We all tend to make excuses from time to time. It’s just human nature. But I’ve seen people rely too heavily on excuses when it comes to money. When they have too much debt or can’t seem to make ends meet they pull out the excuses as to why their life has to be this way. The excuses become a way to avoid dealing with the real problems, which are usually fixable with effort. Here are the most common excuses I hear and how you can combat them in your own life.
I Just Can’t Manage Money
Some people get it in their heads that finance and money are just concepts that are so far above their understanding that they’ll never get it. Finance is only for the super intelligent, they think. Either that or they believe that, having tired and failed, that money is just not something they “get.” “I can’t” is a great excuse. It lets you off the hook for so many things. The truth is that you can manage money, it just requires some time, effort, and a little education that you aren’t willing to put forth. Little kids can grasp the basics of money management with a little effort. So can you. Try to figure it out. Ask for help. Read or take a class. Get in there and work with your money. Involvement and practice are the antidotes to, “I can’t.”
I’ll Never Get Ahead, so Why Bother?
This is defeatist thinking. For whatever reason you’ve convinced yourself that you’ll never be better off than you are today so you won’t even put forth the effort to try. And you know what? You’re right. If you won’t try to change things they will remain exactly the same. Here’s the thing: Unless you have a crystal ball, you can’t know for sure that you’ll never get ahead and be better off than today. So what’s wrong with trying? If things don’t work out, you’re still where you are today. But aren’t the potential payoffs worth at least trying? Even with a little effort you can drastically improve your finances so think about what might happen if you really make a push to be better.
I’m Only Young Once
This one is legendary. People rationalize all kinds of crazy, irresponsible spending in the name of mortality. “I want to make memories while my kids are still little so we need that expensive vacation.” “I might get run over by a bus tomorrow, so I want to buy that diamond ring.” It’s true, we all grow up, age, and eventually die. It’s sad and there is something to be said for balancing the needs of tomorrow with the desire to live life today. But when you’re spending money you don’t have under the excuse that you might die tomorrow or that your kids won’t have any good memories of their childhoods, you’re not living a balanced life. You’re completely neglecting your (and your kids’) future needs for today’s wants and that’s a road to disaster. Do this often enough and you’d better hope you do die young because you won’t have anything to see you through your old age.
I Deserve a Treat/Reward
You work hard for your money and you want a reward. I don’t deny that you deserve to enjoy some of the money you work so hard for. But you don’t deserve to enjoy every last cent of it at the expense of your future needs. You have to take a balanced approach and enjoy some of your money today while saving enough that you can enjoy it later. And not all money is meant to be enjoyed. Sometimes money has to pay for things that are no fun like medical care, taxes, car or home repair, or school tuition. When you’re spending recklessly on rewards you’re forgetting the fact that you earn money to pay for more than fun. It’d be nice if all money could be used for fun and nothing else, but that’s not the case.
I’m Not Good at Math
People who are afraid of math trot out this excuse to avoid dealing with their finances. But you know what? You don’t have to be good at math to be good at finance. All you need to know how to do is add, subtract, multiply and divide. And you don’t even have to be that good at those with calculators and software programs to help you. There is no calculus, geometry, or algebra involved in personal finance. It’s basic math. Personally, I stunk at math in school but I am good at personal finance. Even with a math phobia you can become good at personal finance if you’re willing.
I’m Too Overwhelmed to Know Where to Start
If you’re really in a financial mess it is easier to say you don’t know where to start than it is to begin. But if things are really bad, it doesn’t matter where you start. Anything is going to be better than where you are. It’s like cleaning a very messy house. Does it matter if you start in the bathroom or the living room? Nope, because every little bit you clean up is going to improve the overall picture. With finance it doesn’t really matter if you start with credit cards, the mortgage, or saving. Anything is going to be an improvement so just pick something and work on it. Chances are that the next step will become clearer after you work on one thing for a while.
I’ll Get to It Later
Funny how “later” is the time that never comes. We put things off and later never comes around. We get busy with other things and later comes and goes. Then we get busy with more things and never get around to all of our “later” projects. With finance the longer you put something off, the more difficult it becomes to deal with, the more it costs you, or it becomes too late as in the case of insurance and wills. Take care of things when you think of them. Learn not to put things off because procrastination will only cause you more problems.
I Don’t Make Enough Money to Have the Lifestyle I Want
Maybe you don’t make enough money right now to solve your financial problems or have the things you want. But that can be fixed with more income (or reduced spending). Go get a second job. Freelance from home. Ask for a raise at work. Look for a job that pays more. Take on overtime. Send your spouse back to work. These may not be easy or popular choices but if lack of income is your excuse, the only way to fix it is to bring in more income. All of the problems/obstacles (childcare, time management, inexperience, etc.) of generating more income can be solved with some thought and perseverance. If you really need more income, the only way to get it is to work more.
