The 7 Deadly Sins of Personal Finance

Back when I was a kid, I remember going to Catechism and learning about the seven deadly sins.

Maybe that’s why this national sin survey, conducted by a Kansas State University team of geographers, caught my attention last week.  The provocative survey, actually an academic study, measured and created a “sin index” for 3000 US counties with respect to pride, envy, lust, gluttony, wrath, greed, and sloth.

Fascinating stuff.

Did you know your personal finances are subject to the very same seven deadly sins that many believe afflict the human soul? It’s true.

That’s why today, my fellow finance sinners, Reverend Len from the First United Church of Our Lady of Blessed Household Finances is holding confession for our small but mighty congregation.

Now let me hear a Hallelujah, brothers and sisters!

It’s time to step into the confession booth and reflect upon whether you have committed any of the seven deadly sins of personal finance.  If you have, make sure you do the prescribed penance — it’s the only way to ensure your personal finances will remain in a heavenly state.   (I know, but just go with it.)

1. Pride

Mortal or Venial? Mortal.  In fact, pride is the deadliest of all the personal finance sins and also the one from which most of the others emanate.

Examination of Conscience: Pride can quickly result in insolvency and a trip to bankruptcy court.  People who suffer from this sin have a strong sense of self-importance.  As a result, they see it as their solemn duty to keep up with the Joneses — whether they can afford to or not.

Penance: Two rosaries and this article from Cash Money Life on the importance of delayed gratification.

2. Wrath

Mortal or Venial? Mortal. Wrath is the only personal finance sin not related to selfishness or self-interest.

Examination of Conscience: People who are afflicted with this sin often have uncontrolled feelings of anger and denial. As a result, they typically fail to recognize that: 1) their income is a finite resource; and/or 2) their finances are in dire straits — usually because they live beyond their means.  The latter can be especially dangerous because one must recognize their financial problems before they can be truly fixed.

Penance: Three Acts of Contrition, two Hail Marys, an Our Father, and this article from Fiscal Fizzle on the warning signs of financial denial.

3. Sloth

Mortal or Venial? Mortal.  Sloth is the only personal finance sin characterized by a lack of excess.

Examination of Conscience: Those who suffer from sloth are listless and apathetic when it comes to their own financial health; that leads to financial instability.  Slothful people are so detached from their personal finances that they refuse to track their income and expenses, plan for their retirement, or even make a household budget.

Penance: Three Our Fathers, a Hail Mary and this article from Forbes on all the ways your laziness is costing you money.

4. Greed

Mortal or Venial? Mortal.  Greed, of course, is a sin of excess and instant gratification.

Examination of Conscience: Greed is characterized by an insatiable desire to acquire material goods, without regard  for need or cost.  Greedy individuals lack the self control. As a result, their less-than-pragmatic approach to shopping often leads to homes filled with lots of useless items and strains household finances.

Penance: Three Hail Marys and this article from My Two Dollars that should give you a different perspective on what’s really important in the grand scheme of things.

5. Lust

Mortal or Venial? Mortal. Fun fact: This sin was originally known as “extravagance.”

Examination of Conscience: Lustful people have a proclivity for extravagant behavior.  As a result, they constantly purchase high-end luxury goods.  Those who are guilty of lust would never be caught dead buying products without an expensive designer label — even when similar lower-priced products are proven to be just as good, if not better.

Penance: Two Hail Marys and this article from MyLifeROI on smart shopping habits.

6. Gluttony

Mortal or Venial? Venial.  This is one of only two personal finance sins that can be categorized as relatively benign.  

Examination of Conscience: Those who are guilty of gluttony over-indulge and over-consume to the point of waste.  For example,  gluttonous people not only buy useless items that provide very short-term satisfaction, but they also use paper plates for dinner on a daily basis, fail to repair leaky faucets, and carelessly buy items in bulk – only to let most of them sit unused beyond the product expiration date.

