We can complain and make excuses, but our spending habits reveal our priorities in life. When we're in a tight spot, it's usually because we've misplaced our priorities.
A while back, my 14-year-old son Matthew had a bit of a tantrum – OK, actually it was a full-scale meltdown – after he found out that I wouldn’t let him ride his BMX bicycle until he got the brakes repaired.
It turns out his bike brakes broke (try saying that three times in a row) the previous week while he was doing a complex stunt called, if I remember correctly, a “howyadoin’ grind,” which – as everybody knows – is a rail-hop 180 to an icepick to a half-cab 180 off.
The reason for my son’s ire was that he didn’t have enough money to pay for the repairs. Of course, that meant that until Matthew earned enough money to get his bike fixed, he would be severely impacted when it came to getting around town to visit his friends.
I know what you’re thinking: Why don’t you stop being such a cheapskate, Len, and pay for your son’s brake job?
I’ll tell you why. It turns out that, the day before, Matthew decided to spend the last $25 he had in the bank to buy a BB gun – even though he knew I wouldn’t let him ride his bike until he got new brakes.
Of course, now that he had no money left in his account, it was all my fault that his mobility was suddenly severely curtailed.
I love it when people make excuses for why they’re always too poor to pay their bills, or unable to afford certain things in life. I know you hear them too. Here are just a few examples…
The situation: Johnny finds himself buried under a mountain of credit card debt.
The scapegoat: The credit card company.
The typical excuse: “Come on. How can anybody dig themselves out of debt with these high credit card interest rates?”
The more-than-likely reality: A lack of self-control that leads to too many impulsive purchases.
The solution: Keep careful track of your income and outgo and, most importantly, always spend less than you earn.
The situation: Guillermo has nothing saved for retirement.
The scapegoat: The clock.
The typical excuse: “I’m living for today, baby! After all, I have plenty of time to save for my retirement.”
The more-than-likely reality: A lack of patience.
The solution: Let time work for you by taking advantage of the power of compound interest as soon as possible – otherwise, you’ll find yourself playing catch-up in later years. After all, the only thing financially worse than being young and poor is being old and penniless.
The situation: Rangesh is constantly living from paycheck to paycheck and is barely able to make ends meet.
The scapegoat: The boss.
The typical excuse: “My boss never gives me a raise.”
The more-than-likely reality: An unwillingness to put in the additional effort and time required to earn more money.
The solution: Figure out where your money is going by tracking your expenses. Then set up a budget. Then try learning a new skill that is in high demand by employers, or take on a second job that will enable you to build an emergency fund and make retirement contributions.
The situation: Bjorg doesn’t have an emergency fund.
The scapegoat: The government.
The typical excuse: “That’s what unemployment benefits are for.”
The more-than-likely reality: Denial – and an unhealthy reliance on the government to provide for everything.
The solution: Build up your cash reserves to cover at least three months’ worth of living expenses. Remember: Unemployment benefits are probably not going to be enough to cover all your household expenses, and there are plenty of other good reasons to have an emergency fund to draw on besides a job loss – including unexpected home or car repairs, and health issues.
The moral of the story
As the old saying goes, “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.” Most of us don’t have incomes high enough to afford everything we want in life. As a result, we must constantly prioritize and reprioritize what’s really important with respect to our personal finances.
The bottom line is this: Excuses are a convenient tool for those who don’t want to admit they are to blame for their situation.
So the next time you find yourself in a bit of financial difficulty, resist the temptation to make an excuse and instead focus your attention inward. Until you muster the courage to take responsibility for your situation you will never gain the power to do something about it.