If you turn on the TV or read a newspaper, you’re likely to be confronted with two opposite messages. Either everything is great, the economy is strong, and finances are looking better, or things are terrible, everyone is poor, and we’re heading for doom. It depends on the day and the reporter/station as to which message you’ll get. It’s bad enough that these conflicting messages are around us all the time. We never know what to believe. It gets worse when we let the media tell us how we should feel about our own finances.
I know several people whose fortunes seem to rise and fall with the media’s predictions. If the news is good, these people are upbeat and optimistic about their finances. If the news is bad, they’re one step away from having to go on food stamps and sell their house. The same people who were planning a great vacation yesterday are suddenly stockpiling Ramen noodles today. These people don’t have an inner compass about the true state of their finances. In some cases it’s because they just don’t know what they have. They’ve never troubled to figure it out. In others, it seems to be a case of just following along with the herd. “Oh, if everyone else is suffering, I must be suffering, too.” In either case, these people are too easily led by media reports into either spending what they don’t have or into thinking that they can’t buy anything because they must be broke.
People who let the media tell them how to feel about their finances are setting themselves up for trouble. If, in response to good news, they go on a spending spree with money they don’t personally have, they’re in trouble. If, in response to bad news, they deny themselves things that they can easily afford, they’re taking the fun our of their life and making things harder on themselves than they need to be.
The thing is, even if times are great, you may not have any money. You may be so deep in debt or unemployed that you just don’t have anything to spend. In that case, it doesn’t matter if the rest of the country is shopping until they drop. You cannot afford to. On the opposite end, the country may be going through terrible times with large unemployment and scary stock losses. However, if you’ve got a lot of money saved and have a good job that you aren’t worried about losing, there’s no reason why you can’t indulge yourself. (And the economy will thank you for it.) You have to base your actions on what you know your situation to be, not what the media tells you it should be.
You need to develop your own understanding about your personal financial picture and separate yourself from the media’s reporting. You need to sit down with your own checkbook and figure it up for yourself. List all of your accounts and all of your debts to get a true picture of what you really have (or don’t have). Only then will you know whether you can splurge or if you should save. Your finances have nothing to do with the media. It’s not the media that has to pay your debts, buy your groceries, or fill up your gas tank. It’s you, and only you can know whether you should be worried or relaxed.