How to Fix Your Finances without More Money

You can show him the money -- but without personal responsibility, it ain't going to help him over the long run.

How many times have you heard somebody lament that all their financial troubles would disappear if only they had a little more money?

The thing is, those are the same people who believe that financial stability is only possible with higher incomes.

Of course, they couldn’t be more wrong. They don’t need more money; they just need more discipline.

How to Fix Your Finances Without More Money

Folks who focus on how much they earn rather than how much they spend fail to realize that most of us will never have incomes that are high enough to afford everything we want in life.

In fact, for most people who lack financial discipline and find themselves deep in debt, a rise in income usually ends up being only a frustratingly temporary fix that, over the long run, usually does very little to improve their financial well-being.

So why bother screaming “Show me the money!” when there are more effective alternatives available?

For example, our personal financial situations tend to:

  • Improve markedly the moment we stop trying to keep up with the Joneses.
  • Gain ground when we curb the urge to buy things on impulse.
  • Recuperate when we stop using those high-interest rate credit card convenience checks that come in the mail.
  • Convalesce when we rely on an emergency savings account to cover temporary financial shortfalls, instead of floating checks or using payday loans.
  • Rally after we stop counting on an inheritance.
  • Shape up after we stop wasting money on cigarettes and lottery tickets.
  • Get a boost when we stop buying new cars every three or four years.
  • Elevate when we stop using our credit cards to buy things we can’t pay for in full at the end of the month.
  • Advance when we cook meals at home — well, at least most of them.
  • Reform when we track our spending.
  • Get better when when we use a budget to help ensure we spend less than we earn.
  • Straighten out after we start saving for retirement and increase our contributions with every raise.
  • Perk up when we make automatic paycheck deductions for our savings and retirement accounts.
  • Turn the corner after we start paying our bills on time.
  • Skyrocket when we run our household like a business.

With all that in mind, it’s really no secret that folks who make a habit of following the majority of these ideas are always going to be financially better off than those who don’t — regardless of how much income they’re earning. That’s because financial stability has almost everything to do with a commitment to personal responsibility and good personal finance habits, rather than the size of one’s wallet.

Oh sure, when things are getting tight financially, a little extra income is certainly welcome. But for folks looking to make a real and lasting improvement to the overall state of their household finances, more money should be among the very last solutions to consider.

Photo Credit: public domain


  1. 1

    Olivia says

    Ah Len,

    All the suggestions you made are true. People who manage their money are always better off than those who don’t. However, when there’s nothing left to cut out, sometimes you simply do need more income.

  2. 3

    Bill says

    Len, I could not agree more. I’d say 85% of success is personal responsibility and things we have the ability to control. That leaves 10% to luck and circumstance, something not completely in our control or at all. And that final 5% is having the mental ability to carry it through, also not necessarily in our control.

    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      I think your mix is pretty close to spot on, Bill.

      There is definitely a luck component that I rarely mention in “lecturing parent” articles like this one — I leave them out though because I don’t want to inadvertently diminish the message. (I hope folks don’t think that is a lame excuse on my part.)

      That being said, I do understand that bad luck can spring up out of nowhere to bite us all. Lord knows I’ve been very fortunate that it hasn’t bitten me. However, for most folks I think that a stroke of catastrophically bad luck — debilitating illness that results in long-term job loss and high medical bills, or an act of God that wipes out one’s home, for example — is fairly rare.

      Most other forms of bad luck can usually be mitigated via our emergency and/or rainy day funds.

  3. 6


    This is all so true Len. Stop to think of how many people are getting by making far less money than you. Then you start to realize that you don’t need to be spending so much. It is tough in today’s world though. We are constantly facing pressures to keep up with our peers and those around us.

  4. 8


    I like the one about running our household like a business. Truly, we need to treat our personal finances as if we are managing them for someone else – like a business would. This one rule alone can encompass a whole lot of personal finance tips!

    Great tips, great advice, great post!

    • 9

      Len Penzo says

      Agreed. It’s one of my favorites too, John. I’ve been running my household like a business since I graduated from college. I couldn’t imagine not running it like one now. To not do so would make me feel completely irresponsible.

  5. 10


    It’s so important to get back to the basics, like you say here. Money really does start to accrue after you implement those automatic withdrawals into savings accounts. (And if you can manage to not care about keeping up with the Joneses, there are so very many things you won’t have to buy!)

  6. 11

    Jennifer says

    I agree with Olivia…we always lived well below our means. Then a job loss for over 2 years. Sometimes, even the savings run out. Cut everything we could, never eat out. Drive 10 year old cars, I work 2 jobs. Thank goodness for Grandparents who buy the kids clothes! Mom and Dad haven’t had new clothes in years…more income is what we need now to balance out the budget.

    • 12

      Len Penzo says

      I do realize sometimes bad luck — or a string of bud luck — can hit anybody at any time. The worst thing that anyone could do in that situation is give up — so please hang in there, Jennifer. All anyone can do under those circumstances is to keep working hard, set a great example for the kids by persevering as best you can, and wait for things to turn around (and they will). I’m pulling for you!

  7. 14


    Very very nice!!!! The thing is, if people would just start to live for the things that matter than keeping up with what people “think” matters in society, they would quickly realize a huge difference. Spend your money on things that matter like traveling and being with friends, your other-half, or family. Thats what matters in life. Not the “4 wheel thing” you drive down the street to get you from point a to point b….;-) Thanks for giving people insight!!! 😉

    • 15

      Len Penzo says

      I’m with you, Erek. Although there are a lot of folks out there who appreciate nice cars. I’m not one of them, though. For me, a car is, like you say, simply something that is supposed to get me reliably and relatively comfortably, from point A to Point B.

  8. 16


    It seems you are either partly inspired (or channeling) The Millionaire Next Door. A great book with quite a few useful tips.

    I think a major shift in perception of rich from income to wealthy would help many take care of their finances better. If you are making car payments (on a nice, luxury car) and mortgage payments (on a nice, luxury house) and are making country club payments (on a nice, luxury club), how much are you left over if you are not saving?

    Wealth is ONLY built by spending less than you make, no matter how much you make. Therefore, the ability to save or increase wealth only increases if we spend less or make more. It is possible to save on $40k a year and possible to go in debt on $10m a year.

    Just ask Donald Trump.

    • 17

      Len Penzo says

      Well, Cameron, to be fair: this isn’t some revolutionary concept that was first introduced back in 1990. I’ve been practicing these tenets before the the millionaire next door was written — just as lots of others have! :-)

      I like to think that the author of the Millionaire Next Door channeled me — only he put it in print form first. 😉

  9. 19

    Bobby says

    In response to your comments on todays ms website about paying off the mortgage you said “put aside extra money for paying the kids college education”; my reaction is who said and why is it MY responsibility for paying my children’s college costs? The education is for THEIR benefit not mine. This is the deal I made my children: you can live at home(rent free until you graduate), commute to the local college(3 to pick from)with a car YOU buy (insurance was grouped with mine to save money), have free use of the stove& washing machine(you’re 18 now so your mother is no longer your maid), telephone(my landline), TV privaleges, and YOU get to figure out how to pay for car expenses, clothes, haircuts and other personal expenses (part-time job). YOU also get to figure out how to pay for college, I.E. pay-as-you-go, student loans, etc. I’m not going to loan you the money. Where did you get the idea I was on the hook for $5K and up? After high school YOUR additional education is for YOUR benefit so YOU get to pay for it. A lot of friends and relatives told us we were mean and evil for not borrowing $50K and sending the kid off to the state university. Now 15 years later these same friends/relatives are still paying off these loans or moaning over their still depleted retirement funds while the kids who got the free ride are living high on their big salaries, and refusing to acknowledege they may share some responsibility for the college debts with their parents. Mine have paid theirs off long ago because they saved a ton of money by living home, working part time and being responsible from the start.

    • 20

      Len Penzo says

      I hear ya. I feel the same way, Bobby; my kids know it’s ultimately their responsibility to pay for their college education. That doesn’t mean I won’t help them out a bit — assuming I feel they are majoring in a field that will provide a real return on the investment. But I feel they’ll need a fairly significant stake in the game to get the maximum value from their time in college.

      Even so, that doesn’t invalidate the reality that people can still choose to use their “spare change” to pay for their kids’ college education if they so desire.

  10. 21


    People always say that the higher their income, the higher their expenses. But of course, we know better. It’s really how we manage – or mismanage our money. The more money we have, the tendency to splurge becomes stronger too. Discipline is really key.

  11. 22


    Impulse buying is the death of my finances. I am an impulse shopper. I realize it needs to stop but it doesn’t. Promised to myself so many times to NOT do it and so far I did not succeed. Still working on it!

  12. 23


    Ed McMahon made more than $5 million a year even after Johnny Carson passed away. He was in debt before he died. If you remember he appealed to others to help him. He could not afford to make his monthly mortgage at later stage of his life. Even with that much income a year, he was spending more than he made.


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