Penance: An Our Father and this article from Kiplinger on how restaurants get you to spend more.

7. Envy

Mortal or Venial? Venial.  This is arguably the least destructive of personal finance sins — especially for those with a strong sense of self-control.

Examination of Conscience: Envious people perceive themselves as lacking and resent the good fortune and material possessions of others.  Unlike greed, envy in and of itself will not destroy one’s personal finances.  However, if not controlled it often leads to greed, which easily can.

Penance: Two Acts of Contrition and this piece from US News on how to combat financial envy.

One last note, brothers and sisters: You should always follow the 10 Commandments of personal finance — just to make sure you remain firmly grounded on the straight and narrow.

After all, your personal finances are way too important to solely trust on blind faith.

Photo Credit: ghost of anja

(This is an updated version of an article originally posted on October 6, 2009.)



Comments

  1. 3

    says

    I think greed is the worst one for me because it’s hard to know how much is enough. Sometimes it’s tough for me to see the line between desire for success/accumulation and greed.

  2. 5

    says

    Gluttony is definitely my problem, Ben. Paper plates for dinner – check. Leaky sprinklers – check. Careless bulk purchases – check. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Logo Girl – double check. (Oops. I guess I’ve got a problem with lust too!) ;-)

  3. 7

    says

    @Matt: My pleasure, Matt! And I think sloth is the easiest of the sins to be tempted by.

    @Susan: I like your characterization of lust. One thing I noticed while putting this post together was that some traits could arguably be classified in multiple categories – like you just did so well! :-)

  4. 8

    says

    Very nice list to ponder. I think most of us are vulnerable to those “sins” above. I agree with the comment above about greed, which is pretty hard to draw a line. And most of those in the list seems to become gray when in real life. If you set some standard or something like that, it’s pretty vague and appears to be classified as a case to case basis. I think discipline and proper financial management education will help a lot.

  5. 11

    says

    What a great Idea for a Blog Post. I may have to borrow the theme for some that I do. I think in today’s culture, Lust is playing a big role in financial decisions. How many families are giving in to their kids lust for the latest games or gadgets. I know it wasn’t like that when I was growing up.

    Great blog and great idea for a post.

  6. 13

    says

    Such an entertaining article, thanks for this.

    My biggest killer is SLOTH – I fight against it constantly. Many would probably not consider me slothful, but that is only because I work hard to strive against it. If left unchecked… I will slink down into the terrible depths of the sloth!

  7. 14

    Susan Tiner says

    Funny post. I think that the self-deception of overspenders is better classified as lust though, because it’s really about seeking the pleasure of experiences and material things beyond their actual worth or benefit. Lust has an “out of control” quality, whether it lust for sex, power, or stuff.

  8. 15

    says

    Well, we’ve seen that greed leads to a complete worldwide economic breakdown. I think humility and gratitude is your insurance from engaging in these “sins.”

  9. 16

    Mabel says

    Actually a sin becomes mortal if we’re aware that what we’re doing is wrong yet we continue to do it. Just sayin’.

  10. 17

    says

    I agree with # 1. Peoples pride levels are far to high when it comes to personal finance. If people put their pride aside and looked for help, they might just find it.

  11. 19

    David C. says

    A great post, Len. I’ve been guilty of a couple of these myself, time to time. I still battle with sloth to some degree.

    I have been waiting for someone to post, “What’s in the box?, What’s in the box?”

    Your financial future, if you’re not careful.

  12. 21

    Mrs Jim says

    OMG – I am crying I am laughing so hard and I know damn well we are both going to rot in hell – you for having written this blasphemous blog and me for having laughed so hard over it.

    Sorry, buddy, just gotta tell you there are not enough Hail Mary’s, Our Father’s or Glory Be’s that are going to save our sorry souls!

    Last ditch effort – I live near the Mother of Cabrini shrine so I could get us each of jar of holy water and we can always hope for the best!

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