Fate/Karma/God Is against Me
Many people blame whatever power rules their world for their money troubles. “Someone up there hates me,” is a popular excuse because it lets you off the hook. You can’t succeed if “someone” isn’t letting you. I don’t know enough about theology to be an expert, but I don’t think that anyone “up there” is actively gunning for you. Chances are your problems are of your own making. You made a bad decision. You got involved with the wrong people. You spent money you didn’t have. You weren’t informed about what you were getting into. Your decisions and actions are yours and they can be fixed, or at least not repeated. Sometimes things just don’t work out, but it doesn’t mean that someone hates you and that you’ll never succeed. Figure out what went wrong and then do things differently next time.
I Won’t Fit in/I’ll Lose My Friends
Ah, peer pressure. If you start saving money and stop spending lavishly, what will your friends think? They won’t invite you out. They might think you’re weird. They might think (eek!) that you have financial problems. So you keep things the same as they’ve always been to keep from running afoul of your friends’ perceptions. But this isn’t helping you. As your mother would have said, “Do you really want to be friends with people like this?” Change what you need to change and if your friends can’t deal with it, find new friends.
I Got Screwed by [a Lender, an Employer, the IRS, a Relative…]
Many people blame others for their financial problems. “The bank didn’t explain things to me.” “My employer fired me.” “Joe didn’t pay back that $1,000 I loaned him.” “The greedy IRS took $10,000 in back taxes.” The truth is these problems are the result of bad decisions on your part (or uncontrollable events like massive layoffs). If you owe the IRS, it’s because you didn’t file correctly. If you couldn’t lose that $1,000, you shouldn’t have lent it to irresponsible cousin Joe. If the bank screwed you, it’s because you didn’t read the fine print. If your employer fired you and it wasn’t part of a massive layoff related to the economy, you didn’t do your job well enough. These things are your fault and blaming someone else won’t fix it. You have to figure out where you went wrong and then do things differently next time.
I Don’t Have Time
Really? But you have time to watch TV for three hours a night or play video games for six hours at a stretch. You can find the time, but you just don’t want to. When you don’t devote time to your finances you’ll find that they can get out of control pretty quickly. A few months of unbalanced checkbooks, unpaid bills, investing in the wrong products, or not saving anything can cost you big time. When you first set out to manage your finances it takes a lot of time to get things organized and set up to run smoothly. But once you’ve got everything under control, it only takes a few minutes each day to keep things on track. Be disciplined and carve out the time to deal with your finances just like any other important responsibility.
I’m Scared I Might Screw Up
It’s true that some aspects of finance like taxes, owning a business, and investing can be scary and can carry bad consequences if you mess up. But you have to push past that fear if you want to succeed. You can learn what you need to know. There are plenty of books, websites, and advisors out there that can help you and prevent screw ups. The IRS is more than willing to help with your tax questions because they want your money. Many organizations are devoted to helping business owners handle things like taxes, incorporation, and payroll. A reputable financial advisor can help with your investing decisions. You don’t have to go it all alone. And even if you do screw up, chances are it can be fixed if you work at it. Financial screw ups aren’t fatal. You may have a setback, but you can come back from it.
I’m Too Old/Young, so Why Start Now?
Age doesn’t matter. If you’re young and have very little money, you need to carefully manage and grow what you do have. You need to think about your future, not about those new shoes in the store window. If you’re old and your finances are a mess, it’s not too late to fix it. Maybe you don’t have millions, but you can save up something. Work a couple of extra years. Get your estate paperwork straight. Try to limit future damage. Age isn’t an excuse. Whether you’re young or old there is always something you can do to improve your financial situation.
I Don’t Want to Think about That
No one likes to think about the bad things that might happen and sometimes it feels like if you think about them, they’ll happen. It’s like inviting the devil to the door. But that’s exactly what good financial management forces you to do. You have to think about what happens if you die or become disabled. What happens if the house burns down or someone gets very ill? What happens if you lose your job? These are all scary things and it’s easier to ignore them and hope they don’t happen than to face up to them. Bad things happen to everyone and it’s best to prepare for them when you’re able, in your right mind, and not facing the pressure of an emergency situation. Get your will and estate in order. Purchase life insurance, disability insurance, health insurance, and insurance for your home, car, and other belongings. Put together an emergency fund to see you through a job loss or other problems. Get it together now before the bad things happen and you really are screwed.
Excuses are a way to avoid taking responsibility for your finances. I’ll admit: It is easier to fall back on a myriad of excuses than it is to do the real work of becoming financially successful which often requires sacrifice and doing things you may prefer not to do. But making excuses will never get you where you want to be. You may tell yourself that you’re broke because of some excuse, but in your heart you know you could do better. You just won’t because the excuse is easier. Stop making excuses and start getting your financial life in order.
(Photo courtesy of Fabio Venni)