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Why do I have to wait until I’m in trouble to clean up my finances?

Recently, my wife and I had what I call a “Come to Jesus” moment. Basically, we had to face reality. We had let a number of areas in our finances slip. Mostly, we just got lazy. So we are currently putting everything back in order. But this experience has left me asking myself, “Why do I have to let things get bad before I shape up?”

Smashing a piggy bank

Maybe you’ve found yourself in the same boat.

You are sticking to your budget and saving money. But then one expenditure comes up and you decide to dip into your emergency fund (even though it wasn’t an emergency). Then another thing comes up, and then another, and so on. Next thing you know, you are pulling our credit cards again.

Hopefully I’m not alone in this boat (let me know in the comments).

Long before making big, bad decisions, we started by just being lazy about little things. And rather than making changes when it was easy, we waited until things were hard. I’ve repeated this pattern a couple of times in my life.

  • Step 1: Get everything in order.
  • Step 2: Start slipping in small ways (usually dining out).
  • Step 3: Start making bigger, badder decisions (and yes badder is a word).
  • Step 4: Realize what I’ve done and work for months to fix it.
  • Rinse and repeat.

The problem is that each cycle is costly. It sets us back and puts our goals that much further out of reach.

What’s scary is that our entire nation acts the same way.

We’ve been on a spending spree since the Obama Administration took office nearly three years ago. Although many people and groups warned of the dangers, Congress charged forward. Then, we were hit smack in the face with warnings of credit rating decreases, actual credit rating decreases, and the risk of default. We hit our credit limit. It was only at that point that Congress decided to make some effort to reduce spending.

The scary thing though is that fixing my financial mistakes is not that hard, it just takes a little time. Fixing the financial mistakes on such a large scale – the United States of America – will take decades and a lot of money out of everyone’s pocket. And don’t tell me that it won’t affect your because businesses and the rich should pay more. Businesses and rich people are what drive the economy. They put the money into the economy that gives all of us jobs. So if they have less to spend, then our economy slows and jobs go away.

So why do we as individuals and even huge governments let things get so far out of control before we wake up and have a “Come to Jesus” moment? Why don’t we guard ourselves against deviating from our course?

The government has no excuse.

Elected representatives should represent their constituents and the system of checks and balances should weed out stupidity. But it seems to have failed of late (for a lot of reasons).

But as individuals

We don’t have checks and balances unless we create them. Let me give you a few ideas on how to create self-monitoring mechanisms.

  1. Budgets – A budget is a guide and benchmark against which you can weigh yourself.
  2. Weekly or Monthly Financial Reviews – Set aside a time each week or month to review your finances with you spouse so that you both know what’s going on and can talk through any issues.
  3. Cut up credit cards – Just remove the temptation.
  4. Tell your mom about your goals – Okay, so maybe you don’t have to tell your mother per se. But tell someone that will check-up on you about your financial goals. Create accountability for yourself.
  5. Automate as much as you can – Make your savings automatic. Make bill pay automatic. Make donations automatic. Get your money going to the right places as soon as you are paid. Then, only spend what’s left.

I’m happy to say that we are headed in the right direction again. But it’s still been costly. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait until it’s out of control again before making course corrections.

Can you empathize? If so, let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Tags: , , | Filed under Debt, Featured