How Misplaced Financial Priorities Lead to Lame Excuses

excusesMy teenage son Matthew had a bit of a tantrum last week — okay, 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) while he was doing some complex stunt called, if I remember correctly, a “toothpick hangover.”

Then again, maybe it was a “howyadoin’ grind,” which, as everybody knows, is a rail hop 180, to an icepick, to a half-cab 180 off. (Okay, you got me. Thank God for Wikipedia.)

Anyway, my son got angry because he didn’t have enough money to pay for the repairs — and that meant he couldn’t get 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 his last dollar on a new BB gun — even though he knew I wouldn’t let him ride his bike until his bike had new brakes.

So, of course, it was now all my fault that his mobility was suddenly severely curtailed.


Excuses, Excuses

I love it when people make excuses for why they are always too poor to pay their bills, or unable to afford certain things in life. It’s always everybody’s fault but their own.

Here are a few examples of the most common excuses:

The situation: Johnny finds himself buried under a mountain of credit card debt.
The scape goat: 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: Make sure to always be aware of your income and outgo and, most importantly, spend less than you earn. There is a reason the latter suggestion is the first of my ten commandments of personal finance.

The situation: Guillermo has nothing saved for retirement.
The scape goat: 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: Aside from learning the art of patience, it is essential to let time work for you by taking advantage of the power of compound growth as soon as possible. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself playing catch-up in your later years. Remember, 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 scape goat: The boss.
The typical excuse: “My boss never gives me a raise. (Besides, I have one of those woefully underpaid jobs!)”
The more-than-likely reality: An unwillingness to put in the additional effort and time required to earn more money.
The solution: In the short term, figure out where your money is going by tracking your expenses. Then set up a budget. Try learning a new skill that is in high demand by employers, or take on a second job to give you the added financial cushion that will enable you to build an emergency fund and make retirement contributions.

The situation: Bjorg doesn’t have an emergency fund. (It’s Norwegian. Just go with it.)
The scape goat: 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 in the event of a personal financial setback like a job layoff.
The solution: Build up your cash reserves to cover at least three, but preferably six, months worth of expenses. Also understand that: 1) in the event of a layoff, unemployment benefits are probably not going to be enough to cover all your household expenses; and 2) 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 us everything we want in life. As a result, we must constantly prioritize and reprioritize what’s really important with respect to our personal finances.

Sure, we can complain all we want and make excuses until the cows come home, but there is no getting around the fact that our spending habits reveal our priorities in life. When we find ourselves in a tight spot financially, it is usually because we’ve misplaced our priorities. Not always, but more often than not.

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.

Photo Credit: 3/4 of zer0

(This is an updated version of an article that was originally posted on February 28, 2011.)


  1. 1

    Olivia says

    I think we fall into the category where we realize hits have negatively impacted our finances and there was nothing much we could have done differently, even if we had foreknowledge. Introspection doesn’t help much. After tweeking around the edges to make a bit more wiggle room, that’s about it.

    To those who don’t make much, and have no options, who have been brought down time and time again, persevere. Budget, sure. Learn new skills, granted. But even as you tread water. Persevere. Keep your eyes open for small advances. As the proverb goes “Fall down seven times, get up eight”.

  2. 2


    Great post Len! I can totally picture the angry and frustrated 13 year old too!

    People love to blame others for their own shortcomings. Makes life much easier that way because then you never have to take action!

  3. 4


    “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.”


    This was one of my Dad’s favorite sayings and I’m guessing it was one of your Dads’ favorites too. It probably got passed down from my grandfather, who was a cowboy.

    When I was roomates with my older brother he used to tell me a modified version, “You are wishing in one hand and $#!++ing in the other”. This used to make me angry too, mostly because I knew he was right.

  4. 5


    This is Mr Credit Card and I approve this message!!! LOL!

    But seriously, tell him that Mr Credit Card is on your side!! No bikes till the brakes are fixed cos a trip to the hospital might raise the Penzo’s monthly insurance bill!

  5. 6


    It is much harder to say no! As a parent, it is easier not to do the right thing. Then our children are learning the wrong thing too. Good for you to take the tough road to teach him a positive lesson.

  6. 8


    I still crack up every time I read one of your little sayings. Where do you come up with this stuff: If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride. My favorite is when my friend’s say “Oh, I can’t afford to do activity XYZ.” Really? How do you afford to eat out for lunch every day then?

  7. 9


    @Olivia: That was very eloquently stated, Olivia. You’re right. Sometimes we can do everything right and still struggle — and that is not an excuse. All you can do is keep on keepin’ on.
    @Everyday: Oh, I assure you, it wasn’t a good time to be in my house during the meltdown. LOL
    @Sheila: Thanks for the affirmation. It’s really not easy standing your ground in the presence of a teenager’s blistering counter-assault, but nobody said being a parent was easy! 😉
    @Bret: Oh yeah, I’ve heard that one before, Bret. LOL
    @Mr.CC: Now you’re trying to use logic on a teenager — that usually is futile when they’ve already got their mind made up. 😉
    @krantcents and @BIFS: Thank you.
    @Jenna: I don’t make ’em up. After you’ve been around awhile like I have, you’ll hear ’em all, Jenna. :-)

  8. 10


    Len, keep it up! (not that you need to be told)

    My kids are great now, but they had an evil being inside them for a while during those teen years.

