the fan and these people are facing lawsuits and mountains of medical bills, they never once say, “You know, if I’d just been more responsible I wouldn’t be in this mess.” It’s always someone else’s fault. If you want to avoid financial disaster, try taking some personal responsibility. Change the way you eat. Think about the repercussions of your actions before you cause that accident. Stop begging for high medical bills by smoking or lying in that tanning bed. Think about the long term before you buy something you can’t afford. No, you can’t prevent every bad thing from ever happening to you, no matter how responsible you are. Sometimes bad things just happen with no reason that you can see, but many accidents and illnesses are direct results of our actions and choices. And so are their financial consequences.