  9. 14

    Barbara says

    A great post! I love your sense of humor. I recently discovered a new blog that you might enjoy. The Bard of Murdock likes to comment on events in a poetical way and I think that he is very funny. Keep up the good work!

    • 16


      At least nobody can say I didn’t try my very best to teach him all about personal responsibility. I can only hope that Matthew will appreciate my tough stand when he is an adult.

  10. 17

    Cely says

    Just curious (I’m not a parent but plan to be):

    1. Had he paid for the bike himself?
    2. Did you have to forcibly remove the bike somehow? When I was 13 I would have sneaked out with the bike, or told you I was taking it to the bike shop but left it at a friend’s house, where I’d pick it up when I needed it (short term solution, but I wasn’t a long-term thinker at 13…).

    #1 and #2 are somewhat linked, since if he paid for it himself I can imagine the tantrum being worse if you then took his property away.

    I am not suggesting that anything you did is wrong, just curious about the details. As kids get older they obtain more of their own stuff, but as a parent of a minor you still have dominion over all of that in some regard. Tough to navigate, I’m guessing.

    • 18


      Well, Cely, he got the bike as a birthday present. But, respectfully, as far as I’m concerned it wouldn’t matter whether he paid for the bike himself or not; riding a bike around town on busy streets and sidewalks without brakes is crazy unsafe, and as his parent I am responsible for ensuring his personal well-being until he turns 18. :-) I would never forgive myself if I knowingly allowed him to ride a bike without brakes and he ended up getting hit by a car because he couldn’t stop in time.

      I didn’t need to forcibly remove Matthew’s bike. However, the bike is sitting in the garage if he’s feeling lucky! (Seriously, I leave the bike there as a sign of trust and mutual respect between us. I think he understands the consequences of such an action would not be in his best interest.) :-)

  11. 19

    imelda says

    All of these are fair, but I get nervous at this kind of post — that it becomes justification for a lack of empathy. Sometimes people get themselves into trouble; sometimes someone else screwed them over; usually it’s a combination of both. It’s not fair to completely blame one or the other.

    Also, I thought the name “Bjorg” was kinda cool (sounds Star Trekky).

    • 20


      Well, I did say “When we find ourselves in a tight spot financially, it is usually because we’ve misplaced our priorities. Not always, but more often than not.” I am fully aware that sometimes people run into financial troubles that are no fault of their own. :-)

      I’m glad you like Bjorg! I do too. Thanks for your comment and I hope you feel the urge to, well, assimilate with my site. (Sorry, imelda…I couldn’t resist.) 😉

  12. 21


    I love this post.

    I have someone in my life that’s always blaming others for their situation. Drives me nuts. The worst part is that if you think it’s someone else’s fault then it’s pretty hard to feel like you can make an impact. If you know it’s your own doing, then it’s actually possible to realize you are in a power position to make change.

  13. 22

    Lisa says

    Just wanted to say good on you for the stance you’re taking with your son. He’ll thank you one day.

    My dad was the same. It used to make me CRAZY at the time but now I’m so grateful. I’m 26 now – I’ve supported myself financially 100% for nearly a decade, never had consumer debt of any kind and I’m in a far better financial position than my peers. Thank God for parents who aren’t afraid to parent.

  14. 24


    $25 to fix brakes on a bike is cheap! I’ve got fluid brakes on mine so I hope it never malfunctions or else $25 ain’t gonna get that far…

    btw if people don’t realise that they are in charge of the choices that they make in life and keep blaming others for their mistakes then they’re going to be up the creek without a paddle …

  15. 25


    Ha! It’s amazing how many teenagers throw as many tantrums as the average two year old. Good for you for not giving in!

  16. 26


    Great post! Total agree, when someone comes to me with a problem, friends, family, co-worker, I often tell them come back to me when you have a solution for it. Don’t come to me complaining or looking for me to fix your issue. Once you have a fix I will certainly help you with it.

  17. 27


    I totally agree with the way you handled your son on this one. I hold my kids accountable for their money decisions too. How else are they supposed to learn that there is only so much money and you have to prioritize?

    I don’t agree with judging people for their personal priorities though. For instance, the comment about a friend being able to afford lunch out every day, but not being able to afford to attend other social outings. That person has obviously prioritized the lunches. Isn’t it their right to make that choice? (and I’m not trying to criticize the person who made that comment…just suggesting a different perspective on that type of situation)

  18. 29


    Love your response to this. The lesson is worth learning…we are responsible for the use of our money, not anyone else. Priorities (fixing the brakes) should come before pleasure (BB gun). Hopefully your stance will produce that idea into his life